Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Dogs and Pigs
Matthew 7:6

Another of Jesus’ frequently quoted sayings is Matthew 7:6 as rendered in the KJV:  “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Most of us probably have some idea of what Jesus means but aren’t quite sure about who these dogs and pigs are or why He says it, or why He says it here, or how we carry out these instructions.

This verse follows immediately after a warning about judging which also includes instructions about how to deal with an (apparently) erring brother.  Many translations, as well as my Greek text, put it in a separate paragraph from the preceding, though there seems to be some connection implied.  I’m going to assume, from the context, that Jesus is still on the topic of judging.

It seems apparent that the unflattering words, “dogs” and “pigs” are metaphors for persons; but who are these persons?

Dogs in the Old Testament times were not cute cuddly house pets.  They were half-wild scavengers, the garbage and sewage disposal systems of their day (Exodus 22:31), even at times consuming human corpse (1 Kings 14:11; 16:4).  To call a person a dog seems to be the ultimate of deprecations (2 Samuel 16:9).  In one passage the word “dog” appears to be a euphemism for a male prostitute (Deuteronomy 23:18).

By Jesus’ day, the idea hadn’t changed much although it had also become a derogatory term for gentiles or non-Jews.  This is seen in the dialog between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 (the word used there is a word for “little dogs”).

Later, Paul uses the word to describe the Judaizers, those who attempted to bring his new converts under the Jewish law (Philippians 3:3).  In Revelation 22:15, dogs are named along with sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters and liars as those who are banished outside of the future Holy City.

Pigs or swine, of course, are seen as the ultimate in unclean animals (Leviticus 11:1, 2, 7; Deuteronomy 14:8).

Pearls aren’t clearly mentioned in the Old Testament.  It is not always clear what gems or precious stones are meant by the various Hebrew words.  The NASB translates the Hebrew PENINIM as pearls in Job 28:18.  Job 28 is an interlude in the book of Job extolling God’s wisdom and comparing it here to precious stones.

So Jesus here is telling His hearers that their wisdom is not to be wasted on people who would be unclean, vile, false teachers.  And in the context this requires judgment in the sense of discernment.  How do we ascertain who these persons are who apparently are not worth wasting our time on and who might do us harm?

Jesus Himself seems to make this distinction a number of times.  In Matthew 13, He gives what we might call His philosophy of parables.

“For this reason I speak to them in parables, because while seeing they don’t see and while hearing they don’t hear nor understand” (verse 13).

“But your eyes are blessed (lucky?) because they see and your ears because they hear” (verse 16).

In fact, this seems to be a common practice and teaching of Jesus.  We see it in His instruction to “shake off the dust of your feet” (10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5) when rejected by any.

We see it in His refusal to answer Herod’s question at His trial (Luke 23:8, 9).

So Jesus is here warning us of the need for discernment.  There are those on whom we have to, in a sense, pass judgment – the judgment to not waste God’s wisdom on them.  The very act of communicating God’s truth to them may endanger us.

I believe that the persons referred to are those who have hardened themselves to the truth to the point where further attempts at persuasion can be dangerous.  Some Bible teachers have even referred to this as “judicial hardening.”  Because they have become so calloused and hardened against the truth, God allows them to go on in that hardened state.  In Romans, chapter 1, Paul even uses the phrase, “God handed them over” (verses 24, 26, 28) to further hardening and the consequences of that hardening.

But how do we discern, how do we decide who these persons are?  Jesus doesn’t say clearly in this passage.  And we can easily see how this teaching, if misapplied, could lead to a judgmental attitude.  We could easily find ourselves carrying placards with the words:  “GOD HATES DOGS” or “GOD HATES PIGS” or “GOD HATES ______” (whomever we have designated as dogs or pigs).

Some thoughts on carrying out these instructions:
·        They are to be carried out in love, with the best interests of these persons in mind.  They need the truth.
·        We cannot determine their hardened state without attempting to throw them a few “pearls”.  It is best to be careful, but not overly cautious.
·        Their hardened state may be temporary.  We should not give up on them permanently.
·        We should be careful of being drawn into senseless arguments.  As Paul warned Titus “… but avoid foolish disputes and … strafes and fights about law, because they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).
·        “God our Savior … wants all persons to be saved and come into knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3, 4).

1 comment:

Susan said...

I really appreciate your explanation. In fact, it really sheds light on a relationship I have with a friend who is not a believer. Your interpretation has encouraged me not to give up on her even though I have seen signs of "hardness" and an unwillingness to talk about God. These "little" truths are really life-changing to me. The more I learn the more I see who God really is and the more life make sense.