What did Jesus mean by a camel going through the needle's eye?
Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24. Similar verses are in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25). What is theeye of a needle, or aneedle's eye?
Many people have tried to explain this phrase. We believe it means exactly what it says, and does not need watered-down explanations to make it easier for a rich man to enter Heaven. We will show you why.
Some say the needle's eye, or the eye of the needle, was a small gate at the entrance of Jerusalem and other cities. When the city-keepers had locked the main gates, camels and their owners who arrived after hours could squeeze through this gate.
But scholars have searched in vain to find ancient evidence that people referred to any of these gates as “the eye of a needle”.
Camel means rope?
Others have said the Aramaic word for camel was the same as the word for rope, and that Jesus meant it was hard for rope to go through the eye of a needle. Well, Jesus did speak Aramaic, but again, reliable evidence is weak that this is what He meant.
Such explanations downplay the wonderfully memorable and clever illustration that Jesus came up with to teach the difficulty of getting into Heaven if you are loaded with loot. He was talking to the rich young ruler at the time, and the man was sad at hearing this because he was very rich.
He would hardly have been sad knowing that camels always got through the city gate. And he would hardly be sad knowing that anyone could untwist a piece of rope to thread it through the eye of a sewing needle.
Impossible means impossible
What the rich young ruler was sad about was that Jesus said it would be impossible for him to enter the kingdom of God because of his riches.
The bystanders recognized this is what he meant, because they said, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26). And Jesus replied, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
This kills the “little gate” theory, because that was not impossible. And it kills the “camel rope” theory, because that was not impossible either.
What these verses say are that:
- The rich man had to be willing to put God before his possessions.
- Only God could save him.
Rich people can be saved like anyone else if they do what God wants. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. And Paul said in Romans 2:11 that God doesn't show favouritism. Anyone can be saved.
The illustration of the camel going through the eye of a needle was perfect for those He was speaking to. The eye of a needle means the eye of a needle. Jesus' explanation that what is impossible for men is possible with God shows that rich men can be saved and enter Heaven. But only if they put their faith in God rather than in their riches.