|Vol. 13 No. 4 April 2011||
In Luke 18:25 Jesus said “For 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.” Because the idea of a camel fitting through the eye of a literal needle is difficult to imagine, many people interpret the expression figuratively. I firmly believe that a figurative interpretation is well-intentioned but incorrect. Please consider the following points:
First, a fundamental rule of interpretation is that Scripture is to be taken literally unless something demands it be taken figuratively. A close look at the verse and the immediate context favors a literal interpretation; it certainly does not demand a figurative one.
Second, we should remember the point Jesus is attempting to make by using this word picture. The rich young ruler (as good as he was) had just turned down the opportunity to follow Jesus Christ because he was unwilling to give up his riches. Jesus used this word picture to illustrate the vast difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom of God. A literal interpretation is certainly suitable for this illustration.
Next, the reaction of those who heard Jesus’ illustration is very important. “And those who heard it said, ‘Who then can be saved?’” The audience understood Jesus’ words to represent a physical impossibility. This harmonizes perfectly with Jesus’ answer to the question in Luke 18:27. “But He said, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’”
Which interpretation most effectively illustrates the impossibility of a rich man being saved without God: 1) A figurative interpretation describing something that is difficult, but achievable? or 2) A literal interpretation describing something physically impossible for man (or beast) to achieve? A literal interpretation is undoubtedly more effective.
If a literal interpretation denied the possibility of a rich man being saved, then a figurative interpretation would be necessary. However, Jesus did not teach that a rich man cannot be saved; He taught that a rich man cannot be saved without God. I know of no Bible believer who would argue with Jesus on that point.
No man can squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle. Furthermore, no man (rich or not) can be saved without God.
Time is running out. The seconds are ticking away towards midnight. The human race is about to take the fatal plunge. Which way shall we turn? Is there any authority left? Is there a path that we can follow? Can we find a code book that will give us a key to our dilemmas? Have we just been placed here by some unknown Creator or force without any clue as to where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going? We do have a key, a code book, a source of authority. It is the Bible! It has survived all of its enemies. It will be around to judge all men who failed to live by its contents (John 12:48).