It’s All about God — Camel edition

July 17, 2009 at 8:39 am | Posted in Grace and Faith, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Matthew 19:23-26.  “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.”  Since I grew up in church, I’ve heard various explanations of these famous words of Jesus all my life.  Jesus couldn’t really have said that it’s impossible for the rich to go to heaven, thus he must have meant something else – so the assumption goes – therefore we must explain this passage in some way other than the obvious.

I’ve heard two explanations that, at the time, made sense to me.  The first is the gate idea.  It is said there was a gate in the wall of Jerusalem that was so small a camel had to get on his knees to pass through, and this gate was called the “eye of a needle.”  A camel could pass through; it wasn’t impossible, just very difficult.  Sounds like a great solution.  But it has a major problem: There is no historical evidence for such a gate.  In fact the only place one can find mention of such a place is in reference to this passage.  In other words this supposed gate was invented solely as a solution for this difficult saying of Jesus.

The second explanation I’ve heard, that made sense at the time, was that Jesus was using a common figure of speech for something very difficult but not necessarily impossible.  However, if this was a common figure of speech, the apostles didn’t seem to know that.  Their response to Jesus’ comment was “Who then can be saved?”  They noted the impossibility of what Jesus was saying, not just the difficulty.  If it had been a common figure of speech, they would have recognized the words as meaning difficult and not impossible.

In fact, the disciples got it exactly right.  Jesus was stating something as impossible; he even admits as much in the next comment he makes: “With men this is impossible.”  That then opens the door for Jesus’ main point, which is “but with God all things are possible.”  In other words, Jesus was saying that salvation apart from God is impossible, it is God alone who can save.  A rich man, and a poor man for that matter, cannot save himself; God must do it.  The assumption that makes this saying so difficult is a false assumption.  It arises because we humans want to have a little bit to do with our salvation.  But salvation is all about God’s doing and not about our own works.

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