What Is the Meaning of the Bible Word: “to Offend?”

What Does it Mean, “to Offend?”

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 8:6-13

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.


Today, “I’m offended” is the ultimate weapon against whatever people “don’t like.” We need to ask, “What does ‘Offend’ mean, anyway?”

A young man approached me during my first year in Bible School. He told me that my shoes “offended him.” They were nearly brand-new, but rather large, awkward-looking shoes, called “after-ski-boots.” I bought them during my drive to get to the school,. I was just trying to keep my feet warm as I drove an ancient VW with no heater, from Oregon to Michigan, in January. I made a long, cold trip, through the frozen heartland of the United States.

But, when I arrived, they told me there was a school “dress code.” I only had one other pair of shoes that fit me, and they were not acceptable to wear to class. But those “after-ski-boots” (though they were sloppy-looking, and oversized) were acceptable. So, I wore them.

I was shocked and dismayed when he confronted me. But before I could open my mouth to explain, he said, “I know what you’re gonna say! ‘They’re all you’ve got!’”

And, I replied, “But…they are all I’ve got!”

I don’t recall how the rest of that conversation played out. He did not “volunteer to help me find more acceptable footwear.” He only condemned what I had, and said my shoes “offended him.”

What IS the Meaning of the Bible Word “Offend?”

In 1st Corinthians 8, Paul concluded in verse 13 that His behavior might cause someone else “to offend.” It did not mean that they “didn’t like” what Paul was doing: They might like it a lot! But the issue (in verses 7, 9, and 10) is that through his liberty to eat whatever he liked, other people might be emboldened to do something they believed to be sin.

God repeatedly says that when we violate our conscience, we are doing wrong, even if it turns out that the thing we were doing was completely all right. And the reverse is also true: James 4:17 says, “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”  That is one of the four New Testament definitions of Sin. Another such passage, specifically addressing the matter at hand, is Romans 14:23, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

A Real Life Example:

When my Dad was in graduate school, majoring in Chemical Engineering, obviously his Chemistry textbook was vitally important to his education. At that time, the school in which he was enrolled had a separate building as a student cafeteria, and it had a large, covered porch. It was common practice for students to leave their books or other belongings outside, on that porch, when they went into the cafeteria to eat. So, Dad left his books there, too, and went in; but when he returned, someone had taken his Chemistry book. (This was a real disaster!)

Disaster for a Struggling Student

He had no money for another book, so he tried borrowing from various other students, but, as final exams drew closer, they were not free to lend their books, because they also needed them, to prepare for their exams. Dad was a believer, and he knew that stealing was wrong, but his fellow students kept telling him, “Just steal someone else’s book!”

He truly was not willing to do it, but finally, as the exams were upon him, he was becoming desperate: He went to lunch one day, and he saw a Chemistry book left on the cafeteria porch. He looked around and no one was in sight, so he grabbed the book, shoved it under his sweater, and hurried back to his apartment, feeling deeply condemned and guilty. (And he should have!)

But when he arrived home and opened the book, he discovered that he had stolen back his own book! His name was written inside it! He was furious, and he wanted to go find the person who stole his book (seeking revenge.) Fortunately, he never found the person.

However, the lesson is clear: They were guilty of having stolen his book. But He was guilty of having violated his conscience! But verse 9 says that we are not to be a “stumbling block to those who are weak.” Dad’s fellow students had been a stumbling block to him, but it was because they were not believers. Had he looked in the book first and seen his name there, he could have taken it with a clean conscience. But he did not. He felt guilty because he was guilty!

So, Who is the “Weaker Brother?”

In Romans 14:1, 2 Paul identifies the “weaker brother” as the one who thinks he should not eat certain foods. (In that particular case, all meat-eating was in question.) The weaker brother thought that he should only eat vegetables. But God defines that person as “the weaker brother.”

In the case of 1st Corinthians 8:1-6, the issue is specifically “food offered to idols.” And, yes, the food usually was the flesh of animals that had been offered to idols. (Bear in mind that the old English word “meat” only meant “food.” What we call “meat,” the King James Bible calls “flesh.”)

In verse 13, Paul concludes that if his eating flesh (at all) was causing someone else “to offend” (to sin against their conscience) then he was willing to never again eat flesh. If that is what it took to avoid damaging the weaker brothers, he was willing to become a vegetarian. But, Paul does not require that: he simply stated his priorities. (What is the value of a human soul? How important is it to you that you do not harm the flock of God?)

Who is the Weaker Brother in THIS Passage?

The person identified here as the weaker brother is the one who is fearful of foods that have been sacrificed to idols. (I can sympathize with that feeling! It just seems that, after it has been offered to an unclean spirit, the food must be “spiritually hazardous.”) But, in verse four, Paul says that the idol is nothing. And, in verse five, he says that all the different things the world calls “gods” are not gods. And the idols representing those “gods” have no power at all.

In Isaiah 46:6, 7, the LORD points out that though the people lavish gold upon their project of building an idol (that they will call a god,) they have to carry that “god” wherever they want him to go! And though they pray to that man-made god, and bow down to it, and worship it, it cannot answer and cannot even move, let alone save anyone from danger. The idols have no power for good or for evil, though the evil spirits they represent can cause trouble sometimes.

But, if the act of eating that food is seen to be an act of worship to that idol, (notice in verse ten, the food was eaten in the idol’s temple!) then it will be a stumbling block to weaker believers. It may also ruin your testimony with unbelievers, as they will see what they think is a contradiction to your professed faith.

When Might it be Appropriate to Eat Food that has been Offered to Idols?

In his book, “Lords of the Earth,” Don Richardson told of a situation among the Yali people, in the highlands of Irian Jaya. A known witch doctor brought a gift of a freshly killed pig to the missionary. The missionary was suspicious: he knew the man saw him as an enemy, so there must be a hidden agenda involved. He asked his language helper, “Why is he giving me this pig? What does he really want?”

The language helper explained that the pig had been killed by wild dogs. The religious people of that area worshipped and served the Kembu spirits…evil, dangerous spirits.  They believed that if one of their pigs was killed by wild dogs, it meant that the Kembu spirits had claimed that animal, and that if the people ate it, they would die! So, the witch doctor’s motive was attempted murder, in a sense!

But, the missionary immediately turned toward the house, where his wife had been watching this exchange: “Honey? We are having pork tonight!”

Why did he choose to eat meat that had effectively been “sacrificed to idols?” Because he saw that there was a spiritual war in progress, a war for the souls of the Yali people. He knew that the Holy Spirit indwelling him and his wife, was the all-powerful God of the universe, and the evil spirits had no authority over him. The way to demonstrate that truth was to go ahead and eat that pig, so the Yali people would see that the Kembu spirits were powerless over Christians.

When Might it Not be Appropriate?

This passage, 1st Corinthians 8:9-13 makes it clear that the real issue is not whether you have liberty ( and, you do, by the way) but whether you insist on using your liberty in a way that may hurt other people. Using your freedom carelessly can cause serious problems for immature believers.

A Personal Example

I used to love certain classical music compositions, and I felt free to whistle or hum their music…or even to sing the words in one case, because they were Latin and I didn’t know what they meant. (Was I in sin? No… I was just enjoying well-written symphony music, I thought.)

But, one day in my ignorance, I was singing the few words I knew of a very old piece of music, and a younger friend confronted me, saying, “WHY ARE YOU SINGING THAT??” I was astonished at the outburst, and I just said, “It’s nice music! I like it!”

He persisted, “Do you know what that song is?”  I said, “Sure! It’s Franz Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’!”  And he pressed on, saying “But don’t you know what that IS?”  By now I was truly puzzled, so I said, “I guess I must not…!” He said, “Chet, that is the ‘Hail Mary,” put to music! It is a worship song to Mary!”

I replied, “I did not know that! I will not sing that song anymore!” (And I haven’t! It is sad, of course, because it is gorgeous music, but the fact remains that it truly was written as a worship song to Mary, as seen by the Roman Catholic Church.

So. why was it such a “big deal” to him? Because he was a brand-new Christian! He had just recently escaped the Roman religion, in which he had been born and raised, and he was horrified to hear me, his friend and teacher, apparently supporting the false religion he had just escaped.

Was that a good enough reason to permanently abandon that song? It absolutely was!

How Should We Apply The Teaching Today?

There may be things in our society that carry emotional baggage.  We eventually stopped using wine in our Communion services. Why? Because we had recovering alcoholics among us. They were afraid they would regain a taste for alcohol and revert to drinking. It was an easy decision!

Do some churches strongly disagree with us about that? Certainly, they do…but we simply exercised our freedom to abstain from alcohol. We did so for the sake of those who might have been caused to stumble.

There are other examples in our society, where real freedoms may need to be set aside, to avoid a bad testimony. We hear people loudly say, “Stand on your rights!” But, according to God’s Word, sometimes it is better to “sit on ‘em!”

Philippians 2:5-8

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Remember: Jesus had the right to all the riches of the universe, let alone the paltry offering of this world. But, as  Philippians chapter two tells us, He set aside those rights. He emptied Himself of His eternal prerogatives as God, the Creator, and the Author of all things.

The Greek word for this act is “Kenosis.” It means a “self-emptying.” He took on the form of a servant…specifically, a human baby! And we are called to follow Him in His humility. Set aside your own prerogatives as a proud, self-willed human, and embrace the humility of the Cross!

Lord Jesus, please free us from the tyranny of our self-will and pride. Allow us to join You in Your role as a servant. Allow us to be Your hands and feet and voice in this World. Let us offer all those around us the Gift of Eternal Life.

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