“Enter Ye in at the Strait Gate”

Brant Gardner

This saying is the beginning of the end of the sermon. From this point to the end (v. 27), the sayings are all admonitions to accept and follow the gospel. Having begun by showing how the gospel differs from the law of Moses, Jesus communicates his expectation that his listeners should accept this new understanding of the fulfilled law and begin to live its precepts.

Literature: This saying first states the commandment positively: We should enter at the “strait gate.” It then reverts to the antithetical parallels that have structured most of the sayings in the sermon:

A for wide is the gate,

B and broad is the way,

C which leadeth to destruction,

D and many there be who go in thereat;

A’ Because strait is the gate,

B’ and narrow is the way,

C’ which leadeth unto life,

D’ and few there be that find it.

Structurally, this verses consists of two, two-part parallels, with the second being the antithesis of the first. In both sets, A and B are different aspects of the same image. A and B parallel A’ and B’ (gate and way), but are wide and broad, and therefore easily accessible. A’ and B’ are strait and narrow, therefore restricted.

Following these opening elements, the phrases continue to be parallel, but to emphasize an antithesis. The imagery here is one of traveling along a road. Unlike the earlier saying, in which the seeker went a short distance to a kinsman’s door, this journey is longer and will take more time. There are two routes: one wide and one narrow. The contrast may be the difference between public and private roadways. The public way leading to a city of refuge was broad—thirty-two cubits (sixteen yards) across. An ordinary public way was six cubits and a private way was only four cubits.

Broad or narrow, a roadway is still a road. The saying does not imply that one road is easier or harder than the other; but there are naturally fewer people on the narrow road—not because it cannot hold as many (although this is true), but because few “find” it. Thus, the Savior apparently is contrasting between the private and public. Believers who find the private road will be a minority among a majority that pursues a public way. (See also commentary accompanying 2 Nephi 31:9.)

Book of Mormon Context: This saying would have very little relevance to Mesoamericans, who had no wheeled vehicles or draft animals. Archaeologist Susan Toby Evans tells us that in the Late Formative period (300 B.C.–A.D. 1), some formal roads “linked important architectural features within a site, and later, linked sites with each other. They were often raised well above ground level—the Kan Causeway at Nakbé was 4 m (13 ft) above adjacent ground level in some places—and were paved with crushed white stone, which inspired their Mayan name, sacbe (‘white way’).” In the Terminal Formative period (A.D. 1–300), the cities of Uaxactún and El Mirador were connected by a sacbe that was 24 miles long. In spite of their obvious importance and careful construction, such roads were the exception rather than the rule. Most “roads” were footpaths, perfectly adequate for pedestrian travel. Another foreign concept in Mesoamerica would have been gates or barriers to roads.

A third potentially puzzling feature may have been the few versus the many. While believers had been a minority in Nephite lands during the previous twenty to forty years, it obviously did not match most of Nephite history or the current residents in Bountiful whom Jesus was addressing, nor would it describe the next several generations. Of all of the messages contained in the Sermon on the Mount, this one would have had the least applicability to the Mesoamerican Nephites.

Comparison: There are no changes from the Matthean text.

Variant: In the 1830 edition, “strait” was spelled “straight,” a change made by the typesetter, since “strait” appears in the printer’s manuscript. The two words are homophones in English. This particular variant reflects both homophony and more fluid spelling practices in the early 1800s; “strait” appears consistently in the Book of Mormon manuscripts. (See commentary accompanying 1 Nephi 8:20.)

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5