The Good Eye or the Bad Eye?

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! (Matthew 6:22–23, NKJV)

Jesus’ discourse on the good eye or the bad eye occurs between his section on treasuring up treasures in heaven versus treasuring up treasure on earth and the danger of serving two masters — God or Mammon (Money).

What does Jesus mean by a good or bad eye? One idea in our translations is the idea of health: “healthy/bad” ESV, “clear/bad” NASB, and “healthy/unhealthy” NIV (but note the NIV’s footnote1). But is Jesus merely telling us that we have light with healthy eyes and darkness with unhealthy ones?

A helpful place to start is the fact that the bad eye in several places in scripture refers to the greedy person. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the first hired grumble that the workers who have not borne the burden of the day also receive a denarius. The owner replies: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15b Note the footnotes in the ESV, NASB and the more literal translation of the NKJV.)

In the Old Testament, we find several places where the bad eye refers to stingy or greedy person.

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy (literally, evil eye); do not desire his delicacies, (Proverbs 23:6, ESV see footnote)

A stingy man (literally, man of evil eye) hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him. (Proverbs 28:22, ESV see footnote)

On the other hand, the person with a good eye is generous.

Whoever has a bountiful (literally, good) eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9, ESV see footnote)

The good in this description of the eye in Matthew 6:22 refers “to being motivated by singleness of purpose so as to be open and aboveboard, single, without guile, sincere, straightforward.”2 This may connect to the person who serves one master, God.

Certainly, if we have a healthy eye we will have light in our life. But the contrast of light and darkness in scripture is often moral. We inwardly will be very different people if we look at life with generosity versus greed. Which kind of eye do you want to have: the good eye or the bad eye?

1The footnotes on healthy and unhealthy state: “The Greek for healthy here implies generous. The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.”

2BDAG, s.v. ἁπλοῦς, p. 104

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