Cutting Off The Right Hand?

It is written:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’ 28  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Sometimes people read this passage and come to the conclusion that Jesus literally endorses the idea of plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand. This is an example of how a failure to carefully study Scripture in its’ context can lead to erroneous conclusions.

The fact of the matter is, Jesus was not advocating bodily mutilation for religious purposes. Instead, He here uses language that was common among the Jewish rabbis of His day to describe the act of sexual self-stimulation. The language was understood to be hyperbole (figurative language used to emphasize the point being made).

“Niddah 13b but from the corona upwards1 it is forbidden. Rab stated: ‘A man who willfully causes erection should be placed2 under the ban.’ But why did he3 not say, ‘This is forbidden’? Because the man4 merely incites his evil inclination against himself. 5 R. Ammi, however, stated: He4 is called a renegade, because such is the art of the evil inclination: To-day it incites man to do one wrong thing, 6 and to-morrow7 it incites him to worship idols and he proceeds to worship them. There are others who read: R. Ammi8 stated, He who excites himself by lustful thoughts will not be allowed to enter the division of the Holy One, blessed be He. For here it is written, Was evil in the sight of the Lord, 9 and elsewhere it is written, For Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; evil shall not sojourn with Thee. 10 R. 11 Eleazar stated: Who are referred to12 in the Scriptural text, Your hands are full of blood? 13 Those that commit masturbation with their hands. It was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, Thou shalt not commit adultery14 implies, Thou shalt not practice masturbation either with hand or with foot….22 BUT IN THE CASE OF MEN IT OUGHT TO BE CUT OFF….“The fact, however, is that it was this that R. Tarfon meant: Whosoever puts his hand below his belly that hand shall be cut off. They said to R. Tarfon, ‘If a thorn stuck in his belly, should he not remove it’? ‘No,’ he replied. ‘But [they said] would not his belly be split’? 30 ‘It is preferable,’ he replied, ‘that his belly shall be split rather than that he should go down to the pit of destruction.’” (Israel Slotki, Talmud Niddah (Soncino Bablylonian Talmud Book 52), 4977-5042 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Teaneck New Jersey; Talmudic Books)

Keener observes:

“In this context, the hand might refer to self-stimulation, as in similar Jewish texts concerning lust as adultery (cf. Deming 1990), though it cannot be limited to this (cf. Blomberg 1992a: 109)….“Jesus does not, of course, refer here to passing attraction, ” but the deliberate harboring of desire for an illicit relationship ” (France 1985: 121; cf. Blomberg 1992a: 109; Is 33: 15). The Greek present tense often bears a continuous sense, and probably does so here: Jesus refers not to noticing a person’s beauty, but to imbibing it, meditating on it, seeking to possess it. Paul and most of his Jewish contemporaries prescribed marriage as a helpful antidote to this sin (Keener 1991a: 72-74, 79-82).” (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 254 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans’ Publishing Company)

We must interpret Scripture by remembering that it has a cultural context with its’ own language.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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