A Fate Truly Worse Than Death

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 16:1, ESV)

The words in bold above translate a single Greek word which is σκανδαλισθῆτε [for Greek studs].  The noun form of the word originally meant the piece of wood that kept a trap open in order to snare an animal.  The verb form of the word—which we find here—has no examples outside of biblical literature.  “The Eng. word scandal is derived from the noun via the Lat. scandalum.” [New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology].  The verb as used here means “to lead astray.”

Bible translators used several different options to get at the meaning of John 16.1:

  • ye should not be offended—KJV 1900, AV 1873
  • you will not fall away—LEB, NIV
  • keep you from stumbling—NRSV
  • you won’t abandon faith—NLT
  • you may be kept from stumbling—NASB95

The New Living Translation (NLT) takes a little bit of an interpretive approach by explaining what the statement means rather than translating precisely, but it does get the point.  Jesus wanted to warn the disciples not to fall away. Don Carson points out the importance of Christ’s statement here: “The greatest danger the disciples will confront from the opposition of the world is not death but apostasy.”

Yikes! There is a lot at stake here and Jesus well knows it.  Death is nothing to one of Christ’s disciples, indeed Paul calls death “gain” (Phil 1.21).  Apostasy on the other hand, falling away and abandoning the faith, now that was something to be avoided.  A disciple of Christ’s who falls away is lost eternally.  Indeed, we have already seen one of his disciples fall away, Judas Iscariot, who is even at this point going to the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Again and again in the Scriptures, followers of Jesus are warned not to fall away from the faith.  “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12, ESV)

Jesus’ words come to us in the same manner as they came to his first disciples.  He has spoken in order that his words might keep us from falling away from the faith. The question we are left with is, “are we going to listen to him?”

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