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What Is the Meaning of "It Is Easier for a Camel to Go Through the Eye of a Needle"? Is the "Eye of the Needle" a Gate? Matthew 19:24 Meaning

    In this post you will learn

What have you heard about this verse, Matthew 19:24?

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.

Jesus may be speaking about a literal needle here. 

OR, He may be speaking about a literal gate that camels struggled to pass through. 

OR, the Eye of the Needle Gate may be a MYTH!  

So, which is it? It's impossible for a camel to pass through the tiny eye of a needle. It's just really difficult for the camel to shimmy through the tight gate, known as the "Eye of a Needle." 

Was there such a thing as the Eye of Needle Gate? Where did this idea come from? 

Don't let Jesus' core message get lost in this debate. It's really hard for a wealthy person to get to Heaven. You cannot be possessed by your possessions and expect to get to Heaven. They will drag you down. Wealth only helps somebody get to Heaven insofar as it is given away. 

Was there an Eye of the Needle Gate or not? 

Modern scholars say NO! That's just a silly idea. (Silly modern scholars)

Whereas, the Church Fathers provide broad support for the idea. 

Here's the breakdown of all the sources:

Modern Theologians Say Eye of the Needle Gate is a MYTH  

Robert Sungenis, The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, p. 97: 

Greek: ῥαφίδος (raphidos = needle). Some have understood this to refer to the passageway through a walled city, such that the camel would have to stoop to enter. But this has no precedent. Classical Greek (e.g., Corpus Hippiatricorum) and the LXX (Exo 27:16; 38:23 [37:21]) use the word ῥαφίδευτού (raphideutou = "needlework") containing the root ῥαφίδευ in reference to a needle for stitching. 

Sungenis provides us with a strange argument, if I may paraphrase. Jesus isn't referring to a gate named for the stitching tool, because the word refers to the stitching tool. That's some strange logic.

Sungenis also states that there is "no precedent" for such an interpretation. However, there is an ancient precedent for such an interpretation, as will be demonstrated below.  

Apologies for the ad hominem argument, but it should also be noted that Robert Sungenis is an outspoken advocate for Geocentrism, the theory that the Earth is orbited by the Sun, the planets, and all the stars of the Universe.

Ronald Knox, A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Volume 1: The Four Gospels, p. 43: 

In verse 24, there is no need for such ingenious conjectures as that the "camel" meant a kind of rope, or that the "Needle's Eye" was the name given to some gate-way. Our Lord deliberately exaggerates his effects; cf. Matthew 7:3. 

Here again, there's no basis provided for why the gate interpretation is merely an "ingenious conjecture." Just a drive-by attack.

David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 60: 

Needle's eye. It is obviously impossible for the largest known animal in the region to pass through the smallest opening normally encountered. Late manuscripts and versions which substitute "cable" or "rope" for "camel," likewise commentaries which suppose the "needle's eye" refers to a small gate kept open in a large gate closed to protect a walled city, are later efforts to tone down Yeshua's starkly incongruous image. 

Stern describes the "Needle's eye" as "a small gate kept open in a large gate closed to protect a walled city." That's a good breakdown of the idea. 

Stern says putting the verse in the context of a gate is among "later efforts to tone down Yeshua's starkly incongruous image." 

Catholic Biblical Association, A Commentary on the New Testament, p. 134: 

To try to explain camel by a similar-sounding Greek word meaning "rope," or to interpret an eye of a needle as meaning a low gate in the walls of a city through which pedestrians, but hardly camels, can pass, are futile attempts to whittle down the force of Christ's words. 

Again, what's argument? No reasons are given why the gate interpretation is wrong. Just a conclusion without basis.  

What did St. Thomas Aquinas think? Always a good question to ask ...

Doctors of the Church CONFIRM Eye of the Needle Gate

No less a source than the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, confirms the Eye of the Needle Gate interpretation. 

In Aquinas' Commentary on the Four Gospels, the Catena Aurea, he collects a number of prominent Church sources on Matthew 19:24. Most of his sources, like St. John Chrysostom and St. Hilary of Poitiers, provide the basic interpretation that riches complicate the path to Heaven. However, St. Jerome and St. Anselm of Canterbury actually discuss and support the Eye of the Needle Gate theory.

St. Jerome is quoted as saying the following:

According to this, no rich man can be saved. But if we read Isaiah, how the camels of Midian and Ephah came to Jerusalem with gifts and presents, [Isa 60:6] and they who once were crooked and bowed down by the weight of their sins, enter the gates of Jerusalem, we shall see how these camels, to which the rich are likened when they have laid aside the heavy load of sins, and the distortion of their whole bodies, may then enter by that narrow and strait way that leads to life.

St. Jerome is writing this in the 300s AD. Very early on. Very close to the time of Christ. Why St. Jerome held that the "eye of the needle" was an actual gate must be addressed. 

St. Jerome and the Lion - read about this charming story below in footnote [1]

Also, guess where St. Jerome completed his life's work, the translation of the Bible into Latin. Just outside the Gates of Jerusalem. In Bethlehem. Do you think he might have some familiarity with the gates of Jerusalem during those early centuries? 

Not only is St. Jerome's interpretation authoritative and confirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas, but he illustrates the "distortion" of the "bowed down" camels so strikingly. "They who once were crooked and bowed down by the weight of their sins ... enter by that narrow and strait way that leads to life." 

This is a beautiful piece of writing. It is far more helpful to us than modern Biblical commentaries that discard this (or any) interpretation without any basis.

St. Anselm also provides support for the Eye of the Needle gate

St. Anselm of Canterbury is quoted as saying the following:[2]

It is explained otherwise; That at Jerusalem there was a certain gate, called, The needle’s eye, through which a camel could not pass, but on its bended knees, and after its burden had been taken off; and so the rich should not be able to pass along the narrow way that leads to life, till he had put off the burden of sin, and of riches, that is, ceasing to love them.

St. Anselm clearly supports the Eye of the Needle Gate theory. That's about as straightforward as you can get. 

Note, also, what St. Anselm says: "It is explained otherwise." St. Anselm has observed teachers explaining this passage differently than a literal "eye of a [sewing] needle." Just one person? No. Multiple sources, if not a majority position. The gate interpretation was an explanation common in his day. Further, St. Anselm does not dispute this interpretation. He supports it.  

St. Anselm presented his observations and explanation of the gate theory in the 11th century. St. Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. 

Between St. Jerome and St. Anselm -- some heavy hitters, for sure -- we have sources for the gate interpretation from the 300s and 1000s. 

Additional medieval references to the Eye of the Needle Gate:

Hugh of Saint-Cher: In the Postilla of the thirteenth-century French Dominican friar and noted Biblical commentator, Hugh of Saint-Cher, we find this reference to the Eye of the Needle Gate:[3] 

There was a gate in Jerusalem which was called the needle, through the opening of which one could not pass unless unencumbered.

There is some reference to Theophylact, an 11th century monk, being the origin of the Eye of the Needle Gate theory. However, this is a false trail likely propagated by an erroneous entry in the 16th century Geneva Bible, a Protestant translation. Theophylact discusses the parallel theory that "camel" should actually be translated as rope, not the gate theory.[4]

Is There Archaeological Support for the Eye of the Needle Gate?

The Eye of the Needle Gate may have been just a small gate. It has also been described as sort of a gate-within-a-gate. A door-within-a-door. 

Typically, the Eye of the Needle Gate is described as sort of an "after-hours" entrance to Jerusalem. The city gates would be closed at night for safety and defense. Access through them "after-hours" would be restricted. A large door would close the gate, but there would be a smaller door within the larger door. 

Is there evidence of such doorways existing in Jerusalem in Christ's time? 

Did Ancient Jerusalem Have Gates Like This? 

Travelogue: 15th Century Pilgrim to the Holy Land, Joannes Poloner

According to Joachim Gnilka, a German Catholic theologian and New Testament scholar, the "Eye of a Needle" gate interpretation is supported by the writings of the 15th century pilgrim Joannes Poloner -- "Poloner," because he is considered to be Polish. 

John Poloner's Description of the Holy Land. Joannes Poloner, active 15th century. Reprinted 1894.

Gnilka actually argues that Poloner's travelogue was the original source, i.e. fabrication, of the gate interpretation. This is demonstrably false because, as said above, St. Jerome and St. Anselm were writing about the gate interpretation 1200 and 400 years, approximately, before Poloner was born.  

The Jerusalem travelogue attributed to Poloner is entitled Johannis Poloner descriptio Terrae Sanctae.[5] Poloner's travelogue provides the following support for the gate interpretation: "On the same street is a small door to the south, which in their language is called the eye of a needle, of which the Lord said: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, etc."[6]

This is a very interesting piece of evidence, because it both (1) references the existence of an actual "eye of a needle" gate, and (2) connects it to the Gospel passage. Wow.    

The Gates of Jerusalem

The city walls of Jerusalem have many famous gates: the Jaffa Gate, the Zion Gates, the Damascus Gate, even the Dung Gate. Many of these are mentioned in the Bible and are well-known to the annals of history. 

The Ottoman emperor Sulieman sealed the Eastern Gate or Golden Gate in 1541, though the prophets speak of the Messiah returning through this gate.[7]

The sealed Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate) 

The Zion Gate is named for its proximity to Mount Zion, the burial place of King David. It is pictured below riddled with bullet holes from Israel's 1947 war of independence:

Jerusalem's Postern Gates: A Possibility for the Eye of the Needle? 

The concept of a hidden gate or postern gate has been a common element of castle and wall design for as long as castles have existed. Here is a definition of postern gate:[8]

A postern is a secondary door or gate in a fortification such as a city wall or castle curtain wall. Posterns were often located in a concealed location which allowed the occupants to come and go inconspicuously. In the event of a siege, a postern could act as a sally port, allowing defenders to make a sortie on the besiegers. Placed in a less exposed, less visible location, they were usually relatively small, and therefore easily defensible.

Postern gates have been used in Jerusalem throughout its fortified history. In fact, each of the gates mentioned above -- the Zion Gate, Damascus Gate, plus Tanners' Gate and Herod's Gate -- are all known to have ancient postern gates.  

In an 1896 article in the London Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, C. R. Condor compiled a list of all the gates and postern gates of Jerusalem, known currently in the 19th century, as well as the 15th century (Arab), 12th century (Crusading), and 4th century (Byzantine). Condor described Zion Gate in Jerusalem, built west of one of the city's medieval main gates, as likely a postern gate. Condor also described the postern of St. Lazarus, west of the Damascus Gate, the postern of the Tanners' Gate, and the postern of the Madeleine at Herod's Gate.[9]

Lots of possibilities for an "Eye of a Needle" Gate!

As you can see below and in the "Hidden Gate" section below, postern gates are the size of a small doorway. A camel, laden with goods or not, would certainly struggle to pass through such gates. 

Museum of London reconstruction of the Postern Gate from the London Wall Walk guide.

To illustrate just how far back this idea of postern gates goes, here is the "Secret Stairway" to the postern gate of the Mycenean citadel Tiryns, 15th century BC. That's 1,500 years before Christ.

Also, note how small: [Poor camel!]

(Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

The Hidden Gate: A Postern Gate Location for Jesus' Trial Before Pilate 

According to Shimon Gibson, one of Jerusalem's postern gates could have served as the location of Jesus’ temporary incarceration and the trial in front of Pilate, as described in John's Gospel. There was a gate here, designated as the “Hidden” Gate, which Gibson thinks was the Gate of the Essenes mentioned by Josephus, the Jewish historian.[10]

Ferrell Jenkins, a professor of Biblical studies, has provided the following diagrams and pictures, based on Gibson's research. This first picture provides a great diagram of a postern gate:


Here are additional pictures showing where this location fits into the larger map of Jerusalem, modern day (first picture) and during Christ's time (second picture):

What About Gates-Within-A-Gate? Another Possibility for the "Eye of the Needle" Gate?   

There is a long history of postern gates. There are also many examples of gates-within-a-gate found throughout the history of castles. 

The photo below depicts a similar gate in Nazareth.[11] It illustrates the concept of the "Eye of the Needle" gate quite well. You can see that a camel could not pass through the gate unless it first had all its baggage removed and then stooped to get through the gate.

Just a Tourist Trap? Eye of the Needle Gate in Modern-Day Jerusalem 

Travel documentaries of Jerusalem and tour guides point to the following gate as the Eye of the Needle Gate.[12] See the photo below, depicting an open gate and its (non-ancient) green gate (left), which includes a smaller door, a gate-within-a-gate, for restricted access:    

Is this just something tour guides tell unwary tourists? Likely. Even so, it demonstrates that gates of this nature are presently found in Jerusalem. The questions that remain are (1) how long has this been the practice, and (2) was there ever a gate or gate concept that bore the name "Eye of the Needle"?   

Conclusion: The "Eye of the Needle" Gate Is NOT a Myth

I would conclude with the following four points regarding the "Eye of the Needle" Gate interpretation of Matthew 19:24:
  1. The Church Fathers appear to agree that the gate interpretation is viable, credible, and well-founded. St. Jerome's support, in particular, is very credible, given his proximity in both time (within 200 years of Christ's time) and geography (spent a significant amount of time in Jerusalem).
  2. The archaeological record from Christ's time provides, not merely possible, but plausible gate options for the restricted passage of camels through the Jerusalem city walls.
  3. Given the weight of the evidence from the Church Fathers and the archaeological record, the burden of proof falls on the contra position, i.e. the position that the "Eye of the Needle" Gate interpretation is wrong.  
  4. The "Eye of the Needle" Gate interpretation was not seriously refuted until modern day. 
  5. Modern Biblical commentators often refute the gate interpretation without any supporting evidence, rest on incorrect assumptions, or merely state the conclusion without supporting arguments.         

In short, the "Eye of the Needle" Gate theory is not a myth, but is both plausible and confirmed by the Church Fathers.

Footnotes: Is the Eye of the Needle Gate Real?

[1] Painting by Scott Gustafson: "One day, a roaring lion made its way into the monastery and began threatening the monks. Heading down the cloistered halls, it eventually came to St. Jerome’s study. The monk looked up from his studies and realized the raging beast was in pain, as it had a large thorn stuck in it’s paw. Gently, he held the lion’s foot and removed the thorn. From that moment on, the man and beast were inseparable friends."

[2] In the original: Hierosolymis quaedam porta erat, quae foramen acus dicebatur, per quam camelus, nisi deposito onere et flexis genibus, transire non poterat. Tomas Aquinas, Catena aurea: Commentary on the Gospels from the Fathers, vol. i: St Matthew, Part iii (Oxford: John Henry Parker/J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1842), 19, 6. Regarding Anselm see Gross, F. L., ed., ‘Anselm of Canterbury’, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[3] Hugh of Saint-Cher, Postilla Hugonis de Sancto Charo, vol. vi (Venice: N. Pezzana, 1703) 65, available at LINK (accessed 1/18/2023): porta erat in Jerusalem, quae acus dicebatur, per cujus foramen non nisi inonerati transire poterant.

[4] Agnieszka Ziemińska, "The Origin of the 'Needle's Eye Gate' Myth: Theophylact or Anselm?" Cambridge University Press, June 9, 2022: "From There is another medieval source mentioned in homiletic and pastoral texts. Some authors have proposed that it was the the eleventh-century monk Theophylact in his Gospel Commentary who first referred to the ‘eye of a needle’ gate. However, they do not point to a specific place in Theophylact's work. The problem is that this is a false trail. Theophylact nowhere states that the ‘needle's eye’ is a gate in the wall of Jerusalem. In the commentary on Matt 19.24, he only writes that ‘some say that “camel” is not the animal, but the thick cable used by sailors to cast their anchors’, but there is no mention of gates, doors or other types of entrance. In the Western world, the hypothesis of Theophylact being the author of the concept of a gateway called the ‘eye of a needle’ became popular probably through an entry in the sixteenth-century Geneva Bible. The annotation in the margin to Matt 19.24 refers to Theophylact's comment. It refers to the view that the camel meant a rope but makes no mention of a gate. It was, however, close to attributing to Theophylact, known through the Geneva Bible for his rational explanations of Jesus’ words, also the notion about the ‘needle's eye’ gate. The trope pointing to Theophylact's commentary as the first known source, although repeated, must be considered false."

[5] J. Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (2 vols,; HThK.NT 2; Freiburg: Herder, 1993) ii.166. 

[6] In the original: in eadem platea est portula versus austrum, quae lingua eorum foramen acus dicitur, de qua Dominus dixit: Facilius est, camelum ire per foramen acus etc. (translation by Agnieszka Ziemińska, "The Origin of the 'Needle's Eye Gate' Myth: Theophylact or Anselm?" Cambridge University Press, June 9, 2022). Poloner, J., ‘Johannis Poloner descriptio Terrae Sanctae’, Descriptio Terrae Sanctae ex saeculis viii ix xii xv (ed. Tobler, T.; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrich, 1874) 225–81, at 240.

[7] John Malvern, "Gates to the Old City of Jerusalem and Their Meaning," LINK

[8] Postern Gate: Van Emden, Wolgang, "Castle in Medieval French Literature", The Medieval Castle: Romance and Reality (Kathryn L. Reyerson, Faye Powe, eds.) U of Minnesota Press, 1991, 17. 

[9]  Condor, C.R., "The City of Jerusalem," Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, London, 1896, 4.

[10] “The Trial of Jesus at the Jerusalem Praetorium: New Archaeological Evidence,” pp. 97-118 in C.A. Evans (ed.), 2011, The World of Jesus and the Early Church: Identity and Interpretation in Early Communities of Faith, Peabody: Hendrickson:

"This chapter cautiously argues against taking such a negative approach to the subject of the trial of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels. The basis for this conclusion is a new study I have made on the overall layout of the palace of Herod the Great, which later became the seat of the Roman governor when in residence in Jerusalem, the praetorium. My work also highlights previously unpublished archeological discoveries pertaining to the appearance of the western gateway of the palace/praetorium, which I think is the Gate of the Essenes referred to by Josephus. This monumental gateway had inner and outer gates flanked by large towers, and these gates were separated one from the other by a large, open, and paved court at its center, with a rocky area on its north. In the first century CE, the gateway undoubtedly provided direct access to the palace grounds, which incorporated palace residences, an ornamental pleasure garden, and military barracks. Remarkably, these archeological remains fit very well with John’s description of the place of Jesus’ temporary incarceration and the trial in front of Pilate, and with the two topographical features that are mentioned by him, the lithostrotos and gabbatha."

[11] This reference comes from the modern day travelogue of Mariane Schwab. Schwab is not a scholar, however, but an executive producer of multiple televisions shows about international travel. According to Schwab, "The eye of the needle mentioned in the book of Matthew was one of several gates that provided passage through the city of Jerusalem's massive walls. The Needle Gate was used when the city's main gates were closed at night and used for people entering the city 'after hours.'"

[12] Ibid.

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  1. I am not sure what your fight is about over the scholarly interpretation of the passage, which does go back to the Fathers.

    The context of the passage is Jesus turning 1st century Jewish assumptions on their head. The assumption was that if you are rich, you are blessed by God, and close to the kingdom.(biblical texts that reflect this viewpoint, are read outside of the canonical context by the prosperity Gospel proponents) Jesus, speaking in hyperbole--a rhetorical style that used to challenge people's unquestioned assumptions--that the rich are not closer to heaven than others; indeed they cannot get into the kingdom on their own. It requires the work of God. Scholars argue this by the literary context of the passage. This is seen by the response of the disciples and the intentionality of Jesus' argument. This understanding is reinforced by the variant names used for "eye of needle" in Matthew, Mark , and Luke. If it were the nickname of a gate or a formal name, there would be greater consistency in the Greek.

    By arguing for the gate interpretation, you are unintentionally arguing that, yes, a rich man can get into the kingdom on his own, which is the opposite of what Jesus is saying--he needs God.

    You take Jerome out of context by ignoring the immediately preceeding sentences where Jerome states that "By this saying it is shown to be not difficult but impossible. For if, in the same way that a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle, so a rich man cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, then no rich man will be saved." Jerome says that it is impossible, then he makes an analogy carrying Jesus' metaphor further, about the weight of sin.

    The Anselm quote can't be substantiated outside of Aquinas and if true only goes back to the 11th century, so much too late to support a 1st century "gate" understanding.

  2. Thank you for this article! I am surprised that it did not include information and/or pictures about the “Eye of the Needle” found inside the Russian Orthodox convent/hospital in Jerusalem at the Eighth Station. Inside the convent, behind the sanctuary wall of the chapel, pilgrims can descend a stairwell to the remnants (threshold) of the Judgment Gate, where an eye of the needle is still embedded in the ancient city wall. It would be the logical place where Jesus would have stopped and could vocalize the “mini-sermon” found in Luke to the women of Jerusalem… as forward progress would stop momentarily to navigate condemned individuals with crosses through this gate, which was smaller than all the other gates.

  3. Wealth in itself is no obstacle to enter heaven. St Mathew was wealthy, as were tons of catholics throughout the centuries. They donate much to the Church, to charities, etc.
    To say wealth in itself is evil, like many modernist heretics say, is a sin because it's a lie.
    Jesus didnt come for the materially and socially poor, but to the spiritually poor!!!