What Is The Eye Of The Needle (Matthew 19:23-24 / Mark 10:25)?

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Eye of the Needle Explanation

Most of us know the passage in Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:23-24, where Jesus gives us the famous eye of the needle illustration. It’s the one passage that confounds the prosperity gospel preachers.

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:23-14)

But what should we understand this to mean? Are we talking about a gate in the wall of Jerusalem? Are we talking about a figure of speech? Is it even translated correctly? Let us answer all three of those questions.

1. Eye of the needle as a gate in Jerusalem

The way this illustration goes is as follows:
eye of the needleThere is a gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of the needle”, through which a camel could not pass unless it stooped down and had all its baggage first removed. After dark, when the main gates were closed, travelers and merchants would have to use this smaller gate. Great sermon material, with illustrations about how we must humble ourselves and remove our baggage before entering the kingdom.

It would be quite convenient if this myth were true because it would legitimize people’s affinity for money and probably the prosperity gospel as well. If the passage is about baggage and humility and not actually about wealth then the prosperity preachers can breathe a big sigh of reliefr However, this myth has been propagated since the 11th century and it is completely made up. There is zero evidence to show that this gate ever existed other than stories brought back from Jerusalem tours.

But what about the image to the left showing the eye of the needle? This wall passage did not exist when Jesus walked the earth, or anytime close to his generation. This wall was built hundreds of years after Jesus’ time. The gates of Jerusalem were destroyed in 70CE and later rebuilt. Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, wrote about the wall in Jerusalem (excepting the western wall):

“All the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited.”

So the image above would not exist in Jesus’ time.

Furthermore, the passage states that is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of “a” needle, not “the” needle. “A needle” refers to any needle. “The needle” would refer to a specific needle. This is not a mistake. Greek is an incredibly precise language and definite articles (the) are hard to confuse with an indefinite article (a).

Finally, I would point out that this type of hyperbole is common in Jewish literature and as well as other an literature.

“Raba said: This is proved by the fact that a man is never shown in a dream a date palm of gold, or an elephant going through the eye of a needle.” (Talmud, Berakoth 55)

“Are you from Pumbedita, where they make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle?” (Bava Metzi’a 38b)

“Open for me a gate no wider than a needle’s eye, and I will open for you a gate through which camps and fortifications can pass.” (Persiqta 25.163b)

“The gates of heaven will not be opened for them nor shall they enter paradise until the camel passes through the eye of a needle.” (Qu’ran, Surah 7.40)

While these examples are not speaking to the same subject, they do illustrate the use of this hyperbole in ancient texts. Thus, it is not necessary to try to bend Jesus’ words to mean something other than what they actually meant. This is why the disciples replied with this phrase in astonishment:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25 NV)

It really only makes sense that He actually said and meant a camel and an actual needle.

2. A figure of speech

The easiest answer to this issue is to be aware that this was a figure of speech that Jesus was using. He was not referring to a specific gate in the wall of Jerusalem. The general theory of this type of hyperbole was that the largest (for that region) animal is compared with that location’s known smallest opening. That is why it is preceded with Jesus saying:

Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)

This event in the gospels is immediately followed by Jesus warning that rich people must give up EVERYTHING to follow him.

3. Possible translation mistakes?

This is a popular theory. It assumes that Jesus meant rope rather than camel. While it has merit because the Greek aramaic biblespelling of Camel (καμηλον [kamêlon]) and a sailor’s rope (καμιλον [kamilon]) are very similar, it does not hold water because the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts all say Camel. Alternative renderings did not occur until the 9th century.

The rope theory is propped up by the use of some old Aramaic manuscripts. The Aramaic reading of this passage would definitely lean towards rope. However, the NT and the Gospels were written in Greek, not Aramaic. So, this idea does not make a lot of sense. In addition, Aramaic translators are divided on this issue. No universal consent exist even for those who like the idea of an Aramaic NT.






It seems to me that the thing that makes the most sense is that Jesus actually meant what he said and what he said was recorded accurately. Jesus used lots of hyperbole, such as coming to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother (Matthew 10:25). It should come as no surprise that Jesus wanted to make a bold statement about how wealth hinders one from entering the kingdom of heaven.

Does that mean it is evil to have wealth? That is up for you and the Holy Spirit to work out. I would suggest that it is more evil to die possessing great wealth than to die having given all your wealth away to the needy. Mother Teresa was famously quoted as saying

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”

I believe this is the embodiment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


21 thoughts on “What Is The Eye Of The Needle (Matthew 19:23-24 / Mark 10:25)?”

  1. To me… rope makes more sense. You thread a needle in order to make it a useful tool. You could not thread a needle with rope. You could consider a rope to be a swelled thread. I think the implication is that the rich are swelled with pride so that they cannot be threaded through the eye of the needle in order to be a useful tool for the kingdom. Of course not all rich people are that way. Just a thought…

    • While I do not disagree that a rope would make for a great analogy, I don’t think the text hinges on our notion of what it should be, as much as the linguistic support. As far as I can tell, the linguistic support seems to lean towards camel. It is certainly possible, however, that we might find new textual support in the future that would push us in the other direction, but until that time I think it best to stick with the evidence that we have. IMHO

  2. Great article. I have found it overwhelmingly helpful.
    There is one issue that I think needs more precision. The reason that the alternate rendering of the Aramaic ‘rope’ (‘gamil’) has been suggested is not well stated in your article.

    The argument goes like this: Jesus’ mother-tongue was most likely Aramaic. The Aramaic word for (sailors’) ‘rope’ (‘gamil’) sounds like the Greek word for camel (‘kamelos’). In Aramaic, the word for camel is ‘gamal’, not ‘gamil’ (rope). It’s easy to mishear if this goes back to an oral tradition.

    Thus, we may have here a mixed metaphor based on a mishearing of spoken words that have become lost in translation. I think it is Jack Spong who mentions this possibility. The likely word Jesus used in his spoken Aramaic would not have been a mixed metaphor until it was written down, when it then became so.

    Nonetheless, thank you for an informative discussion article.

    • To me… rope makes more sense. You thread a needle in order to make it a useful tool. You could not thread a needle with rope. You could consider a rope to be a swelled thread. I think the implication is that the rich are swelled with pride so that they cannot be threaded through the eye of the needle in order to be a useful tool for the kingdom. Of course not all rich people are that way. Just a thought…

  3. Justin, i hastily wrote my first comment, delete it please but save my other “comment”: the commentary i cut and pasted].

    Why? because the article’s title sounds like conjecture but now i see your research and writing is very well-done.

    Did you write in the factor that the Master did tell the rich young man to sell all he had. Another thing to see in consideration is how the newly formed Church operated as told in Acts. You may comment in your own comments and add these two pieces of truth to digest for those trying to arrive at the Truth.

    God Bless.

    • Ted, thanks for reading … and re-reading!!
      I tend to do a lot of myth debunking on this site. I agree that the behavior of the early church as well as Jesus’ words to the rich young man are evidence of what Jesus meant by this teaching. Moreover, if one truly believed that the kingdom of God was the only priority (and not personal gain) then it would seem as though Jesus was saying that perfection requires a complete rejection of self and nothing less.

  4. here’s the full commentary by Theophylact for Matthew 19:23-24. : Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say to you, That it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, 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. As long as a man is rich and he has in excess while others do not have even the necessities, he can in no way enter the kingdom of heaven. But when all riches have been shed, then he is not rich and so he can enter. For it is just as impossible for a man with wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. See how Christ first said it was difficult to enter, but here that it is completely impossible. Some say that “camel” is not the animal, but the thick cable used by sailors to cast their anchors.

  5. I appreciate your comments on the eye of a needle. Another interesting fact about this is the way Luke uses the word “needle” and the way Mark and Matthew use the same English word. Luke uses a word that was commonly used as a surgeon’s needle. Matthew and Mark use the common word referring to a needle used to sew clothing or other materials. You can reference Rogers and Rogers THE NEW LINGUISTIC AND EXEGETICAL KEY TO THE GREEK TESTAMENT to see the difference. The two words are not the same in the Greek text.

    • That’s an interesting point, although the Genitive Greek nount used by Luke (βελόνης) is usually translated as “arrow” or “spear”. I think it was the Greek word ” ῥαφίδος” that refers to a surgeon’s needle which was similar to that of a sewing needle.

      I could be wrong though. I have not done a deep dive on this matter.

  6. The point being made here as to a camel passing through a needles eye in my opinion is quite easy when looking to the rest of the Holy words of God. Why do we hold on to physical belongings? Does it bring status, does it bring pleasures, or something that we hold onto so tightly that it’s our security? All these attitudes towards our stuff keeps us from depending on God or doing His work. We put our trust and faith in the wrong place. It keeps us from totally submitting our heart to Jesus. We can not make it to Heaven without becoming totally submitted to Him. We Need God and we need possessions, it is our attitude of those possessions that create the barrier between us and God.

    • This story is full of meaning. The rich ruler is looking for eternal life. He’s behaved well by following the law, he’s rich and has an important title indicating he enjoys success and power. His question reflects his philosophy, what must I DO to inherit eternal life. What actions do I have to take to get that prize? ” Look at all the “good” things I’ve done” . Doesn’t the word inherit suggest familial relationship? (something to think about). Jesus states only God is good and this statement begins to clarify the great distance between mankind and God. All the characters in the story seem to think they/we can bridge that distance by what we DO. At first it seems strange that Jesus would add to the list of things the man should do by telling him to sell everything, but that last action would be the manifestation of a decision to follow Jesus. Jesus’s real point is “follow me”, but the man wants the prize without the relationship.
      The disciples are thinking as the rich ruler thinks. If all the things this man has accomplished (for God?) aren’t enough, who can be saved? We can’t save ourselves(so the camel/needles eye illustration). With God all things are possible.

  7. What do the dead sea scrolls say?
    I don’t think Jesus is misquoted, I believe its nonbelievers trying to twist the holu scripture.

  8. In all this, if you read down to v26, ” Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

  9. The use of “Camel” was also sometimes used as “rope” because, I remember, camel hair was used in cloth and thread and rope. So, it might not be a mistranslation in either Greek or Aramaic but was simply a colloquialism. Rope makes more sense and is more natural.

    • The difficult part with using camel as rope is that it’s not found in literature anywhere. If one could locate where that colloquialism existed I would consider it. But I’ve found no ancient writings demonstrating this theory. I have found writings that use the camel expression but replace the camel with elephant or some other large animal, which leads me to believe that a large animal is the intended meaning.

    • I translate it as the one and only main nerve entering in to our pineal gland like a strand of thread. It is much easier to ignore this part of our anatomy, than to give up everything weve been programmed to.

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