Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
( Matthew 7:6 )
- The metaphor seems to be teaching against giving what is holy to those who do not appreciate it. Animals such as dogs and pigs cannot appreciate religion, and this verse implies that there is some class of humans who cannot either. The identity of this class is a difficult question, as one of the dominant ideas in Christian thought is universalism.
- One modern argument is that dogs and pigs represent Gentiles and heathens, and that this verse is rare relic demonstrating that Jesus’ original message was intended only for the Jews. Harrington notes that such warnings are found in rabbinic works of the period. In Jewish literature heathens were often compared to dogs, and the unclean pig was a Jewish symbol for the Roman Empire. In 2 Peter 2:22 dogs and swine quite clearly refers to heretics. According to Schweizer this verse was used by Jewish Christians to attack the Gentile churches, to argue that Gentile Christians would turn on the Jews by rejecting their laws and destroying Israel
- The dominant reading is that the two expressions are both referring to the same thing and the same group of people. To Nolland this verse is not an attack on any particular group, but rather a continuation of the theme of God and Mammon begun at Matthew 6:24 and that verse is an attack on wasteful spending. We should put all of our resources to God, as everything is like dogs and pigs compared to Him. Nolland also proposes that the verse might be to balance the other verses, that non-judgmentalism can only go so far and that there are some who should be excluded.
- As Morris points out, this verse can also be read as a reasonable limit on evangelism. If a population or individual is not open to Christianity, leave and find a more receptive audience. As Morris points out Jesus was silent before Herod and Peter abandoned the unsympathetic city of Corinth. Fowler links this to the earlier discussion of judgment. One should not judge severely, but there is a point at which any reasonable person will realize that those they are dealing with are dogs and swine
- The alternate interpretation is that dogs and pigs are not metaphors for some group of people, but for the unholy in general. This verse is not about excluding some group from God’s teaching, but rather ensuring that those things that are God’s are kept holy. Thus the Temple is kept clean, religious meals treated with respect, and holy days honoured and kept separate from the turbulence and impiety of daily life.
- In Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard offers another interpretation. In it, Jesus is not speaking of a wonderful treasure (the pearl), or whether the audience is fit to have it (the swine). Instead, he is observing that the pearl is not helpful. “Pigs cannot digest pearls, cannot nourish themselves upon them.” He concludes that this reflects “our efforts to correct and control others by pouring out our good things” that our audience is not ready for, and that our seemingly good intentions will ultimately yield anger, resentment and attack by the audience. This turns the analogy into one that exposes one’s self-superiority in thinking the other needs the unbidden advice.
- All those points aside, one might usefully read through Matthew 13 when interpreting the phrase. The “pearls” may be like the seed sown by the farmer. If the farmer continues to sow on the rocky places, path or among thorns he may be foolish. The farmer may be wiser to sow in the good soil; or suffer weaker harvests (albeit the crops that do grow among weeds and/or thorns or in other, harder, places may prove more hardy: having survived and then been considered “good enough to keep” by the farmer despite the effects of the weeds and/or thorns). Like the seeds, pearls (of wisdom) placed before swine might simply be swallowed without being digested: repeated without understanding (perhaps as Jesus saw others of his time repeating scripture without understanding it). Matthew 13:44-46 opens this interpretation up a little further. As a more contemporary note, it is worth considering the sowing parables in light of subsequent monastic thought on selective breeding (see Augustinian Friar, Gregor Mendel and peas): the seeds from the crops that survived the weeds, thorns, path or rock may provide stronger, more durable, seed for sowing in all types of situation – albeit there may be differences in taste and quality to consider too.
- Calvary Chapel Ontario
- Pastor Paul LeBoutillier
- Video #1
- Video #1
- Pastor Paul LeBoutillier