Mistranslating Jesus Because we Don't Know Jewish Culture
How can an eye be good or bad? Pastor David Blease with Gateway Center for Israel explains this ancient Hebrew idiom found in Matthew 6:22-23 and what the Bible means by each.
This video appears inDeepening Your Bible Knowledge
I want to read you a scripture that many of us have misunderstood: Matthew 6:22. Jesus says, the lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore, your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 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? I think the reason many of us have misunderstood this scripture is because we don’t know what Jesus is saying. He’s using a Hebrew idiom that we don’t know. When reading the Bible, we often forget that we’re reading the words of people from 2000 years ago in a different culture. Today we are a post-modern western individualistic culture, but the people that were reading the Bible and the people writing the Bible, were an ancient Eastern familial culture. Yet we think we can pick up the Bible and understand completely what’s going on without understanding that culture.
Let me give you an example. My sister used to be in theater and think about if you read a letter that I wrote to her in which I told her to break a leg. Everyone in America would know I’m wishing her good luck. But think about if someone in the Middle East 2000 years from now was going to read that letter and didn’t know our cultural sayings. They’d probably think I wanted her to literally break her leg. Knowing the Hebrew culture helps us understand what’s really being said. In Jesus’ day, there was a Hebraic idiom that was used to describe a person’s outlook towards others. The idiom was to have a good eye. Having a good eye meant you looked at others with compassion and had a generous spirit. The person with a bad eye is the one without compassion and greedy with their money.
This expression is still used in Israel today. When people go through Jerusalem raising money, you may hear them say, please give with a good eye. The same idiom is found in the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 22 it says a generous man, literally translated a good eye, will be blessed for he shares his food with the poor. When our eye is good, Jesus says, our body will be full of light. How could it not? Looking compassionately at others and being generous? It sounds like the light of Jesus to me. And vice versa, having a bad eye, we are filled with darkness, unable to show the light of Jesus due to our greediness and lack of compassion. Jesus is interested in our money because our relationship with money reveals our relationship with God. Having a bad eye is to hold tightly to what you have. Resenting those with more and refusing to help those with less. When you are generous, you not only show compassion and generosity for others just like Jesus, but you also communicate that the trust you have in God that he will provide for you. So have a good eye. Look at others generously and get out there and break a leg.