Matt 6:22-23

Russell Allen asked on the Share page:

I have a question about Matt 6:22-23, which in the NIV2011 is “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But 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!”

There seems a lot of variation on this healthy/unhealthy pattern. Some translations have sound/bad, others clear/diseased, unclouded/diseased etc

CEV goes for “Your eyes are like a window for your body. When they are good, you have all the light you need. But when your eyes are bad, everything is dark. If the light inside you is dark, you surely are in the dark. ”

NLT2 goes for “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

Reading Ann Nyland, I noticed she goes for: “The body’s light is generosity. If you are generous, you will be full of light. But if you are greedy, your whole body will be in darkness! And if the light in you is in fact dark, then the darkness in you is huge!”, and notes that “Word for word “The body’s light is the eye” but is in fact an idiom. “Eye” was the Greek metaphor for generosity. Here ophthalmos, but note, omma, “eye” is a formally polite term of endearment meaning “treasure”, cf. Aristophanes, Acharnians, 1184; Aeschylus, Cho. 238; Sophocles, Aj. 977. poneros, eye being evil is Greek idiom for being greedy and stingy”

Is this a plausible rendering?

Is it possible to get a better translation than the healthy/unhealthy pairing?

These are difficult verses that translators have always been struggling with. Let me start from the Greek text and a literal rendering:

Ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός. ἐὰν οὖν ᾖ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ἁπλοῦς, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου φωτεινὸν ἔσται· ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου σκοτεινὸν ἔσται. εἰ οὖν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοὶ σκότος ἐστίν, τὸ σκότος πόσον.

The eye is the lamp for the body. So, if your eye is single-minded, your whole body will be shining bright, but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be dark. So, if the light (that should have been) in you is (in reality) darkness, how great the darkness is.

One question is whether two Hebrew idioms are relevant here. To say in Hebrew that you have an evil eye can mean that you are envious, while having a good eye can mean that you are generous. However, it is unlikely that these idioms are intended here or at least not at the forefront, since the text does not talk about a good eye.

We do have some metaphors and words that are commonly used in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. The lamp is a metaphor for something that brings light to a house. Light is often used to refer to Jesus and his teaching. The eye is a metaphor for what allows you as a person living inside your body/house/tent to perceive what is outside. Paul talks about the “eyes of the heart”. The eye being single-minded has nothing to do with being healthy, because it is not a description of the physical eye, but of an attitude of mind. It must refer to how you look at the outside world and whether you open your inner eye to allow the light of Jesus to shine in and reach your soul and mind. The word that KJV translated as single, can also mean sincere, without guile. It is the opposite of being double-minded, having ulterior and selfish motives. The two words are related to simplicity versus duplicity.

The previous text in Matthew talks about two opposite things that one can focus the eye on. One is worldly treasure, the other is heavenly treasure. A sincere and single-minded person would look to Jesus and the heavenly treasure, while a follower of Jesus with an evil (maybe including envious) attitude would try to look both to Jesus and to the world and what it has to offer. That is duplicity.

The next text talks about the impossibility of serving two masters at the same time. That would be duplicity or what a double-minded person might try to do. Jesus says you cannot do that. You need to serve God single-mindedly, to shut out these worldly desires.

Such single-minded people who focus their eyes on Jesus and allow His light to illuminate the soul and mind will not only receive the light for themselves but will be shining out to others as well. This is related to Matt 5:14-16. But people who do not have this single-mindedness towards Jesus, will focus their eyes on the things of this world, and they will remain in darkness, because they do not allow the light of Jesus to shine in them and through them.  If what should have been light in them is only darkness, that is indeed a great darkness with eternal repercussions.

It is very difficult to translate these metaphors in a meaningful way. I might suggest the following rather free rendering which you are welcome to improve on:

The eye is like a lamp that brings light to your inner being. If you have a trusting and sincere mind, your inner being will be filled with my light. But if you have a closed and evil/selfish mind, your inner being will be filled with darkness. Be careful not to shut my light out, because then your life will become one big darkness.

24 thoughts on “Matt 6:22-23

  1. John Hobbins says:


    You offer a fine point of departure for a discussion of metaphors in translation, and how and to what extent it is appropriate to map information structure from source to target text. Here we go, line by line. Actually, I will look at the first line only for reasons of space.

    Literal translation: The eye is the lamp of the body.
    Free translation: The eye is like a lamp that brings light to your inner being.

    The literal translation preserves the metaphoricity of the metaphor. The free translation transforms the metaphor into a simile. It is one thing to say: “Sally is a block of ice.” It is another to say, “Sally is like a block of ice.” The Bible speaks of the “sword of his mouth.” Whenever a metaphor is transformed into a simile, the blade of that sword is blunted.

    The literal translation preserves the concreteness and physicality of three expressions, “eye,” “lantern,” and “body.” If this line is read for itself, it would appear that the eye is described as that which brings light on subjects in service of the whole body. The free translation you offer, on the other hand, is proleptic, reading into this line part of the development which follows. This might be described as putting the cart before the horse.

    The free translation takes an anatomical expression (body), even though it coordinates with another anatomical expression (eye), and replaces it with a psychological expression (inner being). This is not so much translation as revision.

    Finally, by adding an explanatory phrase, the information structure is messed with. The difference may seem subtle, but I’m not sure it is.

    The advantage of wordy free translations is that they resolve ambiguity. Still, it is possible to practice free, explicating translation without making (most of) the moves I critique. For example:

    The eye is a lamp that shines a light on things for the sake of the entire body.

    I prefer a literal translation to study and preach from. But I would explicate said translation in terms of the free translation just offered.

  2. Gary Simmons says:

    Iver, why would you suggest we downplay or ignore the possibility of influence from those Hebrew idioms?

    Sincerity/generosity is the central point of Matthew 6, so why would it be surprising to find aplous in contrast to poneros, even if that is an unusual stretch of the idiom.

    I think it’s a stretch, rather, to connect the preceding and proceeding passages with the eye idea apart from the idioms. Can one really see treasures in heaven? I’m not so sure.

    I believe it would be worthwhile to compare Matthew 6:19-24 with Tobit 4:5-11. Here’s the relevant passage, courtesy of

    3 καὶ καλέσας αὐτὸν εἶπεν Παιδίον, ἐὰν ἀποθάνω, θάψον με· καὶ μὴ ὑπερίδῃς τὴν μητέρα σου, τίμα αὐτὴν πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς σου καὶ ποίει τὸ ἀρεστὸν αὐτῇ καὶ μὴ λυπήσῃς αὐτήν. 4 μνήσθητι, παιδίον, ὅτι πολλοὺς κινδύνους ἑόρακεν ἐπὶ σοὶ ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ· ὅταν ἀποθάνῃ, θάψον αὐτὴν παρ᾽ ἐμοὶ ἐν ἑνὶ τάφῳ. 5 πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας, παιδίον, κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν μνημόνευε καὶ μὴ θελήσῃς ἁμαρτάνειν καὶ παραβῆναι τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ· δικαιοσύνην ποίει πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς σου καὶ μὴ πορευθῇς ταῖς ὁδοῖς τῆς ἀδικίας· 6 διότι ποιοῦντός σου τὴν ἀλήθειαν εὐοδίαι ἔσονται ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις σου. 7 καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς ποιοῦσι τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων σοι ποίει ἐλεημοσύνην, καὶ μὴ φθονεσάτω σου ὁ ὀφθαλμὸς ἐν τῷ ποιεῖν σε ἐλεημοσύνην· μὴ ἀποστρέψῃς τὸ πρόσωπόν σου ἀπὸ παντὸς πτωχοῦ, καὶ ἀπὸ σοῦ οὐ μὴ ἀποστραφῇ τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ θεοῦ. 8 ὡς σοὶ ὑπάρχει, κατὰ τὸ πλῆθος ποίησον ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐλεημοσύνην· ἐὰν ὀλίγον σοι ὑπάρχῃ, κατὰ τὸ ὀλίγον μὴ φοβοῦ ποιεῖν ἐλεημοσύνην· 9 θέμα γὰρ ἀγαθὸν θησαυρίζεις σεαυτῷ εἰς ἡμέραν ἀνάγκης· 10 διότι ἐλεημοσύνη ἐκ θανάτου ῥύεται καὶ οὐκ ἐᾷ εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὸ σκότος· 11 δῶρον γὰρ ἀγαθόν ἐστιν ἐλεημοσύνη πᾶσι τοῖς ποιοῦσιν αὐτὴν ἐνώπιον τοῦ ὑψίστου.

    My translation:

    And so he called for his son, Tobit, and told him: “When I die, bury me, and do not overlook your mother; honor her all the days of your life. Do what is pleasing to her and do not grieve her. Remember, child, how she saw many troubles for your sake while you were in the womb. When she dies, bury her beside me in one single grave. All the days of your life, child, remember the Lord your God and do not let yourself sin and transgress God’s commands.

    Do the right thing [=give charity] all the days of your life and don’t go in the ways of wrongness/unrighteousness. For if/when you do what is truly good, there will be successes in your works.

    Further, do the merciful thing [=give charity] from your own possessions to all those who do the right thing — and don’t let your eye envy when you do what is merciful! Don’t turn your face away from any poor person, and neither will God’s face turn away from you.

    With whatever you have — in wealth, do what is merciful from your wealth; and in poverty, do not be afraid to do what is merciful from your poverty.

    For you store up for yourself a good treasure for a time of need. For mercy delivers from death, and prevents one from going into the darkness. For the merciful thing is a good gift for those who do it before [=in the eyes of?] the Most High.”

    Several words and ideas lead me to believe the passages are purposefully related: both deal with poverty/wealth, hoarding wealth, doing the right/merciful thing [specifically: charity/alms], success when you are sincere/genuine (Tob 4:6, cf. the “Do not be like the hypocrites” half of Matt 6), and the witty use of the eye and sight imagery.

    Both passages use the eye imagery in a context of generosity, though Tobit’s does not use the “good” eye side of the coin. Tobit’s statements to his son also include the paradox of hoarding up an emergency fund by giving away as much as possible. How is it that you store up something for a time of need by giving away your material possessions on earth?

    It must be that you have treasures in heaven stored up for a time of need. And what is that treasure? Is it physical money? No. It’s mercy. If you never turn your face away from any poor person, then God will never turn you away when you beg him in need, either. Because you essentially gave mercy, you store up mercy for yourself in a time of need. [Notice, also, the face imagery there and how eye contact with the poor indicates compassion and the willingness to give, and how God’s face indicates the same.]

    I find this to be a very strong parallel, and on these grounds I would argue that the Hebrew idioms are essential rather than tangential to this passage in Matthew. Unfortunately, the only way I can think of translating this beautiful poetry is to utterly flatten the idiom:

    The part of you that is light is this: what you do with your finances. If you’re generous, your body is completely light. But if you’re stingy, then your body is utter darkness. So, if the “light” in you is darkness, that’s a pretty deep darkness you’ve got there!

  3. Sid Williams says:

    I prefer the lteral translation for it makes the message clear.

    “… if the eye of you is off [prefix – a] riches (plous) the whole body (Israel) will be shining …”

    But then, you know that the “eye of the Body” (Israel) has already been instructed to be, “plucked out” (Mt 5.29) And the “plucked out eye” has already been defined as “shepherds of Israel” (Zec 11.17). All of the ,Sermon on the Mounnt” is about the Body of Israel, and confirming the Law of Moses – Andrew Fausset. Your “new” translation breaks up the parts of the Body.

  4. iverlarsen says:


    It is a major challenge to translate metaphors. The crucial question to ask is whether a particular word that is readily understood in an extended or metaphorical sense in the original language is used metaphorically in a similar way in the new language. This is rarely the case.

    You say: “The literal translation preserves the metaphoricity of the metaphor”. I disagree. The literal translation by doing a word for word substitution has lost the metaphors. And it has lost the intended meaning of the metaphors, because the substitution of words does not carry over the connotations and metaphorical extensions of the corresponding words in the original language and context. The Greek and Hebrew words for “eye” have connotations and extended uses that are not found in the English “eye”. The same for “body”.

    I don’t think we will ever agree on translation principles, because we have entirely different purposes. My purpose is to allow an average reader of the Bible to understand the meaning. When such people read the literal rendering of this passage, they have two options: 1) This makes no sense, but then the word of God is so “deep” that I am not supposed to make sense of it. Let me skip this and read on. 2) This makes no sense, but let me try to put my own sense into it. This was demonstrated nicely by Sid Williams, and this is what many pastors prefer, because it gives them more freedom to use the text as they see fit.

    You suggested: “The eye is a lamp that shines a light on things for the sake of the entire body”.

    This seems quite obscure and rather far removed from the text. Are you interpreting “body” here as the body of Christ? You said: “it would appear that the eye is described as that which brings light on subjects in service of the whole body.” I fail to see how you can possibly understand the text in this way.

    Admittedly, it is a difficult text, and we added a footnote with a more literal rendering at this place in our Danish translation. The comments we get from the ordinary Bible readers about the Danish translation is usually something like this: “I am so happy to read a translation that I can understand. I have never understood this or that passage before.”

    Of course, it is very difficult and more risky to produce a functionally equivalent translation, and that is why so much time and effort has to be spent on exegetical research.

  5. iverlarsen says:


    Thank you for a nice passage from Tobit. It is good, traditional Jewish wisdom. A devout Jewish father gives his Jewish son advice on his deathbed.

    In terms of the sermon on the mount, this Jewish wisdom is what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were teaching. Concerning that, Jesus said: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

    There is nothing new about the virtue of giving alms and being merciful. It is traditional Jewish as well as Muslim wisdom. It belongs under the oft-repeated heading: “You have heard that it was said…” And it contrasts with the new message that Jesus brings under the heading: “But I tell you…”. The contrast is not so much in the outward actions as it is in the underlying attitude of heart.

    Nor do I agree that generosity is the central point of Matt 6. Sincerity is closer, and that is part of the meaning of haplous (ἁπλοῦς), but to me, the central point is for the hearers to receive and then reflect the light that Jesus brings. (I admit that this is clearer in John’s Gospel than in Matthew.) You are first to enter the Kingdom of God/Heaven or in John’s term: Be born again. Without that you cannot properly do the will of the Father and show the love and compassion that he has. The key verse in chapter 6 is in my view 6:33. And for chapter 5 I would choose verse 48.

    As you can guess, I cannot accept your rendering of the text.

  6. Russell Allen says:

    Just as an aside, if we are talking about “whether you open your inner eye to allow the light of Jesus to shine in”, then talking about lamps is a bit confusing to me. In my modern mind, lamps create light, they don’t let light in. I guess this is why the CEV has gone with ‘window’ instead…

    Looking at Iver’s quick translation: My initial response to this, just as a piece of prose ignoring issues of the underlying text, is that the first sentence doesn’t fit all that well. ‘The eye’ is mentioned as bringing light, but then ignored in the rest of the passage. Also, ‘inner being’ would sound odd unless that term is used elsewhere in the translation.

    I’m looking for a middle path, I guess, between a ‘literal’ translation that communicates very little (unless I have John locked in a cupboard so I can ask him what a passage means whenever I need help) and a free translation that communicates a meaning, but perhaps with too much certainty.

    Or to put it another way, if the original metaphor is dead, how close to the original metaphor can I get while still conveying meaning? How close to John can I get while still pleasing Iver? 🙂

    If I understand Iver’s explanation, then my stab at what I’m after would be something like:

    “Your eyes are windows to your body. If they are clear and focused then you will be filled with light; if they are cloudy and unfocussed then you will be in the dark. And if you shut them then you will be deep in the darkness.”

    Is this reasonable?

  7. JKG says:

    Because Matthew’s language is Greek, because he uses ἐστιν, there is much to what John Hobbins has said about metaphor. Matthew’s Greek readers would have understood what English readers will be robbed of if the English translator renders what Jesus said as, like, a simile and not getting that it IS a metaphor.

    First, I think it’s important to see what Matthew’s language is DOING. The structure of his language is SIGNALING something. It’s not necessarily signaling past meanings at all. In other words, Iver’s correct to suggest that Hebrew idioms are not necessarily in view, not even in a platonic sense for the reader. Nor are, I’ll add, Greek idioms in view necessarily. So, in a sense, it may be entirely irrelevant to Matthew’s Greek readers what Ann Nyland notes about “‘Eye’ [being] the Greek metaphor for generosity… [and that idiomatically it] is a formally polite term of endearment meaning ‘treasure’ [or… ] eye being evil [since it] is Greek idiom for being greedy and stingy.”

    Iver, I do think what you wrote in reply to Gary sounds (to me at least) as if Jesus is not being Jewish; you say this Jewish wisdom is what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were teaching. Concerning that, Jesus said [something to correct this “Jewish wisdom”]. The fact is, I’d argue, Jesus is being only and entirely Jewish in his wisdom as he builds on the teachings of the Pharisees. David Rosenberg even offers his own Jewish suggestion / evidence that Jesus was one of the Pharisees, but that’s for another discussion. But, Iver, you are concerned too that The Greek and Hebrew words for “eye” have connotations and extended uses that are not found in the English “eye”. Nonetheless, this is not the issue that John Hobbins is so importantly raising. Yes, “eye” has no platonic prototypical meaning across languages. Yes, particular Hebrew and Greek and now English idioms as so very different. But this is not Russell Allen’s question. His question is Is this [Ann Nyland’s] a plausible rendering? So stay with me.

    What Nyland does is to keep the ἐστιν; she retains the metaphor with is. The simile, The eye is like a lamp, allows Matthew’s metaphor to get lost in translation. This has very little to do with non-overlapping lexical domains across languages (where “eye” in English, or “lamp,” or “generosity” might specify different things in Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew, etc.). It has everything to do with what metaphor DOES. To use I. A. Richards’s famous terms, metaphor functions by way of “tenor,” “vehicle,” and “ground” (whether the language is Greek or English). In English, The eye IS a lamp IS a metaphor. “Eye” is the tenor; “lamp” is the vehicle; the ground is this: the vehicle of the lamp shows that the tenor (‘the eye’) possesses a quality or qualities that one associates with the lamp, such as a means of illumination (which is the traditional association in the English language), a tool for enlightenment, etc. What Nyland is doing is simply changing the traditionally rendered tenor and vehicle for her own. In other words, she’s letting the “body’s light” function as the metaphor’s tenor and “generosity” as its vehicle. Now, this really does change what the metaphor means in English (from what it means traditionally), and it may not be what Matthew’s metaphor means in Greek (which is Russell Allen’s question). But what is clear is that both the traditional English translations and Nyland’s don’t rob the reader of the metaphor. Introducing a simile does steal away how Matthew’s Greek readers may read what the Bible says here.

    Once upon a time, I blogged on Matthew and Nyland and metaphor. Lest that’s relevant and interesting:

  8. John Hobbins says:

    Very nice discussion. A couple of remarks.

    No, I do not take terms like “eye” and “body” allegorically, as Sidney does.

    I don’t think a superimposed allegorical reading of the sermon on the mount does justice to it.

    However, I’m not willing to throw out the diction of the source text and resolve its ambiguities at the level of translation in order to cut off allegorical misinterpretation at the pass.

    I find Russell’s paraphrase and metaphor for metaphor translation illuminating. I want his exegesis or exegesis like his on my bookshelf. But I don’t want that exegesis woven into the translation I use in a liturgical, devotional, or study context.

    CEV and Russell preserve the metaphoricity of the source text. So does virtually every translation out there. Since “lamp” in English conjures up the things Sidney says it does, CEV and Sydney replace “lamp” with “window.” Still, who can doubt that in so doing, the translator has both added and taken away from the source text?

    If it is true that Greek and Hebrew anatomical and furniture expressions have connotations and extended uses that are not the same as those of their literal English equivalents, this is even more true of their *non*-literal English equivalents.

    Both Iver and Sidney want to unpack the text at the level of translation. Done well, explicating translation allows the average reader to understand the text without having to think. CEV does this better than any translation I know.

    My problem is that from the beginning Jesus’ teaching was not that straightforward. Friend and foe alike misinterpreted him; the gospel is a record of that. I reject the notion of producing a translation in which Jesus or the gospel writers are no longer mis-interpretable.

    What would a fairly word for word translation of this passage look like, a translation nonetheless that is not wooden from a syntactical point of view? The answer: a cross between ESV and HCSB:

    The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness—how deep is that darkness!

    In a study edition of the above translation, I would attach a note to 6:23: A “bad eye” was a metaphor for envy. See note on 20:15.

    The goal of the note is to allow the reader to think through the text. A study Bible cannot replace a community of interpretation or the need for particularly gifted interpreters in that context. The goal of a note is simply to invite readers down a path of understanding, such that they might conclude (not begin) a journey of understanding with a particular recognition; in this case:

    “Eureka! I get it. If my perception is good, ethically appropriate, I will look on others NOT as a means to wish for something I don’t have, but as perception that puts me on the path of lavishing generosity, if not on them (they may reject the generosity of others), on others besides.”

    I’m agreeing of course with Gary.

    On this reading, the subject matter of the text is *inter-subjectivity,* what makes it ethical, bad or good, healthy or unhealthy – both, with one term implicit in both cases; translations with “good” – “bad” or “healthy” – “unhealthy” are simplifying for the sake of the average reader who does not know how to savor slow, complex food.

    Kurk and I recently tussled on this topic, but that is another story.

    Appropriate and inappropriate intersubjectivity is the subject matter even though the text, as often in wisdom literature, does not specify the content of good and bad, righteous and wicked, healthy and unhealthy. It merely (merely!) sets up a dichotomy. The sense of the dichotomy is available only in context (textual and extra-textual).

    But the inter-subjective reading of Matthew 6:22-23 is reductive as well.

    That’s the beauty of metaphors. They are prisms. They capture and reflect an immense amount of light.

    My plea to translators of whatever bent:

    However dangerous you find them, please do not do away with metaphors in translation. In so doing, you darken the counsel of the Almighty.

  9. John Hobbins says:

    The chief obstacle I face, when teaching from a “close” translation for the purposes of a “close” reading, is that people have not been taught how to read and how to remember.

    On remembering, go here:

    We need to construct mental maps in order to remember. It’s like juggling. Without practice and training, most people cannot juggle more than two balls at the same time.

    How do I remember a passage like the one under discussion?

    The map I use is a kind of pizza my wife Paola makes from scratch: pizza a quattro formaggi. The four cheeses: mozzarella, fontina, cheddar, and gorgonzola.

    The four cheeses of this pizza:

    (1) eye / body
    (2) lamp / light / darkness
    (3) healthy (/unhealthy)
    (4) bad (/good)

    The foundation on which these cheeses are laid: a right relationship with God and man.

    Put the whole in the oven, preferably a chimney with real wood and real fire (not a microwave for God’s sake). Bake until the crust is slightly blackened here and there. Enjoy.

  10. Gary Simmons says:

    Matthew is definitely someone who loves numbers. He is especially fond of threes and fours. This tendency can be found at the conceptual, narrative, lexical, and even the phonetic level. Take the passage in question, for instance:

    Ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός.
    [Exactly three occurrences of ος; three nouns and three articles. The nouns also all end in ος.]

    ἐὰν οὖν ᾖ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ἁπλοῦς, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου φωτεινὸν ἔσται·
    ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου σκοτεινὸν ἔσται. εἰ οὖν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοὶ σκότος ἐστίν, τὸ σκότος πόσον.

    Sometimes Matthew has the triad be slightly incongruent, such as here with the conjunctions for each clause. The protasis in each line goes like this: conjunction, conjunction, article, noun ending in ος (allow for contraction), [third line adds: article, preposition,] second-personal pronoun (though case varies), noun ending in ος (allow for contraction, and form of “to be” (though the first line pushes it forward).

    The apodosis is similarly balanced, though the third line dramatically shortens to simply neuter article, neuter noun (light-dark word), implicit verb “to be”, attributive adjective.

    Perhaps you’re wondering why I wrote this other than because I love to see what I type. I simply wanted to explain why I believe the main point of Matthew 6 is about 50% sincerity and 50% generosity — I want to explain why I would contend that the “/generosity” is appropriate.

    Iver, I am honored that you responded graciously to me on this.

    The first three sections of Matthew 6 do concern themselves primarily with sincerity. While the beginning section covers charity, the focus is on the sincere attitude and motive rather than the act itself. However, When we get to “Do not store up treasures,” “the eye is the lamp of the body,” and “you can’t serve two masters,” we encounter three sections that seem to deal with how to handle wealth. At least, it becomes three sections, assuming I am understanding 6:22-23 correctly. It sure seems clear that the preceding and proceeding sections are concerned with wealth, so I would find it hard to believe that this is not a triad much like the three sections before it.

    I concur with Kurk’s comment on Jesus’ teaching as Jewish teaching. While I don’t doubt that the Pharisees would teach from Tobit, they would also teach from Genesis. Jesus never attacked the Pharisees for their teaching resources or canon, but for the substance of the teaching they drew from those resources. Or, rather, for what their own practices were regardless of their teachings.

    While Jesus does give the Gospel higher priority than burying the dead (Matt 8:22), which is a serious point in Tobit, Jesus doesn’t seem to attack the ideas of giving generously. He does adopt the same terminology in regards to giving charity, after all.

    Honestly, I’m not convinced by your claim that Jesus was attacking the Pharisees for things such as teaching from the book of Tobit. His critique is more focused on attitudinal rather than pedagogical faults in the Sermon on the Mount. So, I don’t think such a claim can simply brush aside these parallels.

    1. Sincerity in charity
    2. Sincerity in prayer
    3. Sincerity in fasting

    4. Don’t store up treasures on earth.
    5. If you say you want to be decent, put your money where your mouth is. [Copyright Gary Simmons 2011]
    6. You can’t serve God and hoard wealth.


    7. Do not worry.

    The real question is what to do with the “therefore.” Why should we not worry? Why should we rely on God’s providence? We have no choice if we have given away our wealth instead of hoarding it. Jesus said not to hoard wealth, and he said God would take care of us. I contend that it’s not just parts 4-6 but also part 7 of Matthew 6 that center around the use of money. The finale answers a potential objection to parts 4-6: “but if I give all my money away, what’s going to happen to me?” (Or, to the poor, it instead answers the objection: “but why shouldn’t I try to climb my way to the top?”)

    And so, although we can simply agree to disagree, I would argue on grounds of intertextuality and internal textual features that 6:22-23 is concerned with generosity.

  11. Gary Simmons says:

    On a note related to Matthew 6, I’d like to ask for prayer requests for Japan, Hawaii, and Oklahoma. A very serious earthquake hit Japan today, and the resulting tsunami hit Hawaii. It’s the dry season in Oklahoma and there is now a burn ban in effect in 22 counties due to probability of starting a wildfire. There’s been several wildfires already this year (pictures here).

    I have several friends in Japan and Oklahoma. Though the fires are minor (so far), and the tsunami wave wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it could have been, they give reason to remember that this is not where we store up our treasures, for these things are perishable. But most of all, I mourn for the destruction of Japan.

  12. Mike Sangrey says:

    One of the difficulties in some of the explanations presented here is a good case can be made that at the time of writing the generally accepted thought was that light emanated from the eyes and thereby enabled one to see. This idea came from the thought that Aphrodite made the “fire in the eye.” Additionally, Euclid wondered how one could see stars at night instantaneously after opening one’s eyes–how did the light travel so fast from eyes to star? He wouldn’t have wondered that if he understood light emanated from the stars. It wasn’t until about 1000 AD that al-Haytham argued that light entered the eye from outside. It was the invention of the pinhole camera (which shows an inverted image) which lent credence to his arguments.

    Secondly, the “single (or good) eye” idiom-connection to generosity is still known today. I remember a story told by Dr. Randy Buth where he was teaching on this very passage and outside the class a bus drove by that said something like, “Have a single/good eye, give to Unicef” (in Hebrew).

    I believe single (ἁπλοῦς, APLOUS) is used here because of its connotation of “transparency“, “openness“, or “frankness.” In any case, the idea of “healthy” still comes through loud and clear.

    Putting these two ideas together–light from eye and generosity from person results in a translation situation too difficult for formal equivalence to handle (at least, without a full explanation of what the text actually means).

    It’s still a difficult passage to translate. One has to get over the implicit information hurdle as well as the encyclopedic information hurdle. That’s hard to do, and then also to clear the acceptability hurdle (which just got higher)…whew!, that’s hard.

  13. Mike Sangrey says:

    Gary asked, “The real question is what to do with the ‘therefore'” in 6:25 introducing the anxiety pericope.

    Steven Runge notes that διὰ τοῦτο (DIA TOUTO) performs a discourse function of continuity, development and that it indicates a causal connection to what precedes. Something like “because of this” (with ‘this’ referring to what was previous) conveys the idea.

    So, I think the thought that instruction on anxiety flows from instruction on generosity makes a lot of sense.

  14. Russell Allen says:

    The Message goes for:

    “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”

  15. Iver Larsen says:


    Thanks for your added comments. It helps me to see you point although I can only agree a little bit.

    I agree that generosity is part of the picture, but I do not agree that it is the central point. I cannot see that Jesus wants to advise a person on how to handle wealth, whether you have much or little. Rather, I see this as a matter of allegiance. Who do you want to serve? Yourself? Other people? Or God? (Gal 1:10). Where do you put your trust?

    Giving is good, but if I give in order to get, my eye is evil. I need to give in response to my understanding of the will of God. I need to turn my eyes to God and the heavenly and eternal realities, before I can manage to turn my eyes away from the earthly and short-lived realitites. Compare Col 3:2.

    You said “4. Don’t store up treasures on earth.” That is v. 19, but the main point is 20 and 21. Don’t put your allegiance towards earthly things, but to the heavenly ones, because where you turn your eyes to, decides what motivates you and what you do.

    Your paraphrase of 5. is in my opinion far removed from the meaning of the text.

    Your 6. I agree with to a certain extent, but I don’t see it as a matter of hoarding, but a matter of choice between a heavenly treasure or an earthly treasure. A question of allegiance.

    So, the point seems to be whether you accept to trust fully in God and serve him rather than trusting in your own abilities including your possessions. This is where the “therefore” comes in. If you have decided to trust fully in God and have turned your eyes to him as v. 33 sums up, then you don’t need to worry. (Remember that Hebrew thought pattern is circular, not linear). It is not your generosity that helps you not to worry. Nor is it your lack of money. Jesus puts the focus on the Heavenly Father in v. 26 and 32. He is asking his hearers not to look at themselves, their rabbis (and their teaching), their own possessions and abilitites, but on their Father in Heaven who will supply all their needs, if they “seek first the Kingdom of God and to do His will.”

    Now, we are still approaching the meaning of the difficult text of v. 22-23 from different angles. We haven’t reached there yet.

    The “eye” is used as a metonymy for perception and how you look at things. The topic is not the physical organ, nor physical light. Matthew (Jesus) used it several times.

    In 5:29 (and 18:9): “If your right eye cases you to sin…” It refers to what you look at, how you perceive it and what you consequently do. You refer to sincerity in your numbers 1-3. That is part of it, but I think it is more about motivation and who you are serving.

    In 13:15 “they have closed their eyes”. Not literally, but they have refused to listen to and believe in the light from God and Jesus.

    In 13:16 “blessed are your eyes”. It is the people who are blessed because of what they have seen and perceived and understood.

    20:15: “Is your eye evil, because I am good.” It is again perception. If you look at something in a selfish way, then that is envy. The opposite of an evil eye (envy, stinginess) is a good eye (generosity), but there is no evidence that haplous can be used as a synonym for good in this idiom. That is one of the reasons that I do not agree that the haplous eye can refer to generosity.

    Jesus talked about a lamp in 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

    I assume the readers of 6:22 still remember the lamp from earlier that gives light to the whole house. (The word only occurs these two places in Matthew.) I also assume that the readers are familiar with the metaphor of the body as a house/tent that contains the soul and mind. The person is living inside his body as a house. The lamp lights up that house. Where does the light come from? Jesus is the light of the world. How do you get that light inside your house? You get it by turning your eyes on Jesus and the light that comes from him. The eye is a vehicle of perception. It is a general human experience that you can see the world around you including its light if your eyes are open, but if you close your eyes or if they are bad/damaged, then you walk in (spiritual) darkness rather than walking in the light. Envy is one way of damaging your perception, but I think it is restricting the text far too much to limit oneself to this idiom here.

  16. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I have to a agree with Gary that the sense is sincerity and generosity. I think that if a non-Christian were to give with a generous heart, or a friend were to speak with sincerity, Christ would recognize this.

  17. JKG says:

    I want to explain why I would contend that the “/generosity” is appropriate.

    You’re saying that Nyland’s translating is fine?: “The body’s light is generosity.” She’s carried across the tenor and the vehicle in Matthew’s translating; his metphor is Ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός.

    And this parallels Tobit’s translator’s rendering: δῶρον γὰρ ἀγαθόν ἐστιν ἐλεημοσύνη πᾶσι τοῖς ποιοῦσιν αὐτὴν ἐνώπιον τοῦ ὑψίστου. – which you bring into English as “For the merciful thing is a good gift for those who do it before [=in the eyes of?] the Most High” and which the KJV translators make as “For alms is a good gift unto all that give it in the sight of the most High.”

    Do you or does anyone know whether there’s an Aramaic fragment of this bit of the book of Tobit in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Would that be a recension of the Greek or a translation of it? It’d be interesting to speculate how much Matthew is using a Greek rhetorical (now literary) form or whether Jesus’s spoken Aramaic was so metaphorical. (In my view, Nyland’s English functions like Matthew’s Greek).

  18. Mike Sangrey says:

    The ’emission’ theory states that light (in the form of minuscule luminescent corpuscles) comes from a person passing through the eyes. It is well accepted that they believed that. Perhaps I did not make that clear. They debated it; but, it was certainly a commonly understood way of describing how vision worked.

    So then, the sentence, ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός (Lit: The lamp of the body is the eye), can be thought of in two ways. One, the eye provides light to the body, or, two, the eye provides the pathway through which the body’s light is recognized by those outside the body.

    I almost completely agree that the NIV2011 has properly expressed the Greek. However, I think they got the cause and effect backwards in the conditions. We naturally associate condition with cause and conclusion with effect–that is, healthy (or transparent) eyes produce an internally lighted body. That’s not necessarily the best way of looking at this text. The logic in the text is more deductive than inductive. It’s more like presentation of evidence with the conclusion stating what should be there in order to produce that evidence. The evidence is the eyes are healthy (or transparent). That evidence should mean we see the body as internally shining. (The parallel passaged of Luke 11 bears this out since it compares the action of not putting a light under a basket which, of course, would hid it.) So, it’s where does the evidence lead the reader back to?

    Secondly, as I mentioned above, I don’t think ἁπλοῦς should be thought of as specifically and only healthy. However, the association between having a healthy eye and being generous would have been readily available in the cognitive processing. And the concept of generosity was certainly turned on. Even fasting provides an economic benefit since it lowers the food demand curve for the benefit to the poor. So, mentioning eye in this context would have caused the interpretive process to more quickly interpret ἁπλοῦς in a way that associated it closely with health and well-being. By using ἁπλοῦς, Jesus is not restating the generosity concept, he’s building on it by introducing the concept of transparency. Note also there is no discourse particle at the beginning of verse 22. So, verse 22 is new information. However, it is also certainly not a new theme.

    To be explicit about the conditionals, the NIV2011 has If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. So, such a rendering predicates cause to eyes being healthy and effect to the body full of light. That is backwards because of the emission theory being in the contextual and interpretive framework of the original hearers. The eyes did not light up the inside. The body would not be filled with light by the activity of the eye. The eye being transparent would show the body filled with light if in fact it shone.

    In my opinion, an explicit way of rendering the Greek would be, Assuming one’s eye is transparent, then we should be able to determine the body is full of light. It’s a third class conditional, so it’s an assumption followed by a proposed conclusion.

    The point being that one’s generosity (or lack thereof) clearly shows whether or not one has light to offer others (this in no way is to be understood as “the divine spark in all of us.”) Lastly, Jesus makes the statement that not having light, but thinking one does have light, is worse than not having light and knowing one does not have it.

  19. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I think we need to point out that we are not pitting the ESV/HCSB against the NIV2011, except that the NIV has a plural. But structure is similar across translations.

    Second, it is very hard to recreate in English the sense of “simple” meaning “single” meaning “sincere” meaning “whole/healthy.”

  20. Mike Sangrey says:

    [I]t is very hard to recreate in English the sense of “simple” meaning “single” meaning “sincere” meaning “whole/healthy.”

    Good point!

    Something that hadn’t quite occurred to me is that transparency and sincerity are semantically related. So, your comment brings insight into ἁπλοῦς.

    Sincerity and generosity are related in practice. Witness our expression, “Put your money where your mouth is.”

    Hmmmm….something else just occurred to me. The sequence ‘simple’ –> ‘single’ –> ‘sincere’ –> ‘whole/healthy’ is circular. That is, ‘whole’ and ‘single’ are semantically, tightly related.

  21. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I think that the contrast between haplous and poneros is opaque in English, and any literal translation is hampered by that. To me, I construct a constrast of simplex and duplex, which becomes sincere and duplicitous, or whole and bad, which becomes healthy and unhealthy, or pure(unmixed) and evil.

    But it is not clear to the average reader how one gets from the Greek to the different English translations. However, what choice do we have? Anyway, I think that the NIV2011 is correct in providing footnotes.

    I do know that sincere has a different derivation, but essentially it means ‘unmixed.’ From there to generosity, is, I think, from having pure motives, although I don’t think that the person who is generous has to be a Christian, they just have to be putting the interest of someone else first, not themselves.

  22. Reed says:

    If one assumes that Jesus wasn’t speaking Greek but Aramaic or Hebrew, then the Greek ἁπλοῦς is the author’s translation/interpretation of some other word. Since the Hebrew “evil eye” idiom is well known and that the context is of storing up treasure and wealth, why not consider that the original phrase was also the “good eye” idiom of generosity?

  23. Iver Larsen says:

    Hi, Reed,

    I am happy to assume that Jesus spoke Hebrew, but we can only guess at the words he might have used. It can hardly be the word for good (tov), since then it would have been translated either literally with “good” or idiomatically with “generosity”. Since that is not the case, Jesus probably used another Hebrew word, possibly tom or tumma with the meaning of sincerity or integrity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s