The bible is not always an easy book to read. Some passages are straightforward and the meaning is obvious, whilst passages like the one today require a little more thought. You cannot just read today’s passage and move on; we need to dig a little.
The first thing we need to do is look at the elements of this verse. What (or who) is Jesus referring to when He talks about dogs and pigs. There are clues in the bible.
Dogs in the bible are not ‘man’s best friend’ like they are today. They were not treated as pets, although they were used to guard houses and protect sheep, the majority were scavengers and would hunt for food in packs, they would have been wild or ‘feral’. They were known for hunting and eating dead carcasses and so were classed as unclean animals.
And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” (2 Kings 9:10)
Evildoers were classified as ‘dogs’ in this prophecy about Jesus’ death;
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet (Psalm 22:16)
There are many other places in the bible where to call someone a dog was an insult.
Pigs too were considered unclean. They were forbidden to be eaten (Leviticus 11:7) and Jesus made a point to His listeners when He told the story of the prodigal son who became a pig herder, the most utterly shameful job that an Israelite could do.
I think the reference to pearls is obvious. If you recall the parable Jesus told about the merchant who found the pearl of great price;
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)
So a pearl represents the precious gospel we present to others.
So dogs and pigs in this context represent unholy people and in the way that Jesus is speaking, people who we are not to waste the priceless pearl of the gospel with. Strong words indeed!
So what does that mean for us, should we not even present the gospel to certain people?
I believe Jesus is calling us to be wise and discerning and to be led by the Holy Spirit just as He was. We certainly need to always be prepared to share our faith whenever an occasion arises;
but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)
But there are some occasions when we encounter hostility and antagonism on an ongoing scale where we just need to move on. As I said this requires discernment but sometimes it just has to be done. Jesus was clear about this when he sent out the 72 disciples:
But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:10-12)
I think for many of us (and I include myself in this), that Jesus’ warning is a little redundant for us.
This is what the bible teacher Sam Storms has to say:
Matthew 7:6 probably does not need to be taught in certain churches or to certain Christians. Their problem is not that they are inclined to be undiscerning and often cast their pearls before swine. Their problem is that they aren’t casting their pearls at all! This verse is addressed to those who are so zealous for evangelism that they fail to discern the scoffer from the hungry soul. Most likely, our problem is that we have no such zeal to evangelize in the first place.
Something I am certainly going to consider.