08.04.04 Mt. 7:6
6 Don’t give what is holy to dogs
Or toss your pearls before pigs,
Or they will trample them with their feet,
turn, and tear you to pieces.
“Don’t give what is holy to dogs.” The word dog was a degrading term used by Jews when speaking of a non-Jewish person. Today the phrase, “going to the dogs” meaning, “to ruin” comes from this phrase. But more degrading than the word “dog,” was an association with pigs. The Jews considered pigs the most unclean animal and on their list of forbidden foods. What is sacred is, of course, of great value and in this parable is compared to the high value of pearls. The poetic parallel form is obvious. The analogy is that the good things of God should not be taken lightly.
The problem with this verse is that it appears to demand a level of exclusiveness even though Jesus is the Savior for everyone. The early church interpreted it in two ways.
- Some said that this passage was written for the Jews, since the term dogs was believed to refer to Gentiles. Therefore, if a Gentile desired to become a believer, first he had to become a Jew, accept the Law, and be circumcised. Only then could he be accepted as a believer. This issue of Gentiles first becoming Jews before becoming Christians eventually became the subject of debate at the first church counsel in Jerusalem.
- Others believed that since the followers of Jesus were under constant threat of persecution, the term dogs was applied to anyone who betrayed fellow Jews or persecuted them.
In the decades following the ascension of Jesus, there was severe persecution of Christians. Because of this and the loss of key leaders to martyrdom, pastors were forced to
- Examine new converts carefully to insure that they were genuine converts and
- Made sure all who professed to be believers still held to the orthodox doctrines of faith.
Matthew 7:6 quickly became a significant guidepost for admitting some and prohibiting others from attending the Lord’s Table, that is, the Eucharist. As church growth exploded, many false teachers entered various congregations and caused chaos and confusion. Tertullian complained that popular false teachers and heretics permitted everyone to our Lord’s Table, similar to “Open Communion” practiced by many churches today. He said,
That which is holy they will cast to the dogs, and pearls to swine.
Tertullian, De Praescriptione 41
The early church not only underscored the exclusiveness of our Lord’s Table, but also made a reference to Matthew 7:6 as follows.
Let no one eat and drink from your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord: to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable, “Do not give to dogs what is sacred.”
The gospel message was available to everyone. However, to become a part of the inner circle of believers and partake of the Communion Table, one had to show evidence of a changed and consecrated life. It has been said that the challenges that the first century faced immediately after the ascension will be the same immediately before He returns. If so, then church leaders today may need to re-evaluate their open communion policies.
. Ex. 22:31; 1 Kings 21:23; Ps. 22:16, 20; 59:14; 68:23; Jer. 15:3; Mt. 15:26-27; Mk. 7:27-28; Lk. 16:21; Phil. 3:2; Rev. 22:15.
. Lev. 11:7; Isa. 65:4; 66:3, 17; Lk. 15:15-16.
. This practice by pastors continues today in many areas of the world where believers are persecuted and martyred.