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Evil Eye

So, what is an "evil eye?" 
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What does this mean?

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when it’s evil, your body is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34 ISV)

It isn’t immediately clear what Jesus’s point is.  We’ll leave the “body full of light” part for some other time. Right now let’s just think about the “evil eye”.

Most modern translators render this, “When your eye is bad,” or “When your eye is unhealthy,” a few “When your eye is wicked.”  The KJV and a few others, such as the one quoted, render it as “evil”, which appears to me to be a better translation.  But what does Jesus mean?  I don’t think he’s talking about literal eye disease.  As usual, be is speaking metaphorically.

And, let’s just say it to make it crystal clear, Jesus’s usage has nothing to do with the “evil eye” superstitions prevalent in many cultures, whereby someone has a supernatural power to curse someone else.

Doing a little digging with a concordance and lexicon, we find that Jesus isn’t talking about the state of the eye-that would be a different Greek word. This one means the effect.  (It’s the same word used in the Lord’s prayer, “deliver us from evil,” that is, “rescue us from calamity.”)  So, he’s saying, “If your eye is evil in effect…”  Helpful, but we still have the question of what he means.

And then we find that Jesus didn’t invent this idea!  He’s drawing on an Old Testament concept.  A couple examples:

Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. (Deuteronomy 15:9 KJV)
Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. (Proverbs 23:6-7 KJV)

Once again KJV and a few others use “evil eye”.  Other translations render it grudging,  hostile, or ill will.  Again, this isn’t a reference to moral wickedness, which would be a different word.  This word means to harm, to afflict.

So, what is an “evil eye?”  The context tells us.  It is to be stingy, begrudging, hard-hearted, thereby causing harm to another.

All right.  To paraphrase what we have so far, Jesus says, “When your attitude is stingy and grudging, your body is full of darkness.”  We seem to have part of the metaphor but not all of it.  What is a body full of darkness? 

Again looking at usage elsewhere, the “body” is sometimes the person, especially the person in this life.  So one option is, “If you’re selfish and stingy, you put yourself into the dark, you’re not on the side of the light.”  Another usage of the body, of course, is the body of Christ-his followers, believers; he himself being the head of the body.  Option 2 then is, “If you’re selfish and stingy, you bring darkness into the body of believers, and that attitude will be contagious and spread to the rest of the body.”

You may think of other options.  You might bring this to talk over at your regular Bible study group if you have one.  There are additional questions to ponder as well, starting with the body full of light-presumably the opposite of whatever the evil eye causes.  And, Jesus says the eye is the lamp of the body, but it’s clear the healthy eye results in light coming in, not going out.  What’s he getting at there?

I hope you have a fruitful discussion!
Love, Paul






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