In Matthew 7:6, many people understand Jesus to be saying something like: you don’t need to share the gospel with hostile, unworthy people. However, I agree with the minority who understand Jesus to be saying: don’t be the kind of fool who throws away what is beautiful and precious.
The Sermon on the Mount has been about one topic: Who will be accepted by God and receive a place in His kingdom?
- Matthew 5:1-16: Jesus tells us those with saving faith are blessed who will receive a place in the kingdom (the Beatitudes).
- Matthew 5:17-48: Jesus says your righteousness must be different than the kind the Pharisees have to enter the kingdom of heaven (the Antitheses).
- Matthew 6:1-7:11: Using several examples, Jesus warns his listeners to avoid the self-deception of the Pharisees.
- Matthew 7:12-29: Jesus concludes there are 2 paths. One path leads to life and the other to destruction. You must be the type of person described in this Sermon to be on the right path.
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. – Matthew 7:6
- The holy things and the pearls represent the things of God (either the gospel itself or general truth from God).
- The dogs and the pigs represent people who are hostile to God.
- Jesus is saying something like: Do not preach the things of God to hostile, unworthy people.
- Even though in the previous context Jesus told us not to judge, sometimes the audience to our witnessing responds with too much hostility, hatred and violence. Jesus does not expect us to continue preaching to such hostile audiences.
- For example: various commentaries here.
Problems with the common understanding
- The common view treats Matthew 7:6 as an allegory.
- An allegory is a symbolic statement that needs to be decoded. In allegories, the story doesn’t necessarily make sense because the elements in the story are picked for their symbolic value.
- The symbols must be widely known for an allegory to work, but we have no evidence dogs, meat, pigs and pearls had any symbolic value in that day.
- It seems unlikely that Jesus would switch to an allegory in this context. It’s more likely this is a metaphor or a short parable.
- With parables we look to the overall point of the story. Parables are analogies between normal everyday life and some other reality. Parables make sense as a story.
- This verse makes sense as a story and could easily be recast as a parable. For example: Once there was a man who threw his best steak to the dogs. Then he tossed his pearls to the swine. The pigs trampled the pearls into the mud and attacked the man looking for food.
- The common understanding does not fit into the context of the sermon, and who isn’t hostile to the gospel? How do we know when hostility becomes too much?
- I expect that Matthew put this verse here, because it relates to the theme and the context in some way.
Minority (Better) Understanding
- Throughout his gospel, Matthew expects his readers to be familiar with the Old Testament.
- Jesus was speaking to a largely Jewish audience that he expected to be familiar with the Old Testament.
- We have a tiny bit of background in the Old Testament that sheds light on Matthew 7:6.
You shall be consecrated to me. Therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs. – Exodus 22:31
- Many of the Old Testament laws explain how to keep religiously holy. The children of Israel are to eat, wash, dress and act in certain ways that symbolically represent their relationship to God. These practices are outward ritualistic expressions of their inner commitment to holiness.
- In an agricultural economy, “road kill” can seem like a gift, as it does not require hunting, growing or tending.
- For His own purposes, God wants their eating habits to be a picture of their commitment to holiness.
- God knows they need food, but in this case, He wants them to abstain from taking this easy meat off the ground.
- Exodus 22:31 says, Don’t take this kind of meat for yourself, instead throw it to the dogs. To throw the meat to the dogs is a way of saying get rid of it.
- A holy person can eat meat that they raise or hunt. But “road kill” is not for the person striving to be holy. Trust that God will provide for you and throw this kind of meat to the wild dogs.
- What kind of foolish person throws holy meat to the dogs? Clean and holy meat is a gift of God intended to sustain your life. If you throw it to the dogs, it shows you don’t understand and value it as you should.
- Pearls make you wealthy. What kind of foolish person would throw pearls to the pigs? To do that is to say these pearls aren’t valuable enough to keep, maybe these unclean pigs can play them.
- If I’m right here, the emphasis of this verse is not: who are the dogs or who are the pigs? The emphasis is on the thrower: don’t be a fool who treats something holy as if it were worthless.
- I would argue that Jesus is NOT saying figure out who the hostile unworthy people are and don’t bother sharing the gospel with them. Instead, he is saying, don’t be the kind of fool who throws away what is beautiful and precious.
7:6 in Context
- Jesus is nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount.
- Jesus, the Messiah himself, has just given us the priceless information of how find eternal life in his kingdom.
- Now the question is: will we accept it or not? What will we cling to and what will we throw away?
- Cling to that which is holy and precious, hold fast to the things of God.
- Do not be like the Pharisees who have essentially wasted the gifts they have been given.
- Do not throw your pearls to the pigs. Instead cling to those things that are valuable and beautiful, the things of God. They are your treasure, don’t waste them or throw them away.