A Camel Through the Eye of a Needle
In several records Jesus made the following statement:
Mark 10:25 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.
There have been wealthy people who have been disturbed by this. They have wondered if (or feared that) they might need to give up their wealth to attain eternal life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Salvation is a free gift.
Romans 6: 23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Salvation is dependent only on confessing the Lord Jesus and believing God raised him from the dead. (And even the “confessing” thing is not something to do, but only a matter of what you believe. See our posting, “The Confession of Romans 10:9 & 10.”)
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
There is nothing here about giving your wealth to the poor or any other good work, not that good works are not good, but they have nothing to do with salvation. So that’s the end of the story for the times in which we live. Having wealth or not or what you do with it if you have it is irrelevant to salvation. But what was Jesus talking about?
At the time Jesus was speaking, he had not yet, of course, made his sacrifice for sin, so the requirements at that time for entering in to the Kingdom of God were different than the requirements today for salvation. Even so, what about this wealth thing?
God has nothing against wealth. Remember when God offered to give Solomon any one thing he desired? He asked for wisdom to properly judge God’s people. It so pleased God that Solomon had asked for wisdom rather than long life or riches or the lives of his enemies that He granted Solomon not only wisdom but also riches and peace (and long life if he would follow in the ways of his father, David). In fact, the riches were to be above those of any other king.
12 Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.
13 And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.
There was obviously nothing wrong with having riches, though God was pleased that Solomon had more highly valued wisdom to judge God’s people.
So what is the story with the Mark 10 statement above? I have, in years past, been taught two different explanations, both of them lacking. Perhaps you have also heard these:
(1) “Aramaic was the original language of the New Testament. The Aramaic word for ‘camel’ had several meanings. One was ‘rope.’ The needle referred to would have been a large needle used to sew together tents. Putting a rope through the eye of such a needle would have been difficult but possible. The translators into Greek chose the wrong meaning of the Aramaic word, gamla.” It is true that the number of words in Aramaic was pretty limited as compared to a number of other languages, and that it was common for words to carry more than one meaning (determined only by the context), but ‘camel’ and ‘rope’? That seems a bit far-fetched and too convenient. I have only one Aramaic lexicon, but the only source I have gives the meaning of gamla simply as “camel,” and the other uses of gamla do not support the “rope” definition.
(2) “There was a gate to the city, smaller than the others and intended only for pedestrian traffic. It was called, ‘the eye of a needle’. A camel could get through it, but it would be difficult.” There is apparently no historical evidence of any gate being so named.
The biggest problem with these two explanations is that neither fits the context of the above Mark 10 reference. Let’s look at the context:
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 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.
26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
Significant operative words here are, “with men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” Jesus was making a comparison to something that was impossible with men, not to something that was possible though very difficult. A man trusting in his own ability, his wealth and power, rather than trusting in Jesus, could not get himself in to the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ statement to sell all was directed to a single individual, not to everyone. This particular man trusted in his riches more than in Jesus, as his response demonstrated. It wasn’t having riches that was a problem for this man, but that he valued them more highly than he valued Jesus and trusted in them rather than in the Savior, the Son of God. It was impossible for such a man to enter in to the kingdom of God.