The legend of the Needle’s Eye Gate (Matthew 19)

Illustration: To get through this gate, the camel had to unload and get on its knees

Since the Middle Ages commentators have considered the possibility that Jesus’ statement concerning the “Eye of a Needle” (Matthew 19:24) may have been a reference to certain doors or gates that actually existed in His day. Some homes did in fact have large doors that would allow a fully loaded camel to enter into the courtyard. Since such doors were cumbersome and required great effort to open, there were often smaller doors cut within them, permitting easay passage of people and smaller animals into the house. Some interpreters have argued that this smaller door was the “Needle’s Eye Gate”, while others have suggested that the Needle’s Eye referred to smaller doors within larger city gates, such as those at Jaffa and Hebron. Passage through the smaller gate, it was said, would have forced a camel to its knees. Thus, the point of Jesus’ teaching in verse 24 is supposedly that a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven only if he falls down to his knees.

As illustrative as these theories are, they in fact diminish the force of Jesus’ words. The point is not that salvation is difficult without God but that it is impossible without Him. Jesus’ contrast of the largest animal known in Palestine withthe smallest of holes created a vivid and memorable illustration. The fact that modern-day gates have been so named can most likely be attributed to influence of this and similar statements within the Talmud and the Koran. In other words, the term “Needle’s Eye Gate” most likely did not precede the teaching; rather, the popularity of the term evidently came about because of the teaching. But in Jesus’ original setting, it is very likely that a needle’s eye was simply a needle’s eye and not a gate at all.

Bible readers do well to beware of legendary, pseudo-archaeological interpretations, which can be quite misleading and even distort or undermine the true meaning od a true Biblical text.

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