What was Jesus referring to when He talked about “going through the eye of a needle”?
In Matthew 19:24 Jesus said: “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 the kingdom of God.”
What exactly did He mean by “the eye of a needle?”
There is a common explanation that the “needle” referred to is a very narrow gate, next to the main city gates in the walled cities in Biblical times. The narrow gates were so small that it was impossible for a fully laden camel to enter.
Others have suggested that this is an Aramaic wordplay between camel (gamal) and acts of charity (gemiluth).
Another explanation is that it was simply a “typing” error. The Greek word for camel “kamelos” is very similar to the Greek word for rope “kamilos”. So the text should have read “it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Neither explanation is correct. The Greek manuscripts simply use the Greek word for a sewing needle. Jesus spoke about “the eye of a needle.” There is no proof that the word “eye” was ever used for a gate.
Jesus meant what He said to be taken literally. He consciously used an extreme example in order to make His point. For those not accustomed to the way people talk in the Middle East it can be a little shocking. That is precisely the effect Jesus wanted. He was illustrating a complete impossibility. This was clearly reflected in how His disciples reacted. When they heard it, they were greatly astonished” and said, “who then can be saved?”
Jesus answer was, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The Babylonian Talmud, an influential Jewish religious commentary, contains a similar expression, “an elephant cannot pass through the eye of a needle”.
To make his point, Jesus was using a purposefully extreme exaggeration, like “swallowing a camel” or “having a plank in your eye” (Matthew 7:3, 23:24).
Fortunately Jesus doesn’t stop there. Immediately after this He said: “With men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.'” It is wonderful to know that God is not limited by human impossibilities. This is the God we serve and this is the message we need to bring to the world.