What They Believed About Eyes in the Ancient World

by Andrew Forrest

Until recently, I was confused by the words of Jesus we find in today’s reading:

33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Luke 11:33-36

But this week I came across the following explanation in a commentary, which helped me:

According to a physiology prevalent in Greco-Roman antiquity, the eyes do not function by allowing light to come in but by allowing the body’s own light to go out. The eye is the conduit or source of the light that makes sight possible. Jesus’ assertion, ‘Your eye is the lamp of your body,’ thus expresses a commonly held view, identifying the eyes are sources of light insofar as they allow the body’s light to go forth. Given this physiology, the pivotal issue is whether the eyes are sick or healthy–that is, whether the body is full of darkness or light….[Jesus] urges his audience to consider the nature of their dispositions…. v. 35 is present as an existential challenge to self-evaluation, a warning to be filled with light rather than darkness. Clearly, those who test Jesus (v. 16)–as well as those Pharisees and lawyers of the subsequent unit (vv. 37-54), whose inner avarice and malevolence generate a neglect of justice and love of God–are condemned by their own actions as people full of darkness. The possibility of repentance is left open; what is not debatable for Jesus is the certainty that one’s inner constitution is broadcast in one’s behaviors.

Joel Greene, The Gospel of Luke, pp 465-466 [emphasis mine]

Anyway, I found that helpful.

Today’s Scripture:

Luke 11:29-36

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