Matthew 23:34 - strain at a gnat - the misprint canard

Steven Avery

Matthew 23:24
Ye blind guides,
which strain at a gnat,
and swallow a camel.

AV-1611 - all things about straining at a gnat

Doug Kutilek has for many years made the common blunder of claiming that this was a "misprint"

Facebook - June, 2019
King James Version Only (Discussion){"tn":"R"}

Doug Kutilek Andy Smith
"Strain OUT gnats is the correct rendering of the pre-1611 English versions. "At" is certainly a printer's error.

Doug's original claim c. 2005 was false conjecture, but a bit more cautious.

("Strain at a gnat" for "strain out a gnat,” Matthew 23:24; and “faith” for the correct “hope” at Hebrews 10:23 are almost certainly similar printers’ errors, though made in setting up the original KJV edition rather than in subsequent revisions).

As I See It - Volume 8, Number 10, October 2005

James M. Leonard learned back in 2016 that the 'misprint' claim was false.
, they send it off to the printers.
Of course, the printing industry was still in its infancy. The printer used an apprentice to set up the printing plates, arranging countless lead letters into the correct sequence. When he got to Matt 23:24, he misread the translator's handwriting. Instead of the word "OUT," he read the o-u as the one letter "a," and arranged the letters to read "You strain AT a gnat but swallow a camel."
Ever since, KJV users have had this notion that the verse depicts someone using a lot of muscle to swat away a pesky gnat, rather than a strainer straining out debris from his pure drink.
One writer said that "strain at a gnat" is supported by BOD 1602, however I do not think that is correct.

The early evidence that long ago showed that this was not a "misprint" is in the three posts here (small changes now):

AV1611 Bible Forum Archive > Bible Versions > Straining at or straining out gnats. - August, 2008
Refutation of 'Misprint' Canard - Quote Festival - prior to 1611

Here is the summary of some other quotes that, by the revisionist theory, would really need to be 'misprints'. Else there is a clear and sensible explanation and understanding of the King James Bible verse, even by the pure Bible skeptic view of the doubting Doug and Rick and Daniel (Wallace). This is only what is before 1611 and goes back to 1539 ! Later I plan a longer post of the same basic info, however I hope it is easy to read as follows.

'Misprint' Quote Festival

Thomas Tymme - translation of Marlorate - quotation of John Calvin (1570)
".They do therefore euen as if a man shoulde straine at a small crumme of bread, and swallow a whole loafe. Wee knowe that a gnat is a small creature, and a Camell, a huge beast: there is nothinge therefore more rydiculous, than to strayne in, wyne and water, least in swallowinge a gnat thou hurte thy Jawes, but careleslye to suppe vp a Camell."

Eusebius Paget - translation of Calvin's Harmonia (1584)
"Therefore they doe as much, as if a man shoulde straine at a crumme of bread, and swallow downe a whole loafe. Wee know that a gnat is a small creature, and a camel a great beast: nothing therefore is more ridiculous then to straine wine or water, leaste thou shouldest hurt the iawes with swallowing vp a gnat, but carelessly suppe vp a camel."

George Abbot (1562–1633) - translator Second Oxford committee - assigned the Gospels
An exposition vpon the prophet Ionah... (1600)
" make a strayning at a gnat, and to swallow vp a whole Camel."

Roger Fenton - (translator - 2nd Westminster company)
An ansvvere to VVilliam Alablaster... (1599)
"...Let vs then leaue to straine at gnattes, and ingenuously acknowledge..."

John King
Lectures upon Jonas (1599)
"They have verified the olde proverbe in strayning at gnats and swallowing downe camells."
".we straine at gnats..."

Group arrested in Oxford 1539 for breaking Lenten fast to Thomas Cromwell
They pleaded that their case should not be judged by those
"as will streyne a gnat and devo[ur] a Camele"

John Whitgift (c. 1530–1604) Archbishop of Canterbury 1583-1604 (Works of John Whitgift)
" straine at a Gnat, & swallow up a camel" (p. 581) Sermon 1574
" and strain at a gnat swallowing down a camel" (p. 523) Sermon 1583 -
"..of whom Christ speaketh : ' They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.' "(p. 595)

Arthur Golding (1536-1606) translation of John Calvin (The sermons of M. Iohn Caluin)... (1577)
" the hipocrytes, who will streyne at a gnat, and swallowe..."

Henry Barrow and John Greenwood to Puritan compromisers (1587)
"strain at a gnat and swallow a camel; and are close hypocrites, and walk in a left-handed policy"

Rudolf Gwalther
An hundred, threescore and fiftene homelyes or sermons...(1572)
"...Gospel, where he sayth they strayne at a Gnat..."

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

Robert Greene
Mamillia; The Second Part of the Triumph of Pallas (1593)
"most unjustly straining at a gnat and letting pass an elephant"

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

And William Shakespeare used "strain at.."
Troilus and Cressida III. 2. 112 (1602) Ulysses: I do not strain at the position *

My thanks to a number of sources and resources in helping create this compilation. Special thanks to 'Jerome' on BaptistBoard who had information on eight of these in one thread in late 2006. It was an excellent jump-start and really helped show that the more commonly-given references (John King & Mamillia) strong as they were, were essentially iceberg tips.

Keep in mind also that the top two, from Constantin Hopf, must receive special note, and thanks that he took the time and effort to really help with the fundamental research even back in 1944. And other references, such as the King James Bible translators, are similarly conclusive. To a sensible and reasoning mind, if there even was an issue one or two of these would firmly close shut the misprint door. The fact that we have such a wealth of available references after 500 years I believe is simply God's design to really help people see and understand the truth. Also it can be an encouragement to study the environment and times leading up to the King James Bible. (Recommended start : William Grady, Final Authority).

And to increase to 15 references (other than Shakespeare's limited reference).

Fovre Letters and Certeine Sonnets - by Gabriel Harvey
"to straine at a Gnatt, as it were at a Camell" (c. 1592)

And here is a bit more on the three less complete references above.

=================================================== ================

Rudolf Gwalther translated by John Bridges
An hundred, threescore and fiftene homelyes or sermones, vppon the Actes of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke: made by Rudolpe Gualthere Tigurine, and translated out of Latine into our Tongue, for the commodite of the Englishe reader [by John Bridges, Vicar of Herne] London, H. Denham, 1572
"...Gospel, where he sayth they strayne at a Gnat..."

Rudolf Gwalther. (Rodolphus-Rodolph Gualter) (Rudolpe Gualthere) (1519–1586), theologian
Bishop of the Reformed Church of Zurich, following Bullinger and Zwingli in that office.


Edward Topsell (1572-1625) - Church of England clergyman,
Author of "The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents" (with unicorn section)
The house-holder: or, Perfect man. Preached in three sermons lately at Hartfield in Sussex ... (1610)
"...will leaue these Fooles, Which straine at Gnats, and swallow Camels ... "


Thomas Gainsford (1566-1624)
The vision and discourse of Henry the seuenth. Concerning the vnitie of Great Brittaine. . (1610)
"...and seeke extremities, They straine at Gnats..."


Note that a careful check of EEBO - Early English Books Online - might find additional references.

And to round out for now the section on early usages.
One more clear usage.

Richard Jugge - the Queen's printer (1570)
A briefe examination for the tyme, of a certaine declaration, lately put in print in the name and defence of certaine Ministers in London, refusyng to weare the apparell prescribed by the lawes and orders of the Realme

It were to be wyshed .. that none of them which pretend herein a straytness of conscience, dyd strayne a Gnat and swallowe a Camell.



Post #66 - Dr. Nicholas Bernard, Dean of Kilmore
swallow downe, these Scottish camells, and sadly strayne at our English gnats (colorful phrasing)

Algernon Sidney (1660)
the titles that are given me of fierce, violent, seditious, mutinous, turbulent ... I knowe people will say, I straine at knats, and swallowe camels; that it is a strange conscience, that lets a man runne violently on, till he is deepe in civill blood, and then stays at a fewe words and complements


The next is especially insightful, even today !

John Winthrop (1587/8 –1649) led a group of English Puritans to the New World, joined the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629 and was elected their governor on October 1629.

USA Puritan Usage - When usage was Geneva and King James Bible
Apparently the same spiritual confusion and malaise situation existed in the 1600's as today.

John Winthrop, Reasons for Emigrating to New England (1631).

The fountains of Learning & Religion are so corrupted as (besides the unsupportable charge of there education) most children (even the best wits & of fairest hopes) are perverted, corrupted, & utterly overthrowne by the multitude of evill examples & the licentious government of those seminaries, where men straine at gnats & swallow camels

Amen !



"straine a gnat" - different yet indicating the effort.
The second includes an early commentary.

Encyclopædia metropolitana; or,
Universal dictionary of knowledge, Volume XVI (1845) (p. 186)

Precisians and plaine plodders
(such is this, and so is that)
In loue do swallow cammells, whilst
They nicely straine a gnat.
Warner. Albion's England, book vi. (c.1600)

Letters and Exercises of the Elizabethan Schoolmaster John Conybeare (c.1590)
They streigne a gnatte through their teeth, and swallowe downe a cammel

An apt proverbe applied by oure saviour christ unto the Phariseis, which did aggravate small offences and mayntayne great enormities. It maye be nowe used agaynst such persons as seke out and punishe small offenders, and leat the great trespassours agaynst the la we goe quyte unpunished. Also them that are scrupulouse yn thinges of litle importaunce, and yn ambition, avarice, extorcion, advonterie, theft, murder, treason or heresie. they fynde no daunger of conscience.

The Literature of Roguery: Defence of Conny-Catching (1592)
You "would straine a gnat, and lette passe an elephant"


What would round out this survey would be the places with 'strain out' before 1611 in the literature. And I think that may actually be less common than 'strain at' despite the Bible versions, which generally had 'strain out' (Wycliffe being different, an earlier dialect).

We saw 'strain out' in the Tyndale's 'Obedience of the Christian Man' (noting the sense was fuller) and it is in Udall's translation of Erasmus. And I remember that one of the references in the 1500s also had a 'strain out' in the same section as 'strain at'. Perhaps some more has been referenced or could be found. However overall it seems reasonable to conclude that 'strain at a gnat' was even the more common and accepted usage before the King James Bible.

One brother on a forum was writing, a bit humorously yet earnestly, that he really had hoped to see 'strain at a gnat' to be a kind of providential update and enhancement of the English language from the King James Bible 1611 - even as the claimed misprint !
. Right or wrong in concept he presented an interesting view. Alas, there is no possibility of consideration of 'strain at a gnat' being any type of 'misprint', neither providential or simply accidental.

Remember, the Oxford English Dictionary gives support to the truth, which we have attempted to share more fully on this thread:

"It has been asserted that ‘straine at’ in the Bible of 1611 is a misprint for ‘straine out,’ the rendering of the earlier versions. But the quotations [from] 1583 and 1594 show that the translators of 1611 simply adopted a rendering that had already obtained currency. It was not a mistranslation..’"

This definitely precedes the Constantin Hopf paper in 1944, an interesting question how far back goes the O.E.D. reference. Note that true English language scholarship had accepted the full validity of 'strain at a gnat' quite long ago, discarding the weak and feeble attempts to taint this phrase in the King James Bible as a misprint or a mistranslation. The curious question is how the even the pseudo-scholars like Daniel Wallace who know the truth as above would simply ignore it their attempt to claim 'one definite error', a 'scribal corruption' in the King James Bible.

An interesting new discovery is that Daniel Wallace, while he ended up putting the O.E.D. reference in a footnote (my conjecture is that he first wrote his articles and then added the footnote when he discovered it contradicted his position) actually omitted the most salient phrase (in the context of his 'one definite error' assertion) from O.E.D.

"It was not a mistranslation..’".

Daniel Wallace actually had the chutzpah to stop the quote at "obtained currency" and then make a flying jump to a straw-man attempt to weaken the effect (covered in post #45). In the earlier post I did not notice the additional aspect of the transparently dishonest (snipping).