When we read the Bible, our modern world perspective can mislead and leave us in the dark. For example, take Jesus’ teaching about financial generosity. The Messiah said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is “healthy” ἁπλοῦς (aplus) your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is “bad” πονηρὸς (poneros) your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matt. 6:22-23a ESV) If you did well in your science classes these metaphors might lead you to believe that Jesus is making some general statements about the spiritual condition of our souls. However, if we look at these words in their first-century Jewish context, the meaning changes.

First, let’s consider “the eye is the lamp of the body” phrase. Modern people, like you and I, think of the eye as a “window” that allows light into the body. Ancient Jews, however, thought that the eye was the “origin of light” similar to a flashlight. In other words, it’s the eye that reveals and illuminates the condition of everything else in our lives.

The second part of Yeshua’s teaching mentions the “healthy” eye versus “evil” or “bad” eye. Proverbs 22:9 states that טוֹב־עַיִן (tov ayin) “a generous person” or literally  “good eye” will be blessed because “he gives some of his food to the poor.” In contrast, “a greedy person” or literally אִישׁ רַע עָיִן (ish ra ayin) “man with an evil eye” does not know that poverty will overtake him (Prov. 28:22).

In Jewish culture “a good eye” refers to a generous person, while an “evil eye” refers to a greedy or jealous person. Thus a better translation of these metaphors in Matthew would be “a generous eye” versus “a greedy eye”. No, Jesus did not make general statements about the spiritual health of our souls in this passage. Instead, he taught about financial generosity. Our concern for the poor among us reveals whether or not our life is filled with light or shrouded in darkness.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. In the context of Matthew 6:21-25, and in the context of Jesus' parable about the separation of sheep and goats on Judgment Day, Matt. 25:31-46, Jesus is telling His disciples that to be permitted to enter Heaven and be given Eternal Life, each of them as individuals must be generous, kind, compassionate, merciful and loving. See also the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
  2. I perform soliloquies...reenactments of biblical characters. Recently did the woman at the well using your lovely interpretation! It was well liked. Thank you! Laura Loffredo
  3. Or maybe what Jesus is saying is that it is about how you see the world. How you look on others and their circumstances and needs. Do you have a jaundiced or Godly view of the world?
    • I think there might be some room in there for that interpretation but the focus here is primarily inward. But I must say, it certainly preaches!
  4. Your point is well taken, thank you.The origin of light then is Genesis 1:3, when light came into the world. When light comes into our lives it illuminates our hearts, which becomes generous or greedy. The Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea are both fed by one source; The Sea of Galilee is generous it receives, is rich, vibrant, plentiful, and gives from its resources. The Dead Sea is greedy it collects stores, the sediment and salinity levels kill all life. Like the two seas when we follow Jesus teachings on generosity instead of becoming greedy, this enriches our lives.
  5. Yes I also saw it as wharever the eye beholds that invests the body. As a christian believer my concept was you are through what you see. There are things in my life, after 40 years that I still see in my mind because I saw it just once. Thanks for the new insight.
  6. and thus, the faithful first century followers had everything in common and lived in harmony, enjoying revival, sometimes daily! sharing overcame the greed and covetousness commonly exercised by many... TORAH rules can make a genius out of fools!
  7. Thanks for your insight. My question is this: What was the connection in the Jewish mind between generosity (or the lack of it) and the eye? It is a curious idiom for generosity/greed; can you explain the rationale behind it? Thanks!
    • Hi James. As I try to explain above, the eye was viewed as that which revealed the status of your whole character. Hence the "flashlight" analogy. Fundamentally, I think that's the connection.
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