ʻIf your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off’: Self-Mutilation for the Kingdom in Mark 9:42-48
October 1, 2021 03:00 PM - 03:30 PM On Demand Save the Date
In Mark 9:42–48, the Markan Jesus’ exhorts listeners with the following directive: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out”.
Most scholars of Mark would argue that Jesus’ words serve a hyperbolic purpose in emphasising the seriousness of sin and the need to avoid it at all costs. And yet, since the period of the Church Fathers, some have interpreted Jesus’ call for self-dismemberment as a judicious solution for curbing sinful behaviour in oneself or others.
Whether Jesus’ exhortation is literal or metaphoric, the passage offers an insight into the undesirability and stigmatisation associated with living with a maimed body in first-century Palestine. And yet, the limitations and stigma associated with dismemberment were preferential to eternal damnation as the consequence of living a sinful life.
the passage offers an insight into the undesirability and stigmatisation associated with living with a maimed body in first-century Palestine
Mark 9:42–48 presents a distinctive view on the relationship between sinfulness and physical mutilation. Such disfigurement is not represented as the consequence of sin as may be the case in other ancient sources, but rather, physical mutilation is viewed as an acceptable preventative measure to escape the pitfalls of sin and exclusion from the kingdom. In this sense, a mutilated body is as acceptable to the kingdom as an able-bodied one. But to what extent would maimed bodies retain their disfigurements into the future kingdom?
This paper will explore contemporary Jewish and Greco-Roman attitudes toward maimed bodies and what, if any, unique views were contributed by the earliest writers of the Jesus movement. This evidence will be brought into dialogue with evidence from the early church fathers’ discussions of the nature of resurrected bodies and the extent to which earthly disabilities and disfigurement would be retained in the future kingdom.
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