Gateway, door

Different interpretations

Pilgrim's Progress engraving of Christian going through the Wicket GateA gateway or a door can carry a variety of associations depending on whether it is viewed as an entrance or an exit; similarly, whether it is open, closed or locked. It can mark the difference between the known and the unknown, or between the safe and the threatening. It can represent opportunity or, in the presence of alternatives, choice. Being outside might imply exclusion, exposure or freedom; conversely, being inside might imply inclusion, protection, privacy or captivity. The ability to open or close a gateway or door can require special authority, such as the possession of a key. All of these associations appear in the language of the Bible.


Jerusalem and other biblical cities would have been surrounded by high, fortifying walls with one or more large entrance gates. As the only (straightforward) routes in and out, gates were highly busy and also heavily guarded. To ‘possess the gates of [one’s] enemies’ was to gain control of their city Genesis 22:17
They were inevitably a place of vulnerability, both literally and metaphorically. In Psalms 141:3 David described his lips as a ‘door’ which he implored God to guard – in other words, to prevent him from speaking what is not good. In Genesis 4:6-7 God warned Cain that sin was ‘crouching at the door’ and must be resisted.


Gates were also important locations for official business and social interaction, the place where the Jewish elders presided over matters of law and public life. Accordingly, in the story of Ruth and Boaz, the latter went to the gates to negotiate with another relative in the presence of the elders, about acquiring land and Ruth’s hand in marriage (Ruth 4:1-4). 
The gate was a place for gossip - Mordecai foiled a conspiracy against the King’s life when he overheard a pair of angry servants plotting by the palace gates (Esther 2:21). In Proverbs, the gates were among the busy places where Wisdom sought to make herself heard:
Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
  in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
  at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
Proverbs 1:20-21 ESVUK      

Life choices

A key theme of JesusSermon on the Mount was how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He drew a contrast between the ‘narrow gate’ leading to life, and the ‘wide gate’ leading to destruction Matthew 7:13-14. People need to choose which way they go. In another image, Jesus depicted himself as being outside a door, waiting to be invited into a person’s heart and life Revelation 3:20. It is up to the individual to open.
James, imploring readers to lead patient and steadfast lives, described God in warning tones as the Judge who is standing at the door James 5:8-9.


When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, they could not re-enter because it was guarded by an angel (Genesis 3:24). Both hell and heaven are depicted as having gates. Jesus described himself as holding the keys to the realm of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) and promised that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail’ against his church (Matthew 16:18). Since gates are the location of meeting and counsel (see above), this is like saying that the plans and schemes of hell will not succeed.
The New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:12-13; Revelation 21:21-27 has twelve gates – three on each of the four sides of the city, each made of a single pearl. They remain continually open; however, only those who are ‘written in the Lamb’s book of life’ may enter.

Entrance into God’s presence

According to the New Testament, the only way to access eternal life in the presence of God is through faith in Jesus. In one of several ‘I am’ statements in John, Jesus explained this concept by using the metaphor of a door or gate (depending on the translation):
So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. .. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.’                  John 10:7-9 ESVUK     
Paul frequently spoke of opportunities in his mission (to help people come to faith in Christ) using the analogy of doors – some were already open 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, others he prayed would become open Colossians 4:3.


  • TS Eliot's 1942 poem Little Gidding described a gate which was both the (unremembered) beginning and end of a person’s life’s exploration:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
(T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, part V)     
  • Papa Panov’s Special Day is a short story inspired by Matthew 25:31-40. The most famous version is by Leo Tolstoy. Papa Panov waited all Christmas Day for a promised visit from Jesus. In the meantime he helped many people who came to his door. Later, Jesus revealed to him that he was present in each of the people he helped
  • In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s 1678 allegory for the Christian life, one of the first landmarks on Christian’s journey was the Wicket Gate, which opened on to the ‘straight and narrow’ King’s Highway, an obvious allusion to Matthew 7:13-14
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Oscar Wilde’s protagonist kept the enchanted painting which revealed his ‘true’ self, aging and debauched, behind a locked door. 

Other cultural references

  • The Gate (1954), by abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman, evokes an entry to an enticing ‘beyond’ in three simple vertical strips of colour on a large canvas
  • A round in 1960’s TV game show Let’s Make a Deal involved choosing between doors concealing mystery prizes. It inspired the ‘Monty Hall problem’ – a famous probability puzzle with a seemingly paradoxical answer, named after the game show host.

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