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“If thine eye be single”

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” – Mat. 6:22

Because we believe the very words of God are of utmost importance, it is necessary to consider every single word of Scripture and how it is translated into other languages. While this scrutinization is welcomed and encouraged, there is a tendency by the self proclaimed scholar to become the judge, jury, and executioner of what constitutes a good translation. Awareness and cautiousness are great attributes, but ignorance is unacceptable. Ignorance not only of your own mother tongue and the “scripture of truth” (Dan. 10:21), but also of the language you wish to critique. In this realm of translation, it would seem that many have their “eyes wide shut” willfully ignorant of the words staring them in the face. I do believe the Lord’s constant quoting of Ezekiel 12:2, “They have eyes to see but see not,” is most indicting of our current generation. Today, the verse under scrutiny is Matthew 6:22. The accusation flung upon the Chinese Bible is that it does not have the English word “single.” Now, I fail to see any major doctrine connected to this, but, this does not negate the need to consider whether or not the Peking Bible has forgotten to translate the “English” word single (I said the “English” word with tongue in cheek, folks, we know the Peking Bible did not translate from English).  As one brother told me, “I don’t know what exactly the English text is saying, but I know that the Peking Bible does not have the word “single” in the verse.” Therefore, upon this accusation we shall get down to the nitty gritty and see whether the Peking Bible committee had less of a proficiency in Chinese, Greek, and English than you do.

First of all, let us consider what exactly the English Bible is saying. The word in question,only appears two times in the Bible, Matthew 6:22 and Luke 11:34, and this is mainly due to the fact that the Greek word, also, only appears in the Bible two times. Now, we do not get much help from the Greek dictionaries as their guess is about as good as ours as to the meaning of this word. One dictionary says the Greek word means “sincere, distant” while another says “focused.” As for English, it is important for us to define the word by context as well as synonyms that will help us grasp the underlying meaning of the word. Really, the word “single” can be understood in two primary ways. One, it can refer to quantity, as in, “He made a single attempt;” or it can be a reference to the act of excluding or focusing with intense concentration. The latter meaning is found in the English sentences “ He singled someone out” and “He had singular concentration,” as well as someone being “single-minded.” As for the English text, your guess is as good as mine. I would suppose it is referring to someone focusing all their attention, in particular with his eyes, as I do not believe Jesus was saying that you need “one eyeball” so as to get light.  Most of us can agree that it has something to do with wholeheartedly, with all your attention, and with complete focus, serving the Lord, especially when viewed in light of the following verses that speak of a man being unable to serve two masters. Also, we can all agree that this is talking specifically about the eyes, as what a man focuses on with his eyes will affect what his heart wants (see verses 19-21).

Secondly, we must now consider the Chinese meaning found in the Peking Committee Bible and whether or not it is the same as the English. The most obvious of mistakes made by the self-proclaimed scholar is that he fails to notice that the simplified character “了” actually has more meaning than just an ending of a sentence. The traditional character is actually written “瞭”, and is connected to the words 瞭望、 瞭头、 明瞭、 and 瞭见. Just understanding this much will help the skeptic to realize that the verse is not saying, “If your eye is bright the body is filled with light.” That is just your poor understanding of Chinese. The word 亮 does not only mean “bright,” it also means “enlightened” or “to shine.” So as to fully understand the problem, let us review. The average person who believes the Peking Bible is not saying the same thing as the English, has made the fundamental mistake of thinking 瞭/了 in this passage is an ending particle, and has made the mistake of thinking 亮 merely means “bright.” Now, as for the meaning of 瞭 we can see that it means to “see from afar,” and it also means to “focus on.” For instance, 老舍 uses it in this fashion, “他不敢挺直了脖子,而半低着头,用眼偷偷地瞭着那些人”。 A synonym for 瞭 is 斜视 which is most interesting when we consider that the eye condition known as 斜视眼 is a problem where both eyes FOCUS independently and do not unify. So, the word 瞭 has to do with a concentrated, focused fixation on a particular point, which, naturally, is why we refer to a high tower where we can observe our surroundings as a 瞭望. So you ask, “Does the Peking Bible say the phrase ‘a single eye?’” I would say without a doubt that it does. If we source 老舍 again, we realize that the word 瞭亮 means to appear enlightened, or to clearly see or understand something. Notice the usage in this passage: “曹家喜欢用干净瞭亮的人,而又不大注意那些小过节儿”。 As for our verse, the meaning is clear, the eye, by observation and perspective, is able to understand and be enlightened. My rough translation of the Chinese would be, “If your eye singularly observes, the whole body will be filled with light.” Do not forget the English phrase “single someone out,” or, to say it another way, “focus on one person.” The Peking Bible also being sensitive to the context, perfectly juxtaposes the ideas of 瞭亮 and 昏花. The idea is that if your eye is focused on that which is right, the entire body will be filled with light, however, if your eye is darkened by your evil ways, then the darkness will be great. Because we are talking about “eyes” in the passage, the Peking Bible chose two very understandable words to express this phenomenon – one is eyes that are alert and on the lookout (瞭亮), while the other is eyes that are unable to see afar off (2 Pet. 1:9) and are darkened. Did you notice that cross-reference? Peter tells us that we will be nearsighted, or, in other words, unable to see far off, if we do not observe to do the things mentioned in 2 Peter 1. Now, you who are edgy to try to make the Chinese Bible more like a King James, completely destroyed the cross reference of Matthew 6:22 and 1 Peter 1:9. Of course, to the average critic, they really do not care whether the readers can understand the passage or not, they just want to be sure that the English word that fits in with their sermon outline is present.

Concluding, we must ask ourselves objectively if we are able to provide a better translation of this verse than the Peking Committee provided. The suggested 专一 in this context is extremely strange in Chinese and is never coupled with “eyes” in the Chinese language. Furthermore, there are no early sources of this word being used in this fashion; it is not until much later that it is used as a word to convey the English meaning “concentrate” or “focus on.” We see its earliest use as a Taoist teaching about concentration. Either way, it was unsuitable for use at the time of the Peking Bible translation because of its connection to Taoist meditation or inability to flow correctly when used with “eyes.” Even though 专一 seems to carry the same meaning as “single” in English, we actually find that it is not quite as general. In the context, it is obvious that Jesus is talking about good and evil, not simply concentration and evil. The moral implications of the verse are extremely clear in the Peking Bible. They are, however, not as clear in the idea of 专一 suggested by newer “more literal” translations. As far as literal accuracy goes, 专一 is better defined as “single-minded” or “concentrated” which is not “singleness” as it pertains to the eye. Furthermore, we cannot ignore that Jesus said the “eye” must be single, not your mind or motivation. The Peking Bible perfectly preserved the connection between “singleness” and the “eye.” For those of you who are familiar with Young’s Literal Translation, you may prefer a strongly literal translation of Scripture, but I can guarantee that Young’s Literal Translation can never surpass the beautiful English found in the King James, nor can all of these King James Chinese translations surpass the beauty of the Peking Bible. For those who still complain that 瞭亮 needs to be explained before believers can understand it, I would contend that 专一 in reference to eyeballs needs much more explanation. The phrase 眼睛瞭亮 is much more intelligible than “眼睛专一”.