Should we literally cut off body parts that are causing us to sin?

by Benjamin Misja on November 11, 2015

In this new series “Sermon Spotlight”, we are focusing on one or a few aspects of recent sermons that deserve some in-depth attention. Don’t hesitate to comment with your questions or contact us if you have a specific question that you would like us to address here. 

In our last sermon passage on , Jesus says the following:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, to the unquenchable fire.
If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.
If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,
where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. (vv. 43-47, NET)

This makes some people wonder how serious Jesus is with this statement. Everybody notices Jesus is making a radical statement here, but some of us wonder: Is Jesus actually saying that mutilating yourself is an option if there is no other way that you can deal with a sin problem?

The short answer is: No, definitely not! (And Pastor Jaysson was clear about this in his sermon!)

But still, how do we know this is true?


(Use this player to listen to the sermon:)


Our clue: The demand is an absurd overstatement

In a moment, we are going to analyze the text to find out. But first, there is an easy test. Ask yourself, do we know of anybody in the Bible who took this command literally and actually followed through with it? Clearly the answer is no.

In other words, everybody understood that Jesus is very intentionally making a statement that is too absurd to be taken at face value.

If you are still asking but how do we really know?, you’re like me. Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. Common sense will get us a clear answer.

First, the punishment is absurd. Inflicting harm on yourself is against the Old Testament Law. Look at . The reason is that since our bodies were created by God, it would violate God’s creation in the same way as it does when we become violent towards other people.

Second, the reasoning is absurd. There are several things here for which this is true. On the one hand, are we really entering “Life” (i.e. Heaven) with this worldly body? The Bible says we will get new bodies in Heaven (e.g. ).

On the other hand, you can only chop off your hand or foot so many times. What if you do it once, and you find that your sin wasn’t impressed? Our churches would be full of invalids! Sin simply doesn’t work this way (and isn’t fought this way, either).

And finally, is sin really an issue of eye, hands, or feet? We all know that sin is a heart-and-mind issue. We can sin in our minds without ever looking at anything – or leaving the house, for that matter. Rather, the hand, the foot, or the eye are body parts that we use for just about any common task. And many times when we sin, at least one of these body parts is going to be involved.

So let’s figure out what Jesus really means.


The message: Sin is serious. Think radically to fight it.

We have established that Jesus is making an overstatement to get a point across. We also know that hand, foot, and eye are symbolic. (By the way, it is possible that Jesus might have in mind with this statement. And look at how Job uses the eye, feet, or hand to describe sin in and 7. It is clear that he does not mean it literally.) So we learn:

1. Getting to Heaven (and not going to Hell) is so serious that you should make every imaginable sacrifice to get there. It is not enough to commit to following Christ. It also means rooting out things in your life that are against God’s will.

But there is one more clue in the text that we cannot see in some of our English translations: Jesus is addressing a problem that isn’t a one-time-thing. It keeps happening or doesn’t go away. In English, it might be closer to say: “If your hand is causing you to sin, cut it off!”

In other words, Jesus might well be referring to a personal weakness that keeps causing problems for you. And this makes sense if you look at what kind of action Jesus is demanding.

Most of the time, the Bible simply tells us to confess sins and ask for forgiveness. But some sins keep coming back, and more action is needed to deal with it. Like Jaysson said in his sermon, “sorry stinks” – at some point, making amends doesn’t cut it anymore.

2. Some problems require for us to deal with their source if we want to stop them from happening, and this is what Jesus is talking about. If you have a habit or weakness that keeps causing problems, chop it off.

When it comes to something that leads you to sin, be drastic. In fact, be radical. So radical that you would actually think about cutting off your hand if it weren’t so absurd.

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (ESV)

14:1 “You are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. (ESV)

5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (ESV)

31:1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
What would be my portion from God above
and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
Does not he see my ways
and number all my steps?

“If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit;
(Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!)
if my step has turned aside from the way
and my heart has gone after my eyes,
and if any spot has stuck to my hands,
then let me sow, and another eat,
and let what grows for me be rooted out.

“If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door,
10 then let my wife grind for another,
and let others bow down on her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime;
that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon,
and it would burn to the root all my increase.

13 “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me,
14 what then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?

16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it
18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or the needy without covering,
20 if his body has not blessed me,
and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
because I saw my help in the gate,
22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
23 For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.

24 “If I have made gold my trust
or called fine gold my confidence,
25 if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant
or because my hand had found much,
26 if I have looked at the sun when it shone,
or the moon moving in splendor,
27 and my heart has been secretly enticed,
and my mouth has kissed my hand,
28 this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges,
for I would have been false to God above.

29 “If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me,
or exulted when evil overtook him
30 (I have not let my mouth sin
by asking for his life with a curse),
31 if the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been filled with his meat?’
32 (the sojourner has not lodged in the street;
I have opened my doors to the traveler),
33 if I have concealed my transgressions as others do
by hiding my iniquity in my bosom,
34 because I stood in great fear of the multitude,
and the contempt of families terrified me,
so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors—
35 Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
36 Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me as a crown;
37 I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.

38 “If my land has cried out against me
and its furrows have wept together,
39 if I have eaten its yield without payment
and made its owners breathe their last,
40 let thorns grow instead of wheat,
and foul weeds instead of barley.”

The words of Job are ended. (ESV)

31:1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?

Job 31:5

“If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit; (ESV)

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Categorised in: Blog, Sermon Spotlight

This post was written by Benjamin Misja