Baker Academic

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Eyeball Theology

Last week in my class on Matthew's Gospel, mine eyes beheld a wonderful student presentation on the form and function of righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount. This got us discussing the following saying:

"The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light" (Matt 6:22).

In keeping with the view that purity is represented by what a person projects, we discussed the ancient view that eyes (rather than receiving light) project light. In this way, Jesus reminds his audience that eyes are literally biological lamps. This is somewhat different than our modern reading of the passage. The modern reader is inclined to think that the eye functions as a "lamp" insomuch as it illuminates our vision. Cf. the New Living Translation: "Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. . . ."

The discussion led me to this very helpful summary complete with a few sources.


  1. Dale Allison has a fantastic essay on this verse and how ancients viewed eyes and eyesight in The Jesus Tradition in Q. It's brilliant; I've never seen the verse the same way. I'd encourage you to check it out.

  2. From Dr. G:

    This conventional Christian notion could eventually develop into a discussion of one critical issue in Memory studies: is what we see in life the result of the 1) projection of our desires. Or 2) the accurate reflection of what is objectively out there.

    I'd read this Bible passage in an unconventional way: as an advocacy of science. As suggesting that we keep our eyes as clear and neutral as humanly possible. In order to register what is actually out there. Rather than seeing just what we want to see.

    In this reading, it is observing the realities of the universe that illuminate our soul, or mind. The mental impression of real things.

    Interestingly, even Jesus told us to "observe" natural phenomena. Like ravens and lillies, say.

    Here my own point of view departs from memory study, to be sure.
    Many memory study assume that the neutral registering of external reality is impossible. But science believes that at least some objective impressions can get through.

    To me, the enormous success of science and technology suggests too, that science is partly right.

    So should we constantly and inevitably project? Or can we be, to some degree, humble and passive receptors?