Matthew 23:24
You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(24) Strain at a gnat.—Better, as in Tyndale’s and other earlier versions, strain out. It is sometimes said that the present rendering of the Authorised version is but the perpetuation of a printer’s blunder; but of this there is scarcely sufficient evidence, nor is it probable in itself. In the Greek both nouns have the emphasis of the article, “the gnat—the camel.” The scrupulous care described in the first clause of the proverbial saying was literally practised by devout Jews (as it is now by the Buddhists of Ceylon), in accordance with Leviticus 11:23; Leviticus 11:42. In the second clause, the camel appears, not only, as in Matthew 19:24, as the type of vastness, but as being among the unclean beasts of which the Israelites might not eat (Leviticus 11:4).

23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Which strain at a gnat ... - This is a proverb. There is, however, a mistranslation or misprint here, which makes the verse unmeaning. "To strain" at a "gnat" conveys no sense. It should have been to strain out a gnat; and so it is printed in some of the earlier versions, and so it was undoubtedly rendered by the translators. The common reading is a "misprint," and should be corrected. The Greek means to "strain" out by a cloth or sieve.

A gnat - The gnat has its origin in the water; not in great rivers, but in pools and marshes In the stagnant waters they appear in the form of small "grubs" or "larvae." These larvae retain their form about three weeks, after which they turn to chrysalids, and after three or four days they pass to the form of gnats. They are then distinguished by their well-known sharp sting. It is probable that the Saviour here refers to the insect as it exists in its "grub" or "larva" form, before it appears in the form of a gnat. Water is then its element, and those who were nice in their drink would take pains to strain it out. Hence, the proverb. See Calmet's Dict., art. "Gnat." It is used here to denote a very small matter, as a camel is to denote a large object. "You Jews take great pains to avoid offence in very small matters, superstitiously observing the smallest points of the law, like a man carefully straining out the animalculae from what he drinks, while you are at no pains to avoid great sins - hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust - like a man who should swallow a camel." The Arabians have a similar proverb: "He eats an elephant, and is suffocated with a gnat." He is troubled with little things, but pays no attention to great matters.

24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat—The proper rendering—as in the older English translations, and perhaps our own as it came from the translators' hands—evidently is, "strain out." It was the custom, says Trench, of the stricter Jews to strain their wine, vinegar, and other potables through linen or gauze, lest unawares they should drink down some little unclean insect therein and thus transgress (Le 11:20, 23, 41, 42)—just as the Buddhists do now in Ceylon and Hindustan—and to this custom of theirs our Lord here refers.

and swallow a camel—the largest animal the Jews knew, as the "gnat" was the smallest; both were by the law unclean.

It is a proverbial expression used amongst them, against such as would pretend a great niceness and scrupulosity about, and zeal for, little things, but in matters of much higher concern and moment were not nice and scrupulous at all: and this indeed is both a certain note and an ordinary practice of hypocrites. There is no man that is sincere in his obedience to God, but hath respect to all God’s commandments, Psalm 119:6. Though some duties be greater, of more moment for the honour and glory of God, than others, which a good man will lay the greatest stress upon, yet he will neglect nothing which the law of God enjoins him. But concerning hypocrites, these two things are always true:

1. They are partial in their pretended obedience.

2. They always lay the greatest stress upon the least things of the law, bodily labour and exercise, and those things which require least of the heart, and least self-denial. Ye blind guides,.... As in Matthew 23:16.

who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel: the Syriac and Persic versions read the words in the plural number, gnats and camels. The Jews had a law, which forbid them the eating of any creeping thing,

Leviticus 11:41 and of this they were strictly observant, and would not be guilty of the breach of it for ever so much,

"One that eats a flea, or a gnat; they say (p) is "an apostate";

one that has changed his religion, and is no more to be reckoned as one of them. Hence they very carefully strained their liquors, lest they should transgress the above command, and incur the character of an apostate; and at least, the penalty of being beaten with forty stripes, save one; for,

"whoever eats a whole fly, or a whole gnat, whether alive or dead, was to be beaten on account of a creeping flying thing (q).

Among the accusations Haman is said to bring against them to Ahasuerus, and the instances he gives of their laws being different from the king's, this one (r); that "if a fly falls into the cup of one of them, , "he strains it, and drinks it"; but if my lord the king should touch the cup of one of them, he would throw it to the ground, and would not drink of it.

Maimonides says (s),

"He that strains wine, or vinegar, or strong liquor, and eats "Jabchushin" (a sort of small flies found in wine cellars (t), on account of which they strained their wine), or gnats, or worms, which he hath strained off, is to be beaten on account of the creeping things of the water, or on account of the creeping flying things, and the creeping things of the water.

Moreover, it is said (u),

"a man might not pour his strong liquors through a strainer, by the light (of a candle or lamp), lest he should separate and leave in the top of the strainer (some creeping thing), and it should fail again into the cup, and he should transgress the law, in Leviticus 11:41.

To this practice Christ alluded here; and so very strict and careful were they in this matter, that to strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel, became at length a proverb, to signify much solicitude about little things, and none about greater. These men would not, on any consideration, be guilty of such a crime, as not to pay the tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and such like herbs and seeds; and yet made no conscience of doing justice, and showing mercy to men, or of exercising faith in God, or love to him. Just as many hypocrites, like them, make a great stir, and would appear very conscientious and scrupulous, about some little trifling things, and yet stick not, at other times, to commit the grossest enormities, and most scandalous sins in life,

(p) T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 26. 2. & Horaiot, fol. 11. 1.((q) Mainon. Hilch. Maacolot Asurot, c. 2. sect. 22. (r) T. Bab. Megilla, fol, 13. 2. Vid. T. Hietos. Sota, fol. 17. 1.((s) Ubi supra, (Mainon. Hilch. Maacolot Asurot, c. 2.) sect. 20. (t) Gloss. in T. Bab. Cholin, fol. 67. 1.((u) Ib.

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 23:24. The Jews were in the habit of straining their wine (διϋλίζ., Plut. Mor. p. 692 D), in order that there might be no possibility of their swallowing with it any unclean animal, however minute (Leviticus 11:42). Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. p. 516. Comp. the liquare vinum of the Greeks and Romans; Mitscherlich, ad Hor. Od. i. 11. 7; Hermann, Privatalterth. § xxvi. 17. Figurative representation of the painful scrupulosity with which the law was observed.

τὸν κώνωπα] a kind of attraction for percolando removentes muscam (that found in the wine, τὸν κ.), just as in classical writers the phrase καθαίρειν τι is often used to express the removing of anything by cleansing (Hom. Il. xiv. 171, xvi. 667; Dio Cass. xxxvii. 52). κώνωψ is not a worm found in sour wine (Bochart, Bleek), but, as always, a gnat. In its attempt to suck the wine, it falls in amongst it.

τὴν δὲ κάμηλ. καταπίν.] proverbial expression, τὰ μέγιστα δὲ ἀπαρατηρήτως ἁμαρτάνοντες Euthymius Zigabenus. Observe at the same time that the camel is an unclean animal, Leviticus 11:4.Matthew 23:24. διϋλίζοντες (διὰ and ὕλη, Passow), a little used word, for which Hesychius gives as a synonym, διηθέω, to strain through.—τὸν κώνωπα, τὴν κάμηλον, the gnat, the camel: article as usual in proverbial sayings. The proper object of the former part is οἶνον: straining the wine so as to remove the unclean midge. Swallowing the camel is a monstrous supposition, but relevant, the camel being unclean, chewing the cud but not parting the hoof (Leviticus 11:4). The proverb clinches the lesson of the previous verse.24. strain out a gnat] A correction for the reading of E. V. “strain at a gnat;” the reading in the text appears in the earlier editions of the English Bible from Tyndale to Bishops’ Bible. See Cambridge Paragraph Bible, Introd., Appendix A. The reading of the E. V. is not a misprint, as some have thought; “to strain at” meant, to strain the wine on the occurrence of a gnat.Matthew 23:24. Τὸν κώνωπα, the gnat) They who object to swallowing a camel should not be found fault with for merely straining a gnat,[1006] such being far from our Lord’s intention: for no one can safely swallow a gnat, which may choke him. A beam is the worse of the two, and yet a chip[1007] is not disregarded, even in the hand, much more in the eye. See ch. Matthew 7:5. The noun κώνωψ is a word of common gender, and signifies a gnat, properly one belonging to wine, which easily falls into a strainer.[1008]

[1006] The clause rendered by E. V., “who strain at a gnat,” is interpreted more correctly by Bengel, “who strain a gnat,” on which Alford observes in loc., “The straining the gnat is not a mere proverbial saying. The Jews (as do now the Buddists in Ceylon and Hindostan) strained their wine, etc., carefully, that they might not violate Leviticus 11:20; Leviticus 11:23; Leviticus 11:41-42 (and it might be added, Leviticus 17:10-14). The camel is not only opposed as of immense size, but is also unclean.”—(I. B.)

[1007] In the original, “Festuca,” corresponding to the English word, Mote; the meaning of which, in Matthew 7:3 (which is here referred to), is not a mote such as we see in sunbeams, but a small particle of straw. I know of no English word that now corresponds to this idea: it is something between a chip and a speck.—(I. B.)

[1008] The wine-gnat, according to Rosenmüller, is found in wine when turning acid. The Jews used to strain out their wines through a napkin or strainer, to prevent this wine-gnat being swallowed unawares. See Buxtorf on the root סַנֵן. Beng. wishes to guard us against the abuse of this passage, whereby it is often said to those who are careful in the greater duties, when particular also on minor points, “Oh! you are straining at a gnat.” They forget that Jesus does not object to tenderness of conscience as to moral gnats, but to those who, whilst scrupulous as to gnats, are unscrupulous as to moral camels, Ecclesiastes 10:1.—ED.Strain at (διυλίξοντες)

διά, thoroughly or through, and ὑλίζω, to filter or strain. Strain at is an old misprint perpetuated. Hence the Rev. correctly, as Tynd., strain out. Insects were ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 11:20, Leviticus 11:23, Leviticus 11:41, Leviticus 11:42), so that the Jews strained their wine in order not to swallow any unclean animal. Moreover, there were certain insects which bred in wine. Aristotle uses the word gnat (κώνωπα) of a worm or larva found in the sediment of sour wine. "In a ride from Tangier to Tetuan I observed that a Moorish soldier who accompanied me, when he drank, always unfolded the end of his turban and placed it over the mouth of his bota, drinking through the muslin to strain out the gnats, whose larvae swarm in the water of that country" (cited by Trench, "On the Authorized Version").

Swallow (καταπίνοντες)

The rendering is feeble. It is drink down (κατά); gulp. Note that the camel was also unclean (Leviticus 11:4).

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