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When we read about Jesus contrasting “wide” and “narrow” gates in Matthew 7:13-14, the modern assumption is to picture two separate gates at the end of separate roads. Historically speaking, that image is probably incorrect.

In Jesus’ time, city gates were large and multi-layered. The broad, tall, wide gate opened during the day to allow entry of large caravans, livestock, groups of people, and so on. It was a bustling, busy, place where anyone (such as thieves or other criminals) could hide undetected within a crowd. Just inside that gate, or sometimes inset into the broad gate, was a smaller opening that allowed only one or two people, or a single donkey to pass through. This was typically guarded. No one could pass through here anonymously.

This type of city-gate setup was similarly true in wealthy homes and estates, and that seems to be Jesus’ reference point in the parallel passage of Luke 13:24. These large homes typically featured a walled-in courtyard with a large entryway that was opened to allow carts and animals to pass through during the day. Inset into that large door would have been a smaller door which individual family members used to enter and exit in either day or night.

Thus, to “enter through the narrow gate,” could have been understood to mean entering God’s kingdom without anonymity, without any possibility of hiding anything about who you are—and to enter as a recognized member of God’s family.

 

Works Cited:

[ZP2, 645-646; SLU 359]

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