Fellow blogger Derek Leman has a short post on his Yeshua in Context blog site about Yeshua’s teaching on the eye as the “lamp of the body” in Matthew 6:22-23. Although I commented on his post & gave some of this information, I thought it would be good to post a more complete version of my thoughts here.
Good Eye, Bad Eye, Lamp of the Body
Matthew 6:19-24 is one of the first passages I point out to people who want to know why it’s important to understand Yeshua’s teachings from its original context, particularly the Hebrew idioms & terminology behind his words. Let’s look at this entire passage. I’ve used the NKJV, and left the headers from the translators to show the misunderstanding even at the level of scholarly translation.
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.The Lamp of the Body22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!You Cannot Serve God and Riches24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
I begin by having the person read verses 19-21 and then interpret Yeshua’s message. Then I do the same with verses 22-23, which often results in a confession of not knowing what he is talking about. Then I have them read verse 24, and they are able to interpret this just as easily as verses 19-21. Then I point out the theme of the three sections of this passage as such:
- Verses 19-21: Money, things & stuff
- Verses 22-23: Unclear
- Verse 24: Money, things & stuff
From there, they usually see a pattern, and that verses 22-23 “should” fit back into the context.
They are then able to realize why it is so important is that we know the intended meaning of his teachings. It is easy for them to see how we will totally miss the point of what he is trying to convey if we don’t understand the original sense of the message, which hinges upon a Hebraic . And without this information, we will invariably make up a meaning that has absolutely nothing to do with his original teaching. For generations, Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 6:22-23 has been interpreted in ways that are completely unrelated to the context of his subject, and stripped of its context (even at the pashat level).
Often this text is used as a prooftext for moral purity and guarding the eyes. Although this is indeed a principle that Yeshua advocates (cf. Matthew 5:28), it is not at all what he is talking about here. However, this passage, if understood as being Hebraic in nature, fits completely within the context of the surrounding verses (19-24). And, unlike many instances of passages found within the Apostolic Scriptures, we do not have to turn to an outside source (such as non-canonical or rabbinic works), Scripture actually illuminates this passage itself.
Put it back in Hebrew
First, we need to put this passage back into Hebrew. From there we can begin comparing it to other Scriptures in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach (or the “Old Testament”). The Bible Society in Israel translates the phrase “your eye is good” in Matthew 6:22 as “עֵינְךָ טוֹבָה”, (ein’ka tovah) literally corresponding to our English (some texts translated the eye as being “single” or “clear” verses “good”). When we focus on the phrase “your eye is good” and we come across a passage in Proverbs.
In Proverbs 22:9, we have almost this exact phrase in the form of, “טֹֽוב־עַיִן” (tov eiyn) or “good eye.” Since this passage is being translated by Hebrew linguists, all dynamic English translations understand the meaning of this quite easily. Why? Because it is obvious in the Hebrew. However, when we are presented with a Greek text, such as the Apostolic Scriptures (the “New Testament”), translators try to impose a Greek understanding of the text, since it has been delivered to us in the Greek language. But this approach fails, as we will clearly see in this passage. But back to our correlation in Proverbs. The NASB translates this verse as follows:
“He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)
From here we can see it is obvious that the one with a “good eye” is a generous person. Now, let’s put this new terminology & understanding back into Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew and remove the last two inserted headers (modifications in bold italics):
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.22 “The lamp of the body is generosity. If therefore you are generous, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if you are miserly, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
With our new understanding in place, it completely changes our understanding of the words of our Master. Rather than three separate teachings, we see a cohesive unit of teaching by which he warns against being attached to wealth and the “things” of this world and encourages us to create spiritual “wealth” in its place. This reading completely fits the context of verses Matthew 6:19-24, telling us this is indeed the intended meaning of Yeshua’s words.
Look for my upcoming post, “Yeshua’s Use of ‘Righteousness’” which will give another example of insights gained from looking at the Hebrew beneath the Greek skin of the NT. It will elucidate more of Yeshua’s teachings, and expound upon many of the things discussed in this post.
Do you want a resource to help you see these things in the Apostolic Scriptures?
One is on its way. Have you heard of the new, DHE (Delitzsch Hebrew English) translation of the Apostolic Scriptures from Vine of David (First Fruits of Zion)? Vine of David is in the process of taking Delitzsch’s Hebrew text of the Apostolic Scriptures and putting them into English for the first time. Here is some brief info on the project. I will be posting more thoroughly on this project soon:
Franz Delitzsch (1813 – 1890) was known as a “Christian Hebraist” he was a pioneer in the area of Jewish studies of the New Testament. Delizsch was a prolific writer, translator, and biblical commentator. His greatest and most noted work was is his New Testament translation into Hebrew. Deliztzsch re-contextualized the Gospels back into their Hebraic foundations. He understood and revealed the Hebrew / Jewish underpinnings of the Gospels. He devoted his entire life to restoring Yeshua back his people. The primary goal of this translation was to create “an edition of the Gospels that is sensitive to and reveals the Jewish essence of the teachings of the New Testament is vital to helping God’s people connect with the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith.”
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