What Did Jesus Mean in Matthew 7:6?

Ever try to preach Matthew 7:6?… It’s one of Jesus’ famous “hard sayings.” Here’s what he said, “do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Yeah, very hard to exegete. But let’s take a stab at it.

First, the contextual ties here are important I think. I’ll enumerate them:

1. Jesus sounds like he’s doing a combination of wisdom/psalms sayings but he’s actually doing something more akin to Moses’ position, tone, and perspective in Deuteronomy 30:11-20; that is, in context, he’s talking on behalf of God as if he were God. So, we have to keep Deuteronomy 30:11-20 in mind.  

2. The history of interpretation on this verse comes down to 2 or 3 tactics for exegesis but the “hard saying” of 7:6 seems best to preach if the tactic used to interpret it so that it includes its context, as I inferred in point 1. The way that reads intuitively, to me at least, is to say Jesus is using proverbs/psalms language as a bridge to tie the logic and theology that the Deuteronomy verse is in: “life or death” theology. Craig Blomberg calls this a Jewish “two ways” genre (but I think it’s also a theology in a sense too). (See Blomberg on these verses, it’s super helpful.) Jesus’ words here are actually a vivid metaphorical tie and transition from verse 5 towards this two ways emphatic theology we find in verse 7-14: choose life! Jesus likes metaphor and analogy. Here he’s transiting to life.

3. Jesus doesn’t think his audience is in a place of righteousness. No, they’re hypocrites and he’s trying to correct them (7:5). This is his general assumption of his crowd from 7:5-14. So the context and logic around verse 6 is 7:5-14 and this is important.

(Yes, I’m aware there’s really not 3 points there as they’re interrelated.)

Let’s exegete the problem out of this section now that we have those preliminaries in order however…

First, what is the vivid metaphor and transition (7:5) mean? It is a unique way of saying something like, when one is able to see clearly in God’s kingdom then they’re able to see God’s word and law clearly, AND judge God’s blessings and provision appropriately. Second, these verses (5-14) act in classic Moses style by assuming one of the best ways to begin to see clearly (spiritually and covenantally) is to start by saying “do not!,” emphatically in fact. This negative technique is done in order to make one aware of their responsibilities to God’s ways and provisions in stark contrast to their own contrary inclinations. 

A key to answering the question above is asking where is verse 5 headed? Well, it’s implying that IF one gets in a place to judge God’s ways and provisions for themselves, then they will be able to be aware of how to appropriate God’s ways and provisions not only for themselves but for the equally sinful world around them. BUT, that’s the key, he’s talking to hypocrites so they can’t see God’s ways and provisions clearly. 7:6 is the preverbal “stop!” Or, the “do not,” in Jewish legal tradition terms. 

Jesus in 7:6 is essentially saying, since you Jews can’t judge people correctly (or yourselves) let me tell you the key: stop wasting the holy law by applying it to everyone else (like the Gentiles, see 15:26) and start squandering it on yourselves. He goes on to emphasize another “do not,” that is, do not be unfaithful to God’s provisions (probably referring to the blessings of the holy land and law) by essentially being no different than the Romans and other gentile nations around. In other words, verse 5 means STOP being hypocritical and return to the kingdom of God and his Christ; or, better yet, choose life! Choose the kingdom of God.

This sets up powerfully the “two ways” genre we see explicitly through the rest of the section. Blomberg brings in Psalms 16:11 here. (See his contribution in Carson and Beale’s, “Old Testament in the New” commentary.)

Well, that’s my wild stab at it. No doubt this is one of Jesus’ famous hard sayings so I’m ok with being wrong. But, I had to take up the challenge and try to figure it out. Now I feel I have a new challenge to consider for myself. Living this out… Ouch. 

Special shout out to professor/pastor Timothy Beck for bringing this text into my view as something to wrestle with. Fun times.

God bless all. 

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