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Why are we instructed, “Do not give dogs what is sacred” in Matthew 7:6?

do not give dogs what is sacred

Millions of people worldwide have pet dogs that they care for and love. Yet, in the ancient world, people didn’t have the same fondness for man’s best friend. As the Bible illustrates, people thought dogs were disgusting (Luke 16:21), dumb (Proverbs 26:11), and worthy of disdain (1 Samuel 17:43).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drew upon the poor reputation of dogs to illustrate an important point to His disciples about preaching the gospel. He said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6, ESV).

To start with, we notice that Jesus forbids two foolish acts, which both symbolize the same thing. First, He warns against giving dogs what is holy, as they do not revere sacred items. Second, He cautions against offering pigs what is valuable, because they do not esteem such prized possessions. Neither dogs nor pigs hold such things in high regard; the special quality of valuable items is lost on such animals. In these descriptions, what is holy and valuable represents the proclamation of the gospel, and the animals represent those who have heard the good news and have rejected it.

The disciples shouldn’t offer what is holy (the message of the gospel) to dogs (those who have shown that they consider it worthless). Jesus reiterated this principle in a more straightforward way later in His ministry, saying, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14; cf. Proverbs 9:8).

The context of Matthew 7:6 provides more insight for how Christians can apply the principle today. In the passage, Jesus is teaching about making correct judgments (Matthew 7:1–6). First, He warns His followers not to make hypocritical judgments, instructing them to first take the log out of their own eye before they attempt to help someone else (Matthew 7:3–5). Then, He encourages them to practice discernment, which is a type of judgment. They should not give dogs what is holy (Matthew 7:6). A person guilty of making hypocritical judgments lacks self-awareness and fails to judge correctly. A person guilty of making uncritical judgments lacks discernment and fails to judge at all.

Christians may struggle to determine the right time to persevere in sharing the gospel and the right time to stop. So, how can they know for sure? First, fervent prayer is of great importance and must saturate the process of evangelism from beginning to end. Next, knowing when to stop preaching the gospel to a certain person or group requires wisdom and an understanding of how the hearers are responding to the message.

In the last part of Matthew 7:6, Jesus emphasized that persecution is a key factor in making the decision: “They may . . . turn and tear you to pieces.” When there is a hostile reaction to the gospel message, the hearers have shown their nature. In seeking to harm the messenger, the hardened sinner becomes dog-like in his viciousness. So, it is important to discern when to “shake the dust off” and take the message elsewhere.

Paul made this difficult decision once when persecution arose in response to his proclamation of the gospel in Corinth: “And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:6). Then he left the synagogue and began preaching next door (verse 7). If Paul had continued to preach the gospel of Christ in the Corinthian synagogue, he would have been guilty of giving dogs what is holy.

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Why are we instructed, “Do not give dogs what is sacred” in Matthew 7:6?
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This page last updated: November 22, 2023