Having a Single Eye

by Lois Tverberg

Have a Single Eye 1The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. Matthew 6:22-23 KJV

What does Jesus mean in the strange passage above when he refers to having “a single eye”? Figures of speech in other documents from that time help illuminate Jesus’ puzzling words. Several idioms that mentioned the “eye” were about a person’s attitude toward others. A person who possessed a “good eye” was generous toward others, and a person with a “bad eye” was stingy and self-centered.

It has been suggested that Jesus was referring to having a “good eye,” but the Greek in the passage actually does not say “good” (kalos), rather it says “single” (haplous).

In fact, being “single” is not an uncommon idiom in that time, however, not in the precise sense we understand it today. Throughout the New Testament the idea of “singleness” (haplotes) is used to mean “sincere” or “undivided,” often in exhortations to have a “single heart” (See 2 Cor. 1:12, 11:3, Eph. 6:5, Col. 3:22). Sincerity and lack of duplicity seems to be the idea of the following passage:

The good man has not an eye of darkness that cannot see; for he shows mercy to all men, sinners though they may be, and though they may plot his ruin.…His good mind will not let him speak with two tongues, one of blessing and one of cursing, one of insult and one of compliment, one of sorrow and one of joy, one of hypocrisy and one of truth, one of poverty and one of wealth; but it has a single disposition only, simple and pure, that says the same thing to everyone. (1)

This passage describes a man’s “eye” in terms of his caring for the needs of others, and contrasts an “eye of darkness” to a disposition of “singleness”. The contrast seems to be between pretending to care about others with an inward attitude of self-advancement and of having a genuine concern for others, without hidden motives.

And, we do actually find the idiom of having a “single eye” in Jesus’ time too:

I never slandered anyone, nor did I censure the life of any man, walking as I did in singleness of eye (3:4)… And now hearken to me, my children, and walk in singleness of heart….The single [minded] man covets not gold.…There is no envy in his thoughts, nor [does he] worry with insatiable desire in his mind. For he walks in singleness, and beholds all things in uprightness of heart….Keep, therefore, my children, the law of God, and attain singleness…(2)

Here, the idea of “singleness” was associated with a freedom from envy of money. “Singleness” in this passage refers to a person of sincerity who does not have a secret agenda of self-advancement. This translates into a lack of covetousness and greed.

Now Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:22-23 gain more clarity in their context. Jesus seems to be talking about our attitude towards others. Do we have a simple desire to serve God by caring for the needs of others? Or are we insincere people who are self-centered and serving our own agenda? If all we recognize is our own needs, we are blind indeed.

To explore this topic more, see chapter 5, “Gaining a Good Eye” in Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, 2012, p 69-80.

(1) Testament of Benjamin 4:2-3 The Testament of Benjamin is of the body of literature called the “pseudepigrapha” — Jewish writings from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. that are not canonical, but are helpful for showing the cultural expressions and religious understandings of that time.

(2) Testament of Issachar, 3:4, 4:1-2, 5-6; 5:1 Also from the pseudepigrapha.

For more this, see the article, “If Your Eye Be Single” by Steven Notley at www.jerusalemperspective.com.

Photo: Vladimer Shioshvili and Marc Baronnet

John and His Baptism

by Pastor Ed Visser

…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Luke 3:2-3

Jordan RiverJohn the Baptist is an interesting character. A cousin of Jesus from a priestly family, John spent his time in the desert rather than the Temple. When he came out of the desert, he looked like Elijah — Jesus would later say that he was the “Elijah to come” — and he began baptizing people in the Jordan River.

A Jewish practice, baptism was by self-immersion, which explains why the earliest picture of John baptizing Jesus (from catacombs in 2nd century) shows John standing on the bank, extending a hand to help Jesus out of the water. John’s baptism is described as a ritual immersion for ‘forgiveness of sins,’ a term related to Jubilee. The Jubilee year begins on Yom Kippur, looking forward to God sending the Redeemer after he forgave their national sins. John is calling Israel to take a step of repentance & obedience, believing the Redeemer to be at hand.

When Jesus appears on the scene, John senses the time has come. But as the months go by, John begins to have some questions — especially when he is thrown into prison by Herod Antipas.

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him,“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matthew 11:2-3

John’s confusion comes from his expectation that Jesus would begin baptizing not only with the Spirit, but with fire — the fire of judgment on Israel’s enemies. But John wasn’t seeing the fire! Jesus later tells his disciples that there would be two comings: his first would offer salvation; his second would bring the fire of judgment on those who deserved it (as well as final vindication for his people, eternally). John died, however, without the full explanation.

Jordan RiverThe New Testament places John’s ministry in the desert in the regions of the Jordan. As we toured Israel, we discussed the idea that the term for desert (midbar) could simply mean “unsettled places” where flocks could graze. There are many such places around the Jordan, especially north of the Sea of Galilee. Dr. Steven Notley, one of our guides, suggested that it was likely John spent more of his time at the northern Jordan, immersing where the river is “pure” (south of Galilee, several other rivers join with the Jordan, making it apparently “impure” by rabbinic standards). Later, Jesus would meet crowds who were like “sheep without a shepherd” in this area. These may have been John’s disciples, looking for a new leader (Jesus!).