The passage from the Sermon on the Mount (and see also Matthew 18:8-9) is a familiar one:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." - Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV emphasis mine)

Was Jesus teaching people to actually take up dismemberment as a way to fight sin? Is he merely speaking in the language of hyperbole? Are eyes, hands, and feet symbolic of other things? Or is the teaching getting at something else? How should these sayings be understood?


11 Answers 11


The immediate context is adultery, which occurs in the heart. The adultery enters the heart through the eye, and clears the heart through the hand. Under these circumstances, one would be ceremonially unclean only until evening (Lev 15:16-17). That is, there was no sin under these circumstances in the Law of Moses that would have required blood sacrifice (sin or guilt offering), but Jesus indicated that in fact under such circumstances there was an actual act of adultery, because the sin occurred in the heart in concert with the eye and hand.

Now, is Jesus talking about the actual surgical removal of the eye and hand?

The problem is not the eye or the hand, but the heart. Jesus does not mention that two eyes be gouged, or that two hands be hacked off, which would eliminate the possibility of the sin of adultery from ever occurring again. (The problem is the heart.) So, Jesus is not making an actual reference to the removal of parts of the body, because leaving one hand and one eye (without rectifying the heart) does not eliminate the possibility of a repeat of the same sin of adultery in the heart from occurring again. It is the heart that is the problem.

So the "removal" of the right hand and one eye has a different meaning. That meaning is to block the eye and hand from processing the images of lust (and therefore adultery). As Martin Luther once said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” What he meant by that was that we cannot give harbor to lust either passively (eye) or actively (hand). We must eliminate the passive and active ways that the sin of adultery therefore can compromise our heart.

  • Correction: In Matthew 18, Adultery is not the immediate context, or surrounding contexts. "The immediate context is adultery, which occurs in the heart." Jesus was speaking "generally" about any "stumbling blocks". Sep 21, 2017 at 17:12
  • @Joseph “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” - I thought it was Leo Tolstoy who said this, thanks for correcting me, even unintentionally! Jun 26, 2021 at 19:20

Jesus was using hyperbole - a literary device, an exaggeration, to get a truth across. Even if someone has no eyes and no hands, it still doesn't stop them lusting after others because sin arises from the heart - Jesus obviously knew this and taught it elsewhere in the Scriptures. Jesus used this literary device to emphasise the seriousness of sin. It would be better to end up in heaven physically maimed, than end up in hell with both eyes and both limbs. The English language teems over with literary devices to get our point across. Take the expression 'it's raining cats and dogs' we know it isn't literally raining cats and dogs - but the rain is coming down so heavily, the weight of it is tantamount to cats and dogs falling on our heads. Literary expression used = cats and dogs. Truth it's meant to portray = it's raining heavily.

Literary device used by Jesus = pluck out your eye

Truth it's meant to portray = cease from sin because sin will take you to hell, but it's better to end up in heaven maimed than have physical wholeness and end up in hell.


One-eyed and one-handed people aren't immune from sin (though zero-headed people are!) So Jesus' teachings in this passage shouldn't be read as a practical method, but instead intended to demonstrate the seriousness with which we must attempt to deal with our sin: if gouging our eyes would fix our sin (even though we know it won't) then we should not hesitate to do so.

Jesus never gives us any genuine silver bullet for our fight against sin, so there must not be one, or else he surely would've told us! There's no easy or permanent or universal or even approximately reliable solution for removing the sin from our lives this side of heaven. But we must still treat it seriously, and we can know that God will help us regardless.


In short, to pluck out the eye here, symbolizes to stop contemplating the things that tempt you. As for hand, to stop doing things that bring about temptation. To prove this, imagine a person has cut out his eye because he could not stop lustfully looking at women. But in his inward imagination he continues to lust after the images of women that he still remembers. But is this not something that is as evil as the real thing, according to verse Matthew 5:28? Yes. How then would the act of tearing out the eye help here? Would it not be a useless superficial act, while the inward part is full of dead man's bones, as Jesus put it?

In general, Bible is packed with analogies, and care must be taken to not take things literally that aren't meant to be taken literally. This requires good knowledge of the entire Bible, since oftentimes a full piece of truth is scattered around, and a person is required to "search the Scriptures" in order to gather the puzzle pieces. In Matthew 13:34 we can read: "All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable". I don't believe Matthew 13:34 refers to unbelievers, but rather those believing in Jesus, since the crowds contained believers as well. As for unbelievers and this verse, there do exist people who read the Bible who do not profess themselves as Christians. This is how it works: we "hear"/read the Bible/Word/Jesus as we read the Bible (this includes the entire Bible, since the entire Bible is the Word/Jesus), and then in our private, inward part the Holy Spirit explains the meaning. This is illustrated by Jesus showing to his disciples the meaning of his words later in private.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Be sure to check out the site tour and read how this site is a little different than other sites. In particular, pay attention to what constitutes a good answer and make sure your answer meets those guidelines. Please note that "showing your work" is required. Typically, we like answers that cite scholarly references and/or explain how your interpretation arises from the text and do a little more than just state your opinion on the text Jan 27, 2016 at 20:03

I'm reminded of when the mini-skirt first came out and the preacher said that whoever looked would be struck blind. I used to walk around town with one eye closed because I was only willing to risk one eye! Not!

Jesus' point was that there was no excuse for sin and that his followers were to resist sin even to the point of shedding their own blood:

Heb 12:3 Think about the one who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you may not become tired and give up. Heb 12:4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

This "no matter what" is illustrated in the way that S, M and A risked death rather than compromise:

Dan 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, "It's not necessary for us to respond in this matter. Dan 3:17 Your majesty, if it be his will, our God whom we serve can deliver us from the blazing fire furnace, and he will deliver us from you. Dan 3:18 But if not, rest assured, your majesty, that we won't serve your gods, and we won't worship the golden statue that you have set up."

And Paul:

Act 21:13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Act 21:14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.

Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of [FOR] Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Rom 8:36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." Rom 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

And all the saints:

Rev_12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

So the believer is to be willing to endure the loss of life and limb in order to be faithful to God.

But he goes even further suggesting that inflicting damage on one's own body is worth it if it keeps you from sin:

Mat 19:9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." Mat 19:10 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." Mat 19:11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. Mat 19:12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it."

I'm reminded of the scene in a certain movie where the protagonist saws off their own thumb in order to escape handcuffs, so they will live. It was a difficult but wise choice.

But self mutilation was not the way he taught that people were to deal with sin in a general sense. Others, including Origen considered self-mutilation a duty:


The context of Jesus' teaching was that of contrasting "binding and loosing" with "obedience". He was saying that the law was not invalidated because what it demanded was inconvenient or "impractical" as he suggests the priests would opine:

Mat 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish [parse into do this but don't worry about that] the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish [parse into do this but don't worry about that] them but to fulfill them [restore their integrity]. Mat 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Mat 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Mat 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.


So his point is that obedience to the Torah was to be "perfect" like the father in the sky is perfect, not that temptation should routinely be remedied by self-mutilation.


1. Question:

Matthew 5:27-30 - Did Jesus teach people to literally pluck their eye out and cut their hand off?

In context, Jesus is speaking generally, of any stumbling blocks - not just any one sin, (as suggested in another answer about adultery).

NASB, Matthew 18:7-8 - “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble ...

2. Answer - Can Maiming Oneself Justify Neglecting others who are as Distressed?

At the very least, when Jesus speaks of cutting off your "right hand", he is at the very least speaking metaphorically of one's own strengths and the people they favor the most - if those things are causing stumbling.

"Right Hand" is used metaphorically to indicate strengths and who you favor most:

NASB, Genesis 48:18 - Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.”

NASB, Psalms 77:10 - Then I said, “It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

NASB, Psalm 89:13 - You have a strong arm; Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted.

NASB, Matthew 20:21 - And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She *said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”

When interpreted literally, the better question is:

Will maiming yourself actually be as great a stumbling block, and destroy a relationship with God, or stop you from observing the commands of Jesus - like caring for others who are in distress?

That answer would likely deter any from such an extreme form of observance, as the observance would likely cause a greater risk of falling from grace.

This is the reason God commanded people to meditate on his commandment, day and night, (Joshua 1:8). This commandment is way too significant to be invalidated and simply dismissed as metaphor.

3. Explanation:

Jesus was speaking from divine awareness, knowledge, and experience. So, a modern explanation can reasonably be based on the same principle - experience:

Imagine a father, seeing his newly born daughter for the first time - falling madly in love, only to watch as her life was slowly taken from her, in suffering. Imagine a lifetime of being consumed by that love - knowing that you will never be embraced by it.

Imagine standing before God, in judgement, instantly perceiving the passionate, unrestrained love of God towards you: to know how madly in love God is - for you. And imagine, in that moment - you immediately fall passionately in love with God in return, a consuming love. Then, imagine: "Depart from me you worker of iniquity, (Matthew 25:41)". Then, imagine an age of life never able to express that love, nor ever having that love returned, nor having any hope that your love will be heard.

Anyone that has experienced love in these ways can relate to the consuming desperation that this kind of love and grief brings.

Based on Jesus' own divine awareness and knowledge, he was literally saying - if you only knew the love of God, you would do anything, absolutely anything, to never separate yourself from it.

Ultimately, the controversy of this command is that it leads to a justification to commit suicide, to end the suffering that is causing a person to fall. However, the "solution" - is to also observe the command to bear each other's burdens, (Galatians 6:2) - because people cannot endure alone, even when doing "the right thing".

In other words, the distressed person does not have a justification to neglect others that are distressed - and severing one's own hand would interfere with their obligation to this commandment.

NASB, Matthew 26:38-39 - 37 And He ... began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He ... fell on His face and prayed, saying [desperately], “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; ...” 40 And He ... *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”


Jesus spoke in such a way as to obfuscate his sayings so they would not understand.

Mt 13:13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. Mt 13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

Mr 4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and [their] sins should be forgiven them.

Lu 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

Jesus spoke very precisely so that they would not understand.

Let's lay to rest at least one silly argument : But this isn't a parable! Yes it is. The Greek word παραβολή means 'a pithy and instructive saying, involving some likeness or comparison and having preceptive or admonitory force an aphorism, a maxim, a proverb' not simply a story as so many would assume, '

Jesus did not wish to forgive their sins AT THIS TIME. Doing so would nullify the cross. He wouldn't have to die since men could be saved by teaching alone. So NO. Jesus did not speak plainly so that people could understand. He spoke in parable, riddle or 'dark sayings', prophecy, mystery. He hid his meaning in such a way that they would not understand until after the cross.

This answers the questions: Why couldn't Adam eat from the tree of life? Why did the prophets seal the revelations? Why did he speak in parables? Why did he push the people away from himself and die alone? etc.


I've been thinking about this parable. For context, "adultery" is better understood as the bride (Israel) being unfaithful to God (Eze 16.35-36) in all forms (e.g. idolatry).

Here are some readings:

1. First reading: weakening to allow redemption

"If your right hand causes you to sin". The right hand is a symbol of power and strength (Ex 15.12,6; Ps 98.1; Ps 20.6; Ps 118.16). Hand (yad) means power, hand, monument, etc.

So your "right hand" can cause you to commit adultery if your own power causes you to be arrogant and rely on your own strength. Then it is better to weaken yourself (cut off your right hand) and make yourself powerless than to be unfaithful to God.

"Right eye" - eyes are how we perceive the world, and the right side was viewed as the side of wisdom (Ecc. 10.2), so the right eye could be a reference to what we perceive to be wise. Thus if what you perceive to be wise is causing you to be unfaithful to God then it's better if you destroy that and don't consider anything wise than to be led astray (1 Cor 1.27-29). 2 Cor 12.10

2. Second reading: weakening as becoming childlike

In Matt 18, Jesus speaks to his disciples the same themes, so we can learn the parable more openly. This time it is the hand (again, power/ability), foot (halach, or our walk/manner of life) and eye (how we judge the world).

in v3-4, we should be like little children. Little children are weak, they are dependent on others to lead them, and they are innocent, making few judgements (some say naive). Unless we humble ourselves and become like this, we cannot enter the kingdom.

v4-7, whoever takes care of the little ones takes care of Jesus, and whoever leads one of them astray, it would be better if a stone were attached to his neck and he were cast into the sea. (c.f. Eze 28.8, Zech 12.3)

v8-9 The limbs come off. Better to enter life crippled than the whole body burn in hell. Here we have the idea that even in Heaven we are crippled. This is new. We are reminded of the blood Moses put on the high priest (a drop of blood on the right hand, right foot, and right ear, Ex 29.20). So now in Heaven, we will not have our own power (hand), we will not do our own walk (foot), and we will not judge for ourselves (eye). We will be in complete submission to the Father. Now the maiming takes on a mandatory nature, rather than "if..".

v10-14 parable of the lost sheep. But also the parable of the good shepherd. God wants to bring back those who wander off.

So summarizing Matt 18, we have that we need to be as weak/dependent/innocent as children if we are to enter heaven. But children can easily be led astray. Woe to him that causes them to stumble, even though it needs to happen. So now the children are led astray and we switch to adults. Adults need that weakening to enter heaven in that dependent, childlike state. Those who don't will have their whole body destroyed in hell. God will rejoice over bringing back the lost to his fold.

3. Third reading: Redemption via the cross.

Read Zecharaiah 11.16-12.14, where there is a similar story, except God becomes the actor triumphing over evil, and the role of the bride is passive. That's good, as self-circumcision is hard.

v 16: There is the bad shepherd that doesn't care about his flock and sells them to those who would destroy them. So the flock is being led astray. God has calamity strike the foolish shepherd:

v 17 “Woe, my worthless shepherd who deserts the flock! May a sword fall on his arm and on his right eye! May his arm wither completely and his right eye be utterly blinded!”

We then have a type of spiritual war, in which God is protecting Judah, making it immovable, and striking her enemies with blindess (v4) and "I will strike every horse (metaphor for strength) with confusion".

The spiritual war continues, and God declares Judah will no longer be able to stumble (v8)

v10 "“ ‘I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication, and they will look to me whom they pierced, and they shall mourn over him, as one wails over an only child, and they will grieve bitterly over him as one grieves bitterly over a firstborn."

Grace and supplication is that dependent, childlike state which allows Judah to see Messiah and then have each wife mourn alone in repentence.

To summarize the third reading, it is God who will destroy the strength/walk/judgement, and this is the prelude to the bride no longer being moved by her (spiritual) enemies - she becomes very heavy (heaviness = glory), like a stone they can't move, like a stone that crushes them. She adopts the childlike attitude that allows her to see the cross, and then bear that cross alone.


Only if He literally claimed that had those children put to silence, the stones of Jerusalem's pavements would substitute them immediately in praising Him (Luke 19:40). But this is impossible. So, the inference is that the Lord sometimes speaks figuratively/metaphorically.

Here also, only metaphorical interpretation is possible, and this is 100% clear analytically, from the very form of the saying, because if one takes a literal sense, then the very question is mistaken, because neither eye nor hand ever makes us stumble, but only our sinful desires and proclivities do. Thus, if I want to sniff my neighbor's wife's scarf with a lascivious intent, then what, should I cut my nose or what?!

Why do we need to even discuss self-evident things, a?


Question : Did Jesus teach people to literally pluck their eyes out and cut their hands off?

Text: [Matthew 5:27-30][1].

Jesus often uses metaphors and parables to convey His teachings. However, in this case, the context does not provide clear markers of hyperbole. The statement is prescriptive, with a cause and a severe consequence - being thrown into hell.

It is worth noting that this statement is similar to God’s command to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17 ESV).

To interpret Jesus’ statement as hyperbole would be to downplay His words and intentions. It would neutralize the weight of His warning and remove the grave consequence of hell.

Jesus gives a stern warning with this statement, directed to His own people - the Jews and all believers - who live in sinful lifestyles and risk perishing in hell. However, it is important to remember that Jesus, who gave this stern warning, also gave His body to be mutilated and torn on the cross for us so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of maiming our own bodies. He made the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

The answer is that it is NOT hyperbole.

Jesus wants us to take all sins seriously, including those acted out, thought, or spoken. The way out from the dire consequences mentioned in the text is through repentance and confession. God is always ready to forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). True repentance and confession will lead us to sin less, not more. The Holy Spirit abides in us and helps us live a holy life. Our God is good, full of mercy, grace, and long-suffering. He has good plans for His children: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11-12).

  • according to your summary, "Jesus speaks what He means, He means what He says." we ARE supposed to cut our hands off.
    – Steve
    Jun 25, 2021 at 2:54
  • @user48152, If you read again the comment as whole, you will see the answer.
    – Sam
    Jun 25, 2021 at 20:26

You've got it all wrong because you are answering the eye and hand instructions from the viewpoint of a Pharisee.

First, there was not a single Christian at the Sermon on the Mount.

Second, it was still the Old Testament/Covenant. Jesus was speaking to Jews who knew nothing else for getting right with God than their conduct. Jesus was shortly to introduce Himself as the Once-For-All perfect Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

That means Jesus was (in effect) saying, "If you are trusting in your good works to get you righteousness enough for heaven - more righteous than those Pharisees on yonder hill, and as righteous as God Himself, then I will take every one of the Big Ten and magnify them beyond your capability to obey. Lusting becomes adultery. Anger becomes murder. Love your enemies. Give your coat to the thief who took your robe", and etcetera. Those Jews instantly knew that good works would never suffice. Jesus was jerking the works rug from under their feet and replacing that false rug with God's Grace.

What wonderful news! No more animal sacrifices! No more rules and regulations! This Messiah wants our belief in Who He is and what He will do for us! The burden is lifted! Liberty to the captives!

But - if you would rather play the Pharisee and make the hand and eye represent something else, and you would rather get your post-salvation sins forgiven by forgiving others, re-dedicating, asking and begging God to forgive you, repenting of your sins (only one place in the KJV where a person did that is Judas in Matthew 27:3, and still went to hell), confessing your sins as you go, then that is your choice. You are believing in a "different Jesus." That is fatal.


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