The goal of this series is to help the reader pay close attention to the biblical text. Rather than repeating what we’ve often heard, or skimming over details because we think we already know what it says, Christians need to know what the Bible actually says. Sadly, many do not know the Bible very well. So once again we find ourselves looking at a very popular verse that is frequently misused by Christians.
How many times have you been told that God can do anything? Is that accurate? Where does the Bible teach this?
Commonly Misused Bible Verse #7: Matthew 19:26
The Bible teaches that God is omnipotent, meaning that He is all-powerful. So that means He can do everything, right? Well, that’s what some people think. After all, how could we possibly deny the following words of Jesus?
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, NKJV)
Since “all things are possible” with God, then He must be able to do anything, right? But how can He do all things, if it is impossible for Him to lie (“in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began…” Titus 1:2, emphasis added; see also Hebrews 6:18)? So is this a contradiction? Absolutely not.
The problem is that we have not checked the context of Matthew 19:26. Jesus had just told His disciples that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples were amazed by this, and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:23–25, NKJV).
So that is the backdrop for our verse. Jesus was talking about salvation when He said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And that’s true. Apart from God, no one can be saved. We cannot save ourselves because we are sinful, and we need Christ to save us.
But Jesus was not teaching that God can do everything. We know there are many things that God cannot do. He cannot cease to exist. He cannot sin. “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Nor can He do the logically absurd. He cannot make a square circle or create an uncreated being (since any created being is, by definition, not uncreated).
The truth is that God can do all things that are consistent with His nature, and it is very important to understand this distinction. Too many Christians have fallen for the trap laid by skeptics and atheists. They will ask, “Do you believe God is all powerful?” The Christian says, “Yes.” Then they ask, “Do you believe God can do anything?” Once again, the well-meaning (but naive) Christian says, “Yes.” So the skeptic moves in for the kill by asking, “So can God make a rock so big that He cannot move it?” End of debate. The score: Skeptic – 1, Christian – 0.
But you see, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Christian loses as soon as He falls for the trap of agreeing that God can do anything. If believers would take the time to study their Bibles, they should know that there are many things that God cannot do, as we listed above. Making a rock so big that He cannot lift it is another example of the logically absurd. If Christians would learn to simply say, “No, God cannot do all things,” we would be a lot better off. Not only would it probably take the skeptic by surprise to hear the biblical answer (which they probably haven’t heard before), but it would give you an opportunity to share the truth with them.
There are two other aspects of this passage we need to discuss. Some pastors have claimed that “the eye of the needle” referred to by Jesus was a gate in Jerusalem in which the camel would have to be unloaded before ducking down to get through. This is false. There was no “Needle’s Eye” gate in Jerusalem at the time. Furthermore, Jesus compared this scenario to the “odds” of a rich man getting into heaven on his own. He said it was impossible for the rich man, but if the analogy was to a camel getting through a gate in Jerusalem with some difficulty, He should have said that it was difficult or somewhat inconvenient. Since a camel could get through the gate, Jesus clearly was not referring to such a thing.
Finally, Jesus was not merely singling out the rich in this passage. He had just finished speaking to a young rich man who had done a pretty good job in keeping the Old Testament law. However, when Jesus told him to sell everything and give to the poor, the man went away sad. Apparently, Jesus knew that the man would cling to his wealth, so it seems that His point was that the rich are often distracted because of their wealth. They don’t often think about their need for salvation, because their wealth affords them the ability to buy enough stuff or to be continually entertained, so that they do not stop to think about what is truly important.
But Jesus did not let the poor or the middle class off the hook. We are all guilty of sinning against the infinitely holy God, and without Christ, it is impossible for any of us to enter heaven. Praise God that He saves all who call upon the name of the Lord, both poor and rich.