Debunking 5 Biblical Myths Accepted by Many as True

by Steve Ray on May 17, 2020

34A8D4E9-74C8-4F95-98E2-35786A76BA97There are three “truths” I have been asked about many times. Often people tell me these as though they’re explaining to me something I’ve never heard before. However, in each case, there is no historical, biblical or actual basis to any three of them. In each case they started being taught in recent times and because their side so often they “become true.”

In each case, they started being taught in recent times and because they’re sad so often they “become true.“

1) BREAKING THE LEG OF A WANDERING LAMB

The first of these is that shepherds in the Middle East break the leg of a wandering lamb to keep it close by. And being close to the shepherd makes the lamb very affectionate.

This does not happen and there are no traditions or incidents known of it happening. In fact, there are a good number of reasons why it would not happen. It is simply a manufactured myth.

2). THE “ EYE OF A NEEDLE” IS A GATE

FE7E50AF-5E9C-4045-B107-0FDAFCF875A9The story is lovely for preaching because it graphically explains how a camel cannot get through the small door in a wall to enter a city. With all the merchandise on it’s back the camel driver hast to remove everything from the camel’s back so it can stoop down and we go through the small gate.

However, there is no historical, written or archaeological evidence there was ever such a gate. The camel was the largest thing people usually saw and the eye of the needle the smallest, therefore, it made an excellent visual image about how a rich man could into heaven only by offloading his wealth and possessions. But the idea that the “eye of the needle” was a gate – is a myth.

3) THE FOLDED NAPKIN IN THE TOMB MEANT JESUS WOULD COME BACK

4515AF0D-50CE-49A7-98D1-A4D808F76F07 The Gospel of John tells us that the napkin or face cloth of Christ was rolled or folded up in a place by itself. Some have invented a custom that never existed, that a man would crumple up his napkin and toss it aside if he was done with dinner but would fold it neatly and set it aside if he was leaving but would come right back.

Therefore, since Jesus‘s face cloth or napkin was folded up in the empty tomb, it was a signal that Jesus would return.

“It has been rumored that folding the napkin at the table is a Jewish custom that means the person folding the napkin intends to return. Numerous Bible study sources have been checked, but there is nothing about this alleged Jewish custom of the folded napkins. The only references to this story seem to be from internet postings and emails that appear to have originated in 2007…. The truth is that table napkins, such as we use today, were not used in Jesus’ day. Jews would do an after-meal hand washing as part of the eating ritual….The folding of the napkin as a sign that a dinner guest was finished may be good European custom, but it appears this custom was unknown in the land of Israel in the time of Jesus.” (Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013).

The folded napkin, like the other three, is a myth.

4) JESUS COULDN’T HAVE BEEN BORN DECEMBER 25 BECAUSE SHEEP AREN’T OUT  IN THE FIELDS IN WINTER

A5754794-4161-4869-9DBB-C8D5C4B0F68EPresumably wool is not enough to keep sheep warm so the have to stay home during winter. Not true. It can get cold in Bethlehem and on rare occasions I’ve even had snowball fights with local children. But Bethlehem is not Alaska and the temperatures are usually very mild even in December. I have often worn a light jacket even on New Years Day.

Even in inclement weather there are plenty of caves outside of Bethlehem and we often celebrate Mass in Shepherds Field where the shepherds kept the sheep overnight on the first Christmas Eve. Caves are abundant and on a cold night sheep can enjoy the warmth of the caves.

With my own eyes, I tell you, sheep are in the fields eating year-round.

5) SAUL OF TARSUS WAS GIVEN A NEW NAME AT HIS CONVERSION OR CALLING

5ECB630B-F0E9-41D9-B3B2-96E5E319B858Abram was renamed Abraham when God formed a covenant with him (Gen 17:5) and Simon was given his new name Peter (Rock) when he was commissioned as Royal Steward by Jesus (Matt 16:18). However, Saul was never given a new name. Saul of Tarsus had duel citizenship, both a Jew of Israel and also a Roman citizen (Acts 22:26-28). Up until he was called by God to go to the Gentiles, we see him referred to by his Jewish name Saul. After his call, he was referred to by his Roman name Paul (Acts 13:9) because he was now going out to preach to the Gentiles so he used his Roman name.

So Paul was not granted a new name but had two names from birth, his Jewish name and his Roman name.

There’s an old saying that if you say something often enough it becomes true. However, even though these things are said often enough, they are NOT true.

If you’ve heard of other “truths” like this that you think might be a myth, let me know.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

John January 14, 2019 at 10:08 AM

"The first of these is that shepherds in the Middle East break the leg of a wandering lamb to keep it close by. And being close to the shepherd makes the lamb very affectionate"

There is a book called "A Shepard looks a Psalm 23." He IS a Shepard and DOES dis-locate a wondering sheep's leg to illicit obedience. It is true a broken leg would require putting down the animal. Not very cost effective to a business. It is a short read (yes it is Protestant) you may have not heard of it.

STEVE RAY HERE: John, I have a copy of Keller’s book in my library. He does NOT mention breaking or dislocating the leg of a lamb. He talks about using the rod, but never mentions breaking the leg of a lamb. Thanks for sharing though.

Rena January 14, 2019 at 11:47 AM

It is of interest that in times past and even today one will find needles made from camel bone. It is one of the hardest of bone and makes long lasting needles to
Use for saddle repair.

Hence the metaphor makes very good sense as told in scripture.

STEVE RAY HERE: Interesting observations. Here is a picture of a camel bone needle https://www.sfneedleworkanddesign.org/a-brief-history-of-the-sewing-needle/

Dan Gallagher January 14, 2019 at 12:02 PM

Good article. But, as the date of Christ's birth: Not knowing the actual date but in need of replacing the pagan festivals of the winter solstice, it was decided that the date of celebration would be then. There was never any assertion by the Church of any particular date. There is a substantial probability that the date was in July of the year 4 B.C because of a celestial anomaly of alignments that could have produced an appearance of a single start pausing over Bethlehem, though the instruments for measuring the brief pause likely did not exist then.

STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks for sharing Dan. My point was not to prove the date of the birth of Christ but to rebut the idea that it could NOT be in December because of sheep and winter. You may find a video (also a document) by Taylor Marshall interest in this regard: https://youtu.be/b7nuX2F_Cpo

Carole Seal January 14, 2019 at 12:29 PM

"Even if there was such a custom of folding a napkin and setting it aside to indicate you’d be back (which there is not)…"
But there is such a custom. From my mother who learned it from hers, I learned it as a child, taught my children who taught theirs. I never heard my mother or grandmother (both pious women) liken this to the burial cloth of Christ, rather, it was described as "proper etiquette."

STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks for your comment Carole. It is a wonderful tradition your family has. However, my point was not that some people today don’t have such a tradition. My point was that there is absolutely no evidence that such a tradition was from ancient Israel and no indication at all that such was the purpose of the folded napkin in the tomb.

God bless and thanks for sharing.

Usulor Kenneth May 15, 2020 at 4:21 AM

Wow, Steve I’m so glad to have stumbled upon your site today through Lifesite. I first heard of you and read your conversion story at http://www.chnetwork.org about/more than 10 years ago.
Now concerning the eye of a needle mentioned in the scripture, we here in Nigeria usually understand the right meaning of the that metaphor. No child who has come of age here can even imagine that Eye of a Needle is a gate/hole on a wall because everyone knows about the needle and how tiny its hole/eye is ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewing_needle). It was while reading a daily devotional – The Word Among Us – in 2005 or thereabouts that I first heard that the Eye of a Needle is a gate in Jerusalem. I accepted it because I thought that was a reality I never know. Thanks for exposing this myth.

Emival Silva May 16, 2020 at 3:01 PM

Another great job Steve, as usual. Thanks for all you've done.
I heard that the camel was a name for the rope that ships use when docking.

STEVE RAY HERE: Emival, very perceptive! Yes, there are some who claim that camel actually means a thick rope. In Greek the two words are very similar: kamilos meaning thick rope and kamelos meaning the animal. For this reason some, even in earlier times, and confused them. However, kamilos is never used in the New Testament and every time kamelos is used it is used of the animal. Kamilos seems to be a rare word whereas kamelos is very common and always refers to a camel. It is unlikely the average Jew in the Judea of Jesus’s time would readily be aware of the thick rope, having rarely in ever been to the sea, but they had camels passing by their villages every day.

Elsewhere in the Gospels it is obvious that the use of Greek kamelos or the English camel, is the animal:

Matthew 3:4 (ESV)
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Matthew 23:24 (ESV)
24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

In the Jewish Babylonian Talmud there is a similar phrase:
They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.

For many reasons it seems quite certain that the camel going through the eye of a needle is the animal camel going through the eye of a sewing needle.

For more you can check out: https://aramaicjudaizers.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-greek-camel-aramaic-rope-words-of.html

Bill912 May 16, 2020 at 8:16 PM

Since we are talking about a camel going through the eye of a needle, it reminded me that I read somewhere that St. Matthew used the Greek word for a sewing needle, and St. Luke (the doctor) used the Greek word for a surgical needle. Or is that another myth, Steve?

STEVE RAY HERE: Bill, it is a bit uncertain. Matthew and Mark use one word, definitely meaning a sewing needle, but Luke uses a different word which can mean sewing needle or sharp point. Here are entries from two reputable Bible dictionaries with contradictory answers.

“Matthew and Mark use Gk. rhaph??s, a sewing needle, while Luke uses belón?. Some have speculated that Luke’s choice reflects his medical background, and that a belón? was a surgical needle, but there is no clear evidence for this idea.” (Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible)

“Needle [Gk hraphís (Mt. 19:24; Mk. 10:25), belón? (Lk. 18:25)]. A word occurring only in the Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ saying about the eye of the needle. Reflecting his medical background, Luke used belón?, which refers to a needle regularly used for surgical purposes.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

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