DO NOT GIVE WHAT IS HOLY TO DOGS
I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A.
At the beginning of Matthew 7, the Lord
Jesus said that we are not to judge others. The Christian should never adopt a
judgmental attitude. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we should be
without discernment. We are not allowed to condemn people but we should be
able to assess what kind of people they are. And in Matthew 7:6, Jesus asks
us to beware of people who are like dogs and pigs. Here we read the following
7:6. 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.
The sinful human nature compared to dogs and swine
In this warning, the Lord Jesus asks us not to take a
holy thing and throw it to the dogs. We should not take pearls and throw them
before swine. This was meant to indicate that certain people are being
described as dogs and swine. And that, of course, is not exactly a very
flattering remark. Nobody likes to be compared to a dog or a pig. I don’t
think that Jesus was trying to insult anybody here. The fact is that there is
no better way to describe the character of certain people than by these
pictures. The truth is not always nice to listen to. If it is true that you
are dirty, well, then, you are dirty. What other words can we use? It is not
meant to be an insult. It is simply the plain truth. And there are people who
can truly and justly be described as dogs and pigs.
I think that when you come to know the spiritual filth
and degradation of sin, you would say that the picture of swine and of dogs
is really no exaggeration of the condition of people who are degraded in sin.
And this is the point that Jesus wants to make by this comparison. By this
picture of dog and swine, He is speaking of people in sin. He is
characterizing the human nature, the carnal nature in man, which is lost and
degraded in sin.
The Lord Jesus is saying, ‘The sinful nature of man,
what is it like? The sinful nature of every human being is like the dog and
it is like the swine. If your nature has not been changed yet, if you have
not been born again by the power of God, then I am sorry to say that
spiritually you are like the dog and the pig.’ No matter how beautiful you
may be on the outside, the truth is that inside of you, you are ugly. God
looks at your sinful heart and He says, ‘You are like a dog. You are like a
What can we say about dogs? The dogs that Jesus is
referring to are not the cuddly pets with wagging tails and friendly behavior that people keep in their houses. These are wild
or half wild animals that roamed the streets and hills, with their tongues
hanging from their mouths, looking for food in the garbage dumps of the
village. These dogs can be quite fierce and they are able to attack man. They
devour carcasses and would not hesitate to eat humans. We find in 1Kings
14:11 that dogs actually eat the flesh of people who were killed. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in
the city the dogs will eat.
Now, the Lord
Jesus says, ‘You must not give what is holy to dogs.’ What does this mean?
‘What is holy’ refers to the flesh used for sacrifices. Under the Jewish law,
the animals that were sacrificed on the altar were considered as holy and
only certain people could eat it. The priest could eat of it. You will find
in the OT that strict regulations were laid down on the eating of sacred
offerings by priests and non-priests (Exodus 29:33-34; Leviticus 22:10-16;
Numbers 18:8-19). The point to remember is that the flesh of a sacrificial
animal is holy and you could not take any part of that animal and throw it to
the dog, not even a bone. No Jew would think of giving holy food to these unclean animals.
To give consecrated meat as food for dogs would be considered as blasphemy.
are also considered as unclean animals. Pigs and dogs are often coupled
together in the Bible and are both emblems of badness and uncleanliness.
In fact, the pigs and the dogs are simply two descriptions of the same thing.
They both refer to the same type of person. Therefore what is said of one can
be said of the other. It was unthinkable for a Jew to give consecrated food
to a dog, regarded as an unclean animal. It is equally unthinkable that
something as valuable as pearls should be thrown to a pig, another unclean
The love of evil
The apostle Peter uses the picture of dog and swine to
tell us something more about the carnal human nature and its love of sin and
evil. This is what he says in 2Peter 2:22.
2Peter 2.22. But it has happened to
them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own
vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the
Again, the dog and the pig are found together. And here,
Peter describes the pig as an animal that loves filth and dirt. He says that
after it is being washed, it returns back into the mud. Think of that. You
take the trouble to wash a dirty pig. You make it all nice and clean. Then
you let it go out. And what does it do? The pig loves the dirt so much that
as soon as it sees some mud, it jumps in it and rolls itself in it. By this
picture, Peter tells us the unpleasant truth that there are some people who
call themselves Christians who are just like pigs. They have been washed.
They have been baptized. They go to church. They do all the Christian things.
But the problem is that their nature has not been changed. They still retain
their corrupt old nature. When nobody is looking at them, they go where they
can find dirt and filth, and they have a nice little roll in the mud. ‘These
people,’ the apostle Peter tells us, ‘these people who claim to be Christians
but who have gone back into sin, they are like the pigs who
go back into the mud.’
And the dog is also a filthy animal. Peter tells us that
it has the disgusting habit of returning to its vomit. We have here the
picture of a dog who, being sick with what it has
eaten, casts it up again and afterwards returns to it and licks it up. The
filthiness of sin is expressed by the vomit of a dog. A false Christian is
compared to a dog that goes back to what it has previously rejected. He has
rejected for a while the wicked life that he had. But now, forgetting all the
uneasiness he felt about it, he returns to his old sinful course of life.
The attraction of sin. The pleasure of sin. For indeed,
how can one find sin attractive if he can’t enjoy it? So this picture of dogs
and swine describes to us the human nature in its natural state and its love
They also serve as a picture of what is aggressive and
vicious. Pigs and dogs can be very aggressive. Imagine the situation that
Jesus is sketching. There is man holding a bag of precious pearls and he is
facing several wild dogs and wild pigs. They stare at him. By their
threatening behavior, he knows that they are
hungry. So he decides to take out his pearls and he sprinkles them on the
street. Thinking that the pearls were bits of food, the animals pounce on
what fell on the ground. But they quickly realize that they are uneatable.
The pearls are too hard to chew and they have no taste. This made these
hungry animals extremely angry. They spit out the pearls, turn on the man and
tear him to pieces. Human beings can be just like that. I am sure that you
have all seen people who became enraged because they didn’t get what they
wanted. And you also saw the evil that came out of these people when they are
in that state. The viciousness and aggressiveness of the human nature in its
natural state, nobody can deny its reality.
Parallelism between ‘holy things’ and ‘pearls’
So the picture is about dogs and pigs, to which
‘holy things’ and ‘pearls’ are given. Let us consider what the Lord Jesus means
by ‘holy things’ and by ‘pearls.’ A common mode of expression in the Bible,
especially in Psalm and in Proverbs, is called ‘parallelism’ in which one
element of a sentence answers to another. The same thing is stated in
parallel form. We alluded to this when we talked about the linking of dogs
and pigs. We mentioned that pigs and dogs are two descriptions of the same
thing because they stand in parallel to each other. Here the word ‘pearls’
stands in parallel to ‘what is holy.’ ‘Pearls’ and ‘holy’ stand in parallel
in the sense that they illustrate each other. Hence a pearl
pictures to us what a holy thing is like. This tells us right away
that when the Lord Jesus speaks about pearls, He is thinking about something
that is holy.
Now, what do pearls tell us about what is holy? You all
know what a pearl looks like. A pearl is shiny and creamy white in color. It
is white in its purity. When we look at a pearl, we are immediately impressed
by the whiteness of its color, by its purity. In the Bible, white symbolizes
purity. And holiness is always expressed in its purity. Holiness is the
opposite of what is sinful and filthy. You can see that it is the opposite
character of the swine and the dogs that love filth. The purity of the pearl
stands in contrast to the dirt of sin.
The second thing we notice about a pearl is that it is
round in shape. And roundness expresses of course perfection, completeness.
That is exactly what holiness is. Holiness is perfection. It is completeness.
When it comes to holiness, perfection means the completeness of our love and
dedication to God. When the Bible tells us that we must be perfect, the
expectation is not that we must become sinless. It has to do with a perfect
devotion to God. What kind of person is perfect and holy in the Bible? It is
the person who loves God with all his heart, his soul, and his strength. And
a person who loves God in this way stays away from sin.
There is a third thing that we learn about the
pearl. A pearl is developed through suffering. As you know, a pearl comes
when a bit of sand goes into the oyster. In its discomfort, in its suffering,
the oyster secretes a substance that covers the sand and which eventually
becomes a pearl. In that sense, the pearl is the product of suffering. There
is an aspect of holiness that is related to suffering too. The Christian is
born out of the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus. We have been made
righteous on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness who
suffered and died for us.
But we have our share of suffering too. It is the
suffering that comes when we count the cost of discipleship. It is the
suffering that we have to endure when we break with the world. When we walk
on the path of holiness and truth, opposition is to be expected. The
disciples of Christ should not be surprised when they are ridiculed for the
sake of the truth. That is why the Lord Jesus says at the beginning of the
Sermon on the Mount, ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted for
righteousness’ sake.’ And those who have suffered with the right spirit know
what holiness is.
The apostle Peter makes the connection between holiness
and suffering in this interesting statement. He says in 1Peter 4:1, He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased
from sin. Suffering with
Christ puts an end to our connection with sin. Those who have suffered have
become holy in the sense that they have no more to do with sin in their
Finally, we can
say that pearls are enormously valuable. That is why there is a parable of
Jesus that talks about a man who, in order to obtain that one pearl, had to
sell everything he had. Genuine pearls are very expensive. Why are they so
valuable? Because they are beautiful and rare. A big natural white pearl is
very hard to come by. There are many dogs and swine in the world, but not
many pearls. Holiness is also hard to come by. In our darkened world, sin is
everywhere. People who live righteously are very rare to find.
What then is at
the same time spiritual, holy, pure, perfect, and priceless? In the context of
our passage, the Lord Jesus is talking about the gospel of the kingdom. The
holy thing, which stands in parallel to the pearls, represents the eternal
and precious message of the gospel, the ‘word of righteousness’ as it is
called in Hebrews 5:13.
Now, if that is
the case, and if the pigs and the dogs refer to unbelievers whose nature has
never been renewed by God, does it mean that this metaphor is a prohibition
to preach the good news to those who don’t know Christ? Of course not! It is
clear in the Bible that the Christian is urged to use every opportunity to
share the gospel. The great commission is to go and make disciples of all
nations, and that obviously involves preaching the gospel to unbelievers.
What then does
this passage mean? How do we apply it? In plain words, the Lord Jesus is
saying, ‘Don’t take the gospel and throw it to those people who glory in
their shame like the dogs. Don’t take the precious pearls of the gospel and
throw them to those people who love sin like pigs.’ Why not? Because they
don’t appreciate the gospel. They regard it as foolishness. The dogs and the
pigs are not just unbelievers. They are unbelievers who had an opportunity to
hear the gospel but have decided to reject it. Some might even have been
enraged by it. The word of God is not to be laid open to abuse and mockery.
We must use discernment. How do you know whether a person is a dog or a swine
in his character? Well, you won’t know until you present the gospel to him.
The gospel is to be preached to everybody. But when a person has heard the
gospel and he rejects it, the Lord Jesus says, ‘Don’t keep pushing the gospel
at him. Don’t throw it at him.’
It is no use to
try to explain Christianity to someone who just wants to mock and argue and
ridicule. It accomplishes nothing good. When we persist beyond a certain
point in offering the gospel to such people, we are just inviting them to
reject it with contempt. And Jesus’ advice is ‘don’t push it.’
Jesus applied the
same principle to the twelve apostles when He sent them out on their first
mission. He warned them that they will meet two kinds of people. Some will be
receptive to their message, others will not be receptive. And He went on to
say, ‘When you preach in one place and they reject you, then you go away from
them. … When you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from
your feet (Matthew 10:14). The point of the instruction is that
from now on, the disciples will have absolutely nothing to do with them, not
even to have the dust of their town or village on their feet. That is pretty
severe, isn’t it?
The apostle Paul
also followed this principle in his missionary journeys. On the first
journey, some Jews were jealous of Paul and Barnabas’ success and they tried
to contradict their preaching. In response, Paul and Barnabas said, It was
necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you
repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we
are turning to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Later when the Jews
incited the leaders of the city to drive them out, we are told that Paul and
Barnabas ‘shook off the dust from their feet’ as a sign of protest (Acts
Similarly on the
second journey, when the Jews opposed Paul, he shook the dust from his
clothes and said, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From
now on I will go to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6).
In these examples, we see Paul going away from
those who reject his preaching. ‘Because you consider yourselves unworthy of
the gospel, I turn to the Gentiles. I am not preaching to you anymore. I
bring these pearls to the Gentiles.’
we are to be very careful in our handling of the truths of the Bible. What
Jesus is asking for is discernment. If a person has had plenty of opportunity
to hear the gospel and he does not respond to it, we must not continue to
insist. We are not to cheapen the gospel of Christ by giving him an occasion
to trample on it. On the other hand, the fact that Christians should not
throw their pearls to dogs and pigs does not constitute a justification for
neglecting verbal witness. Don’t say that there are only vicious dogs and
pigs out there and therefore, you are justified not to evangelize.
Remember also that you can
proclaim the gospel both by your words and by your life. When you don’t talk,
let the holiness of God be seen in your life. We are like a shop window. Or
to use another picture, Paul says, ‘You are the letter of the gospel written
in words that people can see. You are the living words of God’s message of
salvation. Through you, people can see the gospel.’ And perhaps one day, they
will long for holy things, for these pearls, and they will come to you and
say, ‘What must I do that I may have these pearls too?’