Was there ever a “needle’s eye gate” in first-century Jerusalem?
Every once in a while you hear this anecdote tossed about in reference to Jesus’ famous metaphor in Matthew 191. It goes like this: in Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, there was a very small, very tight passage through which it was really hard to get a camel. So that is what Jesus was talking about.
The better commentaries and study-Bible notes2 bust that myth: there was no such gate. The only sources for that idea are commentaries long after the first century. To say Jesus meant it was only pretty hard for the rich to get into the Kingdom, not impossible, rejects the true meaning.
But there is an even greater error Christians believe based on that verse.
Have you heard of it? Nowadays, with all the “social gospel,” Christianity-is-about-helping-your-neighbor-and-feeding-the-poor notions around, it’s even more prevalent.
Ye have heard that it was said …
The Bible says rich people’s money may keep them from the Kingdom.
AKA: Jesus opposes wealth.
Many fundamentalists seek to explain away the obvious hostility to wealth in the saying attributed to Jesus [. . .] Unfortunately for the fundamentalists, the concensus [sic] of New Testament scholars is that Matthew’s passage barring rich people from heaven means exactly what it says. It remains to be seen how many of them are willing to give up all their wealth in accordance with the ideals they claim to profess.3
What’s the truth in this?
Everyone knows about the “prosperity preachers,” who talk and act as if all the blessings for believers in the Bible refer to material wealth if you’re only do this-and-such faith maneuver. It would be grave error to think that just because the “poverty is more Biblical” idea is wrong, the opposite extreme is the more-Biblical view. …
What’s the lie in this?
Jesus is not making some statement about the Virtuous Poor, or about how only too many possessions get in the way of true faith. If He did, we would see it here. But read the whole passage — you don’t.
Absolutely we find encouragements in other Scriptures to give to others. That should be the God-given attitude of every Christian, out of gratitude for what God has given us. Barnabas, an encouragement-gifted apostle, started a land-donation “program” of sorts in the very early Church (Acts 5; also note that Ananias and Saffira were not condemned and struck dead for keeping profits but for lying to the Holy Spirit). Paul encouraged not giving under compulsion, but from a heart that was cheerful (2 Corinthians 9). Nothing in the Bible supports forced redistribution of wealth by the church 4.
What’s the Word?
Jesus had talked to a rich man who was convinced he had kept all Ten Commandments. Jesus quizzed him about whether the man would be willing to give up all his wealth as well. But that was the young man’s idol. He simply left, sorrowful (v. 22).
Mark 10: 23-27 (emphases added)
(Continued in Camels and needles, the Kingdom and peoples, part 2.)
- Also in Mark 10, specifically verse 25, and Luke 18, also verse 25. ↩
- For example, see The NIV Archaeology Study Bible (Zondervan, 2006), page 1,594. ↩
- “The Camel and the Needle’s Eye,” Robert Sheaffer, date unknown. That looks like another one of those “smart skeptic bests stupid Christians” blogs, yet in this case he’s quite right about the “needle’s eye” error. But too bad he didn’t debunk two Biblical errors for the price of one! ↩
- Or a government. ↩