What does it mean to not “cast your pearls before swine”? Have we totally missed Jesus’ message on this? Does our understanding of this passage cause us to view the lost with disdain instead of a Christ-like love? Are there people out there who simply are too far gone to ever accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ?Today, let’s have a close look at the text and the context and hopefully gain a better understanding of what Jesus was teaching us in this latter part of his sermon on the mount. This passage is found in the first part of Matthew 7 and almost seems to be a strange statement just thrown in between topics. But, if we look closer, it may not be as random as it first appears.
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.
– Matthew 7:6, KJV
Let’s start with the common explanation of this passage. Mostly I’ve heard the metaphors defined as this:
That which is holy and the pearls = Christ / Christianity / the Gospel
Dogs = Savage haters of truth and righteousness
Swine (pigs) = Those who are incapable of appreciating the priceless jewels of Christianity
Many commentaries have taken this stance. In fact my JFB commentary says, “Religion is brought into contempt, and its professors insulted, when it is forced upon those who cannot value it and will not have it.” Of course, they also go on to say we need to be careful to not label our neighbors as dogs and pigs too hastily. The thing is, I hear Christians refer to this passage quite often as to why they do not evangelize to certain people. I am afraid we might be using these passages to justify our own lack of service and love. If this is truly about being careful who we bring the Gospel to, then Jesus doesn’t really seem to practice what he’s preaching. So, let’s look at this passage closer as see if there is not something else there.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brotherʼs eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye,” while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brotherʼs eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.
– Matthew 7:1-6, NET
This time let’s take into account what Jesus was saying right before the passage in question. He was teaching us about judging one another. Funny how we interpret the very next passage to be “determine if people are dogs and pigs before teaching them”. Isn’t this contradictory to what Jesus was just saying? Perhaps the passages are more related than we thought.
So starting with verse one, this is not a commandment against judging in general, but it is a warning against it. The warning is to be careful because it’s easy to see other’s faults and not our own. If we are harsh in our judgment, we will be harshly judged. So, how do we reconcile Jesus’ teaching on judgment here with Paul’s teaching on judgment in this next passage?
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:8-13, ESV
Here Paul seems to give us some license in judging each other. But Paul also provides guidelines which should fit well into what Jesus was teaching. Here is what we can understand from reading and inferring Paul’s points:
1) We are to not judge those outside of the church. God will handle that.
2) We are to judge those inside the church in certain aspects.
3) He gives of a succinct list of examples where we are to judge.
I think Jesus addresses all 3 of these points in his sermon as well, but he does it in just the opposite order. Let’s look at the 3rd point Paul makes. He gives a list of examples for us to judge in. Notice Paul’s list only contains issues of moral obedience. There is nothing in his list which is overly vague. He mentions: sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, reviler, drunkenness, and swindling. This is not to say you can only judge those in the church on these 6 items. But I believe these are representative of issues of moral obedience. There is nothing in the list pertaining to errors in doctrine or understanding. Instead, these are easily identifiable and easily referenced to as moral sins, condemned directly hundreds of times in scripture. The reason we should limit our judgment to these types of sins goes back to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:1-5 about being careful of hypocrisy. If you accuse a brother of drunkenness, it is easy enough to determine if you have just as big of a moral sin you are fighting. However if you judge a brother for misunderstanding a passage of scripture, you better be prepared to give account for any passage you have misunderstood as well.
The second point Paul makes is to only judge those inside of the church. Jesus also implies this. At the time of the sermon on the mount, the church as we know it was not in place. However, Jesus is addressing Jewish followers of God. Notice in his example he says, “Why do you see the speck in your brotherʼs eye”; using the term brother denotes a fellow Jew. Jesus was giving an example of how not to judge your “brother” with hypocrisy.
Paul’s first point was when he asks, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?”. Jesus says, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” I believe these passages mean the same thing. Dogs and swine are not references to the people’s character, but to who they are. A Jewish audience would immediately recognize a reference to dogs and pigs as talking about unclean animals. Jews often referred to Gentiles with these idioms.
Jesus tells us not to give that which is holy to them. The audience again did not know the Gospel at this point, so what is holy to them? Torah. The Law. So instead of the previous understanding of the metaphors, they should probably be more like this:
That which is holy (the pearls) = Law / God’s commands
Dogs = Gentiles (unbelievers)
Swine (pigs) = Gentiles (unbelievers)
Jesus was still talking about not judging others… First, he makes the point to judge brothers with even judgment (using your own guilt as a guide), then he tells them not to judge outsiders at all. Why? Because they do not serve the same King and His rules are worthless to them. They will trample them underfoot and turn on you for judging them.
For an example of how Jesus’ teaching fits into our experience, let’s say you see a non-married, non-christian couple living together. So you tell them they are living in sin and one of them needs to move out. What do you think their reaction will be? They will discount your suggestion then be upset at you. You may even be labeled as “holier than thou” or just another “judgmental Christian”. This helps no one. They become even farther from God than before. Give them the Gospel instead. Let Jesus convict them of their sin, then they can deal with the rules. Do not cast righteous commands at them, they will just trample them and rend you.
This happens far too much and Christians have horrible reputations among the lost because we are spending too much time doing exactly what was in this example instead of teaching the Gospel. Because we have misunderstood this passage we are viewing certain of the lost with complete hopeless disdain and at the same time missing the valuable lesson Jesus was trying to give us to begin with.
He was not teaching us to withhold the gospel from people who are “haters of God” or “impure” or “coarse”. People like that need Jesus the same as you or I. He died for them too and he is not telling you to write them off. You might simply plant a seed and move on if it isn’t welcomed. But still plant the seed. Jesus spent the majority of his ministry with what we might call dogs and pigs because he loved them…
and we should too.