Vol. 7, No. 9
~ Page 2 ~
Three passages record Jesus advising certain hearers to 'pluck out one of their eyes' or 'cut off one of their hands,' and one of these passages adds that they may need to 'cut off one foot" (Matthew 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48). What could possibly warrant such drastic and repulsive action? In short, heaven and hell issues (Matthew 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48) or whether one will be privileged "to enter into the kingdom of God" (Mark 9:47) are gravely important and more than sufficient reasons to alleviate abettors to sinful activities, no matter how severe the course of action.
The eyes, hands and feet in these texts "offend," from a Greek word transliterated into English as "scandalize," and meaning, "to entrap, i.e. trip up... or entice to sin, apostasy" (Biblesoft's). Commentators, such as Vincent, note further that "offend" refers to "...the stick in a trap on which the bait is placed, and which springs up and shuts the trap at touch of an animal" (Vincent's). Another resource adds that the meaning of skandalon includes "stumbling block" or "cause of ruin" (Kittel).
"Pluck out" in Matthew 5:29 means "to tear out" whereas a different Greek word in Mark 9:47 means "to eject" (Biblesoft's). Elsewhere the latter is translated often as "cast forth" and once as "thrust out." Offending hands and feet are to be "cut off" (Mark 9:43, 45), meaning "amputate" (Biblesoft's). Jesus affirmed that embracing a self-imposed handicap is far preferable to crossing the threshold of eternity destined for eternal hell; the Greek word asbestos is translated "never shall be quenched" (Mark 9:43 KJV) and means "not extinguished... perpetual" (Biblesoft's).
The severity of the sin problem cannot be overemphasized though the language of Jesus to stress its seriousness may be viewed by some as harsh or brutal. Generally, commentators and other students of the Bible perceive that Jesus' statements discussed herein are to be understood figuratively. "Jesus' word is to be taken figuratively but seriously" (Gospel of Matthew, emp. added).
Of course the Saviour does not mean that we should apply this precept literally, since bodily mutilation will not cure sin which resides in the will and not in the organ of sense or action. A literal exaction of the demands of this precept would turn the church into a hospital. We should blind ourselves by taking care not to look with evil eyes; we should maim ourselves by absolutely refusing to go to forbidden resorts, etc. (Four-Fold)
It cannot be supposed that Christ intended this to be taken literally. His design was to teach that the dearest objects, if they cause us to sin, are to be abandoned; that by all sacrifices and self-denials we must overcome the evil propensities of our nature, and resist our wanton imaginations. Some of the fathers, however, took this commandment literally. (Barnes')
Accordingly, the apostle Paul applied our Lord's teaching with similar figurative language respecting sinful activities: "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col 3:5 NKJV emp. added).
In addition to the obvious, especially our modern age presents some unique, new opportunities to participate in old sins. For instance, borrowing from Jesus' words, one could as appropriately understand:
If thy telephone offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy Internet offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Old device or new, immaterial object or persons that lead to sin, all people and especially Christians must come to grips with the severity of sin and avoid it at all costs. Our souls depend upon it. "Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33 ASV).
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
The Gospel of Matthew. CD-ROM. Joplin: College P, 1968.
McGarvey, J.W. and Philip Y. Pendleton. Four-Fold Gospel. Cincinnati: Standard, 1914. CD-ROM. Austin: WordSearch, 2004.
Kittel, G., G. Friedrich and G. W. Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985; CD-ROM. Bellingham: Logos, 1996.
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.