Luke 17:1

ESV And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!
NIV Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.
NASB Now He said to His disciples, 'It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to one through whom they come!
CSB He said to his disciples, "Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one through whom they come!
NLT One day Jesus said to his disciples, 'There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting!
KJV Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!
NKJV Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!

What does Luke 17:1 mean?

In an extensive section of his writing (Luke 9:51—19:27), Luke compiled events to show how Jesus prepared His disciples for His crucifixion and their responsibility to build the church. Luke 17:1–10 seems to contain a summary of various teachings from throughout Jesus' ministry. Jesus has warned the disciples and the Pharisees to consider how they use their money; it reflects their devotion to God. He also warned them to take the Law seriously (Luke 16). Now, Jesus dives more deeply into the spiritual and relational responsibilities of His followers who take on leadership roles.

Jesus is talking to "disciples," which in this case can mean more than the Twelve (Matthew 10:1–4). At any given moment, the larger group mentioned here may include many women (Luke 8:1–4; Acts 1:14), Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias (Acts 1:21–23), and many others (Acts 1:15). These are the future leaders of the church.

The Greek word interpreted "temptations to sin" in the ESV and "stumbling blocks" in the NASB is skandala. It refers to a snare or a trap or something that brings a person into error or sin. This same root word is seen in verses like Romans 14:13 in relation to judging other believers on disputable matters and causing others to defy their own conscience. Romans 16:17 warns about those "who cause divisions and create obstacles [skandalon] contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught." The word is also used in 1 Corinthians 1:23 in reference to the offence of the message of a crucified Savior. In short, we should not be a hindrance to another's obedience to God, nor should we be the reason they stumble in their actions or their beliefs. Jesus' warning comes with a dire comment: it would be better if the teacher were tied to a millstone and thrown into the sea (Luke 17:2).

Of course, a sincere, obedient teacher of God's Word won't intentionally drive a person into sinful action or away from Christ. However, careless words can confuse people. People may abandon faith when they disagree with it (John 6:60–66) but that's quite different from someone being given a warped or inaccurate version of truth by a faulty teacher. Jesus' warning ends with "Pay attention to yourselves!" (Luke 17:3). All believers, but especially those who teach, need to pay attention to what they say (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6; James 3:1–5). As Jesus' brother James will later write, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1).

Luke 17:1–2 covers material like that of Matthew 18:1–7 and Mark 9:33–42 but with a different emphasis. Mark's version seems to be the most cohesive. The interaction begins when Jesus calls out the disciples for arguing over who is the greatest. Jesus takes a child and tells the disciples they must accept children in His name. Jesus then warns them not to stop others who are performing miraculous works in His name, even if they aren't a part of His larger disciple group. Then Jesus warns them about causing little ones to sin (Mark 9:33–42). Matthew includes that Jesus' followers must enter God's kingdom like a child (Matthew 18:1–7). In both set-ups, the disciples learn they must not only have humility, but they are also responsible for caring for those who are "younger"—whether in age or in faith.

The Pharisees teach and exalt a form of the Law that does not reflect God's will and leads others into sin (Luke 16:14–18). In fact, their converts are "twice as much a child of hell" as they are (Matthew 23:15). The disciples are not to do this. Even so, mistakes will happen. If the disciples' teaching does lead someone into sin—or if that person walks in voluntarily—they are to correct and forgive when that person sincerely repents (Luke 17:3–4).
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