Discuss please:
I don’t sit right with the popular interpretation of Matthew 7:6:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6 NIV).

Most commentators suggest (and ‘suggest’ is the pivotal word, because many of them say that they are not sure), that Jesus is offering a balance to his teaching a few verses earlier on not judging and taking the plank out of our own eye before we take the speck from our brother’s eye; that while we should not be judgemental, there are times we need to be discerning. To me this does not fit the flow and context of this section of Jesus’ exposition of the Law, in which he is emphasising the extremely high personal moral standard that the Law requires. Would he really say ‘do not judge’, and then give us permission to consider a person a ‘dog’ or a ‘pig’ – for a Jew the dirtiest of the unclean animals, and words they would use when speaking contemptuously of gentiles or Samaritans?

The difficulty with this text is that Jesus is using images that are foreign to our modern sensibilities, and if they were colloquialisms, they are one about which we know little or nothing outside Matthew’s gospel.

So, here is my alternative take on this. I’m putting it out there in case anyone has heard this interpretation before, and/or so I can be told if this is heresy or twisting the text:

Jesus is speaking of a state of the heart, one where I see myself on a high moral ground, and others as inferior. To ‘cast pearls before pigs’ or ‘give what is holy to dogs’ is to do something that highlights and advertises that distinction between me and them, so that I can be confirmed in my superiority. I can then say, ‘See what they did to my pearls? They just trampled on them! That shows that they are nothing but dirty, unclean pigs! Why should I waste my time with them?’ or, ‘Did you hear what that person said to me when I gently and lovingly spoke the truth to them? Their angry, spiteful response shows them to be the dog that they really are. I am much better than that!’

Now, I have not come across this interpretation either on the web or in books, and I do not presume to have discovered some new revelation that the church of 2000 yeas has missed. Yet it seems to me that this best fits the flow of verses 1-5.

What do you think?

  1. Grant Thorpe says:

    Not giving to ‘dogs’ does change the line of thought. The question is, are the two ‘Do not’ s (vv. 1, 6) intended to tie the section together or do they set out different scenarios? I find it difficult to think that Jesus would be using the level of irony implied in your suggestion. 2 Peter 2:22 does liken those who reject the gospel to a dog returning to its vomit. Later in this gospel, Jesus is more explicit about withdrawal from those who prove themselves unworthy of the gospel (Matt. 10:11-15). The reference to dogs and pigs may describe vicious rejectors of the gospel to whom, at this point, the gospel is no longer to be proclaimed. Paul took this line when Jews showed they had no time for his message. Carson suggests disciples needed this supplementary warning because ‘disciples exhorted to love their enemies and not to judge might fail to consider the subtleties of the argument and become undiscerning simpletons’. He likens it to Proverbs 9:8.

  2. Jonathan McQueen says:

    This is the commentary from the NIV application Bible:

    7:1 The Christian is not to judge hypocritically or self-righteously, as can be seen from the context (v. 5). The same thought is expressed in 23:13 – 39(cf. Ro 2:1). To obey Christ’s commands in this chapter, we must first evaluate a person’s character — whether one is a “dog” (v. 6) or a false prophet (v. 15), or whether one’s life shows fruit (v. 16). Scripture repeatedly exhorts believers to evaluate carefully (see Jn 7:24) and choose between good and bad people and things (sexually immoral, 1Co 5:9; those who masquerade as angels of light, 2Co 11:14; dogs, Php 3:2; false prophets, 1Jn 4:1). The Christian is to “test them all” (1Th 5:21).

    I think you are right in saying that Jesus is saying not to judge (a continuation of the theme a few verses bac) but perhaps the word ‘evaluate’ is the key one here.

    To be honest, I used to actually think of this verse in terms of the gift of sexual purity! Should a person who has saved themself for marriage offer their purity in marriage to one who is continually sinning sexually with others, and treating their sexuality as a casual, unimportant thing? Ie. would I want my pearl trampled underfoot? I don’t know if that’s a correct interpretation either, but the Bible does use firm words for those who continue to act out immorally, and warns us against them (immoral woman in Proverbs 7)

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