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22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

What is being said here. Does the eye and light symbolise something or can it be taken literally?

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I believe this scripture is dealing with the things we set our eyes on. By setting our sights on what is ungodly, we allow darkness to enter our hearts. By setting our eyes on the things of our Lord, we receive light.

Here are some scriptures that I feel support this view:

"For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10 ESV).


"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV).

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Thanks chief, your answer was an eye opener. In other words the eyes symbolize our intention/will & light symbolize the Holy spirit. BTW it seems that this is your first post here...Welcome to Hermeneutics.stackexchange – Martin Oct 11 '13 at 8:44

1. Context

Matthew 6:22-23 is sandwiched between two passages explicitly about wealth, and the three passages together form a unit with 6:25-34 which is related to possessions and the necessities of life. The logical flow is:

  1. 19-21 Do not be short-sighted (seek treasure that will last)
  2. 22-23 ?
  3.    24 Do not be double-minded (you cannot serve God and money)
  4. 25-34 Do not be anxious (seek righteousness and your material needs will be met)

This indicates that we should at least consider the possibility that there is a link to wealth in 22-23 as well.

2. Internal logic

The phrase "The eye is the lamp of the body" can be interpreted in two ways. Either the eye, belonging to the body, shines outward (like the headlight of a car), or the eye is the light that enlightens the body itself, ie it shines inward. The latter interpretation is key to understanding Jesus' logic because the condition of the eye/lamp is what determines whether the "whole body will be full of light/darkness".

3. Metaphors

The two remaining exegetical questions concern the two metaphors used:

  1. What does it mean here for the eye to be either 'healthy' or 'bad'
  2. What is the meaning here of 'darkness' and 'light'

4. Light and darkness

There is a general association between light and good, and darkness and evil, throughout scripture.

The only other mention in the Sermon on the Mount fits the pattern of light corresponding to what is good:

14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5, ESV

5. Healthy or bad eyes

The NET Bible translation notes indicate that the word used for 'bad' can also mean “evil”. This allows the possibility that Jesus is consciously alluding to Proverbs 28:22:

A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him. ESV

... because the phrase 'A stingy man' is literally 'A man whose eye is evil'

6. Conclusion

What is being said here. Does the eye and light symbolise something or can it be taken literally?

  1. These verses are about wealth like the surrounding context.
  2. Jesus is alluding to a Hebrew proverb and idiom concerning those whose 'eye is evil' or 'are stingy'
  3. If a man is stingy (ie seeking after worldly wealth for himself), he is poisoning his soul. seeking after what is good instead improves his internal condition.
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The NIV has an interesting note here that says the Greek has a connotation of generous/stingy. Checking BDAG, it suggests that when ἁπλοῦς/πονηρός are used with eye they form a sort of idiom; with πονηρός referencing the idea of "concealing one's jealousy over another's good fortune and 'melting one's eye' in the process." Naturally, this would strengthen your conclusion. – ThaddeusB Aug 27 '15 at 23:44

Jesus is trying to say that if you always look at things the wrong way, your whole body will be darkness. Example: Matthew 20:1-16. The householder is not being evil because he gave the same salary to the laborers who started later, he is being generous, but the eyes of the ones who started earlier are seeing the householder as unjust while he is being good, so their eye is being evil. See Jesus taught us not to judge at all to begin with. If we look at G-d and fail to see the good then the evil is in our eyes not in Him.

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I'm very grateful for your participation here. Welcome to our Biblical Hermeneutics Q&A site! We're a little different from a forum, so do take the site tour if you haven't already. – Paul Vargas Mar 23 '15 at 16:31

From an Eastern perspective, I was taught that the reference to "If Thine Eye Be Single, Thy Whole Body Shall Be Full Of Light" is literal not a metaphor. You are taking what is literal as a metaphor. The light of God is overwhelming and is seen at the Third or Single Eye.

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Hi Frances, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor May 23 at 7:49
This is a good start to an answer, but doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. A good answer will demonstrate the reasons for arriving at its conclusions, and make a full attempt at answering the question and explaining its text(s) in context. – Steve Taylor May 23 at 7:51

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