Yeshua said that “the eye is the lamp of the body” (Matthew 6:22). He explained, “If 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.” What did he mean? Does it mean that you can tell if a person is spiritually healthy by the light in their eyes? Not quite.
The ancients believed that a form of invisible light issued forth from the eye, enabling a person to see. According to this theory, a blind man’s eyes did not emit this light, hence his blindness. Rabbi Yeshua invoked that ancient belief about the function of the eyes when He called the eye “the lamp of the body.” The Master said that if a person’s eye is healthy, his whole body will be filled with light—that is to say, he will see clearly. On the other hand, if a person’s eye is bad, he will be in darkness. That is to say, a man with healthy eyes can see; a man without healthy eyes cannot see.
In this case, however, Yeshua was not speaking about physical blindness but spiritual blindness. When He said, “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness,” He employed a Hebrew idiom for stinginess and greed. The Bible and rabbinic literature describe a miserly person as a man with a “bad eye.” English Bibles usually translate the term “bad eye” as “selfishness” or “greed.”
- Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats. (Proverbs 23:6, KJV)
- He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him. (Proverbs 28:22, KJV)
- An evil eye covets his own bread, and he is selfish at his table. (Sirach 14:10)
- If you sit at a bountiful table, do not be greedy … remember that an evil eye is a wicked thing. (Sirach 31:12-13)
Likewise, a “good eye” meant generosity. The sages described a charitable person as a man with a good eye. The Master employed the good-eye/bad-eye terminology metaphorically to speak about spiritual blindness. If a person is generous and charitable, he has a good eye. The lamp of his body functions, filling his body with light—which is to say, he has spiritual sight. “If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it shall be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays” (Luke 11:36). If the person has a bad eye, meaning he is greedy and selfish, the lamp of his body is not functioning. His whole body is filled with darkness—which is to say, he is spiritually blind. If the lamp inside of a person produces darkness instead of light it will be a very thick darkness indeed.
If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:23)