Bible Question:

I read on a website about Matthew 19:24 that said the Greek scholars mistakenly translated the word meaning “thick rope” to “camel. ” They said that the Assyrian and Aramaic words are similar. I am Assyrian and I know that the words are actually very similar but have different meanings. Doesn't it make more sense that the verse would be, “It is easier for a thick rope to go through the eye of a needle . . . ” than for “a camel going through the eye of a needle”?

Bible Answer:

In Matthew 19:24 Jesus reveals that it is essentially impossible for a rich man to enter into eternal life or heaven. He says,

Again I say to 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. (NASB) Matthew 19:24

Jesus makes the point it is very hard for rich people to enter heaven. Because they are wealthy, they do not sense any real need for God. The wealth that God has given them has made them feel comfortable and consequently they do not sense their spiritual need.

Some people have tried to soften Jesus’ illustration and His message by saying that Jesus did not say camel. First, some claim that the original word that Jesus used for camel was an Aramaic word meaning “thick rope”. Since a “thick rope” is smaller than a camel, they argue that a rich man can enter heaven but it will require great effort. Others say that the eye of the needle was actually the name of a small gate that a camel could get through but only with great effort. Both views distort Jesus’ message that rich people will not come to God. Their god is their wealth. Such attempts diminish Jesus’ point which is explained in verse 26. Rich people can only come to God with God’s help. The same is true for all others too (John 6:44, 65).

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NASB)

The Camel Was a Thick Rope View

Jesus used the Greek word kamelon for “camel.” In Matthew 19:24. Kamelon appears in the vast majority of ancient manuscripts, but the Greek word for “thick rope” is not kamilon. It is important to remember that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were not completely written in Aramaic but in Greek. Only portions are written in Aramaic. Matthew 19:24 was written in Greek and not in Aramaic. Therefore, the Aramaic word for “thick rope,” kamilon, does not apply.

However, some have been confused because kamilon does appear in a few of the late ancient Greek minuscule manuscripts (MSS) and in the Armenian version (and the Greorgian version of Mark).[1] These minuscule MSS are 579 and 1424. The number 579 refers to a minuscule in Paris dated in the 13th century.[2] The number 1424 refers to a minuscule located in Maywood, Ill.  dated in the 9th and 10th centuries.[3]

We need to ask why would only a few manuscripts contain kamilon? The answer is that most likely the typographical error occurred in one geographical area. It is important to note that the manuscripts from all of the other geographical areas use the word for camel, kamelon. In summary, only two minuscule manuscripts have kamilon and the best manuscripts have kamelon. Therefore,the weight of the evidence is that kamelon is the correct word that Jesus used. Kamelon just refers to a camel.

The Camel’s Gate View

It should be noted that there is no supporting data for the claim that the eye of the needle was actually the name of a small gate that a camel could get through.[4] For more information read, “Can a camel go through the eye of a needle?

Conclusion:

Men and women believe they need God when the Holy Spirit pulls on their heart to respond. Theologically, we say that the Spirit of God is drawing them (John 6:65, 44, 37). This is an awesome truth. When a man or woman finally believes in Christ and understand they need forgiveness of their sins, they ask God to forgive them and yield themselves to God. What a wonderful truth. Wealth, status and fame will not save anyone. The impossibility of being saved by human effort is illustrated by a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle. It is not possible. Only faith in Christ saves a person from eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).

 

References:

1.  R. T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. The New Testament International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007. p. 729, footnote 8.
2. Reuben Swanson. Matthew. New Testament Greek Manuscripts. Sheffield Academic Press. 1995. p. viii, p. 187.
3. Ibid.
4. France, Ibid., p. 738.

Suggested Links:

Was the gospel of Matthew originally written in Aramaic?
Can a camel go through the eye of a needle?
In Matthew 19:24, what does “the eye of the needle” actually mean?
Are the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven the same?