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Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Why would this be?

Does this mean that it will be hard for e.g. Warren Buffett to go to heaven? Can a rich man go to heaven only by giving away all of his goods to the poor, as Jesus advised one young rich man? And could this be why Warren Buffett set up a charitable foundation?

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 11:23-27 ESV

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i've never seen a camel go through the eye of a needle...so does that mean...? –  FFCoder May 7 '13 at 5:46
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@FFCoder: It's a "figure of speech" for something that's very hard to do. –  Tom Au May 7 '13 at 12:10
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Just remember, "With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible." –  Affable Geek Sep 16 '13 at 13:00
    
Well, this couldn't be difficult, considering he/she is rich. All he would need to do is: 1. Buy a camel 2. Grind the camel into ground meet 3. pay someone to shove every little piece through the hole of a needle. And poof! The rich man can go to heaven. –  user9141 Dec 19 '13 at 21:16

8 Answers 8

up vote 15 down vote accepted

As already mentioned, it is entirely possible for a rich man to go to heaven. The problem is that a rich man can more easily trust in his own merits or wealth. There are many proverbs that talk about that, like Proverbs 11:28 (ESV):

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.

When we trust in ourselves and don't rely on Jesus and his death and resurrection for our salvation, then we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus told the rich man to go sell everything he was testing him to see whether his trust and security was in Jesus or in his riches (himself).

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sell everything? that means he still has the money right? isn't it just a way of the church to keep the poor people calm while the elites take more? –  FFCoder May 7 '13 at 5:47
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@FFCoder I believe Jesus told him to sell everything and give the money to the poor. Matthew 21 tells us "Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" –  user1477388 May 30 '13 at 0:49
    
"Jesus told the rich man to go sell everything he was testing him" Why would Jesus test an unbeliever? I think it is saver to assume that he was just instructing him to the nature of his teachings –  gerdi Sep 16 '13 at 9:47

The Parable of the Sower can probably shed some light on this. In this parable, there are four different types of soil on which seed is sown. The seed represents the Gospel and the soils represent different responses people have to it.

The third type of soil/response is described as follows:

but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Mark 4:19 ESV

So, riches have the potential to deceive those who possess them. This is not always the case, but it is, indeed, a potential pitfall--so much so that Jesus does say it is quite hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Of particular interest for this is the expression of a camel going through the eye of the needle. This site lists four possible explanations. One interesting option is that the word for camel could also be translated as "rope" or "beam". Context would determine which is the proper translation. (We have the same thing, of course. Is "content" something that you are or what something has?) The page notes that for a rope to go through the eye of a needle, it would have to be unwound. It would be difficult, to be sure, but not impossible.

Of course, Jesus does say in the passage that with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

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This is explained by Jesus in Matthew chapter 6:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24) (See also: Luke 16:13)

The problem with this rich man is that he loves his money more than God; this is a transgression of the Greatest Commandment, “You shall love the Lᴏʀᴅ your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5)

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

A relevant parable is this one:

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)

So, having money is not a sin; however, you can easily become more devoted to money than to God.

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The rich man was obviously trying to justify himself before Jesus. Observe closely his conversation with him-"Good Teacher, what must I do to enter heaven?". Of course Jesus is good but he quickly observed the man wanting him to realize that he(the man) knows that Jesus is a good teacher. Secondly, Jesus said, keep the commandments. Wanting to be sure it's what he has being doing from childhood, he asked:"which one?". We could see the man's happiness when he foolishly thought just "obedient" to the commandments would earn him heaven in his reply: "That I have done since my youth". But alas! Jesus knew the inside of man and need not another man to tell him who a man is. He realised the man before the man realised himself. He gave him the true gospel. He caused war in the man's life(I've not come to bring peace but war). He did not allow the man escape reality. The man went away sad-why? He thought he could hide his privacy from others and succeed in also hiding it from Jesus; after all who will tell him I'm rich? But woe betides man! Nothing is hidden under the sun. God sees even our deeper most privacy. Hide nothing from him so that he will know where to help. I must confess Jesus never used figures of speech. He only speaks the language carnal man cannot understand. He meant every bit of his word and untill we see it so we're still in darkness. Glory be to God

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Why is it difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom? Does he really have to give everything away? Do you? Can a camel or a rope ever go through the eye of a needle? Perhaps everything Jesus says is meant to be thought provoking. Guess it kind of worked since we're still talking about it. Discussed Plato lately?

You can attempt to give unusual explanations and applications to difficult text. But doesn't it at some point become irrelevant if there is no actual practical application in real life.

So maybe the most obvious and practicable explanation was Jesus' intent. Either he wants me to actually do what he says or he wants me to reach a point of exasperation upon which I can only throw myself on his mercy. Most Believers would say both. So I'm at his mercy now how do I do what he says?

With God all things are possible. Any of us can be defined as rich people. So this is an important question. What do we actually have to do? What can we do? The implied commandment is to be "rich" toward God. So how is that done?

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Welcome to the site. As you're a new visitor, I'd like to recommend the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page, How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Dec 29 '13 at 19:56

It seems like a standard metaphor used through out the teaching of the bible to explain fairly basic concepts ( in my personal opinion this was done to remove complex explainations to very important teachings. Which prevents cultism with a leader proclaiming more knowledge then the others )

It does seem to explain away the impossibility of rich men to get into heaven in verse 27 . I feel it means that rich people need to rely on god even more so then the poor because they have to overcome an impossible feat in order to attain a place in heaven ( although this is not explicit in the text )

This is a beautiful verse actually because it leads to this idea of impossibility and over coming impossibilities even in the physical. Its seems ( in my interpretation and in no way an absolute ) provide an underlines principle in reality. That we an not autonomous being like that of the creatures of the earth , but are far more .. to the degree that each one of us rich or poor , with the guidance of god himself hold the keys to the fabric of perceived reality itself.

SIDE TRACK

Of course this also opens up a pandora's box so to speak , in that if anything is possible including the transversing of a camel through a needle , then what will happen if ( and I is taking this into hyperthetical land ) an immovable object is hit by an unstoppable force?

With this regard, are paradox's themselves a mere creation by humans to understand away certain perceived uncertainties.

SIDE TRACK OVER

I think the rich if they do believe should take warning of this verse and others like it. The love of money is the root of all evil and if you read psalms and proverbs and basically all of the new testament, the warnings of rich and wealth are never a good thing. Its sad that very powerful Christians leaders seem to flaut their wealth as a blessing and the not the curse that is seems to be presented as.

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Wealth as a curse is not a common perception in Christendom. –  Mawia Sep 26 '13 at 11:02
    
Yeah i know. Im just going of what Jesus said .. I realize you all think you are blessed with money. It makes perfect sense that god would bless you with the very thing that can cause the root of all evil. But whatever .. Why in gods name would anyone want to sell all their things and give it too the poor and then follow jesus. –  gerdi Oct 1 '13 at 7:39

Rich people should not be able to get to heaven unless they sell their riches and give their money to the poor either by giving food, building shelter or some other generous thing. If not they are storing up treasures and loving the world instead of having compassion on the people of the earth which is what Jesus was trying to teach. Also I think the translation was messed up because the same word can be translated into rope, instead of camel lol. If you unwind the rope it can fit through the needle but a camel? That doesn't even make sense.

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+1 for mentioning the rope. –  Byzantine Oct 21 '13 at 16:45
    
Reference to the ambiguity in translation would be nice –  gerdi Jan 6 at 8:33

I think Jesus was not thinking that the rich man would make a giant blender and liquidize the camel to put it through the eye of a needle. I think he was making a joke and the answer is it is impossible. How improbable is it that a camel could walk through the eye of a needle? Even in the Bible, with all the miracles (burning bush, water into wine, raising Lazarus, resurrection of Christ) I think seeing a camel walk through the eye of a needle would be the best miracle. Rich people (or even middle class by our standards) probably can't get into heaven.

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Welcome to the site. As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? Finally, I'd recommend What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Sep 7 '13 at 4:27
    
Spot on bro. You wont convince the rich though. Ergo the down votes. Just like catholicism, christendom has create esoteric interpretations to explain away very obvious explanations. Jesus did go on to explain that the impossible is possible and in the context of the verse the rich man had to give away all his wealth in order to overcome that impossibility. Talk to christians though and the sidetrack of the "heart" is always mentioned. This is the inevitable consequence of our society in a capitalistic plutocracy far removed from the destruction of our materialism. –  gerdi Jan 6 at 8:41

protected by David Stratton Dec 29 '13 at 19:55

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