Matthew 7:6 reads as follows:
“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.”
We need to state, first of all, that the Bible compares the truth about the Kingdom of God with a precious pearl (Matthew 13:45-46). At the same time, “dogs” or “swine” describe debased and quarrelsome people, filled with anger and hostility toward God and His Law (Philippians 3:2; 2 Peter 2:22; Revelation 22:15).
Barnes has the following insightful comments regarding the meaning of this passage:
“Pearls… are used to denote the doctrines of the gospel. ‘Dogs’ signify people who spurn, oppose, and abuse that doctrine; people of special sourness and malignity of temper, who meet it like growling and quarrelsome curs… ‘Swine’ denote those who would trample the precepts underfoot; people of impurity of life; those who are corrupt, polluted, profane, obscene, and sensual; those who would not know the value of the gospel, and who would tread it down as swine would pearls… The meaning of this proverb, then, is, do not offer your doctrine to those violent and abusive people who would growl and curse you; nor to those especially debased and profligate who would not perceive its value, would trample it down, and would abuse you…”
We are asked to let our light shine, by doing good works (Matthew 5:16). A light makes no noise–if it does, then something is wrong with it. We cannot convert a person–only God can do this (Romans 2:4). It is true that we are told to be prepared to give a defense or an answer to those who ask us about the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15)–but this addresses people who are genuinely interested. This is not to say that we could not try to sow a seed by making a point in a conversation–but we must be extremely careful not to do this with people who are hostile toward “our religion.” Even insofar as non-hostile people are concerned, we generally are to wait for them to express their interest, by asking, rather than “volunteering” to forcefully try to persuade them of our beliefs. It takes discernment to determine whether people are genuinely interested, or whether they just raise an issue for the purpose of strife and contention. Proverbs 17:14 says: “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; Therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.”
However, the Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown gives us the following appropriate caution:
“Religion is brought into contempt, and its professors insulted, when it is forced upon those who cannot value it and will not have it. But while the indiscriminately zealous have need of this caution, let us be on our guard against too readily setting our neighbors down as dogs and swine, and excusing ourselves from endeavoring to do them good on this poor plea.”
Christ’s point is: Don’t be too quick to judge and condemn (see the context of Matthew 7:6 with verses 1-5, cautioning against quick judgment of others, while at the same time ignoring our own shortcomings)–but don’t be naive and overlook blatant malicious attitudes and conduct, expressing hostility toward the Word and the LAW of God.
Gill has this to say in regard to the passage:
“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, [who] are compared to ‘dogs’; or to such, who are scandalously vile, impure in their lives and conversations, and are therefore compared to swine… 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.”
The Bible warns us in Proverbs 9:7-8: “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you…”
Compare, too, the following statements in the Nelson Study Bible:
“Dogs and swine refer to people who are enemies of the gospel, as opposed to those who are merely unbelievers. Such enemies are to be left alone (see [Matthew] 15:14; 2 [Corinthians] 6:14-18). One example of such a person was Herod Antipas, who heard John gladly (see Mark 6:20), but then he beheaded him (see [Matthew] 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-28; Luke 9:7-9). Later when Christ stood before Herod, He said nothing (see Luke 23:8, 9). In the context of this verse, Herod had become a ‘dog’ or a ‘pig.'”
Note these additional comments in the Life Application Bible:
“It is futile to try to teach holy concepts to people who don’t want to listen and will only tear apart what we say. We should not stop giving God’s Word to unbelievers, but we should be wise and discerning in what we teach to whom, so that we will not be wasting our time.”
The Broadman Bible Commentary agrees, pointing out:
“Jesus is… alluding… to any person who is… unwilling to distinguish between what is holy and what is not, or between pearls and what is valueless. This saying sounds harsh, but it must be heard. Jesus… recognized that there were times when there was no opening for the gospel or for his ministry… there are times when [a Christian] can only remain silent or try to bring about a better climate for a later sharing… Three dangers threaten the Christian witness or minister who does not discern when to speak and when to keep silence: he may further damage the one he tries to help; he may try to force himself or his values upon another; and he may unnecessarily imperil himself and others.”
Clarke adds another dimension to this verse, when he states:
“As a general meaning of this passage, we may just say: ‘The sacrament of the Lord’s supper [better: Passover], and other holy ordinances which are only instituted for the genuine followers of Christ, are not to be dispensed to those who are continually returning like the snarling ill-natured dog to their easily predominant sins of rash judgment, barking at and tearing the characters of others by evil speaking, back biting and slandering; nor to him who, like the swine, is frequently returning to wallow in the mud of sensual gratifications and impurities.'”
Even though John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, disagrees with the idea that Christ, in Matthew 7:6, had the Passover in mind, he nevertheless concurs that the PRINCIPLE is well founded, stating:
“Some of the early fathers thought the reference was to the Lord’s Supper [better: Passover]… and argued from it that unbelieving, unbaptized people should not be admitted to Communion [partaking of the symbols of bread and wine during Passover]. [Footnote: For example, chapter IX of the Didache, probably an early second-century document, includes this instruction: ‘Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”‘] While they were no doubt right in this teaching, it is extremely doubtful whether Jesus had this question in mind at all…”
The Church of God has consistently taught that only properly baptized members are to partake of the Passover symbols (see our free booklet, “The Meaning of God’s Spring Holy Days.”)
To an extent, Christ’s statement in Matthew 7:6 can even refer to the public preaching of the gospel by His Church. It cannot be applied, of course, in the sense that His Church is NO longer obligated to preach the gospel in all the world as a witness–just the opposite is true (Matthew 24:14)–but as the following commentaries point out, the passage has relevance insofar as the REACTION of those is concerned who hear the proclamation of the gospel message.
“We cannot possibly deduce… that Jesus was forbidding us to preach the gospel to unbelievers. To suppose this would stand the whole New Testament on its head and contradict the Great Commission (with which Matthew’s Gospel ends) to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ [compare Matthew 28:19-20]… so then the ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ with whom we are forbidden to share the gospel pearl are not just unbelievers. They must rather be those who have had ample opportunity to hear and receive the good news, but have decisively–even defiantly–rejected it… the fact is that to persist beyond a certain point in offering the gospel to such people is to invite its rejection with contempt and even blasphemy… If people have had plenty of opportunity to hear the truth but do not respond to it… we are not to go on and on with them, for then we cheapen God’s gospel of letting them trample it under foot.”
Therefore, Christ’s warning not to give what is holy to the dogs and swine, has a certain relevance in relationship to the REACTION of those to whom the gospel has been preached. In Matthew 10:14, Christ told His disciples whom He had sent out to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God (see verse 7), to leave the house of unworthy people who would not receive nor hear the message. We also find that Paul, AFTER he had preached the gospel to the Jews, turned away from them and turned to the Gentiles, when the Jews rejected the message (compare Acts 13:44-46; 18:5-6).
A good summary of the meaning of Matthew 7:6 can be found in Henry’s commentary, where we read:
“This [passage] may be considered, either, (1.) As a rule to the disciples in preaching the gospel; not that they must not preach it to any one who were wicked and profane (Christ himself preached to publicans and sinners), but the reference is to such as they found obstinate after the gospel was preached to them, such as blasphemed it, and persecuted the preachers of it; let them not spend much time among such, for it would be lost labour, but let them turn to others… Or, (2.) As a rule to all in giving reproof. Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels, and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners, to whom it will certainly do no good, but who will be exasperated and enraged at us. Throw a pearl to a swine, and he will resent it… Good counsel and reproof are a holy thing… Yet we must be very cautious whom we condemn as dogs and swine, and not do it till after trial, and upon full evidence.”
It requires insight, discernment and prayer to be able to determine when to speak and when to be silent. However, people’s hostility to the words of God and especially the LAW of God is normally revealed very quickly. Somebody who HATES God’s commandments will express his malice in due course. In that case, it is best to cease discussing God’s truth with such a person, knowing that it will only lead to strife and contention (1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 3:9-10). A servant of God is told not to be engaged in such destructive conversation (1 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Timothy 2:23-24), lest he become affected by it too, giving in to the devouring hatred of his opponents and reacting in such a way as to allow his mouth to sin (Psalm 39:1).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link