This question relates to apologetics, not the application of this passage today.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matt 5:29–30, ESV)

We typically don't interpret this passage to expect applying it literally. However, might this explain why God commanded the people and possessions of certain cities destroyed when Israel entered the promise land.

Israel continually struggled with many of its people, even some kings, worshiping the gods of the land instead of YHWH. Israel may not have survived as God's people if people in some of the cities had survived. Israel did not get rid of serving other gods until after the captivity.

To clarify this question without the intent of asking a new question, could Christ have come and accomplished what he did if the Jews were not free from idolatry. Note Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22, ESV)

He would not have taught on the same level, and would he have been crucified? Thus, it was taking a drastic step for the sake of Christ bringing salvation to the world. A step not for us to repeat after Christ's crucifixion.

Note, the purpose of this question is apologetic in nature, to explain why God made such a command in Israel's history. It has no intent to be applied in New Testament time.

  • This question relates to apologetics, not the application of this passage today.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 0:05

4 Answers 4


The answer to the OP's question is, "sort of", or 'in part".

Matt 5:29-30

In Matt 5:29, 30, Jesus is teaching His followers to remove temptations to limit their sin. [One cannot look at evil things if one cannot see them, etc.] That is, Jesus tells His followers to remove temptations that cannot be resisted to help live the Christian virtuous life.

Israel's Conquest

On the other hand, Israel's conquest of Cainan achieved two goals:

A: Wicked nations were destroyed whose probation had ended. We see this many times in Scripture - see appendix below.

B: God wanted to remove these nations so that they woulkd not entice Israel to worship other gods and be dragged away to their associated evil practices. See Ex 34:15, Deut 4:19, 11:16, 12:30, 13:6, 30:17, etc.

Thus, I agree that removing temptation for Israel worshiping false gods was part of the reason for the Cainanite nations' destruction, but there was more to it. Therefore, using Matt 5:29, 30 is only part of the reason. This is somewhat confirmed by the fact that a few nations such as the Amalekites were destroyed much later because their wickedness was not yet complete (see appendix below).

APPENDIX - End of probation

The Bible repeated tells us that our human lives and their associated probation is limited. Here is a sample:

  • Gen 6:3 - So the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days shall be 120 years.” [God decreed that the probation of the antediluvian world would be 120 years.]
  • Gen 18, 19 describes God’s final end of probation for Sodom and Gomorrah and their destruction.
  • 1 Sam 15 describes the end of probation for the Amalekites, and that king Saul was instructed to destroy them. This was to fulfill the prophecy in Num 24:20, Deut 25:17-19.
  • 2 Kings 17:13-23 describes the process of Israel’s decent into complete wickedness to the point that they could not be saved.
  • Zeph 2:2 - before the decree takes effect and the day passes like chaff, before the burning anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the Day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you.
  • Isa 55:6 - Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.
  • Jer 13:16 (NLT) - Give glory to the LORD your God before it is too late. Acknowledge him before he brings darkness upon you, causing you to stumble and fall on the darkening mountains. For then, when you look for light, you will find only terrible darkness and gloom.
  • Jer 36:7 (NLT) - Perhaps even yet they will turn from their evil ways and ask the LORD’s forgiveness before it is too late. For the LORD has threatened them with his terrible anger.”
  • Dan 9:24 - Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city to stop their transgression, to put an end to sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. [Compare Matt 21:43 - Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. AND Matt 23:37, 38 - O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Look, your house is left to you desolate.]
  • Heb 9:27 - Just as man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment. [All of our probation is limited to our lifetime - when we die our probation is ended.]

In summary, probation is limited and God's asks people to decide. For most of us, probation is limited by the extend our lives. For a few who are still alive to personally see Jesus’ return, our probation ends at the final judgement and the God says (Rev 22:10-12):

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of prophecy in this book, because the time is near. Let the unrighteous continue to be unrighteous, and the vile continue to be vile; let the righteous continue to practice righteousness, and the holy continue to be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to what he has done.

Note that the end of probation exists not because God’s mercy is limited, but because sinners come to the point where they finally and completely reject God’s salvation and grace. See Rev 6:15-17.


Matthew 5:29-30 is Jesus giving instruction to his disciples as to entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. It's part of what is called "The Sermon on the Mount", which includes "The Beatitudes". He speaks a lot about a future reward in heaven, and nothing he says there has anything to do with the theocratic government of the nation of Israel. Jesus is pointing Israelites to what is to come, not what happened in the past with literal wars. That is why the two verses in question also warn about the danger of ending up in hell.

Certainly, Jesus' points were never to be taken literally, as to plucking out one's offending eye, or cutting off one's offending hand. But note that he speaks of individual sin of his Jewish audience. He is not even hinting at the sin of pagan nations!

This means that it would not appear to be appropriate to use those verses to refer in any way as to God's reasons for commanding the nation of Israel to destroy so many of the cities, and the people, of the Promised Land.

  • Partially disagree. As Moses and the Promised Land are types of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, it's appropriate by default to look for parallels. The way Jesus advises to deal with egregious sin (cut it off) may shed light upon the OT's treatment of egregious sin, or vice versa (especially vice versa). Especially because the generation that entered the Promised Land was one of the best and most faithful of the OT generations, and thus are a type of Jesus's believers. Is it a really tight parallel? No. Can we look at the notion of cutting off sin? Definitely. Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 7:21

In the general sense, yes

I argue here that God's cutting off of sin and sinners such as the Canaanites is indeed paralleled with the believer cutting off sin, but with the important caveat that believers generally cut off sin, their own sin, but not sinners.

I contrast my answer with Anne's, who has provided a coherent 'no' answer.

Anne's answer is not wrong. The way that a Christian deals with sin is different to in the Old Covenant.

But she is not 100% right either. The idiom of cutting off (of a sinful person, people, or whole nation,and even all mankind) is astonishingly common in the OT. I count about 100 uses of it using my Tecarta app. Consider e.g. Genesis 9:11 (all mankind), Leviticus (ch 17-19 uses it 5 times referring to a sinful person), etc.

Deuteronomy 19:1 refers specifically to the Israelites cutting off the Canaanite nations:

Deuteronomy 19:1 ESV "When the LORD your God cuts off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses,


Later on, "cutting off" starts to be used of Jereboam, the northern kingdom of Israel, and then Judah.

It's not hard to see a parallel here between a faitful believer who ruthlessly cuts off sin and a holy God who cuts off sin, and even the sinful.

Romans 11 actually extends this into the New Testament, this time comparing faithless Jews to believers, and in particular the Gentile believers, with a picture of branches broken off a vine while wild branches are grafted in, until the time when the 'natural branches' will be grafted back in.

But: The grafted branches are forbidden to be arrogant as a result; as in Matthew, Christians usually cut off sin, not sinners. (Clear exceptions are for gross immorality within the church or for false teachers. A reflection on the body of many members that is the church may or may not be appropriate here.)

Romans 11:22 ESV Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.


I can see why the connection is made between the council in Matthew 5 and the destruction of the cities in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 7).

Note that these are two different levels of application of the same principle. The council in Matthew 5 is on the micro level; the individual. While the instructions in Deuteronomy 7 are on the macro level; the entire nation of Israel.

The key is the principle involved which the apostle Paul put simply "let us also throw off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us." (Hebrews 12:1) Like a vehicle with a bad wheel alignment, man has the tendency to veer off the correct course.

I personally would not use Matthew 5 to say that was the reason for the removal of the cities and nations in the Promised Land. I would point to the principle behind the council in both situations.

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