Myths About the Bible: Was the Eye of the Needle a Gate?

  • Matthew 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I’ve heard this myth propagated several times. Once I even had a coworker come and share it with me in an attempt to show her cleverness. But, alas, it misses the whole point.

No, Jesus was not talking about a literal gate in Jerusalem called ‘the eye of the needle’ that camels had to squish their way through. I’ve checked and rechecked the evidence on this one, and there is no proof that there ever was such a gate.

The idea of Jesus talking about a small gate that was very difficult to get through is quite convenient for us. It means that though it is not easy, and you may have to unload a few things along the way, it is possible to get into the kingdom if you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices. But this is not Jesus’ actual point at all. He meant what he said. He was being hyperbolic, he was being somewhat humorous – the thought of a camel going through the eye of a little needle is preposterous – it’s impossible. Do you see that? Then you have his point.

It’s like an elephant springboard diving into a cup of water, like a giraffe doing the limbo under a three-foot-high stick, like a Clydesdale getting into the driver’s seat of a Smart Car. Get it?

It’s not possible for a rich man to save himself. In fact, it’s not possible for any man to save himself. You can’t make enough sacrifices, you can’t unload enough baggage to squeeze in. The disciples understood precisely what he meant. That’s why they immediately asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’

Jesus’ answer implies that it takes the working of a divine miracle for a sinner to make it into the kingdom. We call this miracle the new birth – impossible with man, but possible with God.

The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that salvation is a miraculous act of God. That is why he gets all the glory. So instead of trying to work your way into the kingdom, trust in this miracle working God who sends his Son to redeem us and Spirit to convert us.

Edit: For those wondering whether the ‘camel’ of this text should actually be translated ‘thick rope,’ see HERE. Also note the the Greek word ‘kamelos’ (κάμηλος) is used in the versions of the ‘eye of the needle’ stories recounted in the other synoptic gospels (Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25).

 

For other posts on common misrepresentations of the Bible, read these:

Judge Not

Was Noah Mocked?

B.I.B.L.E. ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’

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