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6“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. ESV

Popular interpretations of this verse do not seem to fit well with its immediate context. Is Jesus offering a temper to his command not to judge, by saying there are some cases where judgement is necessary? It seems unlikely given his emphasis throughout the sermon on loving one's neighbour to the uttermost, and the immediately preceding verses (1-5) would seem to rule out an attitude that would consider someone a 'dog' or 'pig'.

I am suggesting that he is teaching that the Law condemns an attitude that would highlight one's perceived difference in moral standing with someone else; that to 'give dogs what is holy' or 'cast pearls before pigs' is such an action - as if I am setting the person up to fail, so I can say 'Did you see what they did with what I gave them? That just shows that they truly are unclean dogs/pigs!'

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    Is this a question or an answer? – Dan Apr 13 '14 at 12:55
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    @JamesKrieg I agree w/Dan, are you asking a question or airing your opinion: if it is the 1st, then delete the last paragraph, and modify the 2nd one to clarify your question: otherwise it may get closed. – Tau Apr 13 '14 at 13:23
  • "What is the correct interpretation" questions are off topic on this site.. – Sola Gratia Sep 14 '18 at 21:25

15 Answers 15

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What is the correct interpretation of Matthew 7:6?

Beginning with Matthew chapter 5, Yeshua gives a lengthy discourse with a good deal of revelation mixed with correction, much of which is aimed directly at the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, etc.

Yeshua begins chapter 7 with an admonition against judging others. This morphs into a plea to get your own life in order before looking into the shortcomings of others; THEN comes verse six.

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. (AV)

Dogs and pigs were at the very bottom rung of life in Jewish thinking; both were despised in the extreme. I see the admonition not to give that which is holy to dogs and swine as being a reference to the religious leaders of the day. We are never to entrust holy (sacred) things to people whose sole intent is to ridicule, find fault, and judge (Matthew 7:1-5). This is the standard operating procedure for the religious leaders with regard to Yeshua's ministry. The revelation(s) given from God are holy (sacred), and if an attempt is made to share that with those who have deemed themselves unworthy (Acts 13:46) of these sacred revelations, they will ill-treat that revelation and turn on that man and find fault with him and his faith.

In addition, this is where I see the greatest need to always prepare the soil prior to sowing any seed. One sows seed to reap a specific harvest; people never sow random handfuls of mixed seed into any soil. The soil must be prepared for the type of seed it is to receive. If a man is going to embrace any pearls (revelations), his heart (soil) must first be prepared to receive it; else it will be trodden under foot.

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  • Would preparation of the soil being prepared, be acts of kindness, generosity, fairness? I am considering that to mean just that ! Thanks for such a freedom explanation of this Scripture.. – user6064 Oct 12 '14 at 2:23
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This may be an ABBA doublet:

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they [the pigs] trample them underfoot and [the dogs] turn to attack you.

"Matthew"/Jesus was alluding to this passage of Torah:

ESV Exodus 22:29 You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. Exodus 22:30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. Exodus 22:31 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.

Brenton LXX Exodus 22:29 Thou shalt not keep back the first-fruits of thy threshing floor and press. The first-born of thy sons thou shalt give to me. Exodus 22:30 So shalt thou do with thy calf and thy sheep and thine ass; seven days shall it be under the mother, and the eighth day thou shalt give it to me. Exodus 22:31 And ye shall be holy men to me; and ye shall not eat flesh taken of beasts, ye shall cast it to the dog.

In other words, what belongs to God should not be given to dogs. Therefore do not despise your brother and "toss him to the dogs".

Wild dogs were the object of fear and loathing:

http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5255-dog

But "God hath charms to soothe the savage beast":

Exo 11:7 But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.'

For his friendly conduct at the exodus of the Hebrews when he did not "move his tongue against man or beast" (Ex. xi. 7), God compensated the dog by telling the people that the meat forbidden to them should be cast unto him (Mek., Mishpaṭim, 20, on Ex. xxii. 30).

Pearls (which mostly came from India) were extremely valuable:

Mat 13:45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, Mat 13:46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

But wisdom is worth infinitely more:

Job 28:12 "But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Job 28:13 Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. Job 28:14 The deep says, 'It is not in me,' and the sea says, 'It is not with me.' Job 28:15 It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed as its price. Job 28:16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Job 28:17 Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. Job 28:18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. Job 28:19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.

So to take the wisdom of God and to treat it like an unholy thing and cast it to pigs, who cannot possibly appreciate it is a travesty. They will merely trample it under their feet.

Dogs, crazed by the taste of holy flesh will return to eat you!

There seems to be an allusion to this passage in Galatians:

Gal 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Gal 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

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I have always felt that what this passage meant was not to waste your wisdom on fools, lest they turn and trample you under foot. I find this fits the ignorance that surrounds people on a daily basis and punishes us for wasting our gifts on those who do not have the capacity to understand.

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  • Hi Michael, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor May 24 '16 at 7:14
  • This is a good start to an answer, but doesn't really show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Good answers will demonstrate how an interpretation is arrived at and how this understanding is supported by the text. If you hit 'edit' you have the option to expand your answer to handle more of the original question. Thanks again – Steve Taylor May 24 '16 at 7:16
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If I understand what you've said correctly, then I think we both have a similar interpretation.

Yeshua had just finished telling the disciples not to judge. When somebody lives an immoral life or does things contrary to "my" morality, it's hard not to judge them.

I think the problem comes from this idea that Christianity is "the most obvious religion", and some Christians believe that anyone who doesn't believe is stupid and wicked. This is understandable, because their god is going to send the unbelievers to hell where they will tortured forever and ever.

It seems they've reasoned that since God is sending so many people to hell, there must be some inherent gene all people have that makes them (deep down inside) know that the bible is true.

What some Christians fail to realize is, quoting the bible to a non-believer is like quoting the Quran to a Christian. It does absolutely nothing, if not offend or make them angry.

"Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day." Isaiah 65:5

On of my favorite passages, that I find extremely relevant, is:

"He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.

Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee." Proverbs 9:7

So I believe Yeshua is saying:

Don't throw the word of God at unbelievers. They don't understand, they don't like it, and they don't care. If you do, they will hate you and ridicule God.

Thank you.

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I believe this is in the context of Jesus teaching on conflict resolution:

  1. Dont judge/condemn the other person (7:1-2)
  2. Recognize your own contribution to the conflict (7:3-4)
  3. Confess your contribution (7:5a)
  4. Address their contribution (7:5b)
  5. If they are not willing to address their part or accept correction, don't say it because they will just disregaurd what you have to say and attack you (7:6)
  6. Instead, pray about it (7:7-11) and love them (7:12)
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  1. Temples are a holy place for God (1 corinthians 6:19). Our body is the temple of God. Hence your body is Holy. Giving in to things like prostitution, licentiousness, etc amounts to giving that which is Holy to that which is filth. Again, 1 corinthians 6:20 says that we were bought at a price. This means that We are the pearls of God, and we must see and conduct ourselves as such.
  2. It can also mean that God won't give His gifts to those who won't Cherish it... They will turn back when they encounter challenges and accuse God.
  3. The third meaning is that Preaching the gospel to hard-hearted people, they will make a mockery of you (since they don't know its value) and may attack the gospel. these are some few opinions I share
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  • Welcome to the forum, and thank you for contributing. – Steve11235 Apr 15 '20 at 18:22
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Very few of the answers given have taken into account the literary context of this verse. We cannot rip it out of the context of the Sermon, and disregard the verses before and after, unless we assume Jesus is giving a series of brief, unrelated 'pearls of wisdom' (excuse the pun). But this is a sermon, which flows from beginning to end. So how does its immediate context (7:1-5 and/or 7:7ff) shape how we understand what Jesus is saying? 6b ('lest they... turn to attack you') corresponds to 1b ('lest you be judged'), reflecting the reciprocal nature of the Law (an eye for an eye, etc) that requires someone's punishment to fit their crime) which seems then to make vss 1-6 a cohesive pericope, so we must interpret 6 in light of 1-5.

1-5 are warning against judgementalism and hypocrisy. Unless there is a clear break between 5 and 6, Jesus is continuing in the theme of judging others before first examining oneself. Therefore giving dogs/pigs what is holy/pearls must have some equivalence to 'judging' and 'taking the seek out of your brother's eye' when you have a great big log in your own - ie. you are not qualified to categorise a person as a 'dog' or 'pig' without first humbly acknowledging your own sin (which generally will lead to you not judging them at all, because before the holiness of God I will see that I am the dog/pig who is only saved by grace alone, not because of any inherent worthiness).

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According to Church Father John Chrysostom (4th c.), the meaning of this verse is that one should not preach holy things to those who, in his words, "abide in incurable godliness", as they are likely to become all the more insolent, as well as inadvertently profane them. He lays this interpretation out in Homily XXIII of his Homilies on the Gospel According to Matthew:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.

Yet surely further on, it will be said, He commanded, What you have heard in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops [Matthew 10:27]. But this is in no wise contrary to the former. For neither in that place did He simply command to tell all men, but to whom it should be spoken, to them He bade speak with freedom. And by dogs here He figuratively described them that are living in incurable ungodliness, and affording no hope of change for the better; and by swine, them that abide continually in an unchaste life, all of whom He has pronounced unworthy of hearing such things. Paul also, it may be observed, declared this when He said, *But a natural man receives not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him [1 Corinthians 2:14]. And in many other places too He says that corruption of life is the cause of men's not receiving the more perfect doctrines. Wherefore He commands not to open the doors to them; for indeed they become more insolent after learning. For as to the well-disposed and intelligent, things appear venerable when revealed, so to the insensible, when they are unknown rather. Since then from their nature, they are not able to learn them, let the thing be hidden, says He, that at least for ignorance they may reverence them. For neither does the swine know at all what a pearl is. Therefore since he knows not, neither let him see it, lest he trample under foot what he knows not.

For nothing results, beyond greater mischief to them that are so disposed when they hear; for both the holy things are profaned by them, not knowing what they are; and they are the more lifted up and armed against us. For this is meant by, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

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This verse is mainly speaking of preaching the Gospel.

Being a street preacher for many years, I have seen this play out.

At times people would come up and say "You are throwing pearls before swine". My answer would be "Who am I to judge who of those walking by were swine or not?"

The only way that I would be able to make any type of real judgement would be after I have heard what came out of their mouth, or violent actions towards me. I would then learn to be quiet to them and instead share with others. Some I was warned about in my spirit.

I have had hookers come up wanting prayer, as well as many drunkards or alcoholics, and I am confident that No Word of God returns void. (Isaiah 55:11)

I preach straight out of the Bible, using as little of my own words as possible, because it is not me that is judging but the Word. And I believe in the Power of the Word.

There have been people that others have told me not to waste my time on or to cast pearls before them, but it has not been in my spirit to give up on them and I have seen changes.

So my answer would be is to share, but also to listen to know when not to speak. To be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.

One man plants, another man waters, but God giveth the increase. Sometimes you are just called to till the soil in an individual.

Here is my motto to that: Ecclesiastes 11:6

In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.

It is the Law of Love people, he is also using this verse to test your heart. Many are using Matthew 7:6 as an excuse to not share with others, perhaps because of fear.

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John 3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

The teachings, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding the disciples, apostles, and later on the movement acquired were not freely given (in the sense of they had to earn it through their commitment, dedication, fasting, praying, selling off worldly possessions, being hated by loved ones and community members, falsely persecuted and being killed). Sacrifices had to be made to obtain access to receive that flowing water of salvation. All that being said with all the work they had to put towards acquiring those treasures in heaven it would be unwise to just give away "freely" to those who didn't put in the work, made the same sacrifices, most importantly show no interest or commitment into trying to bring salvation and freedom to others. Not saying it meant being stingy (far from it) but just being circumspect about what you shared, how, and to whom.

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    Welcome to the forum and thank you for contributing. – Steve11235 Apr 15 '20 at 18:23
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What is the correct interpretation of Matthew 7:6?

6“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. ESV

Dogs and pigs were considered unclean under the Mosaic Law. (Leviticus 11:7, 27)

“Do not give dogs what is holy."

1/ It was Jewish tradition not to throw meat offered for sacrifices to the dogs.

"And do not throw your pearls before pigs."

2/ Pigs do not appreciate pearls.

The expressions "dogs and pigs" are used figuratively to represent people, that do not appreciate or value spiritual things, such people may abuse those that want to share with them Bible truths.

A person rejecting discipline not only hates reproof but also has contempt for those giving it.

Proverbs 9:7 (NASB)

7 "He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets [a]insults for himself."

Proverbs 15:12 (NASB)

12 "A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, He will not go to the wise."

Matthew 10:14 (NASB)

14 "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet."

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Leviticus 11:27 Of all the animals that walk on all fours, those that walk on their paws are unclean for you; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening.

So, dog is unclean.

Deuteronomy 14:8 The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.

What is the correct interpretation of Matthew 7:6?

The answer can be found in 2 Peter 2.

New Living Translation 2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. ...
21 It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. 22 They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.”

These false prophets and teachers were once cleansed by the righteous truth but then made themselves unclean again by corrupting the very truth that they were once taught.

Matthew 7:6 Do not give dogs what is holy; do not throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

In Matthew 7:6, Jesus makes two points.

  1. Don't waste your breath on certain unholy people. They may just ignore you or worse,
  2. they may misconstrue what the truth is and become false Christians leaders who would destroy their followers.

Matthew 7:6 can be interpreted as a prophecy.

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Once count Leo Tolstoy called his serfs to listen to Chopin's music. The peasants not only did not like the music, but were tormented by listening it, for their crude ears were accustomed to cruder tunes. And afterwards they, not only were not thankful to him, but even ridiculed him and, out of envy, that they did not possess the similar finesse of taste as Tolstoy did, started to hate him with all their might.

The same is true of the "music" of the finesse of Christ's commandments - you do not teach them immediately to crude hearts who will not only fail to grasp their greatness and salvific beauty, but, out of a feeling of frustration that such greatness is so far removed and unreachable for them, will downplay and slander this greatness. Moreover, they will start envying and hating the elevated happiness of the one who possesses the receptivity and finesse for holding this "music" of lofty commandments. Thus "swine" - the crude and envious guys - will tend to "trample" the teaching and values of a refined follower of Christ, and next to it also the man himself.

That's why with such crude hearts one has to make big and patient preliminary work to soften them and make them fit for receiving "pearls" of refined teaching, but then they will not be already "swine" but "a good soil".

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I don't agree when people say 'don't rebuke a wicked man'.

If you don't rebuke people who do bad things, they will keep on doing bad things. They may get angry with you, but inside they will know you're right. It's not easy to rebuke an evil person, but it might just be what's required to make them think about what they did, how they lived their life, etc...

It's much better to rebuke than to just look on and let friends, family, strangers continue being evil.

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  • Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and the Help (both below, bottom left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. This does not really answer the question which is looking for an interpretation of the text above. – Nigel J Jul 14 '20 at 21:24
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When interpreting this verse lets first see the distinctions between literal or metaphorical usage.

Looking at the literal Interpretation

Since the context of Matt 7 starts with the subject of judgment its easy to throw away the literalness of literal pearls with literal pigs, from this we can conclude that the same can apply with literal dogs.

Looking at the Metaphorical Interpretation

To find metaphorical expression lets look and see how Isuo used these metaphors in the perspective of judgment. Since many of his teachings reflect teachings given from King Dude and King Saloma lets look at the proverb(s).

As dogs seek vomit (Ref: Proverbs 26:11)

As pigs roll in mud (Ref: 2 Peter 2:22)

We can see that he's using these as classifications of those that do judge.

The Dog

The dog representing the type of judge that seeks out word vomit hoping for chunks of error that promotes self-righteousness and self-pride.

The Pearl

First lets consider how the pearl gets made. Layer by layer the oyster works at its pearl until it has made its size. Similarly in the concept of light layer by layer features of realizations build until the big realizations held. Therefore we can see that if the metaphorical pig receives this big realization, Isuo tells us that the pig type of judge will consider it worthless trashing the realization and focusing the attack back on the speaker as "personal attacks".

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