Biblical Hebrew and its New Testament application. Hebrew idioms buried in overly literal Greek. A 'Good Eye', Matthew 6:22

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A 'Good Eye', Matthew 6:22

Good eye (`ay๎n t๔wbh) / Evil eye

The literal Greek of Matthew 6:22 (ean oun ๊ ho ophthalmos sou haplous) "if therefore your eye is single" has been translated variously. The Greek word only occurs in this saying of Jesus and literally means 'single'.

Other translations have rendered it 'unclouded, sound, clear, healthy' or 'good':

"unclouded eye" (Westcott & Hort)
"sound eye" (Weymouth, Philipps, NEB, Williams, Amplified, GNB, NAB)
"clear/diseased eye" (Knox, NASB [clear/bad])
"single eye" (KJV, Bagsters, Tyndale, Rheims) - literally correct
"healthy eye" (Beck, NRSV)
"good eye" (NKJV, NIV) - Hebraically correct
Only the Paraphrases of Moffatt and Barclay are correct with their idiomatic 'generous eye':

"generous/selfish eye" (Moffatt, Barclay)
For the phrase is indeed a Hebrew idiom for generosity as 'evil eye' is for 'selfishness'. The Hebrew phrase (t๔wbh-`ay๎n) 'good eye' is used in Proverbs 22:9 where it is sometimes translated "a generous man". A good eye 'sees' a need and meets it. In modern English idiom one might use "open handed" and "tight fisted".

Other Hebrew sources such as the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud speak of 'good, middling and evil' eyes. For example, in the offerings of the first fruits:

"'a good eye' gave the fortieth, the house Shammai say, the thirtieth part; a middling one, the fiftieth; and an evil one, the sixtieth part." (Mishnah, Trumot, 4.3)
Upon which the Jewish commentators say, a 'good eye' means one that is liberal, and an 'evil eye' the contrary. Elsewhere one reads of 'trading, dedicating' and 'giving with a good' or 'an evil eye', that is, either generously, liberally, or in a niggardly and grudging manner.

"A good eye and a humble spirit and a lowly soul, those who have these are disciples of Abraham our Father" (Mishnah, Ab๔th, 5.19)
Thus Jesus' meaning is that if a man is not covetous but is generous he will be blessed and righteous in all areas of life. "Your whole body" is simply a Hebrew metaphor for 'your whole person', 'you yourself'.
More material like this can be found in our bible course "The Difficult Sayings of Jesus" and Hebrew Unit N, Hebrew in the New Testament.

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