What does Jesus mean when He says the eye is the lamp of the body in Luke 11?

by | Feb 25, 2023 | Ask the Pastors

QUESTION

I don’t really get Jesus’ point when He’s talking about the eye being the lamp of the body in Luke 11:34. What’s He saying?

ANSWER

I’ve often personally been confused by this passage as well. I think the key is to not overcomplicate what Jesus is teaching. He is simply using the eye’s natural importance to the body to illustrate the importance of a mind which is wholly focused on the kingdom of God.

Here’s the whole passage:

No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays. (Luke 11:33–36)

Part of the challenge is that Jesus is using a play on words here that is difficult to carry into English. The NASB says, “When your eye is clear”; the ESV says “healthy”; the KJV says “single”; and the NKJV says “good.” Yowzers! The Greek word is haplous, which literally means “simple, single,” or “whole.” This meaning of “single” is important for understanding Jesus’ point.

In Matthew’s account of this teaching, Jesus says these same things about the eye being the lamp of the body right in the middle of His teaching that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also, and that we cannot serve two masters, especially not God and wealth (Matt. 6:19–24). He’s obviously talking about single-minded devotion to the kingdom of God. Think about healthy eyes which see a clear, focused picture, as opposed to unhealthy eyes which see a cloudy, out-of-focus picture. To get from point A to point B, it’s important to be able to see where you’re going, especially when you’re trying to stay on a straight, narrow path.

We value our sense of sight. At least we should, though in our modern times we often take it for granted. In Jesus’ time, many suffered eye diseases which had no cure, and blindness was a common affliction. And without a technological landscape very accommodating to those with impaired sight, blindness almost certainly consigned someone to an inability to move about freely, much less work and provide for oneself. Eyes are instrumental to the health of the whole body.

After explaining the eye’s physical importance to the body, Jesus says to “watch out that the light in you is not darkness,” at which point He’s no longer (primarily) talking about our physical eyes. He’s explaining an inward spiritual reality about what our hearts and minds are focused on.

It’s the importance of the eye to the body which carries over into Jesus’ spiritual point. Just as a clear, healthy eye is able to take in light and focus properly and thus benefit the whole body with its light, so the mind which is singularly devoted to the kingdom of God and is unclouded by worldly cares and fleshly lusts is necessary to living a life that is pleasing to God, not to mention a life that is more spiritually fulfilling for ourselves and beneficial to the body of Christ and to the world around us.

Of course, we also shouldn’t overlook the strong connection between the health of our souls and what we fix our physical eyes on. It is possible to fill our souls with darkness when we fix our eyes on that which is corrupting. This may mean the corruption of idolatrous graven images or of pornography, but Scripture also particularly speaks of an “evil eye” as one that is covetously fixed on wealth and which thus corrupts a man’s integrity (Deut. 15:9; Prov. 28:22).

Let us … lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1–2)

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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