Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:6

Matthew 7:6
“Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.”
(NET Bible)

Identifying pigs and dogs

For those trained in modern techniques of personal evangelism, it is tempting to press the presentation of the gospel even when the resistance is extreme. For a disciple confronted with entrenched refusal, Jesus has two words: “Do not . . .”

When you review commentaries on the meaning of Matthew 7:6, such words as cryptic and enigmatic often occur. However, analysis of the context and information about cultural background will combine to solve the mystery.

The verse is most easily understood as a balancing statement to what has been said in 7:1-5. David Turner makes the telling observation that Jesus’ disciples must not be judgmental — as described in 7:1-5 — “but neither must they be oblivious to genuinely evil people.”[1]

I hope it is obvious to you that Jesus uses the words dogs and pigs to refer to certain people. Yes indeed, he is making a negative judgment about them even after the warning against harsh judgmentalism! While the disciples must guard against adopting the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees toward others, they must also avoid the other extreme of being naïve. As in so many matters, there are two cliffs where one may fall down, and the wise path for a disciple lies between the two. Jesus is implicitly teaching that his disciples must make the judgmental identification of dogs and pigs when necessary for advancing the gospel of the kingdom.

As to the cultural background of this verse, the Old Testament has hundreds of examples where the literary pattern A-B-B-A is used to make a point with literary style. Here is how Matthew 7:6 looks when arranged that way:

A: Do not give what is holy to dogs

B: or throw your pearls before pigs

B: otherwise they will trample them under their feet

A: and turn and tear you to pieces.

So, in a word order more natural to a 21st-century American, Matthew 7:6 would say: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; otherwise they will turn and tear you to pieces. Do not throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet.” Such a rewriting takes away the literary pattern that would have been quickly decoded by Jesus’ audience.

Turner informs us that dogs were generally wild scavengers in the first century, and pigs were unclean animals according to the law. He adds, “Their use here is as striking metaphors of those who contemptuously and viciously reject the message of the kingdom.”[2]

In our tolerance-ridden times you might doubt that such vicious (human) dogs were a real danger to Jesus and his disciples. Think again! Luke 4:16-30 tells what happened when Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown. Because Jesus refused to work miracles for them, the people became so enraged that “they got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29). Only then did they see a miracle, when “he passed through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30). Notice carefully that he did not remain in Nazareth to press the matter further.

What a Savior!

Any swine or canines in your life?

If you never let on that you are a Christian, then you will probably never encounter a dog. But if you live as a disciple of Jesus and spread the gospel of the kingdom, then you will eventually get a vicious response. Your task as a disciple is not to strongly condemn such people; instead, provide the gospel in a sensitive and caring way and then let God deal with any hardened hearts.

In sharing the gospel with those in your sphere of influence, remember that you are not responsible for their response to the message so long as you take care to be thoughtful and sensitive in your presentation. The issue must not be you; the issue must be Jesus Christ, the one who died for our sins and rose on the third day. He will handle those who forcefully resist his Word.

[1] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 206.

[2] Turner, Matthew, 207.


Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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