Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good Eye / Bad Eye (Matthew 6:22-23)

The following is a short article that I was asked to write for the January 2009 edition of New Hope magazine. It's aimed at a lay magazine audience, so it simplifies things a bit. I need help on the last paragraph - as it stands, it is too trite. Any suggestions?

Good Eye / Bad Eye
What I love most about being a professor at Pacific Rim Bible College is the opportunity to help young leaders learn how to better interpret and apply the Bible. Today in class, a student asked about a difficult passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “… 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” (Matthew 6:22-23). What did Jesus mean?

It turns out that having a “good eye” or a “bad eye” was a common manner of speaking when Jesus taught. The phrase “bad eye” is often translated as “stingy” or “greedy” in other places in the Bible (Deuteronomy 15:9, Proverbs 23:6, Proverbs 28:22, Matthew 20:15). And the word for “good” in this verse is translated as “generous” in some other passages in the Bible (1 Chronicles 29:17, Romans 12:8, James 1:5). So Jesus was using the ordinary language of his day to point out how much better generosity is than stinginess.

If you read this whole section of Jesus’ sermon (Matthew 6:19-34), you can tell that Jesus is giving several key principles about handling our money. First, he tells us that an act of generosity is like making a deposit in heaven (6:19-21). Then he tells us that having a “good eye” (being generous) lights up our whole lives, while having a “bad eye” (being stingy) makes our whole lives dark (6:22-23). Next, he warns us that we must choose God as our master, not money (6:24). Finally, Jesus teaches us how to avoid worry so that we will use our money generously to advance God’s purposes (6:25-34).

We ended our discussion not only with a good Bible lesson, but also with a challenge: am I being generous with the resources God has given me? Do I have a “good eye” or a “bad eye?”

I'm looking forward to your comments and suggestions on the wording of the final paragraph.


  1. Hey Dr. Manning. Great article. I recently spoke about giving. this is roughly my conclusion plus a few changes to accommodate your passage.

    "Are you greedy, materialistic, consumeristic, or are you generous in life? Do you have a “good eye” or a “bad eye’. Honestly ask yourself, process this and if you find that you are greedy make the changes necessary in your life to be a person who gives. God has given us so much in life and if we are to be people who follow after Christ we need to give. When you see your light starting to dim, start giving more, allow a posture of generosity to brighten your life."

    Hopefully this helps you

    God Bless

  2. I'm sorry I have no suggestion for solving the triteness of your last paragraph for a writer I am not.

    This was an interesting post though. I never would have made the connection between the bad eye and stinginess in Mt 20:15 had I read it only in the NIV. God bless!

    One question: How do you know that having a "good eye" or a "bad eye" was a common manner of speaking when Jesus taught? Are there more references to it in the NT besides Mt 6:23, Mt 20:15 and Lk 11:34?

    Aloha and God bless,

  3. Thanks for the suggestion, Carl! I think the article already went to layout before I could do final editing, so I'll have to stick with the original ending.

  4. Hey Dr. Manning, my blogger ID picture thing doesn't bother you, does it? I'm pretty sure you got that blue and yellow stuff coarsing through your veins so out of respect (since this is your blog) I'd be willing to change my picture if you'd like.

    By the way, since when is there a "New Hope Magazine"? Boy am I outta' the loop! Ha ha!

    In peace,

  5. Keep up the Kamehameha symbol! I usually try to keep my "buffanblu" heritage a secret, but after the elections, I couldn't help but burst out with "Oahu a, Oahu a, Punahou our Punahou" in front of my Greek class.

    In my youth ministry days, I used to drive a lot of Waimanalo boys to our YFC events. One of the tutus who would answer the phone when I called for a student thought I was a Kamehameha grad "cause you talk so nice!" She was really surprised to meet me in person and realize that I wasn't Hawaiian.

    BTW, I think the first edition of the New Hope magazine is coming out on Dec 1, and my article will be in the Jan 1 edition.

  6. That's the "O Christmas Tree" song, right? I don't know if Oba...wait...I won't bring politics to the peaceful "shire" of this blog.
    That's a funny tutu story. I have had the "you must be kam skoo' boy cause you talk so nice" experience quite a few times.
    I'm looking forward to the magazine!


  7. I am interested in what you had to say about "good eye/bad eye." I have read this interpretation a number of times, but I have also noticed that when people speak of the Hebrew idiom, they say it is "good eye". But the Greek word here /haplous/ is not the same as the Greek word for good. How is this explained away? The alternative explanation I've read is that /haplous/ means "single" and that it would have the idea of sincerity, simplicity, and a freedom from envy for money. People tend to quote verses like Proverbs 22:9 but there the Hebrew does have "good eye". Interestingly, the LXX translated it not with "good eye". Instead they seemed to have captured the meaning by saying "The one who has mercy/compassion on the poor is fed/sustained." Not sure exactly how to translate the final verb there. But it's clear they were translating the meaning rather than word for word as so many of our English translations will do. I look forward to your thoughts.

  8. Hi Clif,

    I think I responded to some of your thoughts in this post:

    You raise an interesting question about using haplous for "good" and poneros for "bad." The metaphor is about a healthy eye vs. a sick eye. Haplous can mean whole or healthy, and poneros can mean sick. But it's a play on words - a sick eye = an evil eye, which was a known metaphor for stinginess; a healthy/whole/good eye is a metaphor for generosity. It's difficult to decide how to translate it, since leaving the word "eye" in at all in English makes it difficult to understand in English.

    Prov 22:9 does say "good eye" in Hebrew. As you point out, the LXX translator decided to render it as "the one who has mercy on a poor man." This is evidence that "good eye" means "generous." Note that this is similar to Matthew - in both cases, the Hebrew phrase "good eye" is loosely translated rather than literally translated.

    Your translation of the LXX proverb is good - just change the tense on the verb. "The one who shows mercy to a poor man will be nourished.

  9. Such great dialogue here, friends. Keep it going. These discussions are very interesting as well as helpful.

    Aloha and Happy New Year,


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