"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)

This statement by Jesus specifically to his disciples about teaching others has been misinterpreted, and thus been the cause of castrations and other violent acts over the centuries, some done willingly, and some ghastly done by others.

The point of Jesus’ discussion here is not to tell people to start cutting off their appendages if any of them perform some ‘sinful’ activity. So let’s break down the meaning:

"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away."

Jesus is not speaking of literally cutting off hands or feet here. Yes, he is speaking metaphorically and symbolically. But the meaning of "cutting off" and "throwing away" body parts is to withdraw from those activities. 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 ones spiritual life. Not only with regard to one's own, but affecting others as well.

"It is better for you to enter life maimed or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, 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."

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)

"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."

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 it was used symbolically to describe the destiny of a person who continues to reject the Supreme Being and his position in relation to the Supreme Being.

This relates directly to death as well as the concept of consequences. And where is hell, and how can a person experience hell?

First, hell is right here in the physical world. Hell is a place of suffering and pain - loneliness and strife. Is this not where we are right now? Oh, but we don't feel that much pain now? How about the pain of sickness, the pains of hunger and the pains of death?

Yes, every 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 continue to reject the Supreme Being, and as a result fall into complete ignorance of spiritual reality by taking on a physical body of a lower species such as an animal, insect or plant.

The individuals within the bodies of these species are suffering within the lowest realms of hell. Their lives are filled with fear and pain as they are hunted by other species - who are typically much larger.

For example, how would it feel to be in a body of an insect - eaten by a gigantic frog or bat? Just consider the horror of such a life. Yes, this is hell - all around us.

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

In a nutshell, hell is that place where 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 the spiritual realm, where the Supreme Being and love for the Supreme Being reign.


 (For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)