5

Jesus says in Matt 7:6 :

"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. "

Certain animals are traditionally believed to be sensitive to particular objects, for instance, a fighter bull to the red-colored flag waved against it. One can understand that swine do not consider pearls edible. But, do they, by some design of Creation, get irritated by the sight of pearls so as to attack the one scattering the pearls?

My question therefore is: How is Matt 7:6--Swine Vs Pearls--explained ?

4 Answers 4

8

The image in Matt 7:6 is stated twice in Hebrew parallelism, viz:

  1. Do not give what is holy to the dogs
  2. Do not cast your pearls before swine

That is, in both cases, the animals (both being unclean!) do not understand the value of what is being done; specifically -

  1. dogs do not distinguish between the holy and the unholy
  2. pigs do not want or even understand the value of pearls as an ornament

In modern parlance, it might be the equivalent of suggesting that someone should not "put lipstick on a pig".

Meyer's commentary says this succinctly:

Dogs and swine, these impure and thoroughly despised animals, represent those men who are hardened and altogether incapable of receiving evangelic truth, and to whom the holy is utterly foreign and distasteful.

5
  • 2
    The question is a good question and I upvoted it. The answer I upvoted as well, but I am concerned with the implication that some should not be evangelized. Since we do not know the heart of man ( only God does ) perhaps the answer to this question could more accurately address not wasting time trying to disciple or discuss doctrine with those who have shown no sign of repentance.
    – RHPclass79
    Jan 2 at 12:56
  • @RHPclass79 You are right that it seems to imply not sharing the truth with everyone. See my answer for an interpretation which sees this teaching as focused on the particular time and place in which it was shared. Jan 2 at 15:29
  • @RHPclass79 - I do not think that Jesus' teaching here implies that should not be taught; after all, Jesus says that He wants to draw all people to Himself and want all people to repent. This teaching is about teaching what is appropriate for the person. One does not start teaching mathematics by studying the calculus of variation - one must learn to count, add and subtract well before that.
    – Dottard
    Jan 2 at 19:55
  • @ Dottard Thank you for that clarification. We have narrowed the gap considerably. Just so you know it was the commentary use of evangelize that I was questioning; not your personal words.
    – RHPclass79
    Jan 2 at 20:11
  • Putting "lipstick on a pig" is to dress up something ugly to sell as something it's not (it is usually used in the context of those selling bad investments) - the pigs have no agency, it's the implied seller and potential buyer that do. "Pearls before swine" is to offer something of great value to things that have no understanding of it. They're not at all similar in meaning. To RHPclass79's comment, I would say it's about knowing your audience. I don't lecture advanced CS topics to my nephews, for example. Instead we talk basics I recall from science books I read about their age. Jan 4 at 14:11
6

The notion that a fighter bull is sensitive to the red-colored flag waved at it is an urban myth. The poor beast is goaded into charging at the person waving - whatever is waved. It could equally be a tartan flag. Further, the scenario is a deliberate set-up weighted against the bull.

As for the parable Jesus gave about swine and pearls, that bears no relation to reality with actual pearls being strewn in front of a swine. Jesus was teaching a spiritual truth. He knew that his audience was well aware of how a herd of swine churn land into mud very quickly, as they root around grass fields and forest floors for food. If anyone actually threw pearls down in front of them, they would quickly scrabble around with hooves and snouts to see if this was food (like nuts) that could be eaten. The pearls would not be eaten but simply trampled into the mud. The silly person who threw them down would have a hard time trying to recover any of them.

Note how often Jesus never answered many of the questions put to him? He knew when questions were foolish, or argumentative, or designed to trap him. He never gave such people the satisfaction they sought. They would have turned on him. They would have - effectively - been like swine trampling his pearls of wisdom into their dirty mud.

That is how Jesus' illustration is explained.

3

Matthew 7:6 NIV

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 mentions two animals: dogs and pigs. Pigs are considered unclean according to Leviticus 11:7. While there is no explicit statement on dogs, they are often associated with negative connotations in the Bible. For example, in Matthew 15:26, Jesus told the Canaanite Women, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

In the same verse, two things are mentioned: sacred things and pearls. Pearls are first mentioned in Genesis 2:12, in the first river separated from the river flowed from Eden. Pearls also represent the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:21. In this perspective, pearls are also considered sacred.

Matthew 7:1-6 is a sub-section of the Discourse, The Sermon on the Mount, which covers ethics and the law (Matthew 5-7). It is puzzling to understand how Matthew 7:6 relates to 7:1-5, which taught the disciples not to judge others. Perhaps the answer is that Jesus set apart His disciples from the world, and they become holy. They preach His gospel to the rest of the world, but not all the world will receive them. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told his disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves". Therefore His disciples need to distinguish the preaching object. The dogs and pigs represent those who are the wolves, who will not receive the words of God but instead hurt them.

3

Since NT teaches that the truth must be shared as widely as possible, even among the heathen, the teaching of pearls before swine probably has a meaning particular to the time and place in which it was taught. Two considerations:

First, we find this teaching in Matthew's gospel alone. It is also only Matthew's gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles and do not go into any town of the Samaritans. (10:5)

Thus, it is safe to say that Matthew displays a unique emphasis on avoiding sharing the Gospel with non-Jews. Although Matthew would later show Jesus to withdraw this restriction, in his account it remained in force until very late in Jesus' ministry, perhaps even until after the Resurrection. (Matthew 28:19) Thus, the teaching about pearls and swine may reflect Matthew's particular concern that the Good News not be shared with non-Jews.

Second, in the synoptic gospels generally, Jesus avoided publicly proclaiming himself as the Messiah until nearly the end of his life, at the Triumphal Entry. He even instructed his disciples not to tell others that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:20, Mark 8:30, Luke 9:21) He would eventually direct them to proclaim the Gospel to everyone, but during most of his public ministry, he avoided sharing this key element of the Good News because people were not prepared, making it dangerous to share this truth except within a relatively small circle.

Conclusion: the teaching about pearls and swine generally means that Gospel should not be shared with those who are not prepared to receive it. But since the NT also teaches that everyone should receive the Good News, the lesson of "pearls before swine" seems to have a meaning specific to time and place in which Jesus taught it. Specifically, he told his disciples keep the "messianic secret" by not telling others he was the Christ until the time was right. Also, this teaching is unique to Matthew's Gospel, which emphasized that the Good News should not, at this point, be spread among Samaritans and Gentiles.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.