Matthew 5:29 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.

Why not left eye? Why not just eyes? What's the spiritual significance?

  • Most likely the same as that of the right hand in the following verse.
    – Lucian
    Oct 7, 2020 at 22:09
  • One of our eyes is our 'sighting' eye. If our sighting eye is not sighting correctly, we will not see correctly. We will be out of focus. Better to pluck it out than 'see' wrongly and perish. (The sighting eye is usually the right one for right-handed persons and the left, likewise.) We are not being exhorted to blind ourselves, but to see aright. If someone is misusing their vision for improper purposes, they should 'see' aright that that is wrong.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 8, 2020 at 6:19
  • Just my own personal application: as a warm-blooded man, who finds it tempting to look at a beautiful woman. I do not look with my full gaze...I look out of the corner of my eye. You cannot look out of the corner of both eyes. I don't think Jesus meant anything special about the right versus left. I also do not think there is any hyperbole: how can something be exaggerated when compared to hell? Needless to say: I have been taking it very seriously to thoroughly apply this warning to myself and my tendency to want to sneak a peek at a pretty or seductive lady. I think that is the meaning Oct 8, 2020 at 12:06

4 Answers 4


I think we need to read Matthew 5:27-30 instead of just 5:29. The verses cover part of adultery together.

Matthew 5:27-30 (NASB) “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you [a]stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you [b]to lose one of the parts of your body, [c]than for your whole body to be thrown into [d]hell. 30 If your right hand makes you [e]stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you [f]to lose one of the parts of your body, [g]than for your whole body to go into [h]hell.

Jesus mentions one eye and hand, and we might value one left or right more than the other, but that’s not the point. Nor is He saying we should mutilate ourselves. We should be ready to sacrifice anything for God vs give into ourselves, using our eyes and hands as we want and commit adultery. That would offend God.


Do you think it might be related to a passage in 1 Samuel 11? In that story, King Nahash(whose name means serpent) laid siege on Jebesh-Gilead and said to the Israelites: “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.”v2 Jesus would have studied this passage and perhaps was using the right eye detail as a connection to suggest that the serpent wants to use our right eye to bring disgrace upon us.

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This answer will be speculative but hopefully useful. Jewish thought speaks of two tendencies (yetzers) -- one good and one evil. The evil tendency (yetzer harah) is associated with the left hand, while the good tendency (yetzer harah) is associated with the right.

Rabbinic accounts often situate the evil yetzer on the left side... Likewise, b. Ber. 61a puts the evil yetzer on the left side while the good yetzer is placed on the right side: “Our Rabbis taught: '...A wise man’s understanding is at his right hand, but a fool’s understanding is at his left.'” source

Presuming that this rabbinic idea was already present in Jesus' time, it is logical to think that it would form the cultural background of some of his teaching. Applying this to the OP question, it may by that "if your right eye causes you to sin" refers to a situation in which a natural evil inclination (which should be repressed and thereby kept to the left side) has moved from being a mere tendency to an willful intent.

Remember, in rabbinical thought, male sexual desire for a woman is normal even though it can tempt a person to sin. Lust, which comes from the yetzer harah, needs always to be checked by the commandment not to commit adultery/fornication. So Jesus says:

I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. (Mt. 5)

Here, Jesus' referring to the right eye causing one to sin means that the normal sexual attraction (based on the yetzer harah) has dominated the person, moving from a natural sexual desire to an actual intention to sin. In that case, it must be strongly repressed, which Jesus expresses in a hyperbole: "tearing the eye out and throwing it away."

Why not left eye? Why not just eyes?
What's the spiritual significance?

This statement in Matthew 5 is a narrowed version of the broader statement in Matthew 18 :

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:8-9 NIV

These mutilations being hyperbole following the extremity of causing others to stumble based on the understanding that :

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.

Matthew 15:18 NIV

The cutting of limbs ultimately having no direct effect on serpent thinking and less effect on action than consumption of substances and as also mentioned the "washing of hands".
The mutilations being rather an awareness of the transition from thought to action and attempted interruption.
The process being :

... after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:15 NIV

Or expanded, first the thought, then the entertaining of the thought, then the beginning of action, then the offence.
The mutilation or "cutting" or "plucking" happening before the offence.

The 3 appendages referred elsewhere :

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

1 John 2:16 NIV

A reference to here :

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

Genesis 3:6 NIV

The eyes relating to our intent. We look to our direction and the objects of our affection.
The feet relating to the going, or "the pride of life". We set our course and it becomes our master. In Eden this was the decision to "gain wisdom".
The hand relating to the taking or ultimately the committing of the act.

The narrowing of focus in the mutilations in Matthew 5 being a result of the narrowing of focus in the sin. Jesus allowing for the wandering in lust - wandering alone cannot lead to adultery - but no allowance given for the looking - which promotes the desire - nor for the action obviously.

While the circumstances of the hand and feet according to Moses are clear, hence the cloven footed representing a capacity to "divide" direction and hence "cut off" poor choice, there is a greater significance relating to the eye :

Moses also brought Aaron’s sons forward and put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet.

Leviticus 8:23 NIV

The omission of the eye and substitution of the ear being explained :

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 8:17 NIV

The blood of the ram being applied to the ear as the method of communication and to the hand and foot as to work and service but the eye being surrounded by the tent and the objects it contained. That smallest of effort - the lobe the thumb the toe - being sufficient in the tent and without to keep purity of thought. The ear being the transmission of information and greater than any visual disturbance. The walking and doing of the christian life being subjected to the mind and not the seeing of the eye, an organ through which much offense can arrive regardless of our efforts otherwise.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV

The analog also of the ruminants being found in Matthew 15 where the chewing of a cud is reflective of ruminating on the information.

As to the right but not the left, to my understanding we are not plainly informed as to why. However, there is an inferred explanation.

Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Joshua 1:7 NIV

The law goes so far as to assert this outside of any asymmetric ritual :

Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left ...

Deuteronomy 28:14 NIV

Further without the instruction of the divine there is an aimlessness :

"And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:11 NIV

The connection to the divine is the only peace in this life, such as it is, and that peace a peace of mind not of circumstance. This peace based on acceptance of the superior capacity of the divine to make appropriate decisions, the making of decisions being the mandate of royalty.
In this case the Ninevites, without the law, were subject to the winds of chance, but to those with the law there was a defined path.

It only makes sense to understand the "right handedness" of the law as expressive of the peace that came through the divine hand holding the reins and pointing the way. A deliverance from the uncertainty of ignorance as it were. For :

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Mark 2:27 NIV

The care of the divine providing something greater than ambiguity and of necessity, pointing a way at the least in a meditative sense.

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.

Psalm 119:1 NIV

The psalm being filled with allusions to this function of the law as a bastion of direction. In a sense when there is no clear physical direction, there is a meditative one ... as you are engaging in now ... "why one eye not both" ... "why the right eye" ...

My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my words of insight,
that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.

Proverbs 5:1-2 NIV

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

This inclining being based on the asymmetry of our physical frame and subsequent psychopathy and so on.

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Psalm 110:1

A decision being made for whatever reason and sufficient for the ambiguity of this life for those that would plumb the depths of the human condition. A similar perpexity being found in David's other son :

I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!

Ecclesiastes 1:13 NIV

And a similar perplexity being found in David :

Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?”

“Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”

1 Samuel 30:7-8

The ephod being about decsion making and all being to the glory of god - the right and the left - but decisions having to be made - and all options to be subservient to or under the idea of "holiness to the lord".

Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions ...

Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.

Exodus 28:15,30 NIV

“Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: holy to the Lord ... attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead ...

Exodus 28:36,38 NIV

These items being manufactured and consecrated in the process of Aaron being painted on his right ear and thumb and toe.

Decision making, all options subservient to this :

... whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God ...

1 Corinthians 10:31-32 NIV

So of necessity, decisions, all decisions without offence being subservient to holiness. An idea from the law, and found in the statement of the great king as to the right eye. Not of necessity a physical choice between two ways but a singular moral choice to serve from which there may be many options, in which case the bowing of the head mattering more than any particular direction. Life is about living, rise and pursue.
The ultimate decision and "right handedness" will only be found at his appearing.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Matthew 25:34-36 NIV

That direction decision being greater than any other in this life and dependent on the bowing of the head in this life and not our own "handedness" of which the "right handedness" of the law is a shadow.

And of course that "rightness" being a matter of trust and no doubt related to our frame, but of grace, not a concern.
The decision to serve being the matter and not which particular serving option. When you get stuck, pick one and move.
If you really get stuck, tuck one of your thumbs behind its index finger, put a coin on top, and flick it into the air. Neither matters only the bowing of the head.
And for cases of especial anxiety, think about the consecration of Aaron, a matter that can only be entertained for so long before decisions have to be made.
Bow the head, pick a direction.

All bound up in Romans 8 and the adoption to sonship at the right hand of Jesus.

And btw, our own separating of goats and sheep in this life bears little relevance to the greater dividing, but, we still do it of necessity, in order to lead balanced lives.
I can only stand off to one side of the entire population of the planet for so long before I return to its centre.
A process to be understood but not a cause of anxiety.
This is the message of "handedness" and its inclusion in the law, a lamp to my feet.

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