Matthew 23:24 (Blind Guides Who Strain Out Gnats but Swallow Camels)

Did Jesus say that because justice, mercy and faithfulness were weightier provisions of the law that so long as one did not neglect these it wouldn’t matter if they neglected the lesser provisions of the law?  See Mat 23:23b.  What does this remind us about the importance of faithfulness to seemingly small or insignificant applications of the law of love that governs our life in Christ?  Should there ever be unkind words, course jokes, grumbling or complaining?  See Eph 4:29, 5:4, Phil 2:14-15, Col 3:12-14.

In addition to the hypocrites that Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees in Mat 23:23, what does He call them in Mat 23:24 for neglecting the weightier provisions of the law?  Recall that He had earlier also referred to them as blind guides for misleading others by their distorted teaching (Mat 23:16); by what different means were they here misleading others?  What does this remind us about the equal or even greater importance of guiding others not just by our words but also by our actions and the manner in which we live our lives?  Cf. Rom 14:22b.

What figure of speech does Jesus use to describe the attention that the scribes and Pharisees were giving to the lesser requirements of the law while neglecting the greater requirements?  See Mat 23:24 and note that straining out a gnat refers to a common practice among the Jews of filtering from wine the tiniest of insects that they viewed as polluting it; cf. Amos 6:6 in the LXX[1].  What is the significance of this practice to that for which Jesus pronounces woe upon the scribes and Pharisees in Mat 23:23-24?  See Mat 9:17, Joh 2:10 and consider that throughout the Bible wine is used in a positive sense to represent the truth and teaching of God’s word; cf. Deut 7:13, Pro 9:1-6, Isa 25:6, Jer 31:12; contrast Mic 6:15, 2Ti 3:7.  In what way is this like many Christians today who are very scrupulous about the purity of their doctrine?  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  See again Mat 23:23 and observe that it is not bad to strain out gnats so long as one does not neglect the weightier provisions of the law so as to swallow a camel.  Did Jesus say that those who are false would be known by the purity of their doctrine, or by the goodness of their fruits?  See Mat 7:16.  As in the case of the scribes and the Pharisees, which of these is it that gives one the appearance of being a “prophet”, and which is it that ultimately shows if that “prophet” is false?  In what ways might Christians today also be guilty of straining out gnats in regard to lesser requirements of the law so as to have even the purest of doctrines, but swallowing camels in regard to the greater requirements of love?

Consider that both a gnat and a camel were regarded as unclean animals; see Lev 11:4,20.  In the same way neglecting to pay tithes even on one’s garden herbs and neglecting justice and mercy and faithfulness were both violations of the law.  But how much bigger is a camel than a gnat?  While it is not desirable to swallow either, which will definitely defile one the most?  What does the comparative size of a camel to a gnat communicate about how much more serious neglecting the weightier provisions of the law are in the eyes of God than neglecting the lesser provisions?  What are the implications of this for Christians whose lives do not reflect the weightier provisions of the law, even if their doctrine—like that of the scribes and Pharisees—is perfect?  See Mat 25:34-46; cf. Mat 23:33.

Note that “swallow” in Mat 23:24 has an intensive meaning; see Gen 41:7, 1Co 15:54, and 2Co 5:4 where it is translated “swallowed up”, 2Co 2:7 where it is translated “overwhelmed”, Heb 11:29 where it is translated “drowned”, and 1Pe 5:8 where it is translated “devour”.  I.e., it wasn’t as if the scribes and Pharisees accidentally or grudgingly swallowed a camel after straining out a gnat—they gulped it down.  What does this indicate about the great guilt and culpability of the scribes and Pharisees for which Jesus repeatedly calls them out as hypocrites?  By what many ways were they and the other religious leaders guilty of straining out gnats but swallowing up camels?  See Mat 12:2,10, 23:4,14, 26:14-15, 27:3-6, Mar 7:1-5,10-13, Joh 18:28, 19:6.

 


1. LXE Amos 6:6 who drink strained wine, and anoint themselves with the best ointment; and have suffered nothing on occasion of the calamity of Joseph.

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