Church displays pineal gland imagery, as the Vatican Square contains the
largest pineal-like statue in the world.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body.
If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light.
23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness.
If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Matthew 6:22 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.
Matthew 6:23 The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.
Situated at the anatomical center of our brain lies a mysterious gland that may be the intermediary gate that bridges our physical and spiritual experiences here on Earth.
Seventeenth-Century French philosopher Rene Descartes coined this organ, called the pineal gland, as the “seat of the soul”, as he believed it provided people with a medium from which our soul could be expressed through our physicality.
The pineal gland has been a topic of great debate over the past couple of decades as the science community is still trying to discover its complete biological function. Dr. Rick Strassman, M.D., author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, has dedicated years of research to the pineal gland as he suggests that this gland is the factory for a powerful brain chemical called DMT (Di-Methyl Tryptamine) which when produced induces a person into a psychedelic and mystical experience.
Many different cultures talk about our “third eye,” and modern theories suggest that this may be a reference to the pineal. Even more peculiar is the fact that pineal gland symbology can be traced to many civilizations such as the Romans, Mexicans, Egyptians, Babylonians and the Greeks.
It is interesting to note that even the Catholic Church displays pineal gland imagery, as the Vatican Square contains the largest pineal-like statue in the world.
So what could all of this mean? Is there ancient knowledge of this gland that previous cultures had access to? Furthermore, what role does the pineal gland play in our spiritual experiences and how can we explain this in physiological terms?
One of the earliest accounts of the pineal gland is in the writings of a third-century B.C. Greek physician named Herophilus, where he discusses the piniform or pinecone shaped organ as being the size of our pinkie fingernail. The name comes from the Latin word pinea, which literally means “pinecone.” As mentioned previously, the gland sits at the approximate geometric center of the brains mass. Additionally, the gland is not technically part of the brain, as it is not protected by the blood-brain barrier. In his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Dr. Rick Strassman discusses the glands unique solitary status within the brain,
“[…] All other brain sites are paired,
meaning that they have left and right counterparts; for example, there are left
and right frontal lobes and left and right temporal lobes. As the only unpaired
organ deep within the brain, the pineal gland remained an anatomical curiosity
for nearly two thousand years. No one in the west had any idea what its
Additionally, the pineal gland sits close to the sensory and emotional centers of the brain, which could explain why spiritual experiences can evoke so much emotion and sensation.
In the 17th century Rene Descartes was searching for the source of our thoughts, and proposed that the solitary pineal organ could be the generator. Descartes was interested in the location of the pineal in relation to the cerebrospinal fluid byways, and suggested that when the pineal gland “secreted our thoughts” that they moved through the cerebrospinal fluid to make its way to the rest of the brain.
While the physiological function of the pineal gland has been unknown until recent times, mystical traditions and esoteric schools have long known this area in the middle of the brain to be the connecting link between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Considered the most powerful and highest source of
ethereal energy available to humans, the pineal gland has always been important
in initiating supernatural powers. Development of psychic talents has been
closely associated with this organ of higher vision.
The third eye controls the various bio-rhythms of the body. It works in harmony with the hypothalamus gland which directs the body's thirst, hunger, sexual desire and the biological clock that determines our aging process. When it "awakens", one feels a pressure at the base of the brain.
The pineal gland's location deep in the brain seems to intimate hidden importance. In the days before its function as a physical eye that could see beyond space-time was discovered, it was considered a mystery linked to superstition and mysticism. Today it is associated with the sixth chakra.
The Bible is an ancient book, and the honest reader will admit that often, its passages are difficult to understand. Sometimes Jesus' words can be the most difficult, and prone to speculation and even misinterpretation. A case in point is Jesus' saying from the Sermon on the Mount:
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. (Matt 6:22-23, KJV)
Every Bible translation attempts to
explain this obscure saying by clarifying the phrases about one's
"eye." Various translations use terms like clear eye/bad eye (NASB),
healthy eye/unhealthy eye (NRSV), eyes are good/eyes are bad (NIV). None of
these adequately explain Jesus' idea to modern readers.
This opens the door for all sorts of interpretations. John Wesley, who lived in the 1700's, interpreted the "single eye" as being utterly devoted to pleasing God, and the "evil eye" as having our interests devoted anywhere else, to distract us from God. 1 While his interpretation is well within traditional understanding, others have come to different conclusions.
Some in the New Age movement believe that Jesus was speaking of the "single eye" as the "third eye" or inner eye of enlightenment. They say that when humans were first created perfect, they were enlightened by this third eye, but after the fall, it is now only reached through meditation. 2
One author believes that Jesus was talking about a medical condition called "polyopia," which results in multiple visual images and astigmatism, which was was Jesus meant by the "bad eye" that does not have single vision.3
While Wesley's interpretation agrees more with the Scriptures as a whole, we still have to admit that he was guessing at the meaning of the strange phrase, without knowing its cultural context. Christians have the frustrating task of defending one interpretation over another, when are all based in subjective interpretation.
A Cultural Perspective — A Good Eye
A better way to discern what Jesus was saying is to look at his words in the context of his first century culture. All languages have idioms — figures of speech that don't make sense literally, like "raining cats and dogs," "beating around the bush" or "pulling someone's leg." We should expect that Jesus' sayings may contain cultural idioms that we don't understand. Indeed, in the Greek gospels we find many idiomatic phrases that sound awkward or don't make sense in Greek, even though they make perfect sense in Hebrew. 4 By looking at the Semitic idioms in the Old Testament and in Jewish literature of Jesus' day, we can get a much clearer understanding of Jesus' teaching, and have more confidence about Jesus' message.
One interesting hypothesis is that Jesus may have been using a Hebraic idiom that contrasts a "good eye" (ayin tovah) and a "bad eye" or "evil eye" (ayin rah). The Hebraic understanding of "seeing" goes beyond taking in visual information in the eyes — it refers to one's outlook on life and attitude toward others. It can even mean to respond according to a need that is seen. For example, the phrase "Jehovah Jireh" is often translated "God will provide," but it means, literally, "God will see," meaning that when God sees our need, he will respond.
An idiom that emerged out this idea is that a person with a "good eye" is generous — he sees the needs of others and wants to help them. In contrast, one with an "bad eye" or "evil eye" is blind to the needs of others and is greedy and focused on his own self-gain. We find these idioms in Proverbs:
Prov. 22:9 He who is generous (literally, has a good
eye) will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.
Prov. 23:6 Do not eat the food of a stingy man (literally, an evil eye), do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost.
Prov. 28:22 A man with a bad eye hastens after wealth and does not know that want will come upon him.
In fact, Jesus uses the idiom of
"evil eye" for greed elsewhere in the gospels. At the end of the
parable of the landowner who pays all the laborers the same, the landowner says
to the workers, 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?
Or is your eye evilbecause I am generous?' (Matt. 20:15). The Greek
phrase there, "opthalmous sou ponerous" is identical to that
in Matt 6:23, the passage that we are examining.
Interestingly, if this is our interpretation of the passage in Matthew 6, Jesus' saying suddenly fits into the larger context of this passage. Here is the longer context of that saying:
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matt 6:21-24, NASB)
Right before the "eye"
analogy, Jesus tells his listeners to "store up treasures in heaven,"
which is an idiom for giving money to the poor. 5 Afterward
he says, "No one can serve two masters ... you cannot serve God and
wealth." (Matt 6:24). If Jesus is using the idioms "good eye"
and "evil eye" to mean generosity and greed with money, the teaching
about ones "eye" now fits perfectly into a longer saying about how to
use money in a way that honors God.
Having a Single Eye
Any hypothesis needs to be re-evaluated in light of new evidence, and one scholar suggests that Jesus may actually be using a slightly different phrase than "good eye," even though he is still contrasting it with a "bad eye." The Greek of the passage does not say "good" (kalos)but "single, simple" (haplous). But, the idea of "singleness of eye" as a virtue is also found in other documents from Jesus' time, and "singleness"(haplotes) as a virtue is used several other places in the New Testament.6 This can also give us insight on Jesus' meaning in this passage. One document reads:
"I never slandered anyone, nor did I censure the life of any man, walking as I did in singleness of eye" (3:4)... "And now hearken to me, my children, and walk in singleness of heart… The single [minded] man covets not gold… There is no envy in his thoughts, nor [does he] worry with insatiable desire in his mind. For he walks in singleness, and beholds all things in uprightness of heart… Keep, therefore, my children, the law of God, and attain singleness...7
Here the idea of "singleness of eye" means sincerity, simplicity, and a freedom from envy for money. It is the opposite of having a "double heart" as in Psalm 12:2: "They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak." A person with a "single eye" is one of integrity who does not have a secret agenda of self-advancement. Along with sincerity of spirit, he also has an integrity toward money that keeps him from covetousness and greed. Another passage from about the same time also gives insight:
The good man has not an eye of darkness that cannot see; for he shows mercy to all men, sinners though they may be, and though they may plot his ruin … His good mind will not let him speak with two tongues, one of blessing and one of cursing, one of insult and one of compliment, one of sorrow and one of joy, one of hypocrisy and one of truth, one of poverty and one of wealth; but it has asingle disposition only, simple and pure, that says the same thing to everyone. 8
Interestingly this passage talks
about a man's "eye" in terms of his caring for the needs of others,
and contrasts an "eye of darkness" to a disposition of
"singleness." The contrast is between pretending to care about others
with an inward attitude of self-advancement, compared to having a genuine
concern for others, without hidden motives. Some phrases here are very similar
to the book of James. 9
Reading Jesus' Words Again
In light of the idioms of a "single eye" meaning integrity and a sincere attitude toward others, and "bad eye" meaning a greedy and self-centered outlook, now Jesus' words have much more clarity in their context. Here is my dynamic translation of Matthew 6:21-24, incorporating the idiomatic language he appears to be using:
So give generously to the poor and invest your energy and resources in eternal things, because when you do, your priorities and outlook will change. Your outlook toward others shows your true inner self. If you have a sincere, un-envious heart that wants to help others, your whole personality will shine because of it. But if you blind to the needs of others and are self-centered and greedy, your soul will be dark indeed. You cannot be a slave to your own greed and try to serve God — you have to choose.
In this entire passage, Jesus seems
to be equating how we use our money with our basic attitude on life, and says
that our generosity is the true measure of us as persons. When you get right
down to it, if money rules us, God doesn't. It is one of Jesus' many teachings
on money and what our attitude should be about it. In our materialistic
culture, his words hit home.
This cultural study of the phrase "single eye" and "bad eye" can shed a lot of light on Jesus' teachings. It should make us eager to learn more when we see that the strange phrases that we sometimes find in the Bible had parallels in other ancient texts that can help explain them. Our interpretation of Jesus' words can be much more solid, so that we have confidence that we are hearing Jesus' ideas and not just our own. Otherwise, our interpretations are based on speculation from personal experience that can lead us down all sorts of strange paths, as some have gone on in understanding Jesus' words about "the single eye."
But, as important as it is to read the Bible accurately, it is even more important that once we understand Jesus' teaching, we take it to heart and change our lives because of it. Are we people of sincerity and integrity? Do we use our money to help others, and find ways to meet their needs? Or, in our hearts, is our own comfort and wealth our number one priority? Jesus is saying that we can't be both greedy and self-centered, and followers of him. We need to choose who we will serve — God or ourselves.
Gong Journeys Meditation
is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, treat, mitigate,
or cure any medical condition..