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Mutilate Yourself: Matthew 18.8f: Part 2 of 2

Two circumstances indicate that Origen’s non-literal interpretation was universal in the church of his day and before, stretching back to the time of the apostles. The first is that Origen traveled throughout eastern Christendom at the request of local bishops, as a theological expert. He was thus familiar with widespread Christian practice and with local variations, and would have noted if believers in some geographical areas or sects actually did amputate their hands, feet, or eyes.

The second circumstance is the universal practice—or rather, non-practice—of Christians in every early century. A common lack of body parts among Christians could not fail to escape notice and comment by even the most casual observer as a common feature among Christians. Granted, records for this period are fragmentary, but we possess the accounts of the pagan Pliny the Younger around AD 112, and most of the attack on Christianity half a century later by the pagan philosopher Celsus. In his comprehensive denunciation of Christian behaviour, Celsus would have jumped at the chance to ridicule voluntary destruction of body organs, or suicide by exsanguination or infection. Although not all of Celsus’ criticism is extant, Origen would have tried to justify the practice in his lengthy refutation of Celsus, which preserves what we now have of the book.

We also possess the full text of what is today called The Second Apology of Justin Martyr, a defence of Christian beliefs and practices written in the middle of the second century AD. Among many aspects of the Faith, Justin considered the pagan wish that Christians commit suicide rather than continue to bother the world. If believers of this period did indeed chop off their extremities or gouge out their eyes, Justin would not have failed to mention that Christians did in fact court death, often fulfilling the pagan hope.

Although we have thousands of Christian denominations, ministries, sects, cults, divisions, and church parties in our own day, not one advocates self-mutilation in obedience to Matthew 18.8f. Either all historic and contemporary Christianity has been apostate, or Jesus intended that not all His teachings be applied literally.

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