From the Category, “The Eastern Eye”
[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.
In understanding the Scriptures it is important for us to understand the culture, but it doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow that culture. Rather, it is in the understanding of the Eastern culture that we gain light and understanding about many things in the Bible.]
Understanding the idioms in the Bible can be very helpful in not taking something that is idiomatic literally. One example is something Jesus said we should do. When he said we should pluck out our right eye, did he mean it, literally?
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said if our right eye offends, we should pluck it out and cast it away. That sounds really painful and drastic, wouldn’t you agree? Yet Jesus said to do it.
After that statement he said, “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” Again, painful and drastic. But breathe easy, they are both idioms.
An idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning owing to its common usage. An idiom’s figurative meaning is separate from the literal meaning. Every language and culture has its own idioms.
For example, in my culture, if someone is not speaking the truth, you might say, “you’re pulling my leg.” Or, if you paid a lot of money for something, you could say, “this item cost me an arm and a leg.” Obviously in both cases, they are not literal statements; they are idioms.
In Bible times, “right eye offend you,” was an idiomatic way of saying not to be envious or jealous. The point Jesus was making was to avoid envy and jealousy. When he said, “pluck it out,” those hearing understood he was telling them to control their thinking so as not to be envious.
The idiom brought great emphasis to being determined to not be envious or jealous. Right eye offending is to be envious or jealous. Plucking out the right eye that offends is to absolutely determine you will not be envious or jealous.
When he followed with, “right hand offend you,” that meant to not steal. To show the degree of determination to not steal, he told them to cut it off. Right hand offending is to steal; cutting off the right hand that offends is to absolutely determine you will not steal.
Having an understanding of idioms used in the Bible gives us a clearer picture of what Jesus meant when he said to pluck out your right eye and cut off your right hand. Idioms are grammatical figures of speech that illuminate and emphasize what is written or spoken, and God employed many of them in His written Word.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
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There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to many recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)