Matthew 23:24

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. – KJV

You blind guides, which strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel. – working TKJV

Note: We do NOT accept that “strain at a gnat” was an error, nor a misprint in the KJV.

The King James Version reads correctly for 17th century Bible English!

Four Points of View

There are basically four points of view on this subject of strain at a gnat (vs strain out a gnat).

  1. “It’s a Typographical Error”
  2. “It’s a Translation Error”
  3. “It’s Correct – To strain at means to look at!
  4. “It’s Correct – But Archaic”

Old Words – Old Spelling

While you read this…

Consider and keep in mind that today, as well as in the past, the English language contains alternate spellings that date back decades, or even a century or more.  For example the word naught, meaning nothing, may be correctly spelled nought or nowt according to Webster’s online dictionary.  All of the following have basically the same meaning:

  • His work came to nothing.
  • His work came to naught.
  • His work came to nought.
  • His work came to nowt.

It’s a Typographical Error

In 1611 the old English “ūt” was still an acceptable way to spell “out”.  It is conceivable that someone wrote in the manuscript “ūt”and a printer error caused it to be printed “at” instead of “out”.  However, this is not what happened.

Some of the notes made by John Bois (member of the first Cambridge Committee for the KJV 1611) during the final revision were recently discovered in Corpus Christi College Library at Oxford, edited by Professor Ward Allen, and published in 1970 under the title Translating for King James.

Mr. Allen is also the co-author with Edward C. Jacobs on The Coming of the King James Gospels: A Collation of the Translators’ Work-in-Progress. Apparently, a 1610 copy of the 1602 Bishop’s Bible, 2hixh the KJV translators used, was discovered in the Bodleian Library.  This Bible contained annotations and revision notes made, and used by the translators of the KJV 1611.  Hence, what Allen and Jacobs have provided for us are some of the KJV translators thoughts on the readings in the Bishop’s Bible, in the Gospels, that had to be changed.  One of the most spectacular markings in this entire work is Matthew 23:24.  Here you have the Bishop’s reading, “Yee blinde guides, which straine out a gnat, and swallow a camell.”  Of course, the only mark left on the verse is a note indicating the intent to alter “out” to “at.”

It is obvious that this was a deliberate rendition, and not a printer’s error.

It’s a Translation Error

It could not be a translation error.  Every English Bible prior to KJV 1611 that had “out” in this text, and the KJV translators were committed to not change anything in the Bishops’ Bible unless it improved the translation.  To make a change of this sort the translators would have to see that “strain at” was more useful in the 17th century setting they were working in.

When checking the Oxford English Dictionary (online) you can find an interesting note in the definition strain v.(1) sense 21.

It has been asserted that ‘straine at’ in the Bible of 1611 is a misprint for ‘straine out’, the rendering of earlier versions (see 14e). But quots. 1583 and 1594 show that the translators of 1611 simply adopted a rendering that had already obtained currency. It was not a mistranslation, the meaning intended being ‘which strain the liquor if they find a gnat in it’.

[1583 GREENE Mamillia II. B3b, Most vniustly straining at a gnat, and letting passe an elephant. 1594 J. KING On Jonas (1599) 284 They have verified the olde proverbe in strayning at gnats and swallowing downe camells. 1611 BIBLE Matt. xxiii. 24 Ye blind guides, which straine at a gnat, and swallow a camel.]

Be sure to read all of senses 21 and 14e.

“Strain At [ finding ] A Gnat!”

To reiterate, “the translators of 1611 simply adopted a rendering that had already obtained currency.”

“Strain at [ finding, seeing, suspecting, discovering ] a gnat” was evidentially an idiom during the decades of the 16th and 17th centuries leading up to the KJV Translation.  (See Strain At A Gnat below.)

It’s Correct – To strain at means to look at!

This point of view is almost comical, because it is so absurd.

According to Strong’s, the Greek diulozo is defined as “to filter through, strain through, pour through a filter, strain out.”

It is very clear that the Greek word diulizo has to do with filtering, not viewing.  No mention of to look at anything!

It’s Correct – But Archaic

The preposition (whether “at”, “out”, “for”, etc.) is provided by the translator, and so this is where the dispute arises. There is also no corresponding Greek word for “which” in Matt. 23:24 either, but that does not mean it doesn’t belong in the English translation.  Greek does not have the indefinite article at all (the “a” before the words “gnat” and “camel” in this verse); but it is correctly supplied in English to indicate that the substantive is singular and non-specific.

Although, currently it would seem “out” has better foundation for its presence.  In this case diulozo in Strongs includes “strain through” or “strain out” as part of the definition.  A Greek word is often (necessarily or not) translated by more than one English word.

The question is merely one of grammar.  The King James Version reads correctly.  We just aren’t used to saying it that way. Furthermore…

Strain Out Idiom

Strain out is an idiom we are used to today.  Strain out was an idiom in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 21st centuries!

Strain At Idiom

Strain at a gnat seems to be a 17th century idiom (see below “Strain At A Gnat”).

Strain Alone

It isn’t necessary to say strain out or strain at when strain alone is sufficient.

“Strain a gnat” is a pretty literal translation.   In English it doesn’t work so well though.  We generally think of straining the liquid, not the solid(s).  The usual construction is to strain something through something.  What does not pass through is strained out.

This is comfortable

Strain the milk.

This is awkward…

Strain the curds.

So we say…

Strain out the curds.

We strain a liquid to get the solids out…

Strain the milk to get the curds out!

We strain out the solids from the liquid.

Strain out the curds from the milk.

Strain In

We never say strain in!  Because strain at and strain out are idioms, constructed antonyms like strain in are ridiculous!

Strain At A Gnat

Therefore, by establishing strain at a gnat as an archaic 16th and 17th century idiom, we can establish that the KJV is correct for the 17th century, and that strain at a gnat is archaic, which should be replaced in the Translators King James Version (TKJV).  To this end, the following are presented to show usage of strain at a gnat in the decades leading up to the KJV translation.  As sighted above (see It’s a Translation Error),  in the Oxford English Dictionary, to wit,  “the translators of 1611 simply adopted a rendering that had already obtained currency.” :

E. Cobham Brewer
Dictionary of Phrase and Fable(1898)
“Strain at a gnat and swallow a camel…”  Our expression “strain at” is a corruption of strain-ut, “ut” being the Saxon form of “out”, which is still retained in the words utmost, utter, uttermost, etc.” (Meaning out-most, outer, and outermost, respectively.)

 

“Strain At [ finding, seeing, suspecting, discovering ] A Gnat!”

 

“Strain at a gnat” was a commonly used idiom in the decades preceding the translation of the KJV.  For example:

Rudolf Gwalther

An hundred, threescore and fiftene homelyes or sermons(1572)
“…Gospel, where he sayth they strayne at a Gnat…”

John Whitgift
A godlie sermon preched before the Queenes Maiestie…
(1574)
“…ye straine at a Gnat, & swallow…”

John Calvin translated by Arthur Golding
The sermons of M. Iohn Caluin…
(1577)
“…play the hipocrytes, who will streyne at a gnat, and swallowe…”

Roger Fenton
An ansvvere to VVilliam Alablaster… (1599)
“…Let vs then leaue to straine at gnattes, and ingenuously acknowledge…”

John King
Lectures vpon Ionas deliuered at Yorke… (1599)
“…wonders of nature, whe~ we straine at gnats, & cannot co~ceiue…”

George Abbot, ***KJV translator on the Oxford committee assigned the Gospels***
An exposition vpon the prophet Ionah… (1600)
“…to make a strayning at a gnat, and to swallow vp a whole Camel.”

Edward Topsell
The house-holder: or, Perfect man. Preached in three sermons… (1610)
…will leaue these Fooles, Which straine at Gnats, and swallow Camels,…

Thomas Gainsford
The vision and discourse of Henry the seuenth…
(1610)
“…and seeke extremities, They straine at Gnats…”

Conclusion

It being demonstrated that:

  • Strain at a gnat” is actually a correct 17th century archaic idiom.
  • Strain out a gnat” is a current idiom with and apparently similar meaning.

Except for ulterior motives, like proving some supposed “error” in the KJV, it matters little in today’s world if you were to strain at, out, for, or just strain a gnat!  However, for a reader with a non-English mother tongue, strain out a gnat would be clearly better, for using modern English words and current English idioms.

Strain a Gnat

On the lighter side…  If I were to write a fictional novel about this, I would assume that the translators of the KJV, with purpose aforethought, changed the “out” to “at” in order to demonstrate to us, and teach us, what this verse really means!

“The question of strain at a gnat or strain out a gnat,
would be a great one for blind guides,
which strain a gnat, and swallow a camel!”
~~ David Tait ~~

 

Usage of Matthew 23:24

To demonstrate the usage of Matthew 23:24, consider this…

Both the gnat and the camel are unclean and prohibited to eat.  The whole chapter is a comparison of being picky, or focused on the very small things, and ignoring or indulgent with the more important (large) things – like dining on a feast of (unclean and prohibited) camel meat, and insisting gnats are filtered out of our drink, because they are unclean and prohibited to be eaten!

Unclean Camels

“Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean unto you.”
Deuteronomy 14:7

Unclean Gnats

All flying insects are unclean to you; do not eat them.”
Deuteronomy 14:19

Matthew 23:24 Scriptures

Matthew 23:24 English Bible Translations in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

Ye blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Webster’s Bible (1833)

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
The King James Version (Authorized) (1769)

Ye blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Wesley’s New Testament (1755)

ye blind guides, who strain your liquor for a gnat, and swallow a beetle.
Mace New Testament (1729)

Ye blind guides, which straine at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
King James Version (1611)

Ye blinde guides, which straine out a gnat, and swallowe a camell.
The Geneva Bible (1587)

Ye blynde guides, which strayne out a gnat, and swalowe a Camel.
The Bishop’s Bible (1568)

O ye blynde gydes, which strayne out a gnat, but swalowe vp a Camell.
Miles Coverdale Bible (1535)

Ye blinde gydes which strayne out a gnat and swalowe a cammyll.
Tyndale New Testament (1525)

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