We see Jesus exhorting in Matthew 5:29 that if a person's right eye causes him to sin, he should rather gouge it out and enter eternal life short of a member of the body. The same rule is repeated in Matthew 18:9 with the difference that the person enters eternal life with one eye. Now, the human body has two eyes so as to facilitate a three-dimensional view of things around. A person with one eye missing can still see. But, is it possible for a person with two normal eyes, to see and sin with one eye, say the right one, without associating the other? And, why does Jesus talk of gouging out only a single eye responsible for the sin? Was the term 'sinning with one eye' a euphemism for something else?

Is there a deeper meaning for the phrase 'to sin with the right eye' as mentioned in Matthew 5:29? Inputs from scholars of any denomination are welcome.

  • How could it not be possible for a person with two normal eyes to see and sin with one eye, say the right one, without associating the other? Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 20:18
  • 'Sinning with one eye' and 'to sin with the right eye' are not present in the text. The question is not, actually, about the text of scripture. The text is about 'stumbling'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 11:55

6 Answers 6


The meaning of "right eye" here can be understood better by looking at the verse in context:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.

The reference is to the preceding verse. The eye is the part of body used to look at a woman with lust. The saying is a hyperbole, intended to emphasize the seriousness of the sin of lusting after another man's wife. In ancient Judaism the right eye was the most important member of the body, so Jesus apparently considered adultery, even of the spiritual type, to be a very serious sin indeed.

  • 1
    One may ask: why specifically the right eye? I am not certain but I'd speculate that looking with the left eye signifies a more-or-less accidental lusting, while looking with the right eye indicates intention. Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 5:22
  • You have a point, Dan Fefferman. Looking at a person with one eye closed is called ' winking ' and is a universal method of communicating secrets, especially between lovers. It must have been prevalent among Jews, too. With 67 per cent of the population being right- eye- dominant persons, maximum people wink with the right eye open and left one closed ! Now, Jesus may have used the term ' looking ' to mean reaching at a secret agreement with winking. And, there is an implied consent from the side of the woman in that Jesus speaks of ' adultery WITH her ' . Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 8:04
  • 2
    I don't think Jesus was speaking of winking. He says the same thing about the right hand in the next sentence. My interpretation is that he is simply urging people not to give in to lustful thoughts and actions - keep them relegated to "left" and don't realize them in physical actions. This is worth a question in itself. Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 14:54
  • @Dan Fefferman Thank you - it need not be hyperbole, and any association between looking lustfully and the eye might not be intended meaning, and presumption. More simply, the right eye has ultimate value, as you say, and that is what sin of the heart is worth – that would have been understood by a Jewish audience .
    – user59096
    Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 18:26
  • 1
    Admittedly, it's possible to read the verse about the right eye as having nothing to do with the preceding verse about looking at a woman with lust. But I think it is not a coincidence that 'looking' is the topic in one verse an the eye is the issue in the next. I hope when you say it need not be a hyperbole, you are not suggesting Jesus was commanding people to actually pluck out their eyes, whatever the sin was! ;-) Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 19:09

There is nothing literal about Jesus' words here. He is using a graphic illustration to shock his listeners into realising the horror of sin that is not 'dealt with' before a person dies. To step out of time and enter eternity with sin will be a horror beyond words. Jesus knew that. His listeners did not, for they were confident that if they followed prescribed rules of conduct and religion, they could either earn God's approval, or merit eternal life in "the bosom of Abraham".

Here is commentary on the verses from Protestant Matthew Henry, (1662-1714):

"We have here an exposition of the seventh commandment [vs.27], given us by the same hand that made the law, and therefore was fittest to be the interpreter of it [Jesus showing how 'heart adultery' was equally sinful as actual adultery]...

(1.) It is a severe operation that is here prescribed for the preventing of those fleshly lusts. If thy right eye offend thee, or cause thee to offend, by wanton glance, and if it were indeed impossible, as is pretended, to govern the eye, and the hand, and they have been so accustomed to these wicked practices, that they will not be withheld from them; if there be no other way to restrain them (which, blessed be God, through his grace, there is) it would be better for us to pluck out the eye and cut off the hand, though the right eye and the right hand, the more honourable and useful, than to indulge them in sin to the ruin of the soul. And if this must be submitted to, at the thought of which nature startles, much more must we resolve to keep under the body, and to bring it into subjection; to live a life of mortification and self-denial; to keep a constant watch over our own hearts, and to suppress the first rising of lust and corruption there, to avoid the first occasions of sin, to resist the beginnings of it, and to decline the company of those who will be a snare to us... and to seek unto God for his grace, and depend upon that grace daily, and so to walk in the Spirit as that we may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, and this will be as effectual as cutting off a right hand, or pulling out a right eye; and perhaps as much against the grain to flesh and blood; as is the destruction of the old man.

(2.) It is a startling argument that is made use of to enforce this prescription (vs. 29). It is repeated in the same words (vs. 30) because we are loth to hear such rough things. Isaiah 30:10. It is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, though it be an eye or a hand, which can be worse spared, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell....

[2.] There are some sins from which we need to be saved with fear, particularly fleshly lusts, which are such natural brute beasts as cannot be checked, but by being frightened." Commentary, Matthew Henry, p. 1297 columns 1 and 2, Hendrickson, 2008

Jesus was advocating as strongly as possible the need for prevention of any such lustful sins becoming reality. The idea of gouging out one's best eye, or lopping off one's best hand, is so horrific as to show how vile such lustful ideas are to God. The ideas lead to the actions. So, before lustful desires are given a second to grip the heart, one should stamp on them (as it were) - crush them - don't entertain lustful notions for an instant, and call upon the grace of God to overcome those sinful urges. Then we won't need to physically restrain ourselves.

  • 1
    Thanks, Anne. It is true that Jesus did give importance to the roles played by members of the body. In Mtt 6:3 , he specifically referred to giving of arms with the right hand. It was, and still is, considered right to give arms with the right hand, while the use of left hand for the purpose is considered as a rude behavior. As for the left and right eyes, they stand on a different footing. Most people can close the left eye without the assistance of hands, and see with the right eye. Very few can close the right eye and see with the left one ! In a way, right eye is more equipped for sight . Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 1:59
  • 1
    90 per cent people are right- handed and 67 per cent are right- eye dominant. Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 3:54
  • 1
    @KadalikattJoephSibichan Yes - valid points though I think you meant to say give 'alms' with the right hand? I'm left-handed. I have to squint to close my left eye but easily close my right eye. I think to myself the verse Jesus said as "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" but it's the other way as the right has biblical symbolism. That is significant in Mat. 5 re. the right eye and the right hand - the best, the right, being corrupted by our sinful desires. Do not let that happen whatever it might cost us!
    – Anne
    Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 8:24
  • Thanks, Anne, for the charitable correction. War was the last thing in my mind, and I meant ' giving alms ' . Coming to biblical symbolism of the right side, my feeling is that it may owe its origin to general human behavior which in turn, is decided by biological characteristics. Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 9:57

‘Right and Left’, an article published in 1906 V10 pp 419-420 The Jewish Encyclopedia by Joseph Edwards & Judah David Eisenstein, provides extensive coverage of the meaning of left and right handedness in OT Scripture.

Here’s a short extract that seemingly addresses the question:

The right side, or right limb, of a person receives special prominence; the place of honor is at his right. "Upon thy right hand did stand the queen" (Ps. xlv. 9). Solomon placed a seat of honor for his mother, the queen, on his right side (I Kings ii. 19). The right eye was the most important and most vital member of the body. Nahash the Ammonite, as a reproach upon all Israel, purposed putting out the right eye of all men in Jabesh-gilead (I Sam. xi. 2). The prophet predicted, "Wo to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! . . . his right eye shall be utterly darkened" (Zech. xi. 17). The priest in purifying the leper put some of the blood of the sacrifice on the tip of his right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot; he also used his right finger to sprinkle the oil before the altar (Lev. xiv. 14, 16), and received as his share of the peace-offering the right shoulder (Lev. vii. 32).

"Right" is a synonym for "goodness" and "brightness," and "left" for "badness," "awkwardness," and "clumsiness." "A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left" (Eccl. x. 2). The right hand is associated with the idea of majesty: "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power" (Ex. xv. 6). Numerous other Biblical passages may be cited in illustration of this idea. The right hand was raised when an oath was administered or taken (Isa. lxii. 8), and sometimes both right and left hands (Dan. xii. 7). The signet was worn on the right hand (Jer. xxii. 24). Ezekiel, to expiate the sins of Israel, lay on his left side 390 days, and at the expiration of that term he lay forty days on his right side in penance for the sins of Judah; each day representing one year of their wickedness (Ezek. iv. 4-6). Rashi explains that Israel, or the Ten Tribes, were situated to the left of Judah, their capital city being Samaria: "Thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand" (Ezek. xvi. 46).

The warrior held the bow in his left hand and the arrows in his right (Ezek. xxxix. 3). Ehud, the Benjamite judge, used his left hand to thrust the dagger into the body of Eglon, King of Moab, thereby avoiding suspicion and rendering parrying difficult (Judges iii. 16-21). The Benjamites were all excellent marksmen—"left-handed; every one could sling stones at an hair's breadth and not miss." The name "Ben Yamin" (= "son of the right hand") is probably a euphemism. Targum Jonathan, however, translates "iṭṭer yad yemin" (left-handed) as "open-handed," that is, ambidextrous, as it is evident that the Benjamites were armed with bows and could use both the right hand and the left hand in shooting arrows from a bow (I Chron. xii. 2). Cant. ii. 6 refers to the lover: "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me." "Yad" means the right hand and "zeroa' " the left hand when both terms occur in the same sentence in the Bible (Naz. 3b, and see Rashi ad loc.).

Matthew 5:29 might then be read as "If the most important part of your body causes you to sin, 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."

I posit it is merely the preceding vs 28 'looking lustfully' that leads to presumption vs 29 is a continuation because of its association between looking and eyes. Whereas vs 30 continues the theme of important body parts.

Matthew 5:30 NIV

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.

Then those versus together might be read to mean:

28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If the most important part of your body causes you to stumble, 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. 30 And if the second most important part causes you to stumble, throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

In other words, that's how important it is to avoid sin of the heart. Not 'we can avoid lust by gouging an eye out'!


I agree with @Thermion in regard to 'the most important part' or one might say in the context of sight - the 'sighting eye'. One's leading eye is the one that focuses on the perceived object. The other eye is off-centre. (If I point at something, then close each eye in turn, only one eye is 'sighting' directly on the object.)

Nature, our created nature, has instincts - instincts of flesh and blood. Instincts of self-preservation ; and not just instincts to preserve myself but a very strong instinct to preserve the human race - which will not be preserved more than about fifty years if we do not continue to reproduce.

But to allow oneself to 'focus' upon this, as the most important aspect of one's existence, is out of balance. Or to become subject to human emotions, affections, passions and instincts to an inordinate degree is downright wrong.

And if one is enslaved to such instincts to the degree where it is causing one to behave unsociably, inhumanly and ungodly : then, yes, better gouge the offensive member out of one's body and preserve one's spirit, in the hope of a better resurrection.

I have no right to 'separate' a woman in my heart from her family or from her husband, the deeper meaning to the word μοιχεύω (moi, chorizo), translated 'adultery' who has not (from the bosom of her family and from her own volition) been given to me.

It is unrighteous, it is inappropriate, it is disorderly and it is rude. It is unsociable, it is inhuman and it is ungodly.

God's purpose in creating male and female was to set forth, in nature, a demonstration of Christ and the Church, of faithfulness, loyalty, nurture, kindness and trust.

This is to 'see aright'.

They that are in the flesh cannot please God, as scripture says. It is they who are led of the Spirit of God that are not condemned :

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. [Romans 8:1 KJV]

But the law, and the knowledge of good and evil (as Eden testifies) will not help us who are created human. It is a way of death.

And Paul discovered no problem with nine commandments, only the tenth revealed sin within him - Thou shalt not desire. (See the whole of Romans chapter 7.)

Then, and only then, did he discover that there was a rule within him that was far, far stronger than the Law outside of him. When I would do good, evil is present with me. The good that I would, I do not ; the evil that I would not, that I do.

Oh wretched man ! he cries out from within himself. And kicks against the goadings of his own conscience.

Paul discovered that, within, in his own spirit, he desperately needed a Saviour and a real, effectual salvation, from the sin that dwelt deeply within his own nature.

'I am crucified with Christ' he was - eventually - able to say.

And such an experience, the spiritual apprehension of his own union with Christ in Christ's death - this, yes this, gave him liberty, gave him holiness and broke the bands of law/sin/guilt/failure - law/sin/guilt/failure that made his life unbearable.

And even then there are times . . . . .

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious . . . .[Psalm 73:1-3]

And the remedy ?

Until I went into the sanctuary of God ... Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. ... Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee ... My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. [Psalm 73 selections KJV]

To dwell in the sanctuary, to be in union with the Lord, to see the end of all flesh in the death of Christ - this is to see aright.

And if my sighting eye sees otherwise, then better to wrench it from me and enter into Life halt and limping and half-blind.

Better by far.


In Greek, Matthew 5:29 uses the word skandalizó (σκανδαλίζω Strong's G4624) which is defined as "to put a snare (in the way), to cause to stumble, to give offense".

By using the word skandalizó along with the idea of gouging out one's own eye, Jesus is using hyperbole as a means to emphasize the need for caution.

Note the following commentaries:

  • Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

    (29) If thy right eye offend thee.—The Greek verb means, strictly, to cause another to stumble or fall into a snare, and this was probably the sense in which the translators used the word “offend.” It is doubtful, however, whether it ever had this factitive sense in English outside the Authorised version, and the common use of the word gives so different a meaning that it cannot be regarded as a happy rendering. The difficulty of finding an equivalent is shown by the variations in the successive English versions: “offend,” in Tyndal’s; “hinder thee,” in Cranmer’s; “cause thee to offend,” in the Geneva; “scandalise,” in the Rhemish; “offend,” again in the Authorised version. Of these the Geneva is, beyond doubt, the best.

    Pluck it out.—The bold severity of the phrase excludes a literal interpretation. [bold mine]

  • Barnes' Notes on the Bible

    Offend thee - The noun from which the verb "offend," in the original, is derived, commonly means a stumbling-block, or a stone placed in the way, over which one might fall. It also means a net, or a certain part of a net against which, if a bird strikes, it springs the net, and is taken. It comes to signify, therefore, anything by which we fall, or are ensnared; and applied to morals, means anything by which we fall into sin, or by which we are ensnared. The English word "offend" means now, commonly, to displease; to make angry; to affront. This is by no means the sense of the word in Scripture. It means to cause to fall into sin. The eye does this when it wantonly looks upon a woman to lust after her.

    Pluck it out ... - 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. [bold mine]

  • Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

    pluck it out, and cast it from thee: which is not to be understood literally; for no man is obliged to mutilate any part of his body, to prevent sin, or on account of the commission of it; this is no where required, and if done, would be sinful, as in the case of Origen: but figuratively; [bold mine]

  • Pulpit Commentary

    Pluck it out, and cast it from thee. The second clause shows the purely figurative character of the sentence. [bold mine]

  • Matthew 5:29 Study Note NWT

    is making you stumble: In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Greek word skan·da·liʹzo refers to stumbling in a figurative sense, which may include falling into sin or causing someone to fall into sin. In this context, the term could also be rendered “is causing you to sin; is becoming a snare to you.” As the term is used in the Bible, the sin may involve breaking one of God’s laws on morals or losing faith or accepting false teachings. The Greek word can also be used in the sense of “to take offense.”​—See study notes on Mt 13:57; 18:7. [bold mine]

The only deeper meaning in this verse is Jesus' illustrative exhortation to remove those things that cause us to sin in order to obtain salvation.

For additional explanations on this verse, see the following:


I will complete the great answers given here with what St. John Chrysostom said about this, especially because he has an interesting explanation about what plucking the eye means:

Because he is not talking about the eyes: what can the eye do harm when the mind is healthy? But about intimate friends who are for us as limbs which, if they injure us, he commands us to cut off and sacrifice friendship, to make our salvation more certain.
- St. John Chrysostom

Other holy fathers (St. Basil The Great, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Ambrose of Milan) also had the same explanation

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.