Haplous – single, sound, sincere, good, healthy or what?

The previous question on Matt 6:22-23 elicited a good number of comments, and I especially appreciate Suzanne’s recent comments on the difficulty of getting a clear sense of the Greek word haplous (ἁπλοῦς).

What can we do to get a better understanding of the meaning? I don’t think we get it by looking at current English translations. Rather, we can look at the standard dictionaries as well as the actual usage of the word, especially in the LXX and the NT.

Unfortunately the adjective ἁπλοῦς is very rare. It only occurs in Mat 6:22 and the parallel in Luke 11:34, plus an obscure passage in Prov 11:25. This is not enough data to make any conclusions from.

The adverb ἁπλῶς is also very rare. It only occurs in James 1:5 and 3 times in the LXX (Prov 10:9, Wis 16:27, 2 Macc 6:6).

However, we are much better off with the noun ἁπλότης. It occurs 8 times in the NT and 7 times in the LXX. You may see them here if you want.

Looking first at the LXX lexicon, I find: “simplicity, sincerity, integrity, frankness 1 Chr 29,17; simplicity, innocence 2 Sm 15,11.”  I am sceptical about the frankness, but certainly the idea of sincerity and integrity is there. Other possible translations are: innocence, in good faith, without a hidden agenda,  with pure motives, undivided devotion to God.

LSJ suggests: “I. singleness, τῆς φωνῆς Arist.Aud.801a19.
II. simplicity
2. of persons, simplicity, frankness, sincerity, … ἡ εἰς τὸν Χριστὸν ἁ. 2Ep.Cor.11.3.
3. open-heartedness: hence, liberality, ib.8.2, 9.11, cf. IG14.1517.
4. ignorance, back-wardness”

It is the same basic idea of sincerity. They do suggest “liberality” but that is disputed and unlikely to be correct.

BDAG suggests: “In our lit. esp. of personal integrity expressed in word or action … simplicity, sincerity, uprightness, frankness ἐν ἁ. τῆς καρδίας ὑπακούειν obey w. a sincere heart (as vs. 6 indicates, not with an outward show that conceals improper motivation) Eph 6:5; cp. Col 3:22 (Diod S 5, 66, 4, ἁπλότης τῆς ψυχῆς =inmost sincerity; 1 Ch 29:17; Wsd 1:1; TestReub 4:1; TestSim 4:5; TestLevi 13:1); w. εἰλικρίνεια 2 Cor 1:12; cp. the Syr. rendering of 1 Cl 60:2 (text: ὁσιότης). ἐν ἁ. λέγειν speak simply, plainly, i.e., without ambiguity B 8:2 (cp. Dionys. Hal., Ars Rhet. 9, 14). ἐν ἁ. δηλῶσαι 17:1. ἐν ἁ. εὑρίσκεσθαι be found sincere Hm 2:7. ἡ ἁ. ἡ εἰς Χριστόν sincere devotion to Christ 2 Cor 11:3 (WWood, Exp. 9th ser., 2, 1925, 450–53).—Of simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached’, ‘without hidden agendas’ (Jos., Bell. 5, 319, Ant. 7, 332; TestIss 3:8)  ingenuousness Ro 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13. Hermas is esp. fond of this mng.: w. ἀκακία (Philo, Op. M. 170) Hv 1, 2, 4; 3, 9, 1; w. ἐγκράτεια Hv 2, 3, 2; w. νηπιότης Hs 9, 24, 3; ἐμμένειν τῇ ἁ. continue in your sincerity Hv 3, 1, 9. For this ἁ. ἔχειν m 2:1. Personif. w. other Christian virtues Hv 3, 8, 5 and 7; Hs 9, 15, 2.”

Now BDAG notes that another, quite different sense, has been suggested, but they also say that this sense is disputed and probably incorrect:

The interpretation generosity, liberality has frequently been proposed for Ro 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, *13 (w. support sought in TestIss 3:8 [s. RCharles, Test12Patr, 1908, on TestIss 3:1, 2, 8]; Kaibel 716, 5=IG XIV, 1517 [s. L-S-J-M s.v. II, 3]), but this sense (adopted by NRSV et al.) is in dispute, and it is prob. that mng. 1 in the sense of sincere concern, simple goodness is sufficient for all these pass.

When I look at all these passages, it seems to me that “with pure motives”, “without a hidden agenda” and with “pure and sincere devotion to God” fit very well in all the Biblical passages.

The idea of liberality was apparently introduced into English translations in the first of these disputed passages by the RSV and in the other three already by KJV. (I have not checked all the English versions):

Rom 12:8 KJV: he that giveth, [let him do it] with simplicity

RSV: he who contributes, in liberality

NET: if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity

Here the idea of “without a hidden agenda”, “with pure motives”, “with undivided devotion and obedience to Christ” fits well. The point can hardly be that you must give generously, but rather that whatever you give, be it much or little, is to be given without ulterior motives, with a sincere heart.

2 Cor 8:2 KJV: unto the riches of their liberality.

Here the liberality notion was already present in the KJV and that is why it has crept into English translations in contradiction to the normal meaning of the word. Paul is describing the churches in Macedonia, their joy in the midst of persecutions and extreme poverty. That great joy and deep poverty overflowed into a wealth of pure, undivided and sincere devotion in action. Verse 3 continues by saying that it was from this pure devotion to Christ (and his body) that they gave not only to their ability (which was very small) but they gave beyond. Verse 4 describes how they were so devoted to Christ that they begged to be involved in giving to their needy fellow Christians. I see no linguistic or contextual reason to introduce the idea of liberality. They were generous in their giving, but that is expressed in v. 4 by other words rather than ἁπλότης. A generous gift may well result from a wholehearted attitude, but it is not the meaning of ἁπλότης.

2 Cor 9:11 is quite similar to the preceding case, and the idea of “full devotion to Christ without selfish motives” fits the context well enough so that I don’t see a need to introduce the liberality notion into the word. In Paul’s writings it is a great virtue to give with a sincere heart and devotion to God. It is not crucial how much you give, since people have different resources, but your attitude and motives in giving are important. Think of the poor widow that Jesus commended.

2 Cor 9:13 is again similar. Paul commends them “because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ” (NET) and their sincere and pure devotion to Christ which led them to share what they had with fellow Christians in need. As BDAG suggests there is no good reason to introduce a sense 2 for ἁπλότης when the basic and normal sense 1 works fine in all these contexts.

For the rest of the passages in the NT and all of the LXX ones, no one has suggested that liberality or generosity is part of the meaning.

In the single occurrence of ἁπλῶς in James 1:5 the idea of liberality has also crept in where it probably does not belong. Here it is God who gives wisdom to the person who lacks it and asks for it. He does this with pure motives, no strings attached, no hidden agenda and without reproach.

Based on this study I cannot accept “sound, healthy” for Matt 6:22. Such words are too far removed from the semantic range of the word. Nor can I accept liberality or generosity connected to that eye. I much prefer pure motives, sincerity, and an undivided devotion to God which is closely related to obedience. The bad/evil eye is then impure motives, insincerity, divided or mixed allegiances and a lack of obedience. Jesus can hardly be extolling the moral virtue of generosity here, but rather the desire to allow the spiritual light that he brings to penetrate and enlighten every part of that person. Only then can this person be a light to others. It all depends on how you look at Jesus and receive his teaching.

22 thoughts on “Haplous – single, sound, sincere, good, healthy or what?

  1. Russell Allen says:

    That’s very interesting, thank you. If this is what the Gospel writer intended then it is still a struggle to translate Matt 6:22! But the more I read this discussion the less happy I am with the NIV+notes solution.

    If I have understood the point about ancient beliefs on how sight works and your analysis above, then I end up with something like:

    “The light within you can be seen in your eyes. If you are pure and sincere then the light fills you, if you are impure and insincere then you are full of darkness. If the ‘light’ within you is actually darkness, then you will be deep in the dark.”

    But we are a long way from the usual translation that the audience expects to see.

  2. iverlarsen says:


    I don’t think the suggested ancient belief about how sight works is relevant to the text. As I said, I believe the “eye” is a metonym for perception, how a person looks at the world.

    In the quote from BDAG there was this piece: “w. support sought in TestIss 3:8”.

    It is interesting to look at the Testament of Issachar, since it has the expression “singleness of eye” in v. 3:4. Let me quote chapter 3 here. I haven’t found an on-line source for the Greek text (I may buy the OT Greek Pseudepigrapha from Logos at $100), but here is an English translation:

    “3:1 When, therefore, I grew up, my children, I walked in uprightness of heart, and I became a husbandman for my father and my brethren, and I brought in fruits from the field according to their season. 2 And my father blessed me, for he saw that I walked in rectitude before him. And I was not a busybody in my doings, nor envious and malicious against my neighbour. 4 I never slandered any one, nor did I censure the life of any man, walking as I did in singleness of eye. 5 Therefore, when I was thirty(-five) years old, I took to myself a wife, for my labour wore away my strength, and I never thought upon pleasure with women; (but owing to my toil, sleep overcame me). 6 And my father (always) rejoiced in my rectitude, because I offered through the priest to the Lord all first-fruits; then to my father also. 7 And the Lord increased ten thousandfold His benefits in my hands; and also Jacob, my father, knew that God aided my singleness. 8 For on all the poor and oppressed I bestowed the good things of the earth in the singleness of my heart.

    Vol. 2: Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. 2004 (R. H. Charles, Ed.)

  3. bzephyr says:

    Thank you, Iver. If ἁπλῶς in James 1:5 means something along the lines of “pure motives, no strings attached, no hidden agenda” instead of “generously,” then it provides a very nice antonym to the recently corrected meaning of διακρινόμενος in 1:6. Rather than having a special NT meaning of “doubting,” Peter Spitaler and David De Graaf have written articles that argue a meaning more like “to have divided loyalty” (De Graaf) or “to dispute, contend, quarrel, to be parted, separated, divided” (Spitaler).

  4. iverlarsen says:

    Further to my recent comment, I went ahead and got hold of the Greek version of the Testament of Issachar.

    What is above translated in v.2 as “I walked in rectitude” is in Greek: “ἐν ἁπλότητι πορεύομαι” (I walked in sincerity.)

    The word “envious” in v. 3 translates “πονηρὸς” (evil).

    “Walking in singleness of eye” in v. 4 is in Greek “πορευόμενος ἐν ἁπλότητι ὀφθαλμῶν.” (sincerity of eyes.)

    “in my rectitude” in v. 6 is in Greek: “ἐπὶ τῇ ἁπλότητί μου.”

    “God aided my singleness” in v. 7 translates “ὁ Θεὸς συνεργεῖ τῇ ἁπλότητί μου.” (God worked together with my sincerity.)

    “in the singleness of my heart” in v. 8 translates “ἐν ἁπλότητι καρδίας.”

    That is a lot of ἁπλότης in a short section. It does not lend support to the generosity idea. He did help the poor and oppressed in v. 8, but that was a result of his uprightness and walking right in the eyes of God (and his father, Jacob). In v. 2 Jacob blessed him for his sincere and devoted walk with the Lord.

  5. JKG says:

    You’re bringing up some things now that make me want to reconsider all over again. In looking at the fairly narrow semantic range(s) of haplous (ἁπλοῦς), I’m wondering about the literary (metaphoric) moves of Matthew’s word choice.

    Aristotle’s choice of the word in a couple of contexts could be interesting to look at. Both his translators (Rhys Roberts for the first bit from the Rhetoric and W.H. Fyfe for the second bit from the Poetics) decide he must mean “simple.” Here are the passages (both explicitly referencing the ways language functions – and if we look closely we see Aristotle practicing what he preaches):

    Thus: a shield, we say, is the “drinking-bowl of Ares,” and a bow is the “chordless lyre.” This way of putting a metaphor is not [ἁπλοῦς] “simple,” as it would be if we called the bow a lyre or the shield a drinking-bowl. There are [ἁπλοῦς] “simple” similes also: we may say that a flute-player is like a monkey, or that a short-sighted man’s eyes are like a lamp-flame with water dropping on it, since both eyes and flame keep winking. A simile succeeds best when it is a converted metaphor, for it is possible to say that a shield is like the drinking-bowl of Ares,

    One must remember, as we have often said, not to make a tragedy an epic structure: by epic I mean made up of many stories—suppose, for instance, one were to dramatize the IIiad as a whole. The length of the IIiad allows to the parts their proper size, but in plays the result is full of disappointment. And the proof is that all who have dramatized the Sack of Troy as a whole, and not, like Euripides, piecemeal, or the Niobe story as a whole and not like Aeschylus, either fail or fare badly in competition. Indeed even Agathon failed in this point alone. In [ταῖς περιπετείαις] “reversals,” however, and in [τοῖς ἁπλοῖς] “simple” stories too, they admirably achieve their end, which is a tragic effect that also satisfies your feelings. This is achieved when the wise man, who is, however, [πονηρίας] unscrupulous, is deceived—like Sisyphus—and the man who is brave but wicked is worsted. And this, as Agathon says, is a likely result, since it is likely that many quite unlikely things should happen.

    Could Matthew be taking advantage of his Greek readers’ understandings of this word in such technical, self-referential ways? What’s it mean for Jesus’s saying if haplous (ἁπλοῦς) – not so simply – means “simple”?

    22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are simple, like like a lamp, then your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unscrupulous, then your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

  6. John Hobbins says:

    I would draw attention to Mike Sangrey’s comment on the other thread:

    “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).”

    That doesn’t solve the question of how best to translate the Greek, the core meaning of which has to do with singleness. “Singleness of eye” is an ethical characterization in late Second Temple idiom if not before, the exact contours of which will be determined by context.

    One way to put this is to say, in order to know what “singleness of eye” means, read Psalms 111 ands 112. More to the point here, if you want to know what “singleness of eye” means in Matthew 6, read the preceding, from 5:1 forward.


    I have issues with your apparent attempt to stuff all of the attested usages of a cluster of terms in Greek which share a common etymology into a single box. It just is the case that the connotations and extended uses of terms like these are going to be multiple. Singleness of eye in the linguistic sense requires a recognition of this.


    I would love to be able to translate as you do, with “simple.” I’m not sure it communicates. “Healthy,” “pure” and so on instead, is a compromise, a concession to English usage.

  7. iverlarsen says:


    Just a small correction. The Hebrew idiom is a “good eye”, not a “single eye”.

  8. Iver Larsen says:

    The testament of Issachar also has a description of a haplous person:

    Ὁ ἁπλοῦς χρυσίον οὐκ ἐπιθυμεῖ, τὸν πλησίον οὐ πλεονεκτεῖ, βρωμάτων ποικίλων οὐκ ἐφίεται, ἐσθῆτα διάφορον οὐ θέλει,
    3 χρόνους μακροὺς οὐχ ὑπογράφει ζῆν, ἀλλὰ μόνον ἐκδέχεται τὸ θέλημα τοῦ Θεου.

    As translated by R. H. Charles:
    “The single-(minded) man coveteth not gold, He overreacheth (takes advantage of) not his neighbour, He longeth not after manifold dainties, He delighteth not in varied apparel.3 He doth not desire to live a long life, But only waiteth for the will of God.”

    A haplous person is not a greedy person, but is content and wants to do the will of God. That contrast is also found in Test. Iss 6:1:
    “Οἶδα, τέκνα μου, ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάτοις καιροῖς καταλείψουσιν οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν τὴν ἁπλότητα, καὶ κολληθήσονται τῇ ἀπληστίᾳ.”

    “Know ye therefore, my children, that in the last times your sons will forsake singleness, and will cleave unto insatiable desire;
    And leaving guilelessness, will draw near to malice; and forsaking the commandments of the Lord, they will cleave unto Beliar.”

    The singleness is parallel to guilelessness and to keeping the commandments of the Lord. It is contrasted to insatiable desire, malice and cleaving to Beliar.

  9. Bob MacDonald says:

    I am glad to see John draw attention to the psalms. In reading these posts and comments, it was psalm 11 that came to my mind – that the LORD’s eyes see the upright. See (חזה), and upright (ישׁר) are each used twice in the poem, and each one is used for the first time in the Psalter. If our eye is single, it looks in return to the One who fills the body with light. John’s two psalms both use upright as a frame also. I am too busy today to post the frame structure – but psalm 111 is a beautiful unity. Upright is the third of 13 recurring words. The poem is a single section. I will update my post in the next couple of days. In 112, upright is the fifth frame of 15.

    Although we are working in translation when considering the Greek ‘meaning’, I wonder what earlier strata underlie the thoughts in the sermon.

  10. Mike Sangrey says:

    Let me try this only one more time, keeping it as simple as I can, though I sincerely hope I come across as being generous with others interacting here.

    Someone saying in the 1st century that the eye is the lamp of the body would have immediately brought to mind that light comes out through the eye. This view of vision was part of their conceptual, metaphorical world-view, so it’s just how the metaphor works. The eye is the lamp, it shows the light.

    The eye, if it’s simple, that is, it has integrity or it’s sincere, or it’s transparent[1], will show what is REALLY going on behind it (this is the idea of frankness). It would therefore show the quality of the light of the person. That is, does the person contain light or does he/she contain darkness?

    If, on the other hand, the person is stingy (ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ), then no light will come out. So, even if the person does have light within him/her self, no light will be discernible.

    If however, the person contains darkness(the “light” is actually darkness), then the person is very much full of darkness. It matters little how supposedly “generous” they are (I’m thinking of Jesus’ negative comment about the benefactors), they still don’t provide the benefit light brings. They might be giving money, but they really aren’t being truly generous.

    The point of Matthew 6:22-23, sandwiched as it is in 19-24, is that generosity is a very good indicator of what is within a person.

    ἁπλοῦς does not mean generous. However, generosity is often associated with sincerity since generosity is a very good indicator of sincerity. I’m not even sure how one could be generous and insincere at the same time.

    I hope that’s helpful. At least I think I’ve now made my opinion clear.

    [1] My use of the word ‘transparent‘ might not be readily available to everyone, since I think it’s a recent additional use of the word. It’s often used in my circles. In this context it carries the sense of having no hidden motives, of making one’s intentions and motives known to others so they can assess the value.

  11. John Hobbins says:

    Let me backstop Gary Simmons and Mike Sangrey once again, with an excerpt from an online article by Lois Tverberg:


    Here is my dynamic translation of Matthew 6:21-24, incorporating the idiomatic language he appears to be using:

    So give generously to the poor and invest your energy and resources in eternal things, because when you do, your priorities and outlook will change. Your outlook toward others shows your true inner self. If you have a sincere, un-envious heart that wants to help others, your whole personality will shine because of it. But if you blind to the needs of others and are self-centered and greedy, your soul will be dark indeed. You cannot be a slave to your own greed and try to serve God — you have to choose.

    In this entire passage, Jesus seems to be equating how we use our money with our basic attitude on life, and says that our generosity is the true measure of us as persons. When you get right down to it, if money rules us, God doesn’t. It is one of Jesus’ many teachings on money and what our attitude should be about it. In our materialistic culture, his words hit home.

    This cultural study of the phrase “single eye” and “bad eye” can shed a lot of light on Jesus’ teachings. It should make us eager to learn more when we see that the strange phrases that we sometimes find in the Bible had parallels in other ancient texts that can help explain them. Our interpretation of Jesus’ words can be much more solid, so that we have confidence that we are hearing Jesus’ ideas and not just our own. Otherwise, our interpretations are based on speculation from personal experience that can lead us down all sorts of strange paths, as some have gone on in understanding Jesus’ words about “the single eye.”

    End quote. Tverberg’s dynamic translation of the entire passage is illuminating at the level of interpretation, but I wouldn’t want to teach or preach from it as the point of departure. It is better, for “general purposes,” to work from a “close” translation if the goal is to develop a “close” reading.

    Tverbeg shows how this might be done:

    “Interestingly, if this is our interpretation of the passage in Matthew 6, Jesus’ saying suddenly fits into the larger context of this passage. Here is the longer context of that saying:

    But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matt 6:21-24, NASB)

    Right before the “eye” analogy, Jesus tells his listeners to “store up treasures in heaven,” which is an idiom for giving money to the poor. 5 Afterward he says, “No one can serve two masters … you cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24). If Jesus is using the idioms “good eye” and “evil eye” to mean generosity and greed with money, the teaching about ones “eye” now fits perfectly into a longer saying about how to use money in a way that honors God.”

    End quote. I would recap as follows. To have a “single eye” [LSJ’s number one meaning) is equivalent to Semitic “one eye,” a reference to rectitude. “Good eye” is analogous, which is why “single eye” could have been coordinated with its opposite of sorts, “a bad eye,” in Aramaic.

    Every language has a host of expressions like these, such as “straight shooter.” The specific sense in which someone is said to be good or bad ethically by way of expressions of this kind can only be established by context.

    The context of the idioms under discussion militate in favor of the view that generosity and its opposite are in view here. More than that perhaps, but *not less* than that. The deployment of metaphors widens the semantic horizons such that the text is an open window beckoning toward greater vistas, such that it is natural to apply them extensively, beyond what the immediate context implies. But, given the context, the idioms must also apply to the theme of the use of money and “righteousness” in the sense of charity.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Thank you for all your work on this. I do feel at the end of the day that generosity is implied, as the NIV note says. This adds to my understanding of the passage. You wrote,

    “The point can hardly be that you must give generously, but rather that whatever you give, be it much or little, is to be given without ulterior motives, with a sincere heart.”

    But I would extend that and say that in the context of the sermon, everyone had to pray, fast, and tithe. Jesus did not say “pray” or “if you pray” but he said “when you pray.” Jesus also says “when you give to the needy” and not “if you give to the needy.”

    So I would interpret this to mean give with sincerity, without an agenda, and I would assume that generosity is a synonym of this. Give from generosity, not from a hidden agenda, not from seeking to gain from how much you give.

    I don’t really have an opinion on how to translate this, but I do think that the notes in the NIV2011 are extremely helpful and make the passage more meaningful within its context.

  13. Iver Larsen says:

    I can see that the generosity idea is quite well entrenched even though it has no sound linguistic basis.

    Mike appears to know what this saying would immediately have brought to the mind of a 1st century hearer. I wish I knew the mind of the original hearers as well as he does.

    In Mike’s scenario, it appears that the eye is to show what is already inside that person. If it is light, it will shine out from the transparent eye of that person. Apart from the fact that hAPLOUS cannot mean clear or transparent, I have another problem with this suggestion. The Greek text has a verb in the future tense: KJV: “if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” So, I think the text is not talking about light already in the person, but light coming to be in that person. I would rather go with Bob who said: “If our eye is single, it looks in return to the One who fills the body with light.”
    In v. 23, the evil eye, which probably stands for selfish greediness and envy, will block any entrance of light from outside, and there will be a lack of light in that person. He may think he has light, but it is his own human light, and that is spiritual darkness.

    It would be nice if we had the original Hebrew words that Jesus spoke. Based on 2 Sam 15:11, one option is תָּם (tam) and another option based on 1 Chr 29:17 is יָשָׁר (yashar).

    The first word is used several times to describe Job (1:1,8; 2:3, 8:20; 9:20,21,22), but it also occurs in Ps 37:37: “Take note of the one who has integrity” (NET). In Ps 64:4/5 NET translates with “innocent” and in Prov 29:10 the word used is again “integrity”.

    The second word is a close synonym. They occur side by side in Job 1:1,8 etc. It is a very common word and it is normally translated as “uprightness.” It is often connected with “heart” so a person is described as having an “upright heart”. None of these words are combined with the “eye” in the OT, so we have no evidence that an “upright, sincere” eye was an idiom and should be taken as a unit.

    There are some places connected with seeing, e.g.
    Ps 11:7: For the LORD is righteous,
    he loves justice; the upright will see his face.” (NIV2)
    Ps 107:42 “The upright see and rejoice.”
    Ps 112:4 “Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness” (KJV).
    Prov 2:7 contains both words: “He stores up effective counsel for the upright, and is like a shield for those who live with integrity.” NET has some nice notes on the two words here:

    “The Hebrew word translated “upright” (yashar) is one of the terms used for the righteous. It points to the right conduct of the believer – that which is right or pleasing in the eyes of God. It stresses that the life of the individual is upright, straightforward, and just. It is paralleled with “those who walk in integrity.”
    ““those who walk of integrity.” The noun (tom, “integrity”) functions as a genitive of manner.”

    This “walking in integrity” brings us back to the Testament of Issachar who used all these expressions in a more or less synonymous way with “walking with sincere eyes.”

    I still want to “turn my eyes to Jesus” with integrity, innocence and sincerity in order to receive his light. An upright life including generosity hopefully will follow.

  14. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    “In this entire passage, Jesus seems to be equating how we use our money with our basic attitude on life, and says that our generosity is the true measure of us as persons.”

    I concur with this. Generosity and kindness are key.

  15. Russell Allen says:

    Neither Ivan’s nor Mike’s understanding of this word and passage seems to be easily reached from the NIV rendering. In fact any meaning at all in the standard renderings seems to reside in notes (if any) and not the words of the translation.

    Anyway, I’m still trying to understand positions by paraphrasing them back into the original structure. My best try for Ivan’s explanation is:

    Your eyes bring light to your body. If they are sincerely focused then you will be filled with light. If they are clouded by selfish greed then you will be in the dark. And if the light you think is inside you is really darkness, how much darkness there will be!

  16. JKG says:

    “In this entire passage, Jesus seems to be equating how we use our money with our basic attitude on life, and says that our generosity is the true measure of us as persons.”

    Similar to John Hobbins’s statement, but with a difference I’d like to point out, is a statement by philosopher Dallas Willard, who gives a book-length commentary not just on “this entire passage” but also on the entire Sermon of Jesus (i.e., the sermon on the mount) as a necessarily-unified whole. About this entire passage within the sermon, Willard says:

    To bring this truth home to us, Jesus compares our ‘heartsight’ [in 6:19-21] to our eyesight. We know how eyesight affects our body in its environment. ‘The eye is the lamp of the body.’ If the eye works well, then the body easily moves about in its environment. As Jesus puts it, ‘Our whole body is well directed,’ is ‘full of light’ (6:23). // The person who treasures what lies within the kingdom sees everything in its true worth and relationship. The person who treasures what is ‘on earth,’ by contrast, sees everything from a perspective that distorts it and systematically misleads in practice….

    What’s important here is that Willard seems to have made the connections that Matthew allows his readers to make. But he doesn’t overextend necessarily. In other words, Matthew’s Greek would allow us to read, to interpret, haplous (ἁπλοῦς) in this narrower context (of treasure, of heart, of eye, of lamp, of light, of body, of whole body, and of – contrastive πονηρὸς) as “generous.”

    However, this is not the necessary and only conclusion to be made. (The NIV without its footnotes on vv 22-23 risks what Robert Alter calls the heresy of translation. Likewise, Ann Nyland avoids this risk, that heresy, by offering her Greek-sources footnote.) There are other ways of reading (even of rendering) the Greek. And Willard is really on to something by showing how grounded Jesus’s language (via Matthew’s Greek) is. It’s worth repeating how Willard puts this:

    We know how eyesight affects our body in its environment.

    Jesus and Matthew are taking advantage of a universal human experience of the body and of its eyesight. Aristotle does this similarly when he “defines” the famously-difficult concept of the “enthymeme” (a huge and central notion of his Rhetoric and of both ancient and “New” rhetorics also). Aristotle says the “enthymeme” is “the body of proof/ persuasion/ beliefs/ pisteis” (ἐστὶ σῶμα τῆς πίστεως). “Enthymeme” (ἐνθύμημα) should be much much clearer to us than haplous (ἁπλοῦς) is. But it’s the most argued over term in rhetoric studies.

    And yet, and yet, Aristotle (like Jesus and Matthew) does a great service to his readers by, at least, grounding what he’s defining to the familiar, to the body. (By the way, the enthymeme as he conceives it is what he seems to call a syllogism, not for logic, but for rhetoric. And how he’s making meaning here is rather enthymematic. In other words, the listener’s supply a premise). I know this seems fairly technical, but the wonderful thing about it is that is clear since grounded in our experience.

    (Technically, rhetoric scholar George A. Kennedy tries to show how much of Greek rhetoric is Jesus; in his New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism, he says:

    The truth is immediately and intuitively apprehended because it is true. Some see it, others do not, but there is no point in trying to persuade the latter. This is the most radical form of Christian rhetoric. When Jesus performs his first miracle, the witnesses are “amazed” ([Mark] 1:27); they recognize truth but do not comprehend it rationally. The miracle is a sign of authority, as the crowd at once admits. No effort is made to include any picture of Jesus’ early teaching as seen in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. This kind of explanation is irrelevant to Mark. When Jesus preaches in Mark it is in parables, which are directly apprehended. There are enthymemes in Mark…. (page 105)

    I’m just suggesting here that Matthew’s Greek word haplous (ἁπλοῦς) – and Luke’s too in his counterpart gospel of the words and actions of Jesus – is understood, to some degree, because Matthew’s Jesus is relating it to our bodies. This is rhetoric, enthymematic. It allows each reader (and listener) to supply her or his own experience to the meanings of it. Of course the context constrains. Of course commentaries help. Of course the footnotes bring out the ranges of meanings and the alternatives. But the wonderful thing is that we readers help understand exactly what Jesus means because he’s appealing to our bodies, to our own individual real-life experiences.

  17. Iver Larsen says:


    By standard renderings I assume you mean the (modified) literal ones like the NIV, ESV etc.

    Of course, the first step for translators is to do a thorough exegesis of the text. But for this rather enigmatic text, commentators do not agree on the meaning. A few commentators agree with Mike in seeing the light as emanating from the body, but the majority take the light to go into the body, which is the house for the soul.

    The more dynamic translations have the freedom to clarify their understanding of the text. For instance, the NLT says: “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!” This is close to what I would propose for a dynamic version, but I am not too happy with the word “good.” “Focus” is better, but it would be nice if we could somehow get that single-mindedness or sincere, innnocent and undivided devotion and openness to Jesus as the light-bringer. The earlier NLT had “pure” which is similar to the revised Luther Bible. Luther himself used einfältig, which is like simple, but not quite. It is more like a simpleton, but in a positive sense of being trusting.

    I think The Message comes close as it says: “If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.”

  18. Mike Sangrey says:

    To Russell, who said:
    I’m still trying to understand positions by paraphrasing them back into the original structure

    Our attitude regarding money can be understood by the eyes being like lamps. They project light. So, we can determine whether you have light or darkness by what the eyes reveal. If your eyes are sincere, we can conclude you are filled with light. If you’re stingy, then we can conclude you are filled with darkness. If you think you are filled with light and you’re not, then the darkness is even greater.

  19. Mike Sangrey says:

    BTW (though this is slightly off the topic)…

    Russell’s effort to paraphrase so he understands is (IMO) an excellent method. Though it highlights the ambiguity of the word ‘paraphrase‘.

    A basic rule of thumb in determining the value of an exegetical result is whether or not you can state it in your own words so as to understand it. In other words, one does not understand a text until one can state it in one’s own words. One’s own words might be identical to the translation. Or, slight idiosyncrasies might be evident. However, significant differences indicate either poor exegesis or poor translation (notice I did not say paraphrase).

    An interesting corollary is that if the translation is not understandable, then the exegesis is probably not complete or wrong, or the translation is incomplete or wrong. Exceptions to this are the transparent translations. For me, these are more exegetical tools than they are translations. Also interesting is that the term transparent translation has the same ambiguity as paraphrase, it’s just “on the other side”.

    Our passage before us illustrates this tension between exegesis and translation and how that tension should be resolved by understanding. However, everyone please be aware that the detailed exegesis of this passage has been difficult. As I see it, it’s difficult either because of assumptions about the original audience and what they might have or might not have known, or a reluctance to allow the idioms and conceptual metaphors to properly influence the translation.

  20. White Man says:

    Another metaphor could be that of clear or distorted vision:

    When light enters your body, it comes through your eyes. If your eyes work right, and faithfully transmit the light that enters them, your whole body is illuminated. If, however, your eyes are defective and distort the light coming in through them, then your whole body is left in the dark.

  21. J. K. Gayle says:

    Modern Greek translations have the following for Matthew’s ἁπλοῦς and πονηρὸς:

    καθαρός and πονηρός in the Vamva version – which mean roughly “clean” and “clever”

    γενναιόδωρος and φιλάργυρος in Demotic Greek by translator Σπύρο Κίμ (at greekbiblos.gr/greek.zip) – which mean “generous” and “greedy / avaricious [/ silver-lover]”

    In both modern translations, the contrastive pairing of the words is reinforced by a (near) rhyme, which Matthew doesn’t have.

  22. Robert Williams says:

    I thing that the use of the term “haplous” is quite clear in he KJV. It simply means “single” and it is referring to the spiritual eye. What isnt clear is where those who have compiled the newer translations came up with “good” “healthy” ect.. It seems like to me that there are people who havent the faintest clue and are ad-libbing to try and make it seem like it is something that it isnt. The word “haplous” means “single” and thats it.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Connecting to %s