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Matthew 23:24

King James Version (KJV)
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. - This clause should be thus translated: Ye strain out the gnat, but ye swallow down the camel. In the common translation, Ye strain At a gnat, conveys no sense. Indeed, it is likely to have been at first an error of the press, At for Out, which, on examination, I find escaped in the edition of 1611, and has been regularly continued since. There is now before me, "The Newe Testament, (both in Englyshe and in Laten), of Mayster Erasmus translacion, imprynted by Wyllyam Powell, dwellynge in Flete strete: the yere of our Lorde M.CCCCC.XLVII. the fyrste yere of the kynges (Edwd. VI). moste gracious reygne." in which the verse stands thus: "Ye blinde gides, which strayne out a gnat, and swalowe a cammel." It is the same also in Edmund Becke's Bible, printed in London 1549, and in several others. - Clensynge a gnatte. - MS. Eng. Bib. So Wickliff. Similar to this is the following Arabic proverb: He eats an elephant and is choked by a gnat.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

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.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
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.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 323

The word of God abounds in general principles for the formation of correct habits of living, and the testimonies, general and personal, have been calculated to call their attention more especially to these principles; but all these have not made a sufficient impression upon their hearts and minds to cause them to realize the necessity of decided reform. If they had correct views of themselves in contrast with the perfect Pattern, they would cherish that faith that works by love and purifies the soul. These brothers, A B excepted, are naturally arbitrary, dictatorial, and self-sufficient. They do not consider others better than themselves. They are envious and jealous of any member of the church who, they think, will be esteemed more highly than themselves. They profess conscientiousness; but they strain at a gnat and swallow a camel in their dealings with their brethren, who, they fear, will be considered superior to themselves. They seize upon little things, and talk over particulars, putting their own construction upon words and acts. This is particularly true of two of these brothers. 4T 323.1

These men, especially A B, are free, easy speakers. Their smooth manner of relating things has such an appearance of honesty and genuine interest for the cause of God that it has a tendency to deceive and becloud the minds of those who hear them. My heart aches with sadness as I write, because I know the influence of this family wherever it is felt. I did not design to speak in regard to these persons again, but the solemn opening of these matters before me compels me to write once more. If the ministers of the word, who profess to be connected with God, cannot discern the influence of such men, they are unfit to stand as teachers of the truth of God. If these persons would only keep their proper position and never attempt to teach or to lead, I would be silent; but when I see that the cause of God is in danger of suffering I can hold my peace no longer. 4T 323.2

These brothers should not be allowed to all locate in one place and compose the leading element in the church. They are wanting in natural affection. They do not manifest sympathy, love, and refined feeling toward one another, but indulge in envy, jealousy, bickerings, and strife among themselves. Their consciences are not tender. The love, gentleness, and meekness of Christ does not help to compose their experience. God forbid that such an element should exist in the church. Unless these persons are converted, they cannot see the kingdom of heaven. It is much more congenial to their feelings to be tearing down, picking flaws, and seeking spot and stain in others, than to be washing their own robes of character from the defilement of sin and making them white in the blood of the Lamb. 4T 324.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 144

Some, I saw, would gladly return. Others will not let this message to the Laodicean church have its weight upon them. They will glide along, much after the same manner as before, and will be spewed out of the mouth of the Lord. Those only who zealously repent will have favor with God. 1T 144.1

“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” We can overcome. Yes; fully, entirely. Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might overcome every evil temper, every sin, every temptation, and sit down at last with Him. 1T 144.2

It is our privilege to have faith and salvation. The power of God has not decreased. His power, I saw, would be just as freely bestowed now as formerly. It is the church of God that have lost their faith to claim, their energy to wrestle, as did Jacob, crying: “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” Enduring faith has been dying away. It must be revived in the hearts of God's people. There must be a claiming of the blessing of God. Faith, living faith, always bears upward to God and glory; unbelief, downward to darkness and death. 1T 144.3

I saw that the minds of some of the church have not run in the right channel. There have been some peculiar temperaments that have had their notions by which to measure their brethren. And if any did not exactly agree with them, there was trouble in the camp at once. Some have strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel. 1T 144.4

These set notions have been humored and indulged altogether too long. There has been a picking at straws. And when there were no real difficulties in the church, trials have been manufactured. The minds of the church and the servants of the Lord are called from God, truth, and heaven to dwell upon darkness. Satan delights to have such things go on; it feasts him. But these are none of the trials which are to purify the church and that will in the end increase the strength of God's people. 1T 144.5

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 327

More than once during the progress of the trial, while a brother was being hunted like a rabbit to his death, you would break out into a loud laugh. There sat Brother C, naturally so kind and sympathetic that he censured his brethren for cruelty in killing game to subsist upon, yet here was a poor blind man, of as much more value than birds as man formed in the image of God is above the dumb creatures of His care. Ye “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” would have been the verdict of Him who spake as never man spake, had His voice been heard in your assembly. 4T 327.1

He who had such tender compassion for the birds might have exercised a praiseworthy compassion and love for Christ in the person of His afflicted saint. But you were as men blindfolded. Brother B presented a smooth, able speech. Brother D was not a ready speaker. His thoughts could not be clothed in language that would make a case, and he was altogether too much surprised to make the best of the situation. His sharp, criticizing brethren turned lawyers and placed the blind man at great disadvantage. God saw and marked the transactions of that day. These men, adepts in casting mist and making out a case, apparently obtained a triumph, while the blind brother, misused and abused, felt that everything was sinking beneath his feet. His confidence in those whom he had believed were the representatives of Christ was terribly shaken. The moral shock he received has nearly proved his ruin, spiritually and physically. Everyone who was engaged in this work should feel the deepest remorse and repentance before God. 4T 327.2

Brother D has made a mistake in sinking under this load of reproach and undeserved criticism, which should have fallen on other heads than his. He has loved the cause of God with his whole soul. God has shown His care for the blind in giving him prosperity, but even this has been turned against him by his envious brethren. God has put it into the hearts of unbelievers to be kind and sympathetic to him because he is a blind man. Brother D has been a Christian gentleman, and has made even his worldly enemies to be at peace with him. God has been to him a tender father and has smoothed his pathway. He should have been true to his knowledge of truth, and served God with singleness of heart, irrespective of censure, envy, and false accusations. It was the position you took, Brother A, that was the finishing stroke to Brother D. But he should not have let go his hold on God, though ministers and people did take a course in which he could see no justice. Riveted to the eternal Rock, he should have stood firm to principle and carried out his faith and the truth at all hazards. Oh, what necessity for Brother D to cling more closely to the Arm that is mighty to save. 4T 327.3

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (EGW), 1098

All Ye Are Brethren—God has made men responsible beings, and placed them in circumstances favorable to obedience to His will. In the dignity of their God-given manhood, they are to be governed and controlled by God Himself, not by any human intelligence in our world. Man is ever to acknowledge that God lives and reigns; men are never to become lords over God's heritage. They are to consider that “all ye are brethren.” In the very fact that men are free moral agents, God teaches us not to be forced or compelled into any course of action, also that as responsible beings in copartnership with God we are to represent God in character. We are to have an interest in our brother, in our neighbor, in all around (Letter 65, 1895). 5BC 1098.1

8-10. None to Place Spiritual Interests Under Another—The oft repeated “Rabbi,” was very acceptable to the ear, but Jesus warned His disciples against this. He said to them, “But be not ye called rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” 5BC 1098.2

By these words Christ meant that no man is to place his spiritual interest under another as a child is guided and directed by his earthly father. This has encouraged a spirit to desire ecclesiastical superiority, which has always resulted in the injury of the men who have been trusted, and addressed as “Father.” It confuses the sense of the sacredness of the prerogatives of God (Manuscript 71, 1897). 5BC 1098.3

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