A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:1-12. A Christian’s relationships: Our attitude to ‘dogs’ and ‘Pigs’ (6).
At first sight and hearing this is startling language from the lips of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, and indeed immediately after his appeal for constructive brotherly behaviour. But Jesus always called a spade a spade. His outspokenness led him to call Herod Antipas ‘that fox’ and hypocritical scribes and Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs’ and a ‘brood of vipers’ (Lk.13:32; Mt.23:27,33). Here he affirms that there are certain human beings who act like animals and may therefore be accurately designated ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’.
The context provides a healthy balance. If we are not to ‘judge’ others, finding fault with them in a censorious, condemning or hypocritical way, we are not to ignore their faults either and pretend that everybody is the same. Both extremes are to be avoided. The saints are not judges, but ‘saints are not simpletons’ either. If we first remove the log from our eye and thus see clearly to take a speck from our brother’s eye, he (if he is a true brother in the Lord) will appreciate our solicitude. But not everyone is grateful for criticism and correction. According to the book of Proverbs, this is one of the obvious distinctions between a wise man and a fool: ‘Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.’ (Pr.9:8).
Who then are these ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’? By giving them these names Jesus is indicating not only that they are more animals than human, but they are animals with dirty habits as well. The dogs he had in mind were not the well-behaved lapdogs of an elegant home but the wild pariah dogs, vagabonds and mongrels, which scavenged in the city’s rubbish dumps. And pigs were unclean animals to the Jew, not to mention their love for mud. The apostle Peter was later to refer to them by bringing together two proverbs: ‘The dog turns back to his own vomit,’ and ‘The sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.’ (2 Pet.2:22). The reference is at least to the fact that unbelievers, whose nature has never been renewed, possess physical or animal life, but not spiritual or eternal life. We remember also that Jews called Gentile outsiders ‘Dogs’ (cf.Mt.15:26,27; Phil.3:2; Rev.22:15). But Christians certainly do not regard non-Christians in this contemptuous way. So we have to penetrate more deeply into Jesus’ meaning.
His command is that we should *not give dogs what is holy* and *not throw* our *pearls before swine.* The picture is plain. A Jew would never hand ‘holy’ food (perhaps food previously offered in sacrifice) to unclean dogs. Nor would he ever dream of throwing pearls to pigs. Not only were they also unclean, but they would probably mistake the pearls for nuts or peas, try to eat them and then – finding them inedible – tramp on them and even assault the giver. But if the picture or parable is clear, what is its meaning? What is the ‘holy’ thing, and what are the ‘pearls’? Some of the early fathers thought the reference was to the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, and argued from it that unbelieving, unbaptized people should not be admitted to Communion. While they were no doubt right in this teaching, it is extremely doubtful whether Jesus had this question in mind at all. It is better to find a link with the ‘pearl of great value’ in his parable, which refers to the kingdom of God (Mt. 13;46) or salvation, and by extension to the gospel. We cannot possibly deduce from this, however, that Jesus was forbidding us to preach the gospel to unbelievers. To suppose this would stand the whole New Testament on its head and contradict the Great Commission (with which Matthew’s Gospel ends) to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’. Extreme Calvanists cannot use it as an argument against evangelism, for Calvin himself urged that it is our duty ‘to present the doctrine of salvation indiscriminately to all’.
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:1-12. A Christian’s relationships: Our attitude to ‘dogs’ and ‘Pigs’ (6) (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.