Those Mysterious Eyes

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                    Just think how our idioms must sound to foreign visitors who are unaware of them. They would be confused, to say the least. Sadly, for centuries Christians have been trying to take them literally and have not been able to understand some of the most important teachings of Jesus. They are also confused and have been unaware of the ancient meanings that have been hidden for centuries.

                    In Matthew 6.22-23a (King James Version), we read:

The light of the body is the eye: If therefore thine EYE BE SINGLE, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine EYE BE EVIL, thy whole body shall be full of darkness . . .

                    What do the words “EYE BE SINGLE” and “EYE BE EVIL” mean? Don’t feel bad if you do not know, because even professional Bible translators differ with each other. In different English translations, instead of “eye be single,” we find:

  • eye be whole
  • eye be sound
  • eye be healthy
  • eye be clear
  • eye be good

                    Do these mean the same thing to you?

                    When we look at the Greek manuscripts of this verse we find OPHTHALMOS, which means “eye”, and HAPLOUS, which is translated as:

  • single
  • simple
  • plain
  • sincere
  • honest
  • sound 

                    Looking at the Greek text this time wasn’t any help. The words don’t make any sense in either English or Greek! How are we going to accurately understand the original words of Jesus?

                    Most English translators just assume that the original words of Jesus were Greek. However, most scholars no longer agree with that assumption. Jesus was a member of the Jewish culture of the first century CE - Greek was understood by many, but the primary language was Hebrew. Therefore, to simply look up the Greek words in a Greek lexicon will not work, because Jesus’ words contain two Hebrew idioms.             

                    In order to determine the correct English meaning we must convert the Greek text back into Hebrew and then search for it in the Hebrew Bible of Jesus. Since a discussion of that process would be very technical and not understood by many of our readers, and since our space is limited, I will not discuss that process in this article. However, after completing the process we discovered the idiom Jesus used in Proverbs 22:9:

"He that has a good eye shall be blessed; for he gives his bread to the poor."

                    The correct English translation of Jesus’ idiom is "good eye." We still have a problem though; "good eye" still doesn’t make any sense to an English reader. Let me point out that we must go through a seven step process when we encounter idioms in the Bible:

  1. Identify the questionable phrase. "Eye be single" has no meaning in English.
  2. Determine the original language of the phrase. The language of Jesus, Hebrew.
  3. Translate the phrase back to its original language, in this case Hebrew.
  4. Search for the phrase in the Hebrew Bible. We discovered it in Proverbs 22:9.
  5. Determine if it is an idiom. Yes, it was an idiom.
  6. Translate the idiom into English. The English translation is "good eye."
  7. Discover the meaning of the idiom.

                    Now for the seventh step. In order to complete this step we must learn about "parallelisms." The Hebrew language has several writing styles, one of which is called a parallelism. This style contains two or more phrases that are directly related to each other. The second phrase in a parallelism may either rephrase or expand the meaning of the first phrase, thereby providing the reader with a much better understanding of the first. The writer of Proverbs 22:9 uses this style:

"He that has a good eye shall be blessed;
for he gives his bread to the poor."

  1. The first phrase is our idiom - "good eye."
  2. The second phrase unlocks its meaning - "gives his bread to the poor."

                    By changing the first phrase into a question and answering it with the second phrase, we are able to correctly understand the idiom.

  1. Who is the one with a "good eye?"
  2. He is the one who gives his bread to the poor.

                    Now let’s use this information and discover what Jesus actually said. In this case we have two choices, but notice that even though they may be worded differently, the meaning is the same. The correct translation of Jesus’ words could be either of the following:

"The light of the body is the eye: If therefore you are a generous person, your whole body will be full of light."

or

"The light of the body is the eye: If therefore you are an almsgiver, your whole body will be full of light."

                    Now let’s use the seven-step process discussed above to unlock the meaning of the second idiom - "eye be evil."

  1. "Eye be evil" does not make sense to an English reader.
  2. The original language was the language of Jesus, Hebrew.
  3. We translated it back into Hebrew.
  4. We discovered it in the Hebrew Bible in Deuteronomy 15:9.
  5. We determined that it was an idiom.
  6. The correct English translation is "evil eye."

                    Now we will again turn to Jesus’ Hebrew Bible and read Deuteronomy 15:9:

"Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and you have an evil eye against your poor brother, and you give him nothing; and he cry unto the LORD against you, and it be sin unto you."

                    Once more we find the idiom within the context of a parallelism.

  1. The first phrase is our idiom - "evil eye."
  2. The second phrase unlocks its meaning - "gives him nothing."

                    What do the verses from Proverbs and Deuteronomy have in common? They both are dealing with the subject of how one treats a poor person. Proverbs addresses the poor in general, while Deuteronomy deals with "your poor brother."

                    Again we will change the first phrase into a question and answer it with the second phrase in order to unlock the meaning of our idiom.

  1. Who is the one with an "evil eye?"
  2. He is the one who gives nothing to his poor brother.

                    Now let’s reconstruct the complete context and discover the lesson that Jesus actually taught his disciples. As I pointed out above, we have two choices. The reconstruction of Jesus’ original words could be either of the following:

"The light of the body is the eye: If therefore you are a generous person, your whole body will be full of light. But if you are a stingy person who ignores the needs of his poor brother, your whole body shall be full of darkness."

or

"The light of the body is the eye: If therefore you are an almsgiver, your whole body will be full of light. But if you are a stingy person who ignores the needs of his poor brother, your whole body shall be full of darkness."

                    Knowing the meanings of the two idioms that Jesus used makes it possible for us to understand the driving point that Jesus was making in Matthew 6:24.

"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will cling to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

                    Generosity or almsgiving clearly fits into a discussion concerning "mammon" (wealth). But before we understood that Jesus was using two idioms there was not an understandable connection between verses 22 and 23 which contained the idioms and verse 24. Now let’s take one last look at Jesus’ message beginning with verse 19:

"Don’t store up for yourselves treasures upon the earth where moths and rust devour them, and where thieves break in and steal them. Store up for yourselves treasures with God where neither moths nor rust devour them and where thieves cannot break in and steal them. Because where you keep that which you most value is where your heart and mind will be also.

"That which you value the most is seen in your eye. If you are an almsgiver, that which you most value reflects that which is most valuable to God. But if you are a stingy person, who even ignores the needs of his own poor brother, that which you most value does not reflect the values of God. If therefore that which you most value doesn’t reflect that which God most values, how valuable are your values?

"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will cling to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

                    What do you think God values the most?

(1) How much wealth a person accumulates and keeps? or;
(2) How one uses their wealth to help those in need?

                    Which will make our world a healthier and safer place? Maybe God really hasn’t changed his plan for mankind since the Garden of Eden. After all, if they had focused on the only tree that would have produced life - wouldn’t things have turned out much differently?

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