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Rules of Biblical Interpretation


Q I was wondering what was the relevance of Matthew 6:22-23 in relationship to the rest of that passage and its basic meaning.

A Let me quote the pertinent passage from Matt. 6 (NKJV):

19  "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
20  "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22  "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.
23  "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!
24  "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 

As you can see, vss. 19-22 deal with one's attitude towards earthly treasure (material wealth) as opposed to heavenly treasure. I don’t think it could be claimed that Jesus is saying it is wrong to be rich—only that it is wrong to put that ahead of heavenly treasure. Then, after the verses you are questioning, v. 24 concerns not having two masters, God and mammon. Mammon was a common Aramaic word for riches. So Jesus is capping His little talk on the right kind of treasure by concluding that no one can serve God if he is dedicated to earthly wealth. 

So we can tell by the context what the eye being good or bad relates to. It has something to do with focusing on material wealth to the exclusion of heavenly righteousness. But we also get some help from knowing that there was a common Jewish idiom about the eye and one’s attitude towards money and values. This idiom apparently was based on passages like Deut. 15:9: “Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,' and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you.” See also Prov. 22:9; 28:22; Eccl. 4:8; Matt. 20:15; Mark 7:22 and Rev. 3:18. An “evil eye” was a distorted perspective about the value of things, about giving to those in need, and about the permanence of wealth. Although the Rabbis had been teaching these values for centuries, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had neglected the proper view of righteousness for a worldly view of riches. Verses 22-23 relate to having a proper perspective on the value of material wealth versus heavenly treasures.


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