"If your eye be good..."
Judeo-Christian Research
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July 16, 2000
Updated: March, 2003

 

(Mat 6:22-23) The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. {23} But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

The above verses of scripture are interesting in that a Hebrew idiom lies behind the interpretation. The phrases "thine eye be single" and "thine eye be evil" would probably be better translated as "thine eye be good" and "thine eye be bad." Both of these phrases are Hebrew idioms relating to being generous (good eye) or stingy (bad eye) with one's material wealth. From the context one can see that a comparison is being made between two types of "eyes"—one type in verse 22 and another type in verse 23. But using our modern translations, or even the KJV, what comparison is being made between a "single eye" (v. 22) and "evil eye" (v. 23)? Single versus evil?

Commenting on Matthew 6:22, David Bivin writes:

"'If your eye is good' is an idiomatic way of saying in Hebrew, 'if you are generous.' But our English translators have not recognized this Hebrew idiom. Almost all translations preserve the singular, 'eye,' even though 'eyes' would make more sense in English. Is it necessary for only one of the eyes to be good? Which one, the right or the left?...

"More variety exists in the translation of the word 'good.' Weymouth and the New International Version translate literally. But obviously, 'good' in relation to an eye means nothing in particular. (Weymouth tries to solve this problem by translating 'eye' as 'eyesight' —'If your eyesight is good'!) Other translators simply guess at the meaning of 'good.' 'Single' is the traditional translation of 'good' (King James, American Standard). Most modern versions prefer 'sound'...Other suggestions are 'clear'...and 'pure.'"
(Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr., pp. 104-105).

From the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern, p. 32, commenting on his own translation of Matthew 6:22-23:

"If you have a 'good eye.' This is in the Greek text, but the explanation, that is, if you are generous, is added by me the translator because in Judaism 'having a good eye,' an ayin tovah, means 'being generous,' and 'having a bad eye,' an ayin ra'ah, means 'being stingy.' That this is the correct translation is confirmed by the context, greed and anxiety about money being the topic in both the preceding and following verses. This passage is another link in the chain of evidence that New Testament events took place in Hebrew..."

Avi ben Mordechai, in discussing the term "peacemaker" in Matthew 5:9 (another interesting word study by the way), touches upon the phrase "good eye":

"This term 'peacemaker' is interesting in that it has been redefined through the centuries since the Messiah, thus contributing to the wrong sense of the idea today. In Y'shua's day, a 'peacemaker' was one filled with generosity, also known as having a 'good-eye.' The antithesis of a 'good-eye' was an 'evil-eye,' or stinginess. Y'shua addresses both of these concepts in Mattityahu 6:19-34.

"According to Oral Torah, having a 'good-eye' meant giving 1/30th (or perhaps 1/40th) of the corners of your field (Hebrew: Peah) to the poor. Having an 'evil-eye' meant giving only the bare minimum of 1/60th according to the letter of mishnaic law. An 'average-eye' or 'neutral-eye' meant giving 1/50th."
(Messiah, Understanding His Life and Teachings in Hebraic Context, Vol. 1, Avi ben Mordechai, pp. 184-185).

Avi ben Mordechai's explanation of these verses is so enlightening when one realizes that Y'shua's "Sermon on the Mount" is better referred to as Y'shua's "Midrash (teaching) on Torah Observance."

One of the verses Mordechai suggests that Y'shua was probably drawing his words from is Proverbs 22:9 — "He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor." The word translated in the KJV as "bountiful" is "tob" in the Hebrew (Strong's 2896, towb or tobe) which means "good." Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary (pp. 99-100) explains tob as meaning "good; favorable; festive; pleasing; pleasant; well; better; right; best." The commentary then goes on to say that "this adjective denotes 'good' in every sense of that word," and "tob is often used in conjunction with the Hebrew word ra'ah ('bad; evil')" which is sometimes intended as a contrast. (Also consider Prov 28:22 — He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him. In the NIV, "evil eye" is translated as "stingy." Also see Deut. 15:8-9)

This contrast of "good" vs "evil" is noted in the parable of the landowner. Commenting on words of the landowner in Matthew 20:15 — "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" — Brad Young, in Jesus the Jewish Theologian, p. 136, writes:

"The saying of the magnanimous landowner alludes to the Hebrew expressions 'evil eye' and 'good eye' which suggested the sharp contrast between a generous person full of kindness and a stingy, selfish individual. The generous person with a 'good eye' is driven by a concern to help others and to see their needs met. The selfish person is consumed by one interest: what belongs to him or her."

And finally from the Soncino Talmud:

Mas. Shabbath 146a — The phrase "...perhaps his intention is to be generous..." is explained in the footnotes as meaning, literally, "a good eye."

Mas. Sotah 38b — "R. Joshua b. Levi also said: We give the cup of blessing for the recital of the Grace after meals only to one who is of a generous disposition [footnote: Lit., 'good of eye', the opposite of bad of eye, i.e., envious], as it is said: He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed, for he giveth of his bread to the poor..."

 

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