Monday, June 28, 2010

Matthew 7:6 - "Do not give what is holy to dogs..."

Check most commentaries and they'll tell you that Jesus' teaching about not throwing your pearls before swine has nothing to do with what he just got through saying about not judging others. One moment he's saying, "Don't judge" and now suddenly he's saying, "Don't throw your pearls before swine." Supposedly this is just some random saying thrown into the mix of Jesus' wise sayings kind of like the Book of Proverbs.

I don't know. My default position is to assume that Jesus doesn't suffer from ADD and doesn't just let random thoughts pop out of his mouth because he happened to see some mangy animals wander by as he was teaching. "So if you don't wish to judge your brother you should first take the log out of your own eye, blah, blah . . . Hey, look at that dog and pig over there! That reminds me, don't give what's holy to dogs or cast your pearls before swine. Anyhow, as I was saying..."

The problem is how to connect up these teachings of Jesus. Here's my best shot at it. Jesus just finished saying that if you want to confront your brother about his sin without judging him, you'll have to deal with your own sin first. In other words, it's going to cost you some. You'll have to humble yourself, take a good look at your own heart, and be unsparing on yourself if you want to be rid of the log in your own eye. It might occur to you that maybe your brother isn't worth the trouble. Maybe you shouldn't bother to put yourself through all that and you should just keep silent. But if that's a brother in the faith you want to help, you will take the trouble because you love him. You're fellow sojourners in the faith, right? You are your brother's keeper.

By contrast do you have the same obligation to those with whom you share no common faith? In Jesus' day the Gentiles were referred to as dogs, godless unbelievers who were outside the covenant. In Matthew 15:26 there is the story where Jesus told the Syrophoenician woman "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." The Jews, God's covenant people, are referred to as "children" and "brothers" and all sorts of family-type names. But the Gentiles who are outsiders are called "dogs" or even "swine" since pigs are animals that the Jews detest for their filth.

It is one thing to go through the trouble of scouring your soul so that you can see clearly to remove a speck from a brother's eye. It's quite another to attempt to do the same for an unbeliever who has no interest getting specks, logs, two-by-fours, or what have you removed from their eye. A dog who roams wildly or a pig that wallows in the filth of sin may not want to be tamed or pulled out of the mud. Your good advice, your "pearls" as it were, would most likely be rejected and you yourself could wind up torn to pieces.

Most of us have even experienced this when we have tried in our misguided ways to evangelize. Confronting unbelievers about their sin never comes off to them as being "loving" no matter how much we may protest about our good intentions. They only feel judged and patronized and attacked, so they will feel justified in attacking back. That's why Jesus says: save it. You have no obligation to give your pearls to that type of person. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2:14).


  1. I can appreciate this take on the verse, it does do pretty good justice to how it ties in to what came previous.

    What still rubs me wrong about this verse is the thought that Jesus simply adopted that contemporary social-religious custom of categorizing the world that way, at least doing so without further comment or revision. After all, contextually if Jesus just dealt with the ever pervasive problem of self-righteousness, don't we know from other parts of the NT that self-righteousness was most readily in action in the Jew-Gentile distinctions polluting the unity of the early Church? How would this saying not tempt his Jewish hearers to further validate this sort of presumptuous attitude towards Gentiles?

    Luke 5 when Jesus addresses the grumbling of the Pharisees when they see him hanging out with the sinners and tax collectors instead of joining their holy club. Jesus' response, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." It seems like for the sake of argument he assumes their self-justifying moral labeling, and then turns it back against them. He didn't really believe the pharisees were righteous, did he? I think something similar must be going on here.

    At the same time, your interpretation does make total sense theologically. Its just the actual imagery he uses pushes me in a different direction (and admittedly a weaker case, as far as what the straightforward text actually says).

  2. Oops, the beginning of the third paragraph went missing. It should say "I think a similar example where Jesus made use of these sorts of labels is Luke 5 ... "

  3. That's an interesting point, Joe. Thinking out loud, maybe Jesus' polemical stance against the Pharisaism could still be preserved here if "dogs" and "swine" were rather understood as referring to anyone who is too self-righteous to receive good counsel. Perhaps Jesus is using those terms that are normally reserved for Gentiles as a way of putting the Pharisees in their place ("You are no better than a Gentile for behaving self-righteously."). That approach has a very Jesus-esque ring to it.

  4. hm, that's another good take on it. Coming up in Matthew 8 - after the perceived faith of the centurion Jesus will explain how the "sons of the kingdom" will be thrown out while many from the east and the west will come to recline at table with the patriarchs and the promises. He does often confound the Pharisees' notion of privilege, and how a great reversal will be taking place - those who were outside and cut off from the kingdom promises are flowing in, while those within the realm of kingdom promises will be cast out. So who are the ones who really resemble the sons of the kingdom? And who are the ones who really resemble the swine and dogs? The Pharisees for the most part really did begin acting like a pack of rabid dogs the more they saw and heard Jesus' deeds and teachings.