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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Eye (2)

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EYE.—The OT usage of ‘eye’ (צַיִן), with its material and figurative senses, is found to be faithfully continued in the Gospels.

The almost invariable word used in the Gospels is ὁφθαλμός; in two passages (Matthew 20:34, Mark 8:23) ὁμμα is found, but used only in the plural. The difference in meaning between the two would appear to be that ὁμμα refers to the material organ as distinct from its function, while ὀφθαλμος is not only the vehicle of vision but that which sees.* [Note: Perhaps somewhat in the same way that one can differentiate between a musical instrument and the music it gives forth.] The most usual verb used in connexion with the eyes is βλέτω (e.g. Matthew 7:3, Luke 6:41), with its compounds διαβλέτω (Mark 8:25) and ἀναβλετω (Matthew 20:34, John 9:12); more rarely we find ὁράω (Matthew 13:15, Luke 2:30; Luke 16:23, John 12:40) and θεὰομαι (John 4:35; John 6:5). A fairly frequent phrase is that of ‘lifting up (ἐταιρω) the eyes,’ [Note: It occurs very rarely outside of Lk., Jn., and Acts.] e.g. Matthew 17:8, Luke 16:23; Luke 18:13, John 4:35; in every case in which the eyes of Christ are mentioned this word is used (Luke 6:20, John 6:5; John 11:41; John 17:1).

The word ‘eye’ is used—

1. In the ordinary, literal sense: as illustrating the lex talionis, Matthew 5:38; [Note: in this connexion the Code of Ḫammurabi, § 196, ‘If a man has caused the loss of a gentleman’s eye, his eye one shall cause to he lost’ (see Johns’ The Oldest Code of Laws, p. 43).] of the eyes being heavy with sleep, Mark 14:40; of the multitude fixing their eyes on Christ, Luke 4:20; especially of Christ giving sight to the eyes of the blind,§ [Note: Regarding methods of curing blindness see Encyc. Bibl. col. 1455 f.] e.g. Matthew 9:29-30; Matthew 20:33-34, Mark 8:23, John 9:6.

2. In a literal sense, but with a figurative sense implied: e.g. the words of Simeon, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ (Luke 2:30), where there is primarily the literal looking down upon the babe before him, but also, by implication, the mental vision of God’s salvation of which the visible child was the pledge; again, in the words, ‘Blessed are your eyes, for they see …’ (Matthew 13:16, see also Luke 10:23), where we have both the literal seeing of Christ and the seeing, in the sense of understanding, His teaching; further, a striking instance is contained in Luke 24:31, where it is said of the two disciples to whom Christ, after His resurrection, became known by the breaking of bread, that ‘their eyes were opened, and they knew him.’ There appears here (however it may be accounted for) an extraordinarily close connexion or correspondence between weakness in the bodily and the mental vision, for it is certain that their eyes were open, in the ordinary sense, before they recognized Christ. Another example is that in John 4:35 ‘Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest.’ What the bodily eye saw here was evidently intended by Christ to be a symbol of the great work of evangelization which He desired the mental vision of the disciples to discern. Under this head would come also Matthew 5:29 ‘If thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, cut it out and cast it from thee.’ From the context the ‘eye’ is clearly used here in a material sense, while the ‘cut it out’ is equally clearly used in a figurative sense (cf. Matthew 19:12).

3. In a purely figurative sense it is found in Matthew 7:3-6 and Luke 6:41-42 (the mote in the brother’s eye); also in Matthew 6:22-23, Luke 11:34 (‘The lamp of the body is the eye’), where the eye is spoken of as reflecting the spiritual condition of the heart, though even here it is possible that the thought of the expression of the material eyes may also have been in Christ’s mind. Again, in Matthew 20:15 ‘Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ the eye is used figuratively to express an attitude of envy (see below). Lastly, it must I obviously have been used in a purely figurative sense in Luke 16:23 ‘In Hades he lifted up his eyes …’

4. There remains the strange expression ‘evil eye’ (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός, Mark 7:22). The meaning of this no doubt approximates to that of the similar expression in Matthew 6:23; Matthew 20:15, and, generally speaking, denotes envy;* [Note: the expression רִצ צַיןProverbs 23:6; see also Deuteronomy 15:9, 1 Samuel 18:9.] but it also implied demoniacal possession [see Demon, iii. (b) ], [Note: Among the Jews there was a special formula for use against the ‘evil eye.’] and the ‘evil’ referred not only to the possessed himself, but also to the harm which might be done to others who came under the influence of the ‘evil eye.’ [Note: For examples of the belief in, and effect of, the ‘evil eye’ in Syria at the present day, see PEFSt, 1904, pp. 148–156.]

W. O E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Eye (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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