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Camel, Needle, Salvation, and a Gate

It’s easier for a camel

In December, I gave a message in which I spoke about the rich young ruler. After the ruler walks away, Jesus tells His disciples:

And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people, it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:23-27)

You can read about the same encounter in Luke 18:18-30 and Matthew 19:16-30

In commenting on the passage, I said the following:

Jesus makes two startling statements that throw His disciple’s theology into a spin. The first statement causes His disciples to be amazed. He says, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

But amazement is not enough. Jesus wants to add to their amazement. He is going to take things to an even greater level. Jesus then says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The second statement brings the disciples amazement to the next level. Mark’s Gospel says that they were even more astonished.

Saying that a camel will pass through the eye of a needle is the opposite of us saying, “it’s a piece of cake.” It is a Jewish idiom for saying something is impossible which is why Jesus follows up by saying that it is impossible, for men. What the disciples hear Jesus say is that salvation is impossible for the wealthy.

Later in the sermon, I added the following commentary.

It is important to address what Jesus says to His disciples regarding salvation. He said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

God can make a camel go through an eye of a needle. And God can take a human heart which is His enemy, and change that heart, so it will have faith in Christ. Saul, the Pharisee who kills Christians is an impossible convert. It is impossible for Saul to be saved. But, with God, it is possible. God changes Saul, and he becomes the Apostle Paul.

All Christians are saved because God does an impossible work in the human heart. We need to thank God for His work of faith. Faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).

Is it an idiom Allen, or a gate?

At the beginning of the year, someone shared with me a page from a website. The page, if true, contradicts what I taught.

The printout (I am paraphrasing) says that most people don’t understand the verse because they don’t understand the culture of Jesus time. Jesus’ disciples will immediately recognize Jesus is referring to an actual gate in the walls of Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle gate.” The gate is very small. To use the gate, a traveler must unload their camel first and then carefully lead the camel through this small gate. It is a slow and quite difficult task. It is even suggested that it requires the camel to kneel, hence be humble, while going through the gate. It would be difficult for a camel to get through the gate, but not impossible. Jesus is teaching the young ruler and His disciples that he needs to disentangle himself from his wealth first just as one might unload all that was on a camel’s back to get through the eye of the needle.

My Response

The belief of this gate is a common belief in Christianity that needs correction. I’ve heard about this so-called gate a few times. Here are reasons not to fall for this story and false interpretation.

Reason One: There is no gate

A simple Wikipedia search tells us that there is no evidence of a gate existing during Jesus’ time. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

The “Eye of the Needle” has been claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no widely accepted evidence for the existence of such a gate.

Many other sources debunk the fable of the gate. It simply doesn’t exist.

Reason Two: The response of the disciples

The Bible records that the disciples are amazed and astonished at Jesus’ teaching. If there were such a gate, and the disciples were aware of the gate, why would they be so astonished at Jesus’ teaching?  In their astonishment, they ask, “Then who can be saved?”

If there is a gate, the disciples would not be astonished, nor would they ask who can be saved because they would know. Those who want to be saved must unload their camels and tediously work their way through the gate. There is a way, and it is not impossible, just difficult.

Reason Three: It is Impossible

Jesus says, “With people, it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” If there is a gate, it is impossible for people to use it. A gate which is impossible for people to use is not a difficult gate which requires some work. It is an impossible gate.

Conclusion

I stick with my original teaching from the message. The saying is a Jewish idiom communicating something that is impossible.

I do enjoy getting feedback and talking about the Scriptures. I encourage interaction. Please keep giving feedback folks! I’ve been corrected in the past, and I am sure I will need to be corrected in the future.

If you are ever in Jerusalem, don’t let the guide convince you that there is an “eye of the needle gate.”

Here is an article telling of this falsity being perpetuated and misused and why it’s important to understand the truth.

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B150914/frequently-abused-verses-what-is-the-eye-of-a-needle

This is the so-called, “Eye of the Needle Gate” in Jerusalem

About Allen Burns

Allen serves as an elder and is the Staff Pastor-Teacher at Christ Community Church