I WAS SURPRISED TO SEE JESUS talking about the ancient Middle Eastern myth of the evil eye. But the topic seems to show up in the Gospel of Matthew.
If you look at many pictures from the ancient Middle East, you’ll come across pictures of eyeballs. Those are often charms to protect against the evil eye, which was usually considered a curse that one person could cast onto another.
Someone might give you the evil eye without you even knowing it. Then all of a sudden, bad things start to happen in your life.
Rabbis in the first century wrote about the evil eye. Rabbi Eliezer said the evil eye is worse than a bad neighbor or a good for nothing heart. Jews taught that a good eye represented kindness and a spirit of generosity toward others.
Trying to figure out Jesus
Well, when Jesus talks about the evil eye in Matthew, it’s hard to figure out what he means by it.
Matthew quotes Jesus saying that if we want to find our heart, we should go looking for our treasure. They hang out together.
He follows that with two short verses about a good eye and a bad eye.
Then he follows that by telling people not to worry about food, clothing, and shelter.
So, the short section about the eye is wedged between two sections about money matters.
I’m trying to make sense of what Jesus says about the eyes, so it’s easier to understand for the Casual English Bible.
Here’s how Matthew 6:22-23 reads in the New Living Translation:
“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light.
But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”
Here’s my first pass at it for the Casual English Bible:
“Light pours into you because of what you see and experience with your eyes. If your eyes are healthy, your life will be full of light.
But if your eyes covet, evil will do nothing but fill your life with darkness. And if you’ve got nothing but darkness inside, you’re completely in the dark.”
I think I’ll add this footnote:
“Covet” isn’t in the original language. But some scholars say it’s in the context and helps explain what Jesus is talking about. Some scholars say that in Matthew 6:22-23, wedged between two sections dealing with money matters, the eyes that Jesus talks about seems to be the “evil eye” that shows up a lot in teachings of the ancient Middle East. Jesus seems to be contrasting the coveting “evil eye” against the healthy and generous eye. Jews in ancient times taught that a “good eye” represents kindness toward others. Rabbi Eliezer, who lived in the first and second centuries in what is now Israel, taught that an “evil eye” is worse than a bad neighbor and an evil heart.
What do you think?
Am I stretching it too far by trying to help the reader understand the context?
Blog subscribers who win books this week
- Teresa Bryan
- Coty Flow
I give away free books every week to randomly selected Stateside subscribers to my free blog or my newsletter.
Winners get to choose from a stack of titles, including the Complete Guide to the Bible.
Note to the winner: send me an email and I’ll give you the full list of books from which you can choose.
The deal’s good for a month, or for as long as I have giveaway books available.