What is the opinion on Jesus's use of the phrase "the eye of a needle" in Mark 10:25:

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”—Mark 10:23-26 (ESV)

Matthew 19:24 (NASB)

And again I say to you, 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.”

and Luke 18:25 (NASB)

For 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!”

Could it refer to the small gate which required a camel to unladen and cross through on its knees or could it be an extreme analogy?

  • 1
    A follow up question on this topic relating to the historical aspects and modern Jerusalem has been raised over on Christianity.
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 9:47
  • 1
    Jesus was known to say "verily, verily" (truly, truly) and tell stories and parables. Hyperbole is another technique He likely used to make His message stick. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 1:16

5 Answers 5


The idea of the "eye of the needle" being a gate apparently had its origins in the Middle Ages.

From The Straight Dope:

Next, the history and archaeology. The notion your Baptist friend has picked up apparently comes from a single ninth-century commentary which asserts that in first-century Jerusalem there was a gate called the Needle's Eye which a camel could only get through on its knees. (Sort of like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "only the penitent man will pass...") A cute allegory, but there's no archaeological or historical evidence for the existence of such a gate.

Instead, this passage should probably be understood as hyperbole underscoring the point that this is impossible for humans to accomplish on our own.

  • 5
    Why call it 'hyperbole'? Why not direct comparison? The entire intent of the phrase is to indicate the 'impossibility' of both, so, there is no exaggeration.
    – user6152
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 2:55
  • pinterest.ca/pin/317926054924875118/?lp=true
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 20:05

If it did refer to something that was merely difficult, the immediate reaction of the disciples would be incomprehensible:

26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"   ESV

As would Jesus' response:

27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."   ESV

It seems clear enough that Jesus has deliberately chosen an extreme example of something utterly impossible for his hearers to imagine actually happening.

  • 4
    (+1) Great answer. I love your approach of interpreting the meaning of the phrase by the context in which it is used - that's solid hermeneutics.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 20:08
  • 6
    Also, the actual Greek words for the phrase “eye of the needle” are different between Mathew and Mark. It seems unlikely the wording would be different if they were taking about the name/title of a specific gate.
    – Josh
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 1:57

I found out that "camel" in Aramaic can mean "thick rope made out of camel-hair". This seems like a natural interpretation to me, because the rich man is like a coarse rope, and the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is like a small needle, and the coarse rope will not pass. It makes the parallel more explicit, and it is more eloquent (although less impossible than passing a camel, passing a thick rope is still completely impossible, so the disciples' astonished reaction is still reasonable).

However, the text is not ambiguous in Greek--- it is saying "Camel", not "camel-hair rope". In order to make sense of this, the saying would have had to be translated from Aramaic, missing this nuance of Aramaic speech. To me, this reasonable evidence that the sayings of Jesus have an Aramaic original, and were not composed in Greek.

  • 2
    I'm not sure how to vote on this. Great link, and interesting speculations, but flawed logic. You say both a "camel" and a "rope" would signify impossibility, but then say "in order to make sense" of the saying, it has to mean "rope". It's an interesting speculation, but your conclusion doesn't seem very "concrete" - either interpretation "makes sense" given the sayings of the time, and either would ultimately lead to the same understanding in the hearers.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 19:57
  • 5
    @Jas3.1: But the rope interpretation is just a better metaphor--- the things being compared are of a similar nature. "Camel" and "thread" aren't similar enough to make a parallel construction naturally, which is why this verse is considered jarring, while "Camel-hair rope" and "thread" are naturally parallel. I think it reads better as "camel hair rope", and I think this is reasonable evidence to give for an Aramaic original for Jesus's sayings--- something I didn't believe existed until I found this quote and the explanation. I thought it was all composed in Greek.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 7:45
  • @RonMaimon But yet the (very interesting) argument you linked in your answer disagrees with you. It claims that similar phrases were in use at the time, such as "elephant through the eye of a needle", and that the camel-hair interpretation is unwarranted and unnecessary.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 8:03
  • 1
    @Jas3.1: The disagreement is only apparent--- the Babylonian Talmud (where the quote is from) post-dates the new testament by a century, and the authors would have been familiar with this saying of Jesus about camels and needles. The mangling of the Aramaic in Greek would give a plausible etymology for all these sayings.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 8:20
  • 1
    Actually, that link now 404s, and checking Jastrow, that meaning doesn't show up at all. Sounds like a red herring to me.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 21:41

The letter gimel has the meaning of a 'rich man chasing after a poor man'1 and camel is gamal, an obvious pun.

The rich young ruler had just chased after Jesus (a poor man) and played a game of threading the needle. This is where the law is defined by the individual so that he finds himself narrowly avoiding a violation of the law in his own eyes. Jesus had just told him that by Jesus's definition of the law there were none good:

17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

His response is that he has kept the commandments:

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up:

It is apparent that his definition of the law justifies him, where Jesus's definition of the law makes no one good but God.

It takes great justifications to say "I am worthy" when standing before God.

So the camel had just threaded the needle of the law. By making the rich man into a camel by way of the pun, Jesus was mocking the attempt at self-justification. What was easy for the rich man, so he thought, was proclaimed by Jesus to be an impossibility by the pun.

1 "Our Sages teach that the gimel symbolizes a rich man running after a poor man," - The Hebrew Letters: Gimmel. The original source is found in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat, 104a.

  • 4
    Because Jack is correct. It just happens that the extreme example was also done with very clever word play. This cleverness was part of a bigger dialog between the Father and the Son. But I haven't broached that topic yet.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 23:23
  • 3
    -1: The letter gimel does not have this meaning. You made it up.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 16:30
  • 3
    "Our Sages teach that the gimel symbolizes a rich man running after a poor man," Tell that to the Jewish sages. Googling "rich man running after a poor man" would have given you the source as the third listing.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 13:25
  • 2
    @Ron: Wikipedia also would have verified Bob's assertion if you had taken the time to look at it. Bob: thanks for the link and a very belated +1. Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 15:45
  • 2
    (-1) I found most of this "interesting", or as C. S. Lewis would say, "pipe and beer stuff", but it does not seem very "sound". A careful reading of the text does not portray the rich man as "threading the needle", making up his own definitions of the law, or saying "I am worthy". The story portrays the man as coming to Jesus, asking what he needs to do, and then pressing Jesus with the question "what am I still lacking?"
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 20:06

What was Jesus referring to by “the eye of the needle”?

23 And Jesus elooked around and said to his disciples, f“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter gthe kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples hwere amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, i“Children, jhow difficult it is2 to enter gthe kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter gthe kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,3 “Then who can be saved?” - Mark 10:23-26

There seems to a couple of possibilities to this question.

It may be a metaphor.

The term "eye of a needle" is used as a metaphor for a very narrow opening. It occurs several times throughout the Talmud. The New Testament quotes Jesus as saying that "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". It also appears in the Qur'an 7:40, "Indeed, those who deny Our verses and are arrogant toward them - the gates of Heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise until a camel enters into the eye of a needle. And thus do We recompense the criminals." - Eye of a needle

Perhaps there was a wicket gate to get into the city of Jerusalem.

A wicket gate, or simply a wicket, is a pedestrian door or gate, particularly one built into a larger door or into a wall or fence.

Use in fortifications

Wickets are typically small, narrow doors either alongside or within a larger castle or city gate. The latter were often double gates, large and heavy, designed to allow the passage of wagons, coaches and horsemen. The purpose of wickets was to avoid the risk of having to open the main gates to the castle or city for just one or two individuals on foot. Because the wicket was only one person wide, it only allowed entry one at a time and enabled the guards to better control access. In the Middle Ages the narrow doors in the city walls also enabled late arrivals to gain entry after the main gates had been closed.1

If the small entrance in the door of a large gate has a high threshold, it may be called a manway. If it is a separate, narrow entrance next to the main gate, it may be called a pedestrian entrance. This type of double entrance is rather uncommon, however, and was only worth having at large sites where there was a lot of coming and going. It is found, for example, at the Alsatian castle of Hohlandsbourg, the Hochburg in Emmendingen, the Electoral Cologne castle of Friedestrom and at Schaunberg Castle in Austria. The narrow side entrance could be protected by its own drawbridge and sometimes even opened into a gate passage separated from the main one as, for example, at Hohenwang Castle.

The wickets in main gates that were easily visible should not be confused with the small, hidden sally ports in the walls of castles and fortifications. These small openings were used in times of siege to escape to carry out military raids. - Wicket gate

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 not pass through the smaller gate unless it was stooped and had its baggage removed. The 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.

Could the Eye of a Needle Gate be Herod’ Gate.

Herod’s Gate is also called the Flower Gate, and it leads to the Muslim Quarter. Identifying a close-by structure as the palace of Herod Antipas - to whom Jesus was sent by Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:7). The gate leads straight to the Western Wall. Originally it was a wicket opening through the tower to ease the flow of traffic on the northern side of the Old City walls, east of the Damascus Gate.

Was the *eye of a needle really a wicket gate? Possibly, but it may seem the the Lord had a sense on humour in this subject.

The word camel in Aramaic May mean camel or rope!

It is easier for rope (camel) to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!

Makes sense in Aramaic

An alternative linguistic explanation is taken from George M Lamsa's Syriac-Aramaic Peshitta translation which has the word 'rope' in the main text but a footnote on Matthew 19:24 which states that the Aramaic word gamla means rope and camel, possibly because the ropes were made from camel hair. Evidence for this also comes from the 10th century Aramaic lexicographer Mar Bahlul who gives the meaning as a "a large rope used to bind ships". - 'The camel and the eye of the needle', Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.