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Yeshua in Context » Idioms, Sermon on the Mount, Teaching of Yeshua » The Eye as a Lamp

The Eye as a Lamp

Matthew 6:22-23 and Luke 11:34-36 are confusing for moderns. We think of the eye as a window, letting in light. But ancients could think of an eye another way, as lights shining the interior light of the body. There are many examples in the Bible and in Greek texts. Psalm 38:11 is one example, “My eyes too have lost their luster” (see also Prov 15:30).

This has nothing to do with the scientific or pre-scientific way of looking at vision. It is the observation, which moderns also make, that a person’s eyes show their inner character. So what does Yeshua’s saying mean and what does it have to do with the evil eye?

Yeshua contrasts two kinds of eyes. The problem is knowing how to translate best the first word. It can mean single, healthy, or possibly generous. It is contrasted with the evil eye. The concept of the evil eye is well known in rabbinic and pagan texts as an idiom for one giving a curse. So, Yeshua’s meaning is to contrast the eye that curses others with the eye that blesses or desires good for others. Generous is a good translation (possibly healthy could work as well, though the understanding is that the healthy eye sees people as needing blessing).

So, Yeshua’s saying now makes sense. If the eye is generous, it is bright and the body is filled with interior light or goodness. But if the eye is set on cursing others, the body is full of darkness. In simplest terms, Yeshua is saying that generosity is the ultimate sign of a righteous disciple.

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Filed under: Idioms, Sermon on the Mount, Teaching of Yeshua

9 Responses to "The Eye as a Lamp"

  1. Derek – I wholeheartedly agree. I think we can know with certainty the meaning of this phrase, based on Scriptures alone. However, we have to put Yeshua’s words back into Hebrew. Once we do this, we can easily find a Scriptural correlation for this expression of having a “good eye.”

    The Bible Society in Israel translates the phrase “your eye is good” in Matthew 6:22 as “עֵינְךָ טוֹבָה”, literally corresponding to our English (some Greek manuscripts have the eye being “single” verses “good”).

    We have almost this exact phrase found in Proverbs 22:9, using the phrase, “טֹֽוב־עַיִן” or “good eye.” All dynamic English translations understand the meaning of this from a Hebraic perspective, since it is in the Hebrew Scriptures, as opposed to the translations of the Apostolic Scriptures which try to impose a Greek understanding of the text, since it has been delivered to us in the Greek language.

    The NASB translates this verse as follows:
    “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.”

    The one with a “good eye” is a generous person, just as you have stated. It completely fits the context of verses Matthew 6:19-23, telling us this is indeed the intended meaning of Yeshua’s words.

  2. that “context” should have been Matthew 6:19-24. Sorry!

  3. yeshuain says:

    Darren:

    Thank you, and I agree in part with what you say. Here is what I want to suggest, though. It is not a matter of “Greek vs. Hebraic” thinking. I believe that to be a subtle error in and of itself. Jews can think like Greeks and Greeks like Jews.

    Also, it is not as if, though Bivin and Blizzard have propounded this view, with which I disagree, that putting Greek sayings into hypothetical Hebrew will give us a more accurate translation. That is logically invalid.

    But here is where you are right, and what I think you really mean, “good eye” is a Hebrew idiom. It is evidence that opthalmos sou haplous might refer to the same idiomatic expression. It is good exegesis to consider idioms. Once we add to this evidence the parallel between the single/good/healthy/generous eye and the evil eye which is also mentioned in Matt 6:22-23, then our case is further strengthened. The idiom “good eye” meaning generous, seeking to bless others, fits well in the contrast.

    Derek

  4. Derek – thanks for the response and the “tip.” I totally agree with you that “Jews can think like Greeks and Greeks like Jews.” However, I’m not sure I can agree with your assessment about reverse translating NT Greek into Hebrew. This one reason I feel that the DHE (Deliztsch Hebrew English) translation is important. Although FFOZ is not claiming that it will be a “more accurate” translation than existing translations, it really depends on how we define “accurate.”

    If accurate only means choosing the correct literal English equivalent, then no, it is not going to be any more accurate than any other translation. If, however, accurate extends to understanding Hebraic idioms and viewing the text as a Semitic document, rather than a Hellenistic one, then I think we can say that the DHE will be more accurate in that regard, since it attempts to be more true to convey the “meaning” of Yeshua’s teachings, rather than only the equivalent English words of his teachings (which fails in several areas).

    I can use a Greek dictionary to choose English substitutions for Greek words. But if I don’t understand the “meanings” of the words, my substitutions (i.e. my “translation”) will fail to capture the dynamic sense of the passage. I think this is why the Hebrew conversion is so important. It helps us to understand a more original dynamic of the text than the Greek, which can lead us to choose different English equivalents of the Greek, than an English equivalent of the Hebrew.

    I’m not sure you will agree, but that’s my reasoning.

  5. yeshuain says:

    Darren:

    I assure you that this is not about me wanting to win an argument. But there are two issues that make me feel it worth pressing the point. One is that I don’t want anyone thinking the DHE is about a more accurate version. The other is that I disagree with the reverse translation theory of Bivin and Blizzard.

    So, here is my point, and I really think you will agree:
    (1) Any English translation from the Greek text should bring Jewish idioms into the equation when translating.
    (2) A Hebrew intermediate text is not necessary for this to happen.
    (3) There is no inherent reason why a Hebrew intermediate will produce a more accurate English translation.

    But, here is what I think you are saying:
    (1) Modern versions may not have done a thorough job of considering Jewish idioms.
    (2) Franz Delitzsch did excellent work that includes a knowledge of Jewish idioms.
    (3) An English translation based on Delitzsch’s version is more likely to accurately reflect Jewish idioms.

    Now, on that we could agree. But the distinction is vital to me.

    Derek

  6. Derek – I believe understand your point, but I still can’t fully agree with you. My main contention is on your second point, which states “(2) A Hebrew intermediate text is not necessary for this (bringing Jewish idioms into the equation when translating) to happen.” I think your point #1 is contingent upon an necessary intermediate text.

    Here is why:

    When editing the DHE there were several instances in which by just using a transliterated Hebrew word, rather than an English translation of either the Greek or the Hebrew, I was completely taken aback by the way it changed my understanding of the text. Unfortunately, I can only think of one (somewhat minor) example of this (which I am in the process of blogging about). It is in the same passage at which we are discussing, but further down (and still in the same context).

    In verses 25-34, Yeshua continues to address the subject of what I have affectionately entitled “money, things & stuff”. In this familiar passage, he repeatedly tells us to not be concerned as to where our livelihood and daily provisions may come. At the end of this, he makes the well-known statement, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

    Until I saw the Hebrew behind this (which should have been obvious), I totally missed the dual understanding of what Yeshua was saying here. I’ve always looked at it as, “Focus on His Lordship and doing what is right (i.e. the commandments) and Hashem will take care of you.” However, when I saw the Hebrew word “tzedakah” in the DHE, this passage took on a whole new understanding. He’s not only telling us what I had already understood, but to look to Hashem for our tzedakah or charity. He is to be the source of our needs, as Yeshua emphasizes repeatedly in this passage. This also corresponds with his teaching of asking only for our daily bread.

    Sure, maybe we potentially “could” skip the Hebrew intermediate text in theory, but in reality it just doesn’t work that way. I hope you understand where I’m coming from and don’t take this as an attempt to just be argumentative.

  7. yeshuain says:

    Darren:

    Tzedakah only means charity in later Hebrew, not in biblical.

    Derek

  8. “Tzedakah only means charity in later Hebrew, not in biblical.”

    I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on that. Matthew 6:1 is the perfect example:

    “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4, NASB)

    The NASB translates the Greek in a literal fashion. However, the KJV translates it dynamically:

    Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:1-4, KJV)

    As evidenced in the very words of Yeshua, by the first century, tzedakah had taken on the connotation of charity.

  9. yeshuain says:

    Darren:

    I think of Yeshua’s time as relatively late in Hebrew development (I was thinking of tzedakah in the Hebrew Bible). But you got me. I would not have guessed tzedakah would be used in this way as early as first century.

    Derek

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