“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)

Jesus is describing the hypocrisy of rigidly following rituals while missing the substance and purpose for them and the teachings they are based upon. While the high priests and judges of the Jewish temples followed many rituals, they ignored the purpose of those rituals: To come to know and love the Supreme Being.

"You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin."

This statement by Jesus means these Jewish priests and Pharisees were giving tithings in the form of ten percent of their production of culinary herbs grown in their gardens.

An ancient practice, a tithing is the donation of part of ones wealth towards the service of the Supreme Being. In the Old Testament this goes back as far as Abraham:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20)
We see here that Abraham accepted Melchizedek as his spiritual teacher (he blessed Abram) and then gave him a tenth of his possessions.

Jesus understood the purpose behind such a practice. As taught by Abraham and then Moses, the goal of these practices is to please the Supreme Being and come to know, love and serve Him. This was stated clearly by Moses:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5)

"Love the LORD your God and keep His requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always." (Deut. 11:1)

"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul—" (Deut. 11:13)

"If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to Him and to hold fast to Him—" (Deut. 11:22)

"... because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the LORD your God and to walk always in obedience to Him—" (Deut. 19:9)

"For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then..." (Deut. 30:16)

"... and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life..." (Deut. 30:20)
So we find here that love of God was the foundation of Moses' instructions (inclusive of the Ten Commandments) to his followers. Loving the Supreme Being - holding fast to Him - which means taking shelter of Him - is the basis for following the other commandments Moses gave, some of which were being followed by the Jewish priests and Pharisees.

"But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness."

Jesus is indicating the foundation of "the law" - translated from the Greek word νόμος (nomos), which means "anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, a law, a command."

The fact that love for God is the foundation is indicated by the Greek word πίστις (pistis) - being translated here to "faithfulness." The word means, according to the lexicon, "conviction of the truth of anything." In the context of Jesus' statement, he is referring to Moses' underlying instructions to love and serve the Supreme Being and "hold fast to Him."

The other components - "justice" and "mercy" relate to how the priests treated the followers of the Jewish temples. They did not treat them with fairness, nor with compassion - the basis for the Greek words κρίσις (krisis) and ἔλεος (eleos).

In other words, they were not fair or compassionate. They unfairly punished those who did not follow all the rituals.

"You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former."

We see here that Jesus was not condemning the giving of tithings. The phrase, "without neglecting the former" refers to the tithings, while "the latter" refers being fair and compassionate to others, as well as holding fast to the Supreme Being.

"You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

The word "blind" comes from the Greek word τυφλός (typhlos), which can mean either physically blind or mentally blind. Jesus was not saying they were physically blind. Certainly they weren't all without eyesight. He was saying that while they were supposedly teaching others and being an example to others, they were not seeing or teaching the Truth.

But what does "You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel" mean?

The word "strain" is taken from the Greek word τυφλός (typhlos), which means to "filter through" or "pour through a filter" or "strain out." For example, if some water contained a gnat, the gnat could be removed by pouring the water through a mesh cloth or other type of filter.

Meanwhile, "swallow" comes from the Greek word καταπίνω (katapinō), which means to "to drink down, swallow down."

Obviously a gnat is much smaller than a camel. So what does the gnat represent and what does the camel represent?

The gnat represents a tiny thing - a thing that is not very important. Jesus is speaking of the rituals they follow and the relative importance of following those rituals, compared to the larger importance - compared to the camel - of loving and serving the Supreme Being - and holding fast to Him.

The issue of filtering or swallowing relates to focus. Straining the gnat means they were focused upon the tiny things - the ceremonial rituals - while ignoring the main thrust of Moses' teachings - loving and serving the Supreme Being - represented in this analogy by not straining out the camel.

In the same way these Jewish teachers were ignoring this central component of Moses' teachings, today's ecclesiastical sectarian institutions and their teachers miss the focus of Jesus' teachings - all the while remaining focused upon the pomp and circumstance of their respective positions and their various ritualistic ceremonies - which focus upon a self-interest for salvation. This lies contrary to the teaching of love for God that Moses and Jesus professed.

And just as the teachings of Moses were clear, Jesus' teachings were also very clear:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)



 (For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)