"If your hand causes you to offend – cut it off, for it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell – into the fire that is never quenched. And if your foot causes you to offend – cut it off, as it is better for you to enter life lame than to go to hell – into the fire that will never be quenched. And if your eye causes you to offend – pluck it out, as it is better for you to enter the sanctuary of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be cast into the hellish fire – where their worm doesn’t die and the fire is never quenched." (Mark 9:43-48)This statement by Jesus has been translated variously in the different sectarian versions. Here is a sampling of translations of just the first phrase:
"And if thy hand offend thee... (King James)These give us an idea of how the Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō) have been translated. As for the hand causing us to sin or causing our downfall - how is this possible?
"If your hand causes you to sin... (New King James)
"If your hand causes you to sin... (New Living Translation)
"And if your hand causes you to sin... (English Standard Version)
"And if your hand causes your downfall... (Holman Christian Standard)
"And if thy hand serve as a snare to thee... (Darby Translation)
The most applicable meaning of the word within the context of Jesus' statement and his statement prior, however, is "to offend" - but not to "offend thee" as King James Version uses. Why would offending ourselves cause such a problem?
Does Jesus really want his followers to chop off appendages?
Is Jesus really promoting that his followers chop off their hands or feet; or gouge out their eyes? And if so, why wasn't Jesus surrounded by people who were one-footed or one-handed or blind in one eye?
If there were not followers cutting their appendages off, then either they were not really following Jesus or they were perfect - no offenses or sins.
After all, the way these verses have been interpreted makes it appear to indicate that we should immediately chop off whatever appendix might be involved in sinning or causing us to "stumble."
And certainly, many of us have sinned or stumbled. Are we all to start cutting off our appendages?
To understand Jesus' statement, we must look at this a little more scientifically. Would a person's body parts go off and do things independently? Does a person's foot just run off and do something that the rest of the body and mind - and more importantly, the person within - doesn't want to do?
Will a hand just reach out and steal something without the mind and the person's permission? Like it is an escaped hand or something - just out there running loose - acting independently of the rest of the body - or mind - or person within?
Or does an eye just start looking around at things independently - like it is out wandering - just looking at things the brain and mind don't want to look at?
Furthermore, if a person cut off a hand or gouged out an eye - do you think that would really solve the problem of the person's sinning? Would the person say, 'wow, I"m glad that I got rid of that old sinful hand - now I can be good'? Could this really be the case? Come on - really?
Body parts don't act independently
The fact is, body parts just don't go out there and act independently of the rest of the body, mind and person. Even a basic understanding of anatomy indicates that in order for a hand or an eye or a foot to move, there must be a coordinated effort between the muscular system, the nervous system, and the brain. Indeed, the brain's motor cortex must also be involved in the movements of the appendages.
In other words, the movements of any of our appendages must be coordinated with the brain. And since they must be coordinated with the brain, they must also be coordinated with the person within - the person who ultimately runs the body by managing the brain.
Or did you think that you are the body? Even if you did, Jesus' statement would make absolutely no sense at all. If we are these physical bodies, we would be cutting off parts of ourself that could otherwise have been healed later.
But there are other problems with thinking that we are the body. For example, this would mean that a person who was handicapped by losing an arm or leg in a war was less of a person than someone with all their arms and legs. It would also mean that someone of another race would not have equality with someone of another race. It would also mean that if we lost our hand or our foot we would be losing part of ourselves. All of these would be utterly ridiculous.
Furthermore, if you thought you are the physical body you are occupying, then the following statement by Jesus would also not make any sense:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)If we were these physical bodies, then we should be afraid of a person who can kill the body.
The reality is that Jesus clearly taught his students that we are not the physical body. He taught that our physical body is temporary, and it will die soon, and we should prepare for the time of death. He taught that where we will go at the time of death of the physical body depends upon our consciousness and past activities.
Misinterpretation and mistranslations of Jesus' teachings have made it seem that Jesus was threatening the end of the world. Rather, Jesus was speaking of the end of one's lifetime. This can be clearly seen in the Gospels of Jesus.
The time of death is the moment the soul - each of us - will leave our physical body. We will rise up out of our physical body at the time of death.
This is why a physical body that has just died is devoid of life, movement or personality. Because the living force - the spirit-person - the personality animating that physical body - has left.
This leaving - or rising - from the physical body - was also explained simply by Jesus, described with the word ἀνάστασις (anastasis) which has been translated to "resurrection" but also simply means to "rise up" or to "rise from the dead." This is clear, because when the body dies, the person or soul who operated that body will indeed rise up, and leave that dead body.
Jesus explained that the spirit-person who has risen from the physical body is no longer tied to the conventions of the physical body:
"At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." (Matt. 22:30)So we can understand from Jesus' teachings that he taught that we will leave these physical bodies behind. So why is he teaching to chop off a hand or a foot or gouge out an eye then?
He is not. And this is confirmed by the fact that none of his followers cut their hands off or their feet off, or gouged out their eyes: Because Jesus did not teach them to.
Jesus is using metaphors
Jesus is speaking in metaphors here. These are analogies. Jesus used analogies all the time. All of his parables were essentially analogies.
Jesus' previous statement also used an analogy, as Jesus stated:
"If anyone... it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42)Is Jesus really suggesting that anyone have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea? Certainly not.
So why would Jesus say this, and why would he talk about cutting off hands and feet and gouging out eyes?
For emphasis. Jesus is speaking of the importance of not offending his followers. As we showed in a more accurate translation of Mark 9:42, he is speaking of the importance of respecting and not interfering with the work of Jesus' followers.
Jesus was continuing the topic of Mark 9:42. Remember that the Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō) means to "offend" or "give one displeasure" when used in a metaphorical sense, according to Thayer's lexicon.
In other words, Jesus is not speaking of someone's hand or foot or eye causing them to sin. How could this be anyway? An appendage or sense organ doesn't cause a person to sin. It is the other way around. The person within - who is temporarily occupying this physical body - will cause their physical body to do sinful things, simply by their desires. A person will want to do something sinful, and their body will then respond by doing it.
This means that cutting off a hand or foot or gouging out an eye will not prevent the person from making offenses. The person will simply use the other hand or foot or eye to offend. Unless of course, you want to cut off all the hands and feet and eyes and ears and genitals and pull off the skin so there are no sense organs left at all. This would simply be gruesome and horrendous. It would be the stuff of horror movies.
The followers of Jesus' teachings
Jesus is simply using metaphors to warn those who hear his instructions how important God's loving servants are to the Supreme Being.
A person who becomes God's servant by becoming the servant of God's servant - which describes Jesus' disciples such as Peter and James - is pleasing to the Supreme Being. God becomes pleased when a person becomes the humble servant of the servant of God.
Pleasing God is the goal of the loving servant of God. When a person loves someone they naturally want to please them. Jesus' first and foremost teaching was to love God. This means wanting to please God. Jesus himself stated how important pleasing God was:
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me." (John 5:30)The word "always" in Jesus' statement indicates how important it is to him to please the Supreme Being. It was Jesus' life and soul to please the Supreme Being - whom he loves.
"The One who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” (John 8:29)
It is for this reason that we must be super careful about offending or interfering with the service of someone who is working to please the Supreme Being. As Jesus is stating metaphorically, offending such a person does not simply destine a person for hell: A person who intentionally offends God's servants is already in hell.
And "the fire" that is "never quenched" is a metaphor describing the consuming nature of self-centered desire and the ongoing quest for unattained fulfillment within materialism.
(The New Testament verses in this article are quoted from the Gospels of Jesus).