The History Addict's Commentary Series

Pearls Before Swine:

A Brief Exegetical Examination of Matthew 7:6

 

 

Translations

 

Matthew 7:6 Mh\ dw×te to\ a’gion toiˆß kusi«n mhde« ba¿lhte tou\ß margari÷taß uJmw×n e¶mprosqen tw×n coi÷rwn, mh/pote katapath/sousin aujtou\ß e™n toiˆß posi«n aujtw×n kai« strafe÷nteß rJh/xwsin uJma×ß.

 

 

 (My interpretation) Do not give the holy [objects] to the [male-temple] prostitutes, and do not throw your pearls in front of the pigs, lest they then trample on them with their feet, and turn and tear [attack] you.

 

 

(NIV)  ³Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

 

(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.

 

(NAS) ³Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

 

(ASV) Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you.

 

(WEB) ³Don¹t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

 

(NLT) "Don't give what is holy to unholy people. Don't give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

 

(ESV) "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.

 

(CEV) Don't give to dogs what belongs to God. They will only turn and attack you. Don't throw pearls down in front of pigs. They will trample all over them.

 

(HCSB) Don't give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.

 

(AMP) Do not give that which is holy (the sacred thing) to the dogs, and do not throw your pearls before hogs, lest they trample upon them with their feet and turn and tear you in pieces.

 

(YLT) Ye may not give that which is [holy] to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before the swine, that they may not trample them among their feet, and having turned -- may rend you.

 

(WNT) Do not ye give holy thing to hounds [Do not ye give holy things to hounds], neither cast ye your margarites before swine, lest peradventure they defoul them with their feet, and the hounds be turned, and tear you all to pieces.

 

(Message) "Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

 
 
Introduction

 

This brief passage on holiness forms the concluding part of the Sermon on the Mount, following immediately from a discourse concerning judgementalism. The earlier part of verse 7 is a series of strict warnings against using human knowledge and observation in application towards others.

Now, having warned his audience against judging others, Matthew warns that as there must not be too much severity (vv. 1-5), there must at the same time not be too much laxity (v.6). He anticipates a problem in the readers interpretation of his phrasings, and attempts to moderate and balance his warnings, for moral symmetry. The principles advanced in 7:1-5 are not to be abused. They do not eliminate the use of critical faculties when it comes to sacred concerns. One should not always throw the cloak over a brother¹s faults. One must not be meekly charitable against all reason.[1]

The construction of this saying seems to be chiastic. It is the swine that will trample the pearls beneath their feet and the dogs that will turn and bite the hand that fed them, even if it fed them with ³holy² flesh.

 

 

 

 

Word studies

 

GreekWord

Lemma

Parse

Translation

Mh

mh/

PARTICLE neg

not, lest

dw×te

dw×te

VERB 2 plur 2aor act subj

to give                       

 

to\

oJ       

ARTICLE neut sing acc                  

the, who, which

a’gion 

a’gioß 

ADJECTIVE neut sing acc                       

holy                          

 

toiˆß   

oJ       

ARTICLE masc plur dat                      

the, who, which        

 

kusi«n

ku/wn 

NOUN masc plur dat                  

dog; (metaph) male prostitute         

 

mhde«  

mhde÷  

CONJUNCTION coord disj                   

nor, and not              

 

ba¿lhte       

ba¿llw        

VERB 2 plur 2aor act subj                       

to throw, put 

tou\ß  

oJ       

ARTICLE masc plur acc                      

the, who, which         

 

margari÷taß 

margari÷thß 

NOUN masc plur acc                  

Pearl                           

 

uJmw×n 

su/    

PRONOUN pers 2 plur gen                      

you, you (when pl)    

 

e¶mprosqen  

e¶mprosqen  

INTERJECTION                       

(+gen) before, in front of                       

 

tw×n   

oJ       

ARTICLE masc plur gen                      

the, who, which         

 

coi÷rwn        

coiˆroß

NOUN masc plur gen                  

pig                              

 

mh/pote       

mh/pote       

CONJUNCTION subord purpos            

lest, perhaps              

 

katapath/sousin        

katapate÷w 

VERB 3 plur fut act indic               

to trample on, oppress                      

 

aujtou\ß       

aujto/ß

PRONOUN pers 3 masc plur acc             

he, she, it; self, same; they (when pl)                              

 

e™n     

e™n     

PREPOSITION                       

(+dat) in, with, by, to                                

 

toiˆß   

oJ       

ARTICLE masc plur dat                      

the, who, which         

 

posi«n

pou/ß 

NOUN masc plur dat                  

foot                            

 

aujtw×n        

aujto/ß

PRONOUN pers 3 masc plur gen             

he, she, it; self, same; they (when pl)                              

 

kai«   

kai÷   

CONJUNCTION coord cop                   

and, also, even, and yet, but                      

 

strafe÷nteß 

stre÷fw      

VERB 2aor pass part masc plur nom                       

to turn                        

rJh/xwsin      

rJh/ssw        

VERB 3 plur aor act subj                       

to break, tear, attack, burst out         

 

uJma×ß 

su/    

PRONOUN pers 2 plur acc                      

you, you (when pl)    

 

                                           

 

 

kusi«n (Dogs)

         Although the phrase ³a dog¹s life² epitomizes a life of ease devoid of anxiety in contemporary Western society, a ³dog¹s life² in a biblical context shocks the reader with visions of squalor, dismal poverty and the life of a pariah at the bottom of the social scale.

            Dogs are repeatedly depicted in terms of their disgusting and inadequate diet. Typically they devour what is left over after humans are finished eating, and that is usually described as mere crumbs[2]. One certainly does not give them quality fare[3]. Consequently dogs are never satisfied and are constantly on the lookout for nourishment. Since what they manage to scavenge is inadequate, they may consume what is repulsive[4] or what is not fit for human consumption[5].

            Of all the domesticated animals there is a particular revulsion for the dog, who alone is willing to eat humans corpses, a fact that is reprehensible to every human and exploited uniquely by the book of Kings as a curse that comes upon wicked dynasts[6]. A threatened psalmist mingles all these elements when he describes his enemies as those ³howling like dogs and prowling about the city. They roam about for food, and growl if they do not get their fill.[7]² The metaphor applies appropriately to Israel¹s greedy leaders: ³They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough.[8]²

            It is not surprising that dogs are more than once juxtaposed with swine in the Bible[9] for both are ritually unclean animals whose repulsive behavior even for animals strikes humans as foolish or even bizarre.

            After making the point that human existence is ³full of evil,[10]² Qoheleth, the main speaker in the book, does state that it is better to be alive than dead, though only barely: ³even a live dog is better off than a dead lion![11]²

            To identify oneself as a dog is therefore to draw attention to one¹s miserable condition as an inconsequential creature[12] or to the miserable treatment that one is receiving[13]. To refer to another human as a dog is to insult the other as among the lowest in the social scale[14]. Jesus seems to intentionally echo Jewish sentiments toward Gentiles when he rebuffs the entreaty of the Syro-Phoenecian woman with the words, ³it is not right to take the children¹s bread and toss it to their dogs.[15]² But accepting the designation‹and the priority of Jews and then Gentiles‹she responds in faith, ³Yes, Lord, Š but even the dogs under the table eat the children¹s crumbs.[16]² Paul, on the other hand, spares no imagery when he warns the Philippians against the Judaizers who are attempting to rob them of full membership in the people of God: ³Watch out for the dogs!²[17]

 

margari÷taß (Pearls)

Pearls are mentioned fewer than a dozen times in the Bible, where their status as a prized jewel make them a touchstone of beauty, value and permanence. Among the literal references, mother­of­pearl is one of the precious stones that Ahasuerus displays during his seven-day extravaganza [18], and when Paul wants a contrast to the feminine modesty that he commends, his images of inappropriate external adornment are braided hair, gold, pearls and costly attire [19]. Of similar import is the repulsive picture of the luxurious finery of the whore of Babylon, who ³was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls²[20]. As a symbol of a worldwide mercantile empire, the whore of Babylon is also portrayed as trafficking in pearls [21].

            Because of their beauty and value, pearls become a recognized standard of excellence when biblical authors wish to make a comparison. Thus ³the price of wisdom is above pearls²[22], and the gospel itself is so precious that it should not be offered to hostile people indiscriminately: ³Do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you²[23]. Similarly, ³the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it²[24].

            The final appearance of the image in the Bible is truly resplendent. Because the pearl combines hardness of texture with brilliance of reflected light, it is a staple in ³enameled imagery² that poets from time immemorial have used to portray heaven. Thus pearls are prominent in the barrage of jewel imagery in John¹s vision of the new Jerusalem; in fact, each of the twelve gates of the heavenly city is made from a single pearl, with the dazzling effect reinforced by the street of the city, which is ³pure gold, transparent as glass²[25].

            Overall, the pearl is an ambivalent image in the Bible. Its beauty and value are positive when it is associated with God¹s wisdom or heavenly kingdom. But its beauty and value actually become reprehensible when people use it to make an extravagant external impression.

 

coi÷rwn (Pigs)

         The law of Moses considers pigs ³unclean² and not to be eaten by the people of Israel[26]. While this puts them in a category containing many other creatures, in practice they were a prominent member of this category, since in many other parts of the ancient world pigs were kept as domestic animals and valued as food. Thus eating pork is instanced as a key example of unclean, pagan practice in Isaiah 65:4 and 66:17, which attack Israelites who participate in pagan cults. Especially in view of Isaiah 66:3, which refers to the offering of pigs¹ blood in sacrifice, it is likely that in these verses the eating of pork pertains to a sacrificial rite, even though the eating of pork offered in sacrifice was not common in ancient Near Eastern religion. For a biblical writer, of course, the association of pigs with holiness, which these apostate Israelites claim to gain from their pagan rites[27], is heavily ironic.

            In the later biblical period, Jewish abstention from pork was a notable distinctive that marked them out from Gentiles. In the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes, which aimed to eradicate the distinctives of Jewish religion, loyal Jews treated abstention from pork as a test of their loyalty to God¹s law. The Maccabean martyrs died for refusing to compromise on this point[28]. Part of Antiochus¹s desecration of the temple consisted of offering pigs in sacrifice[29], since pigs, as unclean, were not among the animals used for sacrifice according to the law of Moses.

            Although the classification of pigs as ³unclean² is a technical one that does not refer to their physical dirtiness, in the ancient world pigs were generally considered dirty animals. They were often allowed to roam loose and scavenge in the streets, as dogs did. This increased the symbolic association of uncleanness with pigs in the Jewish mind, and in a later period both pigs and dogs became derogatory terms for Gentiles. An obvious association of pigs with Gentiles appears in the NT, where when pigs appear as domestic animals it is a clear indication that the story has entered Gentile territory, as in the cases of Jesus¹ encounter with the demoniac Legion[30] and the prodigal son¹s degradation to swineherd[31].

            ³Like a gold ring in a pig¹s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense.[32]² The point here is the incongruous contrast between the beautiful ornament and the animal, which is probably considered dirty and perhaps also ugly (though this would be the only evidence that pigs were thought ugly).

            Some interpreters have seen here a prohibition on preaching the gospel to Gentiles (symbolized as dogs and swine; cf. Mt 10:5), but it seems more likely that simply unreceptive hearers are in view, people who treat what is supremely valuable (like pearls) as worthless and contemptible. Such people need not be Gentiles, but the saying may compare them with typical Gentiles, regarded by Jews as contemptuous of the holy and precious things of God¹s law.

            In 2 Peter 2:22 two proverbs are applied to the case of Christians converted from a pagan background who return to their immoral pagan way of life. Once again the traditional association of dogs and pigs with Gentiles may be in view, as well as the more general association of these animals with dirt. The two proverbs give examples of the unpleasant habits of the two animals. The first is quoted from Proverbs 26:11; the second[33] is preserved elsewhere in the Story of Ahiqar. Pigs enjoy bathing in water, but not for the sake of cleanliness, since they equally enjoy wallowing in mud. The pig in question has been to the public baths and washed itself clean, but immediately dirties itself again. The bathing may suggest baptism as the converts¹ ³cleansing of past sins.[34]²

 

 

Exegesis and application

 

Mh\ dw×te to\ a’gion toiˆß kusi«n. There is a use of the definite article throughout the rest of the saying. Because dogs in the ancient world were known primarily not as pets[35] but as wild creatures which roamed the streets in packs scavenging for refuse one which to feed, Œdog¹ became the word of reproach[36]. Compare the English Œcur¹ and recall that ŒCynic¹[37] was used as a term of abuse. In Deut 23:18, Œdog¹ = a pagan, male prostitute[38], and similar equations are made in other texts (e.g. Mt 15:26-7 = Mk 7:27-8)­although it would be going too far to assert that Œdog¹ was a common appellation for the Gentiles. The question for us is, Are the Œdogs¹ of Mt 7:6 Gentiles (as in 15:26-7), or do we have here a general term of contempt[39]? Surely the latter, ŒDo not give that which is holy to dogs¹ takes up for a novel end a known rule in which to\ a’gion means sacrificial meat or leaven.[40]  In Mt 7:6 this rule, by virtue of its new context, becomes a comprehensive statement about the necessity to keep distinct the realms of the clean and unclean.[41]

There are two very clear and direct meanings in this passage that should be taken simultaneously; first, this phrase is a general warning to limit the amo0unt of time and energy one spends on the hard-core disbelievers.  The gospel is directed to be presented to all, but there are separate admonishments to ³shake the dust off[42],² or walk away from those who are determined not to listen. Secondly, there are certain teachings about God that are simply not appropriate to present to outsiders. This is not to assume a Gnostic viewpoint, in any way, but to underscore the very holy nature of His teachings, and to avoid situations where a heretic or other nonbeliever might mock or abuse that which is deeply sacred.

 

John Gill wrote:

Give not that which is holy to the dogs,.... Dogs were unclean creatures by the law; the price of one might not be brought into the house of the Lord, for a vow, Deuteronomy 23:18 yea, these creatures were not admitted into several temples of the Heathens. Things profane and unclean, as flesh torn by beasts, were ordered to be given to them, Exodus 22:31 but nothing that was holy was to be given them, as holy flesh, or the holy oblations, or anything that was consecrated to holy uses; to which is the allusion here. It is a common maxim with the Jews, "Myblkl Nlykahl Myvdqh ta Nydwp Nyav, 'that they do not redeem holy things, to give to the dogs to eat.'" Here the phrase is used in a metaphorical sense; and is generally understood of not delivering or communicating the holy word of God, and the truths of the Gospel, comparable to pearls, or the ordinances of it, to persons notoriously vile and sinful: to men, who being violent and furious persecutors, and impudent blasphemers, are compared to "dogs"; or to such, who are scandalously vile, impure in their lives and conversations, and are therefore compared to swine; neither cast ye your pearls before swine. But since the subject Christ is upon is reproof, it seems rather to be the design of these expressions, that men should be cautious, and prudent, in rebuking and admonishing such persons for their sins, in whom there is no appearance or hope of success; yea, where there is danger of sustaining loss; lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you: that is, despise the admonitions and reproofs given, and hurt the persons who give them, either by words or deeds; see Proverbs 9:7. The Jews have some sayings much like these, and will serve to illustrate them; "Myryzxh ynpl Mynynph wkylvt la, "do not cast pearls before swine," nor deliver wisdom to him, who knows not the excellency of it; for wisdom is better than pearls, and he that does not seek after it, is worse than a swine."

 

mhde« ba¿lhte tou\ß margari÷taß uJmw×n e¶mprosqen tw×n coi÷rwn The second part of verse 6 is a good example of synonymous parallelism.[43]  ³Do not throw² corresponds with ³do not give,² ³your pearls² corresponds with ³that which is holy,² and ³dogs² obviously corresponds with ³pigs.² Both of the latter are considered unclean, despised animals in classic Jewish culture. The association of pigs with dogs occurs as well in 2 Peter 2:22. Some interpreters have seen here a prohibition on preaching the gospel to Gentiles (symbolized as dogs and swine), but it seems more likely that simply unreceptive hearers are in view, people who treat what is supremely valuable (like pearls) as worthless and contemptible. Such people need not be Gentiles, but the saying may compare them with typical Gentiles, regarded by Jews as contemptuous of the holy and precious things of God¹s law.

The law of Moses considers pigs ³unclean² and not to be eaten by the people of Israel[44]. While this puts them in a category containing many other creatures, in practice they were a prominent member of this category, since in many other parts of the ancient world pigs were kept as domestic animals and valued as food. Thus eating pork is instanced as a key example of unclean, pagan practice in Isaiah 65:4 and 66:17, which attack Israelites who participate in pagan cults. Especially in view of Isaiah 66:3, which refers to the offering of pigs¹ blood in sacrifice, it is likely that in these verses the eating of pork pertains to a sacrificial rite, even though the eating of pork offered in sacrifice was not common in ancient Near Eastern religion. For a biblical writer, of course, the association of pigs with holiness, which these apostate Israelites claim to gain from their pagan rites (Is 65:5; 66:17), is heavily ironic.

The ³swine,² therefore, together with the ³dogs², are those who have completely abandoned themselves into a life of sin. These are the ones referred to some many times in the gospel that are ³hard-hearted² and ³blind² to the Truth of Christ.

            In the later biblical period, Jewish abstention from pork was a notable distinctive that marked them out from Gentiles. In the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes, which aimed to eradicate the distinctiveness of Jewish religion, loyal Jews treated abstention from pork as a test of their loyalty to God¹s law. The Maccabean martyrs died for refusing to compromise on this point (2 Macc 6:18­20; 7:1). Part of Antiochus¹s desecration of the temple consisted of offering pigs in sacrifice (1 Macc 1:47), since pigs, as unclean, were not among the animals used for sacrifice according to the law of Moses.

            Although the classification of pigs as ³unclean² is a technical one that does not refer to their physical dirtiness, in the ancient world pigs were generally considered dirty animals. They were often allowed to roam loose and scavenge in the streets, as dogs did. This increased the symbolic association of uncleanness with pigs in the Jewish mind, and in a later period both pigs and dogs became derogatory terms for Gentiles. An obvious association of pigs with Gentiles appears in the NT, where when pigs appear as domestic animals it is a clear indication that the story has entered Gentile territory, as in the cases of Jesus¹ encounter with the demoniac Legion (Mk 5:11­14) and the prodigal son¹s degradation to swineherd[45].

³Like a gold ring in a pig¹s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense.[46]² The point here is the incongruous contrast between the beautiful ornament and the animal, which is probably considered dirty and perhaps also ugly, though this would be the only evidence that pigs were thought ugly.

 

Augustine wrote:

But inasmuch as the word ³guileless² may mislead some who are desirous of obeying God¹s precepts, so that they may think it wrong, at times, to conceal the truth, just as it is wrong at times to speak a falsehood, and inasmuch as in this way,‹by disclosing things which the parties to whom they are disclosed are unable to bear,‹they may do more harm than if they were to conceal them altogether and always, He very rightly adds: ³Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.² For the Lord Himself, although He never told a lie, yet showed that He was concealing certain truths, when He said, ³I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.² And the Apostle Paul, too, says: ³And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal.²

 

 Now, in this precept by which we are forbidden to give what is holy to the dogs, and to cast our pearls before swine, we must carefully require what is meant by holy, what by pearls, what by dogs, what by swine. A holy thing is something which it is impious to violate and to corrupt; and the very attempt and wish to commit that crime is held to be criminal, although that holy thing should remain in its nature inviolable and incorruptible. By pearls, again, are meant whatever spiritual things we ought to set a high value upon, both because they lie hid in a secret place, are as it were brought up out of the deep, and are found in wrappings of allegory, as it were in shells that have been opened. We may therefore legitimately understand that one and the same thing may be called both holy and a pearl: but it gets the name of holy for this reason, that it ought not to be corrupted; of a pearl for this reason, that it ought not to be despised. Every one, however, endeavours to corrupt what he does not wish to remain uninjured: but he despises what he thinks worthless, and reckons to be as it were beneath himself; and therefore whatever is despised is said to be trampled on. And hence, inasmuch as dogs spring at a thing in order to tear it in pieces, and do not allow what they are tearing in pieces to remain in its original condition, ³Give not,² says He, ³that which is holy unto the dogs:² for although it cannot be torn in pieces and corrupted, and remains unharmed and inviolable, yet we must think of what is the wish of those parties who bitterly and in a most unfriendly spirit resist, and, as far as in them lies, endeavour, if it were possible, to destroy the truth. But swine, although they do not, like dogs, fall upon an object with their teeth, yet by recklessly trampling on it defile it: ³Do not therefore cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.² We may therefore not unsuitably understand dogs as used to designate the assailants of the truth, swine the despisers of it.[47]

 

mh/pote katapath/sousin aujtou\ß e™n toiˆß posi«n aujtw×n kai« strafe÷nteß rJh/xwsin uJma×ß. This gives the overall reasoning for the two admonitions; ³dogs² and ³pigs² desecrate what is pure, clean and that which should be given honor. The general sense of the saying is clear: objects of value, special privileges, participation in sacred things should not be offered to those who are incapable of appreciating them. Pearls are things of beauty and value to many people‹Jesus himself in one of his parables compared the kingdom of God to a ³pearl of great value² (Mt 13:45­46)‹but pigs will despise them because they cannot eat them. Holy flesh‹the flesh of sacrificial animals‹has a religious value over and above its nutritive value for worshipers who share in a ³peace offering,² but pariah dogs will make no difference between it and scraps of offal for which they battle in the street; they will not feel specially grateful to anyone who gives it to them.

            But has the saying a more specific application? One could imagine its being quoted by some more restrictive brethren in the Jerusalem church as an argument against presenting the gospel to Gentiles, certainly against receiving them into full Christian fellowship. At a slightly later date it was used as an argument against admitting unbelievers to the Lord¹s Supper; thus the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a manual of Syrian Christianity dated around A.D. 100, says, ³Let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord. It was concerning this that the Lord said, ŒDo not give dogs what is holy¹² (9.5).

            It would be anachronistic to read this interpretation back into the ministry of Jesus. It is better to read the saying in the context given it by Matthew (the only Gospel writer to report it). It comes immediately after the injunction ³Do not judge, or you too will be judged² (Mt 7:1), with two amplifications of that injunction: you will be judged by the standard you apply in the judgment of others (Mt 7:2), and you should not try to remove a speck of sawdust from someone else¹s eye when you have a whole plank in your own (Mt 7:3­5). Then comes this saying, which is a further amplification of the principle, or rather a corrective of it: you must not sit in judgment on others and pass censorious sentences on them, but you ought to exercise discrimination. Judgment is an ambiguous word. In Greek as in English, it may mean sitting in judgment on people (or even condemning them), or it may mean exercising a proper discrimination. In the former sense judgment is deprecated; in the latter sense it is recommended. Jesus himself knew that it was useless to impart his message to some people: he had no answer for Herod Antipas when Herod ³plied him with many questions² (Lk 23:9).

 

McGarvey and Pendleton wrote of this passage:

The connection here is not obvious. This saying, however, appears to be a limitation of the law against judging. The Christian must not be censoriously judicial, but he should be discriminatingly judicious. He must know dogs and swine when he sees them, and must not treat them as priests and kings, the fit objects for the bestowal of holy food and goodly ornaments. Dogs and swine were unclean animals. The former were usually undomesticated and were often fierce. In the East they are still the self-appointed scavengers of the street. The latter were undomesticated among the Jews, and hence are spoken of as wild and liable to attack man. Meats connected with the sacrificial service of the altar were holy. Even unclean men were not permitted to eat of them, much less unclean brutes. What was left after the priests and clean persons had eaten was to be burned with fire (Leviticus 6:24-30; Leviticus 7:15-21). To give holy things to dogs was to profane them. We are here forbidden, then, to use any religious office, work, or ordinance, in such a manner as to degrade or profane it. Saloons ought not to be opened with prayer, nor ought adulterous marriages to be performed by a man of God. To give pearls to swine is to press the claims of the gospel upon those who despise it until they persecute you for annoying them with it. When such men are known, they are to be avoided. Jesus acted on this principle in refusing to answer the Pharisees, and the apostles did the same in turning to the Gentiles when their Jewish hearers would begin to contradict and blaspheme.

                       

One other way of viewing this passage is to consider the ³uncleanest of the unclean.² In 2 Peter 2:22 two proverbs are applied to the case of Christians converted from a pagan background who return to their immoral pagan way of life. Once again the traditional association of dogs and pigs with Gentiles may be in view, as well as the more general association of these animals with dirt. The two proverbs give examples of the unpleasant habits of the two animals. The first is quoted from Proverbs 26:11; the second, ³The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud,² (NRSV) is preserved elsewhere in the Story of Ahiqar. Pigs enjoy bathing in water, but not for the sake of cleanliness, since they equally enjoy wallowing in mud. The pig in question has been to the public baths and washed itself clean, but immediately dirties itself again. The bathing may suggest baptism as the converts¹ ³cleansing of past sins.[48]²

 

Augustine wrote:

But when He says, ³they turn again and rend you,² He does not say, they rend the pearls themselves. For by trampling on them, just when they turn in order that they may hear  something more, they yet rend him by whom the pearls have just been cast before them which they have trampled on. For you would not easily find out what pleasure the man could have who has trampled pearls under foot, i.e. has despised divine things whose discovery is the result of great labour. But in regard to him who teaches such parties, I do not see how he would escape being rent in pieces through their anger and wrathfulness. Moreover, both animals are unclean, the dog as well as the swine. We must therefore be on our guard, lest anything should be opened up to him who does not receive it: for it is better that he should seek for what is hidden, than that he should either attack or slight at what is open. Neither, in fact, is any other cause found why they do not receive those things which are manifest and of importance, except hatred and contempt, the one of which gets them the

name of dogs, the other that of swine. And all this impurity is generated by the love of temporal things, i.e. by the love of this world, which we are commanded to renounce, in order that we may be able to be pure. The man, therefore, who desires to have a pure and single heart, ought not to appear to himself blameworthy, if he conceals anything from him who is unable to receive it. Nor is it to be supposed from this that it is allowable to lie: for it does not follow that when truth is concealed, falsehood is uttered. Hence, steps are to be taken first, that the hindrances which prevent his receiving it may be removed; for certainly if pollution is the reason he does not receive it, he is to be cleansed either by word or by deed, as far as we can possibly do it.

 Then, further, when our Lord is found to have made certain statements which many who were present did not accept, but either resisted or despised, He is not to be thought to have given that which is holy to the dogs, or to have cast pearls before swine: for He did not give such things to those who were not able to receive them, but to those who were able, and were at the same time present; whom it was not meet that He should neglect on account of the impurity of others.[49]

 

 

 

Summary and conclusions

 

Given Jesus¹ very open nature towards the Gentiles, it is questionable that this specific phrase came directly from him, despite the quotation of Matthew[50], but this is not completely out of the question. There was (and is) a rabbinic notion that the words of Torah such not be transmitted to a Gentile, based on the precept that Halakha, or Jewish religious laws and customs, are irrelevant to them.

 

Holy and valuable things should be given only to those able to appreciate them. No specific application is indicated, but we may remember that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.[51] God¹s truth must not be exposed unnecessarily to abuse and mockery.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Pulpit Commentary Series: Volume 13: New Testament. Ages Software, Rio, WI, 2005.

Albright , William F. and Mann, C. S.. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday, 1971.

Bettensen, Henry and Maunder, Chris, ed. Documents of the Christian Church. Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Constable, Dr. Thomas L. ³Matthew,² Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2005.

Davies, W.D. and Allison, Dale C. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: The International Critical Commentary: Matthew Volume I, I-VII. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Limited, 1988.

France,  R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.

Gill, John. Exposition of the Old & New Testaments, in which the Sense of the Sacred Text is given, Doctrinal and Practical Truths are set in a plain and easy light. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1897

 

Gundry, Robert. Matthew: a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982.

Hagner, Donald. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 33a, Matthew1-13.  Dallas: Word Books, 1993.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry¹s Commentary on the Whole Bible.  New York: Hendrickson, 2000.

Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1975.

Jamieson, Robert,  A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.  Public domain electronic copy, available at http://www.ccel.org/j/jfb/jfb/JFB00.htm.

Johnson, Barton W. People's New Testament Bible Commentary. Public domain electronic copy, available at http://eword.gospelcom.net/comments/johnson/

 

Keener, Craig S. The InterVarsity Press Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew1-7. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute,  1985.

McGarvey and Pendleton. The Fourfold Gospel, Or, a Harmony of the Four Gospels. Public domain electronic copy, available at http://eword.gospelcom.net/comments/four/

Schaff, Philip. St. Augustin: Sermon on the Mount; Harmony of the

Gospels; Homilies on the Gospels. New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.

 

Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975.

Simonetti, Manlio, Ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Ia, Matthew1-13. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

 Stern, David. Jewish New Testament Commentary.  Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992.

Vincent, Marvin. Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume I: The Synoptic Gospels: Acts of the Apostles: Epistles of Peter,James, and Jude. Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1887.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2006 by John E. McKay

All rights reserved

 



[1] Compare 2 Cor 6:14-18.

[2] Mt 15:26, 27; Mk 7:27, 28

[3] Mt 7:6

[4] Prov 26:11; 2 Pet 2:22

[5] Ex 22:31

[6] 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:23, 24; 2 Kings 9:10, 36

[7] 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:23, 24; 2 Kings 9:10, 36

[8] Is 56:10 NIV

[9] Is 66:3; Mt 7:6; 2 Pet 2:22

[10] Eccles 9:3

[11] Eccles 9:4 NIV

[12] ³a dead dog² 1 Sam 24:14; 2 Sam 9:8 NRSV

[13] 1 Sam 17:43; 2 Sam 3:8; 2 Kings 8:13

[14] 2 Sam 16:9

[15] Mk 7:27 NIV

[16] Mk 7:28 NIV

[17] Phil 3:2

[18] Esther 1:6

[19] 1 Tim 2:9

[20] Rev 17:4 RSV; cf. Rev 18:16

[21] Rev 18:12

[22] Job 28:18 RSV

[23] Mt 7:6 RSV

[24] Mt 13:45­46 RSV

[25] Rev 21:21 RSV

[26] Lev 11:7; Deut 14:8

[27] Is 65:5; 66:17

[28] 2 Macc 6:18­20; 7:1

[29] 1 Macc 1:47

[30] Mk 5:11­14

[31] Lk 15:15­16

[32] Prov 11:22 NRSV

[33] ³The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud,² NRSV

[34] 2 Pet 1:9 NRSV

[35] Davies mentions that there are historic indications that dogs were sometimes domesticated, but there are more indications that this was not nearly as common as today.

[36] 1Sam 17:43; 24:14; 2 Sam 9:8; 16:9; Ps 22:20; Prov 26:11; Isa 56:10-11

[37] kunikoáß, Œdog-like¹

[38] hDvédVq

[39] Phil 3:2 (dogs = the Judaizing faction); Rev 22:15 (dogs = sinners outside paradise); Ignatius, Eph 7.1 (mad dogs = heretics)

[40] Exod 29:33; Lev 2:3; 22:6. 7. 10-16; Num 18:8-19

[41] Exo 29:33

[42] Matt 10:14

[43] Synonymous parallelism is the rhetorical use of synonyms or near synonyms to refer to the same entity or action. Synonymous parallelism is one of the most frequent Hebraic poetic structures. Synonymous parallelism is a subtype of rhetorical parallelism.

[44] Lev 11:7; Deut 14:8

[45] Lk 15:15­16

[46] Prov 11:22 (NRSV)

[47] Book II, Chapter XX, 68

[48] 2 Pet 1:9 (NRSV)

[49] Book II, Chapter XX, 69-70

[50] There is a school of thought that Matthew, and possibly Luke, took some liberties with paraphrasing and editorializing; this is bolstered by the facts that this is the only Gospel where this phrase occurs, and that while Matthew and Luke tend to be closely aligned, Mark has serious disparities.

[51] Ecc. 3:7




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