"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off ..." (Matthew 18:8-9)

"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell." (Matthew 18:8-9)

Was Jesus telling them to amputate their appendages?

This statement by Jesus specifically to his disciples about teaching others has been misinterpreted. It has also been the cause of ghastly castrations, amputations and other mutilations over the centuries.

The point of Jesus’ discussion here is not to tell people to start cutting off their appendages or gouging out their eyes if they cause them to 'stumble.' So let’s break down the meaning:

What does he mean by 'cut it off'?

Jesus is not speaking of literally cutting off hands or feet here. Yes, he is speaking metaphorically and symbolically.

The meaning of "cutting off" and "throwing away" is to withdraw from those activities that demean our consciousness. Jesus is using the physical body parts for symbolic emphasis - stating how much more important our spiritual lives are than our temporary physical bodies.

This is further evidence that Jesus taught his students that we are not these physical bodies.

The word "stumble" here - translated from the Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō) - has been translated to "sin" in some Biblical versions of this verse.

According to the lexicon, the word means, "to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall, metaphorically, to offend."

In other words, Jesus is speaking of the importance of focusing our lives on God.

What does enter life mean?

The phrase "enter life" comes from εἰσελθεῖν and ζωὴν - meaning "to go out or come in: to enter" and "life - the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate; every living soul" respectively.

This means that Jesus is speaking of spiritual life - not physical life here. He is speaking of life as the spirit-person within becoming fulfilled. This again relates to the fact that each of us is not the temporary physical body. And because we are not these physical bodies, we can only be fulfilled spiritually - not by the temporary forms and things of the physical world.

Jesus is speaking of spiritual fulfillment - which he has defined elsewhere clearly:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37)

What is the 'fire of hell'?

Here "hell" is being translated from the word γέεννα (geenna) - taken from a place south of Jerusalem called Gehenna. This is a place known for dumping and burning the carcasses of animals.

Thus Jesus is using this symbolically to describe the destiny of a person whose consciousness is mired within the confines of self-centered materialism.

Hell can be anywhere where our consciousness is self-centered. Hell is a place of suffering and pain - loneliness and strife. Is this where we are right now? Oh, but we don't feel that much pain now? What about loneliness? What about anger, or bewilderment? Are we feeling empty or incomplete?

Yes, a person who takes on a physical body in the physical world has descended into hell. It is a matter of how deep into hell we have descended. Descending further into hell means to waste this opportunity within a human form of life and reject our opportunity to learn about love, mercy and kindness - and the unconditional love that God gives us.

And the "fire" of hell relates to the products of self-centeredness - greed, lust, anger, and violence. These arrive with a heart of emptiness and self-loathing. These are often compared to fire - πῦρ (pyr) - because they burn from within.

In a nutshell, hell is where ever the Supreme Being is forgotten. It is the place where self-centeredness reigns. The place where Jesus wants his students - and each of us - to rise from so we can return home to our consciousness of loving God and loving others.