Eye of a Needle

     “Again I tell 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.” (See also Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25.)

There is believed to be here a reference to a proverbial form of expression common in the Jewish schools, when one desired to express the idea of great difficulty or of impossibility. Lightfoot gives several quotations from the rabbis, where the difficulty is represented by the image of an elephant going through the eye of a needle.

Some writers, however, think that there is an allusion in our text-verse, not only to a proverbial form of speech, but also to a fact. They refer to the low, narrow entrance to houses in ancient times, and to the difficulty a camel would experience in entering, though even a camel might enter if his load were removed and he kneeled down, which may be considered a hint to rich men who would enter the kingdom of heaven.

Rev. J.G. Wood writes in Bible Animals, “In Oriental [ed. note: this term was used widely in years past to describe most of the Asian continent, now commonly referred to as the Middle East] cities there are in the large gates small and very low apertures, called metaphorically, ‘needles-eyes.’ These entrances are too narrow for a camel to pass through them in an ordinary manner, or even if loaded. When a laden camel has to pass through one of these entrances it kneels down, its load is removed, and then it shuffles through on its knees. A traveler to Cairo, Lady Duff Gordon, wrote to me saying, ‘Yesterday I saw a camel go through the eye of a needle, namely, the low-arched door of an enclosure. He must kneel, and bow his head to creep through; and thus the rich man must humble himself.’ ”

It has been said that the purpose of the “eye of the needle” gate was so that merchandise could not be brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, although the pack animals and the merchants could come in for protection, but only through this restrictive gate.

Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible (Rev. ed.].) (447). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

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