WHAT DID JESUS MEAN BY 'THE EYE OF A NEEDLE'?

 

MANY Bible students have attempted to prove that when Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," the phrase eye of a needle referred to the small gate that was opened in the great gate of an Oriental city when the latter was closed for the night. They say it is difficult, but, possible, for a camel to pass through such a gate. There is no positive evidence to support this theory and it is apparently without foundation, although many students of the Scriptures accept it. The author has been unable to find a particle of evidence that such a gate was called the eye of a needle or the needle's eye in the time of Jesus. This figurative use of the eye of a needle occurs in all three of the Synoptics - Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25. Some writers believe that Jesus wished merely to point out the difference between what is possible with man and what is possible with God. It is recorded that the disciples were astonished out of measure by the statement of Jesus. They asked: "Who then can be saved?" Jesus replied: "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." It is more probable, however, that Jesus was illustrating something actually impossible, rich man meaning a person selfishly bound up in his riches. That such was the meaning of Jesus is becoming more and more the accepted theory among Bible scholars. In Mark 10:24 it is recorded that Jesus said: "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" After relating the parable of the sower, Jesus, according to Mark 9:19, said: "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful." Luke 18:22 tells us that Jesus told the ruler who was rich but who had kept the commandments: "Yet lackest thou one thing. Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." There are other passages in the Gospels illustrating the same attitude toward worldly riches. It is probable that the saying about the camel and the needle's eye was proverbial already in the time of Jesus. Mohammed used it six centuries later. The Koran says: "The impious shall find the gates of heaven shut, nor shall he enter till a camel pass through the eye of a needle." Which is another way of saying that the impious shall not enter at all. Some suppose the Greek words for camel and rope were confused, and cable for camel occurs in a few versions, but early texts do not support the theory, which is generally rejected. Needle occurs nowhere else in the Bible, although needlework does.

G. Stimpson

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