strain a gnat and swallow a camel; strain at a gnat and swallow a camel

to be troubled over small problems but accept or overlook big ones
—My mother doesn’t eat candy because she says it’s unhealthy, but she smokes a pack of cigarettes every day. I guess she’s willing to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

Jesus often spoke of the hypocritical actions of the Jewish teachers and Pharisees as examples of what not to do. This was the case when he condemned their following small details of God’s law (such as giving to God a tenth of their spices) but ignoring the more important issues, on which the law was built. He said, 

Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23)

Included in God’s Old Testament laws is a list of animals that should not be eaten. Jesus referred to two of these animals when he said, 

Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel [strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel]! (Matthew 23:24)

The phrase strain at, from the King James Bible, is in an older form of English and means “strain out.” But what does it mean to “strain out” a gnat? A very careful Jew would drink his wine through a cloth, in order to catch any tiny insects that might have fallen into his cup, keeping him from swallowing them. But Jesus said that attention to details such as that meant nothing if the same person didn’t stop committing bigger sins.

Advertisement
Comments are closed.
  • All scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

    Scripture in brackets is from the King James Bible.

  • Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed by Craig Thompson under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

    Any reproduction of this content using passages from the NET Bible must follow NET Bible's copyright policy for use of those passages.

    For information on creating translations of Putting Words in Our Mouths, please go here.

  • Visit My Blog: Clearing Customs

    Photographers, Can You Do Us Cross-Cultural Bloggers a Favor? [—at A Life Overseas]

    From a recent edition of the weekly web journal Brigada Today, I found out that there’s a photography conference, “Depth of Field,” coming up, February 7 and 8. It’s designed for pro photographers, but I’m thinking that means amateurs could learn even more from it. And it’s in New York, but the “Main Stage” and […]

    Where Do You Hail From?

    Ask a Third Culture Kid, “Where are you from?” and in response you might get a deep sigh or a quizzical look . . . or a quick, simple answer that staves off more questions. There are other ways to ask for the same information. There’s “Where’s home?” A better question might be “Where have […]