Studying the Bible is most definitely a fruitful endeavor.
Although there are some aspects of Bible study that should be clear to nearly any reader, there are verses and sections in which the reader has to dig deeper to find out what is going on. If anyone is teaching someone else how to interpret the Scriptures, a necessary lesson is the lesson of context. Basically, a Scripture should be interpreted based on the Scriptures around it.
Then comes the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus divulges so many juicy morsels of teaching soundbites that it becomes so very easy to dive in, find what we want and get out while easily ignoring the context. The people who kindly divided up our Bible's have, in the case of the Sermon that we read in Matthew 5-7, done us a bit of a disservice by adding a new heading every time it seems as if Jesus is switching topics.
In Living Jesus, Randy Harris says he wants the focus of the study to be living the life Jesus is teaching about, not dissecting the Sermon and arguing about what it means.
That being the case I was quite pleased when Randy, in my opinion, "rightly divided" a couple of the Scriptures in the Sermon that are commonly used out of context:
Matthew 6:22-23a "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." (NASB)
The common misinterpretation, especially in modern times with our nation's pornography epidemic, is that we need to be careful what we look at. If we set our eyes on detestable things, those unholy images will corrupt our souls.
This does not fit the context at all however.
Matthew 6:19-21 tells us not to store up treasures in heaven. Matthew 6:24, says that you cannot serve both God and money.
Why would Jesus stop in the middle of making a point about not focusing on money and being greedy and serving it to say, "And by the way, don't look at picture of naked women!"
(I'm not suggesting that we should do so, just that it is not the proper application of these verses)
So what does it mean?
The new NIV that came out in 2013 helps us out a little. It interprets the word "bad" as "unhealthy" and has a footnote that "unhealthy here implies stingy." They also note that in verse 22, what the NASB says is "clear" is "healthy" and then that "healthy implies generous."
Deuteronomy 15:9 is a good Scripture reference here. It is a verse that speaks about the coming 7th year, which for the Jews meant that they would be cancelling all debts against them. What could happen when that date is coming near is that some Jews might get stingy and decide not to make the loan because so little of it would ever actually get paid back. Here we have the NIV saying, "do not show ill will toward the needy person." The NASB, which is more literal says, "Beware that... your eye is hostile toward your brother."
The concept of relating the eye to generosity makes sense. There are at least two Proverbs that seem to carry the theme:
Proverbs 28:22, "A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that wealth will come upon him."
Proverbs 28:27, "He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses."
Considering what the Old Testament teaches about the evil or hostile eye and then looking again at the context of what Jesus is teaching, it becomes more clear what Jesus meant by the clear/healthy eye versus the bad/unhealthy one:
If we put our treasures are made up or earthly things and we are greedy then we are serving money and not serving God. That life and attitude is ultimately a very dark one. If we have our treasures in heaven, then we will be much more generous with our earthly resources and the person who serves God will have a life that is full of light.
Before closing I want to mention Dr. Bruce Terry who taught my Scripture Interpretation class at Ohio Valley University. Thanks Dr. Terry for stressing context and shedding light on the Scripture above and the ideal of the "evil eye" in the OT.
In part 2 we will look at Matthew 7:7-11