12

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?

2

In middle eastern thought, the Evil Eye was (and is) a very real thing, and this verse is referencing this superstitious concept. In the introduction to "The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation" Dr. Richard Rohrbaugh explains beginning on Page 3:

...the bible was not written for Western readers. ...few Westerners know anything about, much less believe in the evil eye. We are unlikely to know anyone who possesses it or anyone who has suffered from it. Yet it was a nearly universal belief in the Mediterranean world of antiquity, just as it is in that region in the present day (Elliott 1998). Everyone in the Mediterranean area knows that people with the evil eye are dangerous and must be avoided. They all know possessors and victims personally. Amulets to ward off the evil eye are commonplace and understood by everyone. Yet when this phenomenon is talked about in the Bible, as it often is (Prov 23:6; 28:22; Deut 15:7-9; 28:54-57; Sir 14:3-10; 18:18; 31:12-13; 37:7-12; Tob 4:15-17; 4 Macc 1:16; 2:15; Matt 6:22-23; 20:1-15; Mark 7:22; Luke 11:33-36; Gal 3:1), we Westerners know neither how to interpret it nor even how to translate the terms for it.

For example, the NRSV translates Matt 6:22-23a as follows:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.

Western commentary typically suggests that the problem being addressed is an eye that is not open to the clear light of God. For example, Eduard Schweizer argues that the passage is saying that a "simple" or generous eye "admits God's light into the entire body; an evil eye causes terrible darkness of the heart" (1975:163) In the same way, W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann suggest that the basic idea is that just as the body is illuminated by the physical eye (as though that organ were a window), so the whole spirit of a person is either illuminated or in darkness through the spiritual eye (1971:81). The point seems to be that an unhealthy eye is bad for the one possessing it.

But in the Middle East, an evil eye is bad for the person being looked at. The ancient Middle Eastern belief was that light is literally generated in the heart and is transmitted out through the eye onto whatever objects are in one's gaze. Because heart and eye are closely bound together, the good or evil light that originates in the heart is always revealed by what comes forth from the eye. The eye thus reveals the character of a person. Good-hearted people possess good eyes and throw off good light; evil -hearted persons possess evil eyes and throw off evil light. Moreover, since this light actually falls on whatever a person looks at, it also brings into being what the heart producing it intends. In this way generous persons can look on others and do actual good, while nevious persons can look on others and do real damage. A culturally sensitive translation would therefore read differently:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your heart is generous (ἁπλοῡς, haplous), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil (πονηρός, ponērós), your whold body will be full of darkness.

Our commentary on this passage would have to recognize that genuine fear of the evil eye was a constant concern to Jesus' hearers. They regularly practicecd strategies to avoid being looked at by anyone possessing it (m. Abot 2.12-13). They would have quickly recognized that Jesus was talking about light that originates in the heart, shines outward onto another, and could do them either good or evil with a mere glance. Jesus' comment therefore addresses a commonplace of everyday life for ancient Mediterranean people even though it requires considerable cross-cultural interpretation in order for readers in the modern West to understand it.

Albright, W.F., and C.S. Mann
1971 Matthew. AB 26. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday
Eliott, John H. 1988 "The Fear of the Leer: The Evil Eye from the Bible to Lil Abner." *Forum 4:42-71

Therefore, this passage is an instruction to maintain a good spirit of blessing which seeks to help anyone we encounter and not maintain an evil heart which ignores the plight or even worsens their plight through apathy towards those we meet and/or through the bystander effect

10

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.
  • 1
    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
  • @Jack Could the eye symbolize a clean conscience...just a thought – Martin Feb 24 '17 at 6:36
  • @Martin it symbolises 'desire' as in 'a roving eye', or more in keeping with the context: 'keeping one eye on his bank balance'. – Jack Douglas Feb 24 '17 at 9:21
3

My perspective is that this section is not about wealth first and foremost but of the mutual exclusivity of the two kingdoms - man vs God. The "lead-in" sections on treasures and the eye as the lamp of the body each bring us closer to this conclusion, with v24 making it explicitly clear. v24 also informs our understanding of v22-23.

I lean towards the interpretations of the eye being good as "single" or "clean", indicating a need for singular focus on God. The opposite of this is to have a "bad" eye which tries to focus on both this world and God's kingdom at the same time, causing spiritual double-vision and resulting in hatred of God.

I lean away from the other interpretation of good/evil eyes being word plays on greediness/stinginess. To reach into Proverbs seems a looser support than just examining the immediate context as well as the overarching purpose for the sermon on the mount. Namely:

How different this new kingdom is and its citizens are to be in contrast to the kingdom of this world.

As a bonus, I think it also expounds upon the introductory beatitude on the pure in heart, with pure denoting a single-hearted focus in order to "see God" which parallels the 'eye as the lamp of the body' section.

To see this passage as just an impromptu lesson on fiscal stewardship or a warning on the dangers of money would be to miss the grandness and personal implications of the kingdom of God.

  • (+1) This is a fairly good answer. Why exactly is Jack's verse from Proverbs a weak support, when it contains a Hebrew phrase which literally speaks of "a man whose eye is evil"? This seems like a fairly sound demonstration that Jesus is referring to a phrase which was well established many hundreds of years before the source passage. – Steve Taylor Jan 27 '17 at 15:37
  • Apologies as I edited my answer for better clarity and succinctness. I think "weak" is too strong and changed it to "looser". I am not disagreeing with the link or reference; it may in fact be another layer to the passage's meaning. But I think the primary meaning of "single" vs "double" for "good" vs "evil" fits better with the immediate context and the purpose of the sermon. – Frank H. Jan 27 '17 at 15:38
  • I might ask you and Jack the same question - why is the interpretation of greedy/stingy more clearly what Jesus meant, as opposed to single/double vision? His outline of this section (treasures, eye, masters, anxiety) is far more fragmented given his interpretation. My outline would be: 19-21 Your heart (thoughts and emotions, not just emotions) cannot be divided. 22-23 Your eye (how you view the world) cannot be divided on both kingdom realities. 24 Why can't we be divided? Because you will end up hating God. 25-34 Anxiousness and worry will result. – Frank H. Jan 27 '17 at 15:43
  • 1
    I think @JackDouglas makes his case fairly clear above when he starts with the immediate context in his Section 1 - not (treasures, eye, masters, anxiety), but rather (treasures, greed, money, material needs), which doesn't strike me as 'fragmented'. They're two competing interpretations and I see most of your material as a positive contribution. But I'm not seeing your grounds for seeing his argument as any 'looser' than yours. – Steve Taylor Jan 27 '17 at 15:56
  • Fair enough! Again, just my personal opinion. Not saying his interpretation doesn't make sense, I just think it makes less sense. :) – Frank H. Jan 27 '17 at 16:01
2

This particular passage was sometimes cited by the Church Fathers in the context of watchfulness or sobriety. John Cassian (360-435), for example, writes:

There are many among us who have endured fasting and vigils, or have withdrawn into the desert, or have practiced poverty to such an extent that they have not left themselves enough for their daily sustenance, or have performed acts of compassion so generously that they no longer have anything to give; and yet these same monks, having done all this, have nevertheless fallen away miserably from virtue and slipped into vice.

What was it, then, that made them stray from the straight path? In my opinion it was simply that they did not possess the grace of discrimination; for it is this virtue that teaches a man to walk along the royal road, swerving neither to the right through immoderate self-control, nor to the left through indifference and laxity. Discrimination is a kind of eye and lantern of the soul, as is said in the gospel passage: "The light of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is pure, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness' (Matt. 6: 22-3). And this is just what we find; for the power of discrimination, scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of a man, distinguishes and sets aside everything that is base and not pleasing to God, and keeps him free from delusion.

"On the Holy Fathers of Sketis and Discrimination", from The Philokalia, Vol. 1 (tr. Faber and Faber, 1979), p.99

0

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).

  • 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
0

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.

  • 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
0

Peace.

The “eye” is the overseer of the church body who is supposed to feed the church.

Acts 20:28-29 KJV (28) Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (29) For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Not everyone is an “eye”. We are many members but of one body….the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:14-21 KJV (14) For the body is not one member, but many. (15) If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? (16) And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? (17) If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? (18) But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. (19) And if they were all one member, where were the body? (20) But now are they many members, yet but one body. (21) And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

If the “eye” is evil….greedy for gain…covetous, then he is not feeding the church because he cannot “see” as he has no understanding of the good news nor the Scriptures.

If he is not feeding the church with the Word of Truth, then there is “darkness” in the church body. There is a lack of knowledge as he handles the Word of God deceitfully in the ears of others. The blind leads the blind and they both fall into the ditch…the grave. Their end is destruction.

2 Corinthians 4:1-7 KJV (1) Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; (2) But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

If the good news is hid (as they cannot understand it) from those who are preaching themselves, it is because the “god of this age” (their belly is their god) has blinded the minds of them of those who really do not believe lest the LIGHT of the glorious good news of Christ should irradiate them.

If the good news is hid from the eyes of their understanding, then those that they are “preaching” to certainly cannot understand it. The whole church body is then full of “darkness”.

(3) But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: (4) In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (5) For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. (6) For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

If we focus on acquiring earthly things…. putting much emphasis upon them, then the “thieves”…the “preachers”… who are greedy for gain can “break through and steal” from you. They use that unhealthy earthly focus within us to exploit us and lead us astray from the Way of righteousness. The thieves come only to steal, kill and destroy as they lead many astray from the path that leads to life.

Matthew 6:19-24 KJV (19) Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

But if we are always treasuring…focusing on…. those things from above (love, peace, joy, patience, gentleness, generosity, etc), then the “thieves” cannot come and lead us astray with their handling of the Word of God deceitfully for their own unjust gain. They have no power to deceive us then.

(21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

If the “eye”…the overseer…is single-minded (the eye is "single") in serving God, then the whole church body shall be full of Light….the Light of the knowledge of God.

(22) The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if the “eye”…the overseer of the church body…is evil (greedy for gain), then the whole church body is full of darkness as he is not feeding it with the Word of Truth.

Yet, many in the church think that the "light" that the covetous preacher gives them (but really leads them astray) is the truth. They receive his words as truth and knowledge when it is really darkness. They assume the darkness is light as they receive those who are only preaching themselves and are not servants. They put darkness for light (Isaiah 5:20). If the "light" within the church body is really darkness, then how great is that darkness.

(23) But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

The covetous preacher cannot serve two masters. The “eye” MUST be single-minded in serving God and not double minded (serving God supposedly AND mammon). He will either hate the one and love the other or hold to one and despise the other. It can NOT be both ways.

(24) No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

This is why Paul told the overseers (the “eye” of the church body) to take heed to themselves and to the flock. The only way to be able to feed the church is to not covet after its “silver, or gold or apparel” but work with their own hands to support their own earthly neeeds.

Acts 20:33-35 KJV (33) I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.

Paul labored with his own hands (as a tentmaker) to support his own earthly necessities. An overseer must be with him on this.

(34) Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.

He has shown the overseers of the church all things so that they may be able to feed the church with the Word of Truth. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Laboring with their own hands for their own earthly necessities would also support the “weak”…the weak consciences of the outside world who see the preaching for money going on inside the churches and blaspheme His holy Name because of it.

(35) I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The overseer must be with Paul in this (working with his own hands to support his own earthly necessities in order to not covet after the church’s money). The overseer is to be followers together of Paul in this.

The apostles worked night and day with their own hands to support themselves. They did forgo this power to get paid money from the church and the overseer today is expected to walk after their example and not walk “disorderly”.

Philippians 3:17-21 KJV (17) Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

MANY walk as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They have no understanding of the good news of Christ who died for us so that we may have His eternal life in this life that we are experiencing in the here-and-now.

(18) (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

Those who are walking as enemies of the cross of Christ are perishing from this earth. They have no understanding of the good news as they only serve for their own belly…..their god is their belly…as they mind earthly things (how to get paid for preaching in order to get what to eat, what to drink and what to wear).

(19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Our citizenship is in Heaven. Yet, they are not focusing on those things above from where we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change (transfigure, transform) our humiliated earthly mortal bodies like unto His. Only by keeping His daily sacrifice within our mortal body….the “working” within us…. is He able to subdue all things unto Himself.

(20) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (21) Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

The enemies of the cross of Christ have no understanding of this as they perish from off this earth because of the serving for their own belly…and the blind leading the blind both go to the grave.

Through the “working”….always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus…is He able to subdue all things unto Himself as His life manifest in our outer mortal flesh giving us His eternal life in this earth.

2 Corinthians 4:10-11 KJV (10) Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (11) For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

The apostles of Christ labored night and day and did not speak flattering words in order to get their earthly needs met. They preached the gospel of God without charge.

1 Thessalonians 2:3-10 KJV (3) For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: (4) But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. (5) For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: (6) Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. (7) But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: (8) So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. (9) For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. (10) Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:

The "tradition"...the transmission...of the apostles of Christ is for the leaders...the "overseers"....the "eye"... to work with their own hands to support their own earthly necessities.

We also must not sit together with those who are walking "disorderly" and not after the transmission of the apostles of Christ to them.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 KJV (6) Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

The apostles of Christ did not eat any man's bread for nothing but worked night and day so as not to be chargeable to any. They did not preach for a paycheck but preached the good news without charge.

(7) For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; (8) Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:

It is not because the apostles of Christ did not have the power to do so but they did forgo that power to make themselves an example for us to follow today.

It was they back then that had that power to make a living off the body of Christ and it was their decision back then not to do so as Jesus commanded to "freely give" as they freely received and now it is binding on those who came after them not to preach for a paycheck.

(9) Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

The apostles of Christ: "this WE COMMANDED you, that if any would not work, neither shall should he eat". This is to those who make a living off the church and are not working with their own hands (at their own jobs) to support themselves.

(10) For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Those who are disregarding their command are walking "disorderly" and are not doing anyone good as they have no knowledge. They are "idle" even in their preaching as they are not feeding anyone with the Word of Truth as they have no understanding.

(11) For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

They are to hear the command of the apostles in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness (be silent at the hearing of the truth of this letter) they work with their own hands to support their own earthly necessities: what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. They are to go to work and eat their own bread.

(12) Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. (13) But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.

If any man does not obey the word of the apostles by this letter (after having been known the truth of the matter), then note that man and have no company with him...yet do not treat him as an enemy but admonish as a brother (remembering to not be weary in well doing).

(14) And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

-1

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.

  • 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 '16 at 7:49
  • 1
    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 '16 at 7:51

protected by James Shewey Feb 8 '18 at 16:49

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.