Does Jesus Command Self-Mutilation? (Mark 9:43-47)


In the remote context of Mark 9, Jesus is speaking on the theme of true discipleship among His followers. His followers had many wrong ideas about the Messianic kingdom and one of them was that they wanted to know who would gain the highest status in the kingdom. We see an example of this prideful behavior when the mother of James and John made a request for her sons to sit on Jesus' left and right hand when He started to reign on the throne (Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:32-40).

Throughout Mark, Jesus is portrayed as the great Servant about whom Isaiah had prophesied. He is on a mission to complete the will of the Father by humble obedience and submission. Jesus knew that the way to the cross would be hard and it would also be hard for those who would become His followers. Jesus sets out to tell His disciples that the way that leads to life will not be easy. It will actually be narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:13,14). It is, however, well worth the journey (Hebrews 12:1,2). Jesus commands us to do what is necessary in order to be serious about our spirituality. Jesus uses a figure of speech known as hyperbole (an exaggeration) when He is talking about cutting out your right eye, cutting off your right foot, or cutting off your right hand. We know that Jesus is not being literal in those statements for the following reasons:

  1. If it was the case disciples did mutilate themselves, it would still not solve the problem because a person could steal with his left hand, a person could sexually lust after someone with his left eye, and a person could conduct sinful behavior on his left foot.

  1. Jesus talks about how we need to change from the inside, for evil thoughts, motives, and actions originate from the heart. It is the heart that must be transformed.

  1. Jesus commands us to follow the first and greatest commands (Matthew 22:38-40) and His commandments do not conflict with any other commandments that He has given us. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In Ephesians 5:22-33, it speaks about how the husband does not hate his own flesh (body), but cares and nourishes it. We are to take care of our physical bodies. This is how we render love to ourselves. If we are to render love to our neighbor as ourselves, then are we not to give the same loving and caring treatment in that we would not want to cut off any of our body parts (only unless it is absolutely necessary in the case of a medical emergency that requires amputation)?

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Joey FerrellMark, Hermeneutics