Eye of the Needle

“Eye of the Needle”

“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  (ESV)[1]

Though the eastern cultures used “elephant through the eye of a needle”, the only reference using the camel was when Jesus used it here. Maybe a cultural tie that camels were a part of society and elephants were not. However, I found more information which lead me to a different conclusion.  Also, the modern-day explanation that the entrance in the wall was called the eye of the needle and that was the reference Jesus gave, would go against the point Jesus was making. I will explain this:

“The Eye of the Needle has been claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no widely accepted evidence for the existence of such a gate.[2]

Cyril of Alexandria claimed that “camel” is a Greek misspelling; that kamêlos (camel) was written in place of kamilos, meaning “rope” or “cable”.[3]

The tradition of using an exaggeration to make a point was probably the reason Jesus used it.  They understood it.  But more than likely, it wasn’t a tiny opening in a wall.

Is there any earlier Jewish evidence of the use of this phrase? 

The Babylonian Talmud applies the aphorism to unthinkable thoughts. To explain that dreams reveal the thoughts of a man’s heart, it was recorded that some rabbis said: “dreams do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.”[4]

The problem with this is the Babylonian Talmud was writtenduring the 3rd century a.d. There is no earlier proof that this phrase was used before Jesus said it. 

Here are two other Bible translations of Mark 10:25. 

“It is easier to pass a cable through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Jub)

“Again, I say to you, it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  (Lamsa NT)

Sometimes it is better to let go of our sacred cows (or camels) when seeking truth. 

Finally, Josephus, the first century historian, wrote that Elephants were commonly seen and used in Judea. I thought only Africa and India used them?  This would validate the sayings of rabbis speaking of elephants and dreams.

You read about the Indian influence on Judaism in chapter 1, so you can now see the relationship.

Next verse: “And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’” Mark 10:26 

The word saved is Sozo: which means:[5]

  1. to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
  2. 1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health

1b1) to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue

1b) to save in the technical biblical sense 1b1) negatively 1b1a) to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment   1b1b) to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance.

This “save” Peter is asking about was not spiritual salvation, eternal life, or heaven. The Greek word ‘Soteria’ is the word used for spiritual redemption.   It is possible Peter was once again thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom and being redeemed from the grip of Rome and a soon coming destruction Jesus has been speaking of.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’” Mark 10:27  (BSB)

When Jesus said, “with man it is impossible” he would be telling a lie if he did use the figure of speech: ‘camel through the wall opening’.  

That would have destroyed his own argument about being impossible for man.  Because if a man just unloaded the camel, and made the camel get down on all fours, then was patient, worked at it really hard, applied himself, then he could get his camel through this fictitious “eye of the needle” and gain security and protection for himself. This would mean mankind could also make his own salvation possible. However, push a camel or rope through an actual needle… now it’s impossible!

It makes more sense that Jesus was speaking of a real needle and a camel, cable or rope. 

Also, the eastern cultures used the elephant/needle motif, but we don’t know if they had tiny entrances in their city walls that they referred to as “eye of the needle”.  It makes a good story, but it might not be true, and therefore does not hold up under the scrutiny of historical Biblical Interpretation.


[1] All Verses in ESV unless otherwise noted

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_a_needle

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_a_needle

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_a_needle

[5] Thayers Definition

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