One point from today’s Bible reading in Mark 9 has been misapplied by many modern-day disciples, in search of a closer walk with God.
Mark 9:43-48 records Jesus telling His disciples that if their hand causes them to fall away, they should cut it off because it’s better to go to heaven without a hand than to be cast into hell. He says the same about plucking out their eye if it causes them to fall away.
I believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Yes, I know that’s a radical idea these days, especially when you come to passages like this.
Now, by “literal interpretation”, I mean that I try to determine and apply the original message of the original Bible speaker/writer to his original hearer/reader in their original context. I do not mean that I believe that God intends us to take the “inspired finger” approach to Bible reading and Bible study.
I remember a professor in seminary who pushed the “inspired finger” approach to its absurd application of someone asking God for a Bible character he should emulate. He closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and dropped his finger randomly onto the page. When he opened his eyes, he found his “inspired finger” on Matthew 27:5b, “[Judas] went and hanged himself.”
Confused, the sincere young man asked God for confirmation, closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and his finger dropped on Luke 10:37b, “And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”
Really confused, he asked God for more confirmation since he had been told by his pastor, “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1b).
Again, he repeated his steps for finding God’s will and his finger landed on John 13:27b, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.'”
Notice that in all of my Bible references above, all of them were at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Just like we speak today, what we say can best be understood in the context in which it was said. We can’t just pull out random parts of sentences and think we’re getting the intended message of a love letter from our spouse. The same is true in God’s “love letter” to His people.
Can God speak in partial sentences discovered by an “inspired finger” dropped on a random page of the Bible? Absolutely! However, that’s not how He normally speaks. Just because God spoke through the mouth of a donkey doesn’t mean He normally does. (Numbers 22:28-30) Actually, because this is the only place in the entire Bible that He did, I think it’s safe to say that God very rarely speaks through a donkey. If you think God is speaking to you through your donkey, it’s a safe bet that you are not hearing the voice of God! And yet, that is precisely what Mormon missionaries encourage their hopeful proselytes to do when they tell them to read the Book of Mormon, asking God for a “burning of the bosom” (Luke 24:32) to confirm that the Book of Mormon is a divine book.
When Jesus tells you to cut off your hand or to pluck out your eye, He is using a figure of speech to tell you how seriously you need to deal with sin. Sin is deadly and it must be dealt with accordingly. But you don’t need to look for a knife to whack off your hand.
As you read your Bible, read it as you would read anything else: read it as regular words in regular sentences in regular paragraphs in regular books. (Note: The chapter and verse divisions are not inspired and began to be used only about 500 years ago.)