The Origin Of Scruples

Neal Pollard

Wes Autrey gave me an incredibly cool book by Charles Earle Funk.  The title of it is, “Thereby Hangs A Tale.” The book divulges the origin of words in modern usage, a study known as etymology. The fascinating explanations of many of our words is virtually endless, but the origin of our word “scruples” is particularly interesting.  Apparently, the Romans were prone to get sharp pebbles in their sandals.  They called those “pointed bits of stone” scrupulus. Funk says, “It is easy to see how the uneasiness one would feel from a pebble in the sandal gave rise to the figurative use of scrupulus for an uneasiness of the mind” (254).  In time, scrupulous has come to mean “extreme caution and carefulness.”  Scruples are “a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action.”

There is a connection between scruples and conscience.  It is the conscience that informs our scruples.  Our sense of right and wrong determines our caution, care, and even hesitation when we are in a given situation.  How sharp our conscience is effects how scrupulous or unscrupulous we are.

The Bible does not use the word “scruples,” but the word “conscience” is mentioned 27 times in the New Testament alone. Some people’s conscience forbids them to do what may be acceptable (cf. 1 Cor. 8:7), but others’ consciences allow them to do what is forbidden (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 4:2). Thus, the goal is for us to properly train and adequately sharpen the conscience.

What helps in this process is growing close to God by communing with Him in Scripture, application of Scripture, and prayer.  As we walk the narrow way, we want to feel the pain of those “pebbles” that may keep us from finishing the journey.  Is this not the idea conveyed by the writer of Hebrews, who says, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).  That rock in the shoe may be some ethical or moral practice that ultimately takes us off course.  Let us be careful to gauge the morality or propriety of any course of action, making sure it is in harmony with the goal of eternal life and not more likely to ultimately lead us away from God.

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