What did Jesus teach about letting your light shine? This is an interesting topic! The Jesus Seminar elevates one saying as authentic, another gray (meaning they are not sure and hence are skeptical about the saying) and many more black (meaning these sayings about “shining light” belong to various early Christian theologies).
First the authentic saying:
“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand?” (Mark 4:21)
“Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:15)
“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light” (Luke 8:16; compare Luke 11:33)
“For no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel, nor does he put it in a hidden place, but rather he sets it on a lampstand so that everyone who enters and leaves will see the light” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 33)
Here we have at least four independent attestations of a Jesus saying six times over, in Mark, Q, Matthew, Luke (twice) and Thomas. Let it shine! That is Jesus! The Jesus Seminar could not decide whose version of the saying is closest to Jesus’ authentic words and gave the saying an exactly equal vote.
The saying ranked gray is as follows:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness, If then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23; compare Luke 11:34-36)
My own feeling about this Q (source for Matthew and Luke) saying is that it too is Jesus! It strikes me as the kind of thing the disciples would have remembered the just of….to give them encouragement and hope to proclaim Jesus’ legacy publicly and start the Jesus conversation that continues to this day!
Another saying voted black comes from both the earlier Greek (POxy655 24) and coptic versions of Thomas (saying 24):
“There is light within a man of light and he lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness”
Matthew’s comparable saying also voted black has Jesus say:
“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)
The fourth gospel (called John) juxtaposes light and darkness oodles of times, but these sayings are all voted black as reflecting fourth gospel theology. For two examples see: John 8:12; and 12:35-36.
Thomas’ and John’s use of light and darkness imagery in the sayings of Jesus is very similar. The difference is that in Thomas the conviction is that the light dwells within all living beings and that we too can shine a light like Jesus. This is Thomas’ hidden “good news”. In John, this religious view is inadequate. Whoever wrote John wants to say that only Jesus is the true light of the world. My own belief is that Thomas is the closer to the truth here and that John created “doubting Thomas” because he did not like Thomas’ “we too can shine a light like Jesus theology”.
What can be seen in God’s character and passion in a human life? For Progressive Christians, the conversation about Jesus is the most important and unending conversation there is! Let it continue! Hope is the light we shine — a state of mind that transcends the world in the certainty that Jesus makes sense to us, as he did to the first disciples who turned after abdandoning him only to proclaim publicly the light he shined.
Please feel free to send comments to John at firstname.lastname@example.org