Let's Go Back to the Bible

Camels, Needle’s Eye, Rich Men and Heaven

Who has not heard that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven? These words illustrate how often we read the Bible and fail to notice what the text says but simply state our preconceived conclusions about what a verse says. Read the opening sentence again. This is not what Jesus taught.

As a child, I heard about the “needle’s eye” in the walls of Jerusalem as a passage for camels to enter the city. This idea says that these heavily laden beasts of burdens had a special gate through which they were to pass, but in order to enter, their merchandise had to be removed from their backs. The conclusion was that for a rich man to enter heaven he must divest himself of his riches before he entered heaven. Great story, but this is not what Jesus said.

That this is not what Jesus said is readily seen when one looks at all three gospel accounts. It is remarkable that Luke uses a different Greek word for needle, and the one he used was the surgical needle. Jesus was not talking about the “needle’s eye” in a city’s wall but was talking about an actual needle! I do not know the origin of the “small gate story in a wall,” but it has so often been repeated many believed it. The story did not originate with Jesus!

Imagine the folly of taking hundreds of pounds of merchandise from the back of a camel, taking the camel into the city, dragging the burden through the small gate and then reloading it onto the camel. Now imagine the chaos when a caravan of camels arrived at the city—it just does not make sense. A child could immediately see this problem and that it was not what Jesus said. Read the passage carefully. He was talking about an event which was impossible with humans (Matt. 19:24-26; Mark 10:25-27; Luke 18:25-27).

Read all the accounts to see that Jesus was not talking about all rich men but of those who trusted in their riches (Mark 10:24). There is a difference between being rich and trusting in them. Paul’s words about the love of money being the root of all evil indicates that even a man who had little money could still love riches (1 Tim. 6:8-10).

Finally, read Jesus’ words carefully. He is not discussing entering into heaven but entering into the church. He does not say enter into heaven but enter into the kingdom/the church. Think of how many righteous men in the Bible were rich—Abraham, Job, Joseph, David, Solomon, Daniel, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus and others. When a rich man truly repents before becoming a Christian, his riches become a blessing for him to use.

Let’s read the Bible more carefully.