Front View of the Needle Gate
Front View with the Joe-kster for perspective
(superb Israel Tour group leader Roy Turkington pointing the way in background)
Rear View of the Needle Gate
Q: What did Jesus mean when He said it is easier for a camel to go through the
eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven?
(Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25)
A: The Persians expressed the concept of the impossible by saying it would be
easier to put an elephant through the eye of a needle. The camel was a Jewish
adaptation, since the camel was the largest animal in Palestine.
Some theorize that the needle Jesus was speaking of was the Needle Gate (see
above), a low and narrow after-hours entrance found in the wall surrounding
Jerusalem. It was purposely small for security reasons, and a camel could only go
through it by stripping off any saddles or packs and crawling through on its knees.
Some believe that Jesus was referring to an actual eye of a real needle. However,
it was common to have a hole in the wall beside a city gate - this hole was
commonly referred to as the eye of a needle. The idea was that people would do
commerce and perhaps look after their animals outside of the city walls during
the daytime. Or, it may have been a lonely traveler on his camel. Either way,
the city gates would be closed at night and the person arriving at the closed gate
would have to squeeze through the eye of the needle. Obviously, it would
be virtually impossible for a camel to do so, and hence Jesus’ injunction.
The most likely explanation is that Jesus was using hyperbole, a figure of speech
that exaggerates for emphasis. Jesus used this technique at other times, referring to
a “plank” in one’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5) and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24).
Jesus’ message is clear - it’s impossible for anyone to be saved on his own merits.
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