For The Modern Reader

June 5, 2012

The Eye of the Needle

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Written by: Eric Roberts, Columnist
Love of Money

The camel and the eye of a needle are discussed in Matthew 19:23-24, in Mark 10:24-25, and in Luke 18:24-25.  This phrase does not directly come from a parable told by Christ.  However, if only the modern vision of “eye of the needle” is used, it will result in a misinterpretation of exactly what Christ is saying.  Since these previously noted locations are the only ones where the “needle’s eye” is referenced in the Bible, let’s begin by looking at the version in Matthew:

Then said Christ unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly [with difficulty] enter into the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (KJV. Mat. 19.23-24)

There may be people that look down upon wealthy people who have lots of earthly possessions because of a misinterpretation of this verse. It is important to remember Christ said it was hard, but not impossible, for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

A common misconception I hear is one where people translate the physical impossibility of a camel passing through the  “eye of a needle” to the impossibility of a rich person to get into heaven.  But here we find an incident where the modern reader loses the meaning of an ancient saying, because the true meaning has been lost in time.  In this case, the “eye of a needle” is not a needle used for threading and sewing  with an opening measuring mere millimeters.  There seem to be three theories for what, exactly, an “eye of a needle” meant in ancient times. I’m going to address two of the three, as they, I believe, are the two most pertinent to the teaching. I encourage you to view all of the theories when you have the time to do so.

The first theory is that the “eye of a needle” was a door in a walled city found in the time of Christ.  At night, the main door (often a draw bridge type of door) was locked and would not be opened until daylight.  This protected the city’s inhabitants from being invaded by a large group of bandits or an enemy’s army in the middle of the night.  There was a much smaller door found next to the main one called, you guessed it, the “eye of the needle”, or “the needle gate.”  This gate was only large enough to fit one camel through at a time.  But that camel first had to be unpacked outside, brought down to its knees and would then awkwardly crawled through the small door.

Following what I can only assume was a tiresome and monumental chore, all of what had been unpacked before entry, would then have to be repacked on the other side of the door.    Imagine, a very rich man who might have travelled with a caravan of multiple camels to reach the city.  This whole process could take many hours in the middle of the night.  All that work, just to get inside of the city.  Thus, the saying makes more sense in that, it is hard (but not impossible) to have a camel pass through the eye of the needle.

The second theory: there were believed to be various passes through mountains that became known as “the eye of a needle”.  In order to pass through these small gaps, wealthy merchants would have to unload their caravan to get through the pass that had high cliff walls on both sides.  It was at this point, with the merchant’s goods in disarray, that the caravan was at the greatest risk.  Marauders were known to swoop in and attack the caravan, steal the wealthy merchant’s possessions, and result in a rich man who was not so rich anymore.  Again we see it is hard, but not impossible for a camel to pass through the needle’s eye.

Whichever theory you prefer, the gist remains the same – according to the teaching, it is difficult for a rich man to gain entrance into heaven.  Perhaps if the rich man, or any man for that matter, were to keep in mind one of my favorite verses, Matthew 23:12, “And whoever will exalt himself shall be humbled.  And whoever will humble himself will be exalted,” gaining entrance into the kingdom of heaven will not seem as impossible as some might believe.

If we go to the book of Luke, and investigate the occurrence that just precedes this teaching, I believe we will have a better understanding of what Christ was saying with regard to the needle gate.

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.”  And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. (KJV. Luke 18.18-23)

It wasn’t that this rich man couldn’t get into heaven. It was not impossible. It was that the rich of this world find great comfort in their possessions. Most wealthy people (if they have personally earned the money they have) have a natural ambition. That ambition, and the work involved, makes them very unwilling to let go of those things they’ve spent their lives earning.  What Christ did is zero in on this man’s idol. He allowed this man, by his own admission, to point a finger directly at what he truly worshipped – that thing he was unwilling to give up to reach heaven.

So, I will leave you with this question: What are you unwilling to part with that will keep you from passing through the needle gate?  For it is not MONEY that is the root of all evil, but:

They that will be [desire to be] rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the LOVE OF MONEY is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.  (KJV. 1 Tim. 6.9-10)

Eric Roberts

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About the Author

Eric Roberts, Columnist
Eric Roberts, Columnist
Eric Brandon Roberts was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Indiana University in 1995. He has since spent most of his career in the research and risk analysis of unconventional investment ideas. In 1999, he began to seriously study the Word of God. He recently finished his first book called The Parables of Jesus Christ: A Brief Analysis. In the future, he also plans to write additional books on The Miracles of Jesus Christ and Biblical Prophesies: Fulfilled and Yet to be Fulfilled. To purchase Mr. Roberts' first published work, please follow the link marked by the "W" below.



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