Avoiding Evil Just Isn't a Top Priority Any More

In The Worse Plotting Against the Better, XLVIII, Philo Judaeus observes the following:

On which account it seems to me that all men who are not utterly uneducated would choose to be mutilated and to become blind, and not to see what is not fitting to be seen, to become deaf and not to hear pernicious discourses, and to have their tongues cut out if that were the only way to prevent their speaking things, which ought not to be spoken. At all events, they say that some wise men, when they have been tortured on the wheel to make them betray secrets which are not worthy to be divulged, have bitten out their tongues, and so have inflicted on their torturers a more grievous torture than they were suffering, as they could not learn from them what they desired ; and it is better to be made an eunuch than to be hurried into wickedness by the fury of the illicit passions : for all these things, as they overwhelm the soul in pernicious calamities, are deservedly followed by extreme punishments.

Our Lord made some similar statements, albeit in a less philosophical vein:

If your hand or your foot is a snare to you, cut it off, and throw it away. It would be better for you to enter the Life maimed or lame, than to have both hands, or both feet, and be thrown into the aeonian fire. If your eye is a snare to you, take it out, and throw it away. It would be better for you to enter the Life with only one eye, than to have both eyes and be thrown into the fiery Pit. (Matthew 18:8, 9, TCNT)

Some men, it is true, have from birth been disabled for marriage, while others have been disabled by their fellow men, and others again have disabled themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let him accept it who can. (Matthew 19:12, TCNT)

Commenting on the first passage in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, John McKenzie observes:

The fact that the saying is couched in a rather intense hyperbole does not entitle interpreters to reduce it to a vague form of spiritual detachment.

It’s an interesting parallel between the teaching of Jesus and the philosophising of Philo.  In Philo’s case, the philosophical world was very strong on reason (the higher powers) controlling the passions of the soul; it puts living a pure life in a different context.  It’s easy to contrast this with the teachings of Our Lord, but it’s noteworthy how similar a conclusion they both come to, at least in this case.

Unfortunately, in our emotionalistic age, the idea of the “higher powers” ruling is considered a sign of weakness at best.  Following our passions is the order of the day, and little wonder we have the tumultuous world we live in.

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