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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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2 Answers 2

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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).

And

"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 –  CODESIGN 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 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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