Until studying Matthew 7 for sermon preparation, I was unaware that there was any debate as to where the “narrow gate” was. If Matthew 7:14 spoke about a narrow gate, a hard way, and a destination of life, then the order of the words must be the order of what you’d find: first you’d go through the narrow gate, then you’d come upon the narrow way, and lastly you’d arrive at life.
But now I think a different explanation of the “gate” language is more compelling. Scholars like John Nolland and Charles Quarles offer arguments that the “narrow gate” is actually at the end of the narrow way. The gate is about final entrance. Why is this a plausible–if not the probable–explanation?
- Gates were often used as points of eschatological destination. The “gates of hades” or “gates of heaven” refer to a gate that opens to the destination, not to a gate that leads to a journey. The gate is at the end of the journey.
- The “narrow gate” image in Matthew 7:13-14 is fronted for the sake of emphasis, not for the purpose of telling you the exact order of the elements (gate, then path, then final destination). When Jesus says “Enter by the narrow gate” (Matt 7:13a), he wants his listeners to enter the kingdom. The “narrow gate” is mentioned first because that is what’s most important here. That’s the thesis of Matthew 7:13-14.
- “Entering by the narrow gate” is probably equivalent to entering God’s kingdom or entering into eternal life on the last day. Thus final entrance would be in view. In fact, later in Matthew 7 the verb “enter” is used again and refers to Judgment Day: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (7:21). In the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that people should enact radical measures to defeat sin, for “it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (18:9). In Matthew’s Gospel, it seems “entering life“=”entering the kingdom of heaven“=”entering by the narrow gate.”
- The “road” or “way” language in Matthew 7:13-14 is used elsewhere in his Gospel for roads outside a city. People would traverse such roads to arrive at a city’s gate–or, in Jesus’ use of the metaphor, at the gate of the kingdom. The way that leads to life is hard (7:14), but people should travel that way nonetheless, for the narrow way leads to a “narrow gate,” through which is life eternal.
The hard way in Matthew 7:14 is the disciple’s life that Jesus has articulated in Matthew 5-7. Jesus wants people to enter through the narrow gate which leads to life, so they should travel the way he’s been teaching about, because no other path leads to the narrow gate. The alternative way is broad and easy, but it leads to a wide gate, and through that gate is destruction.
So where along the “way” is the “narrow gate” located? Some argue that the gate is at the beginning of the path, while others say it’s at the end. I’ve summarized some scholarly arguments that suggest the latter, and I find that view most convincing.