Q: #578. What does the Bible mean in (Mt 7:6), "don't cast your pearls before swine?"
A: (Mt 7:6)(NKJV) “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.”
In understanding this verse, we must determine two things: #1. Who are the “dogs,” and “swine?” #2. What is “holy,” and what are “pearls?”
First, before explaining what these things mean in this particular verse, let’s look at how the Bible generally defines these things.
First, both “dogs” (Lev 11:27) and “swine” (Lev 11:7-8)(Deut 14:8) were called “unclean” by God in the Old Testament. Unlike today, where many people make dogs their pets, in Bible times dogs were despised. They were undomesticated, roamed wild, were scavengers, and were avoided. Dogs are mentioned 41 times in the Bible, and they are always spoken of unfavorably. They are compared to: prostitutes (Deut 23:18), greedy men (Isa 56:10), and evil men (Phil 3:2)(Rev 22:15).
“Swine” are mentioned 20 times in the Bible, and not only were the Jews not allowed to eat them, but they couldn’t even touch them (Lev 11:7-8)(Deut 14:8). Eating swine was called “abominable” (Isa 65:4)(Isa 66:17). To this day, virtually all Jews (and Muslims) still refuse to eat pork.
***Note: These prohibitions against eating “pork” (or touching swine) no longer apply to us today. I explain this here.
The primary definition of “holy” (Gr. “hagios“) is “that which is “sanctified” or “set apart” for divine service” (Nelson’s Bible Dictionary). Many things are called “holy” in the Bible, including the Bible itself (Rom 1:2)(2 Tim 3:15), which contains the Gospel.
“Pearls” in Bible times, even as today, were considered precious, and valuable jewels (see: Mt 13:45-46, Job 28:18, Rev 21:21).
Now, looking specifically at (Mt 7:6), what do these things stand for?
“Dogs” and “swine” are referring to people who are unsaved (non-Christians). (But, more than just “unsaved,” as we will see below.)
“Holy” and “pearls” are referring to the Gospel.
The Gospel, of course, is the “Good News” that Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and through His death and resurrection, all men who accept Jesus’ sacrifice can have eternal life in Heaven. (For a full explanation of how to be saved, or “born again,” go here.)
Putting these things together, Christians are called over and over in the Bible to share the Gospel (what is “holy” and “pearls”) with all unsaved people i.e. (Mt 28:18-20)(Mk 16:15)(Acts 1:8)(Rom 11:14-15). While some may immediately accept the Gospel when it is presented, and become Christians, many others will not. Those who do not is a fairly common occurrence. For those who don’t, this does not necessarily mean that we are never to share the Gospel with that person again. For many, it takes time, and a lot of understanding to make a decision for Christ. This is fine, perfectly acceptable, and can even be commendable.
However, there are also those unsaved people who, when presented with the Gospel, despise it, treat it with contempt, and refuse to accept it. These are the “dogs and swine.” This does not necessarily mean that we should never share the Gospel with these people again, but we need to use a measure of “discernment,” which all Christian have to some degree (more on this here).
In other words, after prayer (perhaps with some fasting), and “discernment,” if we feel that we should share with one who has previously treated the Gospel with “contempt,” we may do so again. However, this is not a pattern that should continue with a person. If they continue to reject the Gospel, and treat it with contempt, we need to stop.
THIS is what (Mt 7:6) is talking about. When we take what is “holy,” and valuable like a “pearl,” (the Gospel), and share it with the unsaved, and they hear it and “turn and tear you in pieces” (picture a pack of “dogs”), or “trample it (them) under their feet” (picture “swine” trampling something given to them into the mud), then we should not continue to share the Gospel with those people any longer.
Let’s look at 5 examples of this being done in the New Testament:
Beginning with (Mk 6:20), we learn that King Herod had often “heard” John the Baptist (certainly sharing the Gospel) during the time he held him in prison. However, he never accepted what John said. and later beheaded him (Mt 14:1-12)(Mk 6:21-29). Have you ever wondered why, when Jesus later appeared before Herod as he was on trial for his life, He refused to speak to him (Lk 23:9)? Almost certainly, this is tied to the fact that Herod did not accept what John had said to him previously, and Jesus knew Herod that would not accept His words either (“discernment”). Jesus was not going to “give what was holy,” nor “cast His pearls” before a “dog” or “swine.” And, as with John before him, Jesus lost His life.
(Mt 10:14-15) “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (15) Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
(Acts 13:45-46)(NKJV) “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. (46) Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”
(Acts 18:5-7)(NKJV) “When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. (6) But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (7) And he departed from there…”
(Acts 19:8-9)(NKJV) “And he (Paul) went into the synagogue (in Ephesus) and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. (9) But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples…”
Making the Biblical decision to no longer share the Gospel with unsaved “dogs” and “swine” is not always an easy thing to do, especially when those “unsaved” are loved ones in our lives. However, there are times when we must leave people in God’s hands, and pray that God will take the seeds we have planted, and bring those unsaved to a place where they will fall to their knees in repentance, and surrender to Jesus.
***Important Note: It should also be noted that the 5 verses leading up to (Mt 7:6) are speaking about “judging.” While some may disagree (i.e. Jn 3:16), I believe (Mt 7:1) is the most quoted verse in the Bible today: “Judge not, lest you be judged.” While much could be said here about this verse, and the 4 which follow, I won’t do this here (but I do so in depth here). However, I mention these verses because (verse 6) clearly shows that Jesus wasn’t saying, “Don’t ever judge.” The reason being that He follows the 5 verses about “not judging” with our verse here (verse 6), where He says that we must “judge” people to determine if they are “dogs or swine,” so that we do not “give what is holy” to them, or “cast our pearls” before them.