More than once we get questions from people wondering what Jesus meant by saying such a strange thing. We also get several remarks that Jesus said so many strange things, that we should not take them seriously.
All Gospel readers want to understand Jesus’ teachings, but it’s not always so easy! Luckily, a little ancient Jewish context can go a long way to aiding our understanding.
“Allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60)
which for many do not
He also looks at the weird saying
“The eye is the lamp of the body….”
Then, as if this were not confusing enough, Jesus adds,
“So, if your eye is healthy (ἁπλοῦς; aplous) your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad (πονηρὸς; poneros), your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23a.)
Though, we can not agree with that. We have the opinion that one should look at those sayings in the manner of speaking at the time of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that when we want to read the Old or the New Testament, we should look at those texts as Jewish texts from previous times, when certain idioms and ways of speaking were used. Therefore, one must be familiar with the techniques of Jewish literary traditions.
One should consider the thought-language of the gospels in light of Hebraisms and Aramaisms.
We must be aware that in the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures there was (is) a lot of use of descriptions. Hebrew has many idiomatic terms that can not easily be translated to other languages; for example בארבע עיניים be’arba enayim, literally ‘with four eyes,’ means face to face without the presence of a third person, as in, ‘The two men met with four eyes.’ The expression לא דובים ולא יער lo dubim ve lo ya’ar is literally “neither bears nor forest” but means that something is completely false. The saying טמן את ידו בצלחת taman et yado batsalahat “buried his hand in the dish” means that someone idles away his time.” [ Bivin, David. “Hebrew Idioms in the Gospels,” Jerusalem Perspective Online. Archived 2007-05-26 at the Wayback Machine]
Furthermore, we should take into account that often those writers use a description instead of going for just one word or term. When reading the Holy Scriptures we should try to come into that way of thinking. We should almost make Judaic thinking our own.
Regular Bible scholars have tried to convey the view of the saying. To this end, they took the liberty of expressing that thought with simple words in the language of translation. In this respect, those who have made paraphrased translations have gone furthest, but have also sometimes taken a little too much liberty by writing things out on the basis of their doctrine.
Furthermore, we should not underestimate metaphorical language or figure of speech, and we should take it fully into account. It is true that by using such language one can have a system of thought antedating or bypassing logic. At the time of use, they might have been very originally vivid images and clear for those who listened to the texts.
Jesus for example uses the terms of the “healthy eye” versus “evil eye” metaphorically.
A man with a “single-minded eye” looks at a God-given path alone! God’s word becomes the guiding light (Psalm 119:105). But the one with “the lustful eye” gets distracted and greedy by coveting the possessions of others. As envy takes root, generosity dies. Then darkness settles in.
If one takes the time to read and reread the text carefully, while trying to put oneself in that ancient language, one will find that the words of Jesus and other prophets do have meaning and significance. In comparison with sentences spoken in the past, everything will become clearer, but then one has to be prepared to do verse and text comparison. Also, reading more than one translation can often bring more clarity.