I’ve had some interesting comments to a short post that showed up on this blog back in May (Do not call anyone on earth “father”). One comment claimed that Jesus did not mean this instruction to be taken literally, and that I was therefore just Catholic-bashing. Well, I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult for me to resist the temptation to “bash” certain Christian denominations. It just seems to me that many of them have wandered too far from the truth. However, in all my posts I try to avoid “bashing” anyone, and instead, just focus on the “truth.” Yet I know I’m not always successful.
Anyway, today I would like to take a look at this concept of whether or not Jesus intends for us to take certain things He said as literal instruction. And if we are not supposed to take something as literal, what is the point Jesus is trying to get across to us? I’ll offer up two examples of scripture, as points of discussion.
The first scripture comes from the 18th chapter of Matthew, where Jesus proclaims:
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin 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 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.” (Matthew 18:7-9)
Does Jesus really mean this? Should I gouge out my eye because I gazed lustfully at someone who just walked by outside? And if I did, would my lack of eyesight really stop my lustful ways? I can pretty much guarantee you that lust could still enter my heart, with something as simple as a casual touch of a hand. I don’t need to see to lust. So was Jesus wrong? Don’t count on it.
It seems clear to me that in this passage of scripture, Jesus did not intend for us to take Him literally, simply because the actions He proposes will not really fix the true root cause of the problem. For the example I’ve given above, the root cause of my lust resides in my heart and in my mind, not in my eyes or even my hands. Okay, am I then supposed to cut out my heart and brain? That doesn’t sound very biblical. The conclusion I come to is that Jesus was illustrating a point, not giving literal instruction.
Maybe we can all be happy that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said (if you choose to agree). Though He did not expect us to take His instruction in Matthew 18:7-9 literally, He did have a point. But my purpose here is not to focus on that right now, but to look further into this idea of literal vs. non-literal meanings. I’ll leave it to you to dwell on the point Jesus made in Matthew chapter 18, if you choose. (you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my post of September 10th)
But now I’d like to go a bit further into Matthew, for the second passage of scripture I wish to look at. This passage is the source of the verse I sited in the “Do not call anyone on earth father” post:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
First, what does your heart tell you? Is this illustration, or literal instruction? If you still don’t know, then what does your mind tell you? Read it again, and if you like, read the entirety of chapter 23 to gain the full context.
The best answer is the one that comes from your heart. Yet you can help your heart come to the right answer by using your mind. Read the Bible; learn from Jesus how He feels about such things as pride and humility – He’s telling you in verse 12. And with your heart, learn from Jesus why He is telling us to not call anyone on earth “father.”
Please comment and let me know what your heart is telling you.