What Is the Meaning of “Pluck Out Your Eye”?

Did Jesus literally say we should pluck out our eye if it offends us?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

“What did Jesus mean in Mark 9:43 when he said if the hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin to cut the hand or foot off or pluck the eye out? I have heard sermons where it was said that Jesus did not mean that literally. I could accept that if it were not for the fact that he says that it would be better to enter life with one hand, foot, or eye than to have them both and be cast into hell.”

The language Christ employs in this context uses a figure of speech common to all languages. It is called hyperbole.

The word “hyperbole” is derived from two Greek components, hyper (over, above) and bole (from ballein, to throw). The meaning is hence “to throw above.” This word refers to an exaggeration for emphasis.

My mother, with somewhat of a twinkle in her eye, used to say, “Son, if you do that again, I’m gonna skin you alive.” I knew she was speaking figuratively. Nonetheless, I got the point!

In the context of Mark 9:43, Christ emphasized the supreme value of pursuing the kingdom of God above everything else.

To illustrate this principle, he selected items that are precious to us—the eye, hand, or foot.

The apparent meaning is this. Recognize the value of eternal things; don’t be derailed by temporal and physical distractions.

Moreover, the language in the latter portion of the passage in no way negates the symbolism employed in the warning.

The fair meaning of the passage is evident from the fact that a mere amputation of a hand or foot, or the removal of an eye, does not alter the condition of the heart.

Such actions, therefore, drastic though they are, would not provide a sufficient motive for a transformed heart (cf. Mk. 7:1ff; especially, vv. 18-23).

The surgery contemplated is spiritual, not physical.

Here is the point. The value of being eternally in heaven with the Creator makes all of Earth’s circumstances seem trivial.

Those who disdain the Savior’s strong word of caution will spend their eternity in hell (gehenna), where “their worm dies not” (Mk. 9:48). Surely, the symbolic nature of the language is apparent in the term “worm.” No literal worms are gnawing on literal corpses in the eternal order of things. There will be eternal suffering, however, in a non-material realm.

Comprehending some of the basic figures of speech utilized by the Bible writers is essential for a correct interpretation of Scripture in many cases. A lack of such understanding has resulted in various errors—some of which were painfully experienced.

Origen, a theologian of the early third century A.D., misinterpreted Jesus’ admonition about becoming a “eunuch” for the sake of “the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12).

As a consequence of his misguided exegesis, he emasculated himself. Eusebius, the fourth-century historian, noted that Origen’s method of interpretation was “too literal and puerile in a sense” (Ecclesiastical History, VI.VIII). The historian paid a relatively high price for failing to understand a significant biblical figure of speech.

The Savior’s emphatic teaching in the above context is to be viewed figuratively—not literally. There is virtually no controversy among serious Bible scholars about this matter.

Nevertheless, we must eliminate the things in this life that might prevent us from being in heaven with God, no matter how precious and dear they are to us.