Most Christians can’t make sense of the following passage simply because they refuse to look at the New Testament through first-century Jewish eyes. As long as Christians continue to rely solely on the Greek language to decipher the New Testament, then passages like Matthew 6:19-24 won’t be seen in the true light of Yeshua’s teachings.
Scholars such as David Bivin, Lois Tverberg, David Flusser, Robert Lindsey and many others (including myself) adhere to the original texts of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as being written or orally transmitted in Hebrew first. Eventually, and rather quickly, the Writings of the Apostles (NT) were written down in Greek and communicated in such a way that gentiles were able to adhere to the teachings of the Tanakh through Yeshua’s and his disciples’ instructions (Matthew 28:16-20).
The reason why Aramaic was not the original language of the Bible is because within the first century, the language among the Jews of Judea was primarily Hebrew. (I used to believe that Aramaic was the original language as well; however, I was convinced by the evidence that Hebrew had to be the language of Yeshua and the disciples during antiquity.) Yes, Aramaic, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew were all spoken, and many in Judea were bi-and even trilingual or quad-lingual; but, most likely the Aramaic words used were loaned words. For example, in Israel today there are English-loaned words such as telephone and Internet, which makes for easier understanding. In America, we too use borrowed words from other countries. Take, for example, the Japanese word karaoke. Although we pronounce it as, “Care-ee-Oh-KEE,” the proper way would be more like, “KAH-rah-oh-KAY.” Regardless, karaoke is a loan word from Japan that we have taken full advantage of to where it is now an American word as well.
According to Bivin and others, there is less than 1% of the entire Bible, including the NT, which was written in Aramaic. Furthermore, when calculated, the complete Bible consists of more than 92% of its language written in Hebrew. This would consist of all the referenced scriptures of the OT in the NT as well. Not to mention, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which consisted of more than 90% of the scrolls being written in Hebrew, it’s not hard to see that 2 plus 2 equals 4. Nevertheless, the debate will continue. That being the case, I’ll stick with the premise that Hebrew was the primary language spoken by Yeshua and his disciples in this teaching.
The book of Matthew records Yeshua as saying:
6:19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 6:20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 6:23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
In this passage, there is no saying in Greek, which can properly translate the words, “eye is healthy” (i.e., good eye), or “eye is diseased” (i.e., bad eye) without leaving the message of Yeshua lost. Therefore, because of this, Greek translators are left to translating this passage in various ways that just don’t seem to make sense to its proper meaning. However, what is being missed by most translators (who ascribe wholly to Greek primacy) is what is known as a Hebraism or Jewish idiom, which was used during the first century. An idiom is a saying which does not make sense in its translated language regardless of how it is broken up. For example, we use American idioms today, which other cultures, without the knowledge of our idioms, could not make sense of, despite how deeply they would break apart the individual words in English. A good American idiom would be, “kick-the-bucket.” Without having knowledge of our culture, a tribesman from Africa, let’s say, would have no idea what you and I were talking about; however, those Americans reading this would have no doubt that kick-the-bucket simply means “to die”; thus, if I were to say . . . tomorrow I’m going to kick-the-bucket, you would conclude that tomorrow I was going to die. (God forbid!)
Anyhow, in the above translation of Matthew, the passage doesn’t make sense in the Greek because if I were to take its meaning at face-value, I might ask, what is a diseased eye? Does this mean that if I had one, blind eye, then the light in me is somewhat dark! Or, how about having just one, healthy eye? Does this mean that if only one eye is healthy, our whole body will be full of light? Again, this doesn’t make sense! The Greek cannot make sense of Yeshua’s teaching because this is obviously a Hebraism of the first century. Now, if the Greek translators would have recognized this, then the passage (vv. 22-23) could have been translated as such: “. . . Generosity is the lamp of the body. If then you are generous, everything you do and have you’ll be generous with, which represents my presence in your life. However, if you are a stingy person, you’ll be stingy with everything you do and have. If so, then how deep down in your spirit does that stinginess go! . . .” (Adrian’s translation).
Giving the knowledge of this being a Jewish idiom of the first century, then this passage now comes alive in a whole, new way. Yeshua is not taking about some mysterious “eye” that is healthy, whole, or good. Nor is he talking about how diseased, unhealthy, or bad your mysterious eye is. Rather, he is giving the prescription on how to be enslaved to God rather than money.
In verses 19-21 Yeshua is relating that doing tzedakah (giving righteously) to those within and outside of the kingdom of God, without their knowledge, is storing up treasure in heaven, which cannot be destroyed. Furthermore, by doing righteous deeds or giving righteously (doing tzedakah) your heart is in obedience and in alignment with God’s word. Thus, with vv. 22-23 now being added to vv. 19-21, it is clear to see how Yeshua is prescribing to his followers how to love God and not be mastered by money (v. 24), which brings to light the following teaching from this entire passage in Matthew:
Righteous, generous giving through the spirit (storing up treasure in heaven) with everything a person has, will give that person tremendous, divine power over material possessions and lusting over money. By being generous, that person will represent the presence of God in such a way, that others will glorify God for his tzedakah and undeniably recognize God’s presence in and through him.
By Adrian A. Bernal © 2012, All Rights Reserved.