Questions From Readers
◼ Some scholars contend that “rope” should replace “camel” at Matthew 19:24, which reads: “It is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye.” Which word is correct?
Certain Bible scholars mistakenly conclude that Jesus’ words here were originally recorded in Aramaic. The Aramaic word used in such versions (gam·la’ʹ) can mean “camel.” Depending on the context, however, it can also be rendered “a large rope and a beam.” But according to Papias of Hierapolis, perhaps a contemporary of the apostle John, Matthew wrote his Gospel account originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, thereafter translating it into Greek. The Hebrew word for camel (ga·malʹ) is quite different from the words translated rope (cheʹvel) or cord (‛avothʹ), and it is certain that Matthew would have selected the correct Greek term.
The oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vatican No. 1209) have the word kaʹme·los, which means camel. This same word is used at Matthew 23:24, where there is little doubt that “camel” is intended.
Through the centuries some have tried to soften Jesus’ biting hyperbole. Some even took liberties with the sacred text. From about the fifth century, a similar word kaʹmi·los is found at this text in some Greek manuscripts. This rare word means “rope, ship’s cable.” According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Arndt and Gingrich, it “has no place in the NT [New Testament].” Greek scholars Westcott and Hort blame this substitution on fifth-century professed Christian Cyril of Alexandria, who asserted that the word used by Matthew (kaʹme·los) could mean a cable, saying: “It is the custom of those well versed in navigation to call the thicker cables ‘camels.’” Yet, of this idea Westcott and Hort state: “It is certainly wrong.”
The idea of a huge camel trying to fit through the eye of a tiny sewing needle “savours of Eastern exaggeration,” according to one reference work. In fact, in discussing some individuals renowned for such shrewdness that they seemed to do the impossible, The Babylonian Talmud states: “They draw an elephant through the eye of a needle.” So Jesus was using a typical Oriental image to emphasize the impossibility of something by way of a vivid contrast. Indeed, it would be impossible to thread any large object through a needle’s eye—whether rope, camel, or elephant.
Jesus was not saying that it was impossible for a rich person to gain life, for some wealthy individuals became his followers. (Matthew 27:57; Luke 19:2, 9; John 19:38, 39) But just before Jesus gave this ‘hard saying,’ a rich young man had turned down great spiritual opportunities because of a greater love for his “many possessions.” (Matthew 19:16-22) It would be impossible for any rich man with this attitude to inherit everlasting life. Only with God’s extreme help could such a person change and receive the salvation that must come through God’s power.—Matthew 19:25, 26.