Matthew 7:1-6: An Exegesis

About a year ago, or so, someone asked me if I could explain to them Matthew 7:6 (Do 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 [NASB]). No doubt, it’s a tough verse to understand…especially when it is examined as a stand alone verse. As always, context is the key. To understand Matthew 7:6, one also has to look at verses 1-5. And so, in my written response, that is exactly what I did. The following is that response. I hope you find it helpful, in one way or another.

In Matthew chapter 7, verses 1-6 we have Jesus addressing the idea of judging others in the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7). First we have to remember that when it comes to the ideas found within the Sermon on the Mount, they are, really, in contrast to the behaviors and actions of the Pharisees. Christ is preaching this sermon to remind the people to not have the same self-righteous and hypocritical attitude that the Pharisees had. In the context of this passage it has to do with judging or criticizing others. The Pharisees thought that they were better than everyone else. And so it was common for them to see faults and sins in others, but never take any accountability whatsoever for their own faults and sins. So in verses 1-5 of this passage, Jesus is telling the people to not be this way. They are to take the log out of their own eye before removing the speck out of their brother’s eye. In other words, one must first deal with their own sins, and then they will rightfully be able to lovingly and carefully confront and correct others. And so while you could say that verses 1-5 are focusing on the negative view of judging with a spirit of self-righteousness, verse 6 is an illustration that makes it clear that all judging of others is not bad, and it appears to be connected with the last part of verse 5. After one deals with their own sins, and are then fit to try and correct others, there will be times where that attempt at correction will not only be unwelcomed by the sinner, it may be met with outright hostility. In those cases, one is, as Jesus put it, not to “give what is holy to dogs” and “not throw (their) pearls before swine” Why? Because “they (meaning those hostile to correction) will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear (them) to pieces.” In this illustration, Jesus is using dogs and swine to represent those who are ungodly. Sometimes our rightful judgments towards others will expose those who are ungodly, hostile people. As John MacArthur puts it, in those instances Jesus is saying “that certain truths and blessings (i.e. that which is holy and pearls) of our faith” should not be shared with those who are completely “antagonistic to the things of God.” These people will not only not appreciate holy things, they will also trample and hurt those who are Godly in the process. As MacArthur says, “Matthew 7:6 is one of the hard sayings of Jesus. We must take the command seriously and do our best to obey it, because it is the Lord’s will. But because it is so serious and because we may also be inclined to be self-righteous and judgmental, we need to depend on the Lord with special care and sincerity. Even when we determine that a person is too rebellious to want to hear the Gospel or is a heretical or false teacher (like the Pharisees), we go on our way not in self-satisfied judgment but in great disappointment and sorrow – remembering how our Lord, as He approached Jerusalem for the last time, ‘saw the city and wept over’ those who refused to recognize and receive their King (Luke 19:41-42). To avoid wrongful judging and to accomplish right discernment (about rightful judging) is to be marked as a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom.”