What does Matthew 5:29 mean?
ESV: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
NIV: If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
NASB: Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
CSB: If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
NLT: So if your eye — even your good eye — causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
KJV: And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Jesus is expanding on His earlier comment, that righteousness worthy of heaven must be perfect (Matthew 5:20). The two examples given so far indicate that anger and lust are sins, just as much as murder and adultery (Matthew 5:21–22; 5:27–28).
In this verse, Jesus uses a common technique. This is formally named hyperbole, or "exaggerating for effect." When a mother says, "I've told you a million times," or a manager says, "we're going to blow up our business model," those are examples of hyperbole. Those who hear or read those words understand them to be non-literal and meant to make a point about the situation at hand.
What's interesting about this statement is that Jesus is already overturning cultural assumptions. Saying lust is adultery of the heart, and anger is murder of the heart, would seem extreme and unsettling to His audience. At first, some might have wondered if Jesus really meant this as a literal, physical command. Quickly, though, it becomes obvious—especially in context with His other teaching—that this is not meant as a literal command.
However, Jesus is making an important point about how dangerous our thoughts and desires can be. Being led by our urges, rather than keeping our desires under control, is a path to destruction. In that vein, He says that it's worth losing an eye rather than letting that eye drag someone into sin, and by extension into hell. Jesus will make a similar comment about a person's hands (Matthew 5:30). The immediate context of this remark is the idea of lust: "looking" at someone with sexual intent.
Where Jesus is certainly not exaggerating is the idea that "looking with lustful intent" is enough to earn someone hell. God's will for His people is that they do not engage in lust. The kingdom of heaven requires righteousness that is perfect (Matthew 5:20), just as God is perfect. A major aspect of Jesus' gospel is that nobody can be righteous enough on their own to earn a place in the kingdom of heaven. His mission on earth included dying on the cross as the final blood sacrifice for sin. Without that covering and being declared righteous by God through faith in Christ, nobody will be saved (Romans 3:21–31).
Matthew 5:27–30 continues to expand on a theme Jesus introduced in Matthew 5:20. True ''righteousness'' is not merely about what a person does but includes what they think and feel. This teaching is meant to explain the reality of sin, and to highlight the need for grace and faith, not good works, in salvation. In this passage, Jesus acknowledges that adultery is a sin, but also declares that attitudes of lust are sinful as well. He does not say that lust is exactly, precisely the same thing as adultery. He does, however, teach that lust is absolutely a sin, even if it never results in physical action.
The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus' most challenging teaching. It begins with the unlikely blessings of the Beatitudes. Jesus' disciples must do good works in order to be a powerful influence: as the salt of the earth and light of the world. The superficial righteousness of the Pharisees is not good enough to earn heaven. Sins of the heart, such as angry insults and intentional lust, are worthy of hell just as much as adultery and murder. Easy divorce and deceptive oaths are forbidden. Believers should not seek revenge. Instead, God intends us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. In short, we should strive to be perfect, as God is perfect.
Matthew 5 follows Matthew's description of the enormous crowds that were following Jesus (Matthew 4:25). One day, Jesus sits down on a hill to teach them, in an address we now call the Sermon on the Mount. He describes as blessed those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are persecuted. Christ also explains how God's standards of righteousness go far beyond behaviors and speech; they also include our thoughts and attitudes. Meeting God's standards means perfection. Chapter 6 continues this sermon, with more examples of Jesus clarifying God's intent for godly living.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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