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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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In the analogy drawn by St. Paul between the human body and the Church, the eye (ὀφθαλμός) is named as a member superior in rank to either the ear or the hand (1 Corinthians 12:16; 1 Corinthians 12:21), though dependent on the co-operation of both. In virtue of this superiority, the eye becomes proverbial for that which is precious (Ep. Barn. xix. 9), and St. Paul writes of the affection of the Galatian Christians, ‘ye would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me’ (Galatians 4:15). Partly in view of those words, many have argued that St. Paul’s ‘stake in the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7) was ophthalmia (e.g. Creighton, Encyclopaedia Biblica ii. col. 1456; Macalister, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. p. 331; against this view, see the weighty arguments of Lightfoot, Galatians10, 1892, p. 191 n. [Note: . note.] ). The blindness with which St. Paul was seized on the way to Damascus has been medically described as ‘a temporary amaurosis, such as that which has been caused by injudiciously looking at the sun’ (Macalister, loc. cit.); the reference to the removal of ‘scales’ in the account of his recovery is a comparison, not a pathological detail (Acts 9:8; Acts 9:18). Elymas was smitten with temporary blindness as a punishment for his opposition to St. Paul (Acts 13:11). The account of the miraculous restoration of Dorcas to life (Acts 9:40) shows that it was customary in Palestine, as elsewhere, to close the eyes of a corpse.

The eyes are frequently named by apostolic writers in connexion with spiritual blindness or sight. St. Paul sees the fulfilment of prophecy in the closed eyes of the Jews in Rome (Acts 28:27; cf. Romans 11:8; Romans 11:10), and is sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles (Acts 26:18). Hatred of a brother is a darkness blinding the eyes (1 John 2:11). Christ says to the Laodicean Church, ‘buy eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see’ (Revelation 3:16). On the other hand, he who knows Christ has the eyes of his heart enlightened (Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians cf.1 Clem. xxxvi. 2, lix. 3; also the reference in Mart. Polyc. ii. 3 to tortured martyrs, who, ‘with the eyes of their heart,’ gaze upon the good things reserved for them). The realities revealed by the Spirit of God are ‘things that eye saw not’ (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Ep. ad Diognetum, ii. 1). But these spiritual realities are built upon historic facts; the basis of the Christian gospel was that which apostles had seen with their eyes (1 John 1:1). As a cloud hid Jesus from their eyes at His Ascension (Acts 1:9), so, when He comes with clouds, every eye shall see Him (Revelation 1:7). When He is seen in vision, His eyes are (searching) as a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14; Revelation 2:18; Revelation 19:12); so, to the eyes of God, all things are naked and laid open (Hebrews 4:13; cf. 1 Peter 3:12). The many eyes of the ‘living creatures’ and of the Lamb of the Apocalypse symbolically denote vigilance and range of vision (Revelation 4:6; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 5:6).

There are several references to the psychical and moral qualities of the eye, according to that ‘peripheral consciousness’ of Hebrew psychology (see article Ear), which is so amply illustrated in the OT (examples in Mansfield College Essays, 1909, p. 275). No doubt, ‘the lust of the eyes’ (1 John 2:16) can be satisfactorily explained to a modern mind as ‘all personal vicious indulgence represented by seeing’ (Westcott, ad loc.), but a deeper meaning, corresponding to St. Paul’s idea of am in the flesh (see article Man), underlies this phrase, as also that referring to ‘eyes full of adultery’ (2 Peter 2:14; read μοιχείας with Bigg, ad loc.). The moat striking apostolic reference to the eye is that in which St. Paul rebukes the Galatians for letting themselves be bewitched by (the ‘evil eye’ of envious) false teachers, when he had already ‘placarded’ Christ crucified before their eyes, who should have arrested their gaze and averted peril (Galatians 3:1; cf. Lightfoot, ad loc.). This expresses the characteristic emphasis in apostolic teaching on the positive side of truth, the expulsion of the false by the true. Those whose eyes are turned to Christ are trans-formed into the same image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18; cf. Odes of Solomon, xiii. 1); those who look at things unseen find their inward man renewed day by day, even in the midst of visible affliction (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

H. Wheeler Robinson.

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

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