Pearls, swine, etc.

Here’s what I told my co-workers when I led office devotions today.

Recognize this Bible verse? It’s Matthew 7:6:

“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.”

I’ve always taken that verse to mean “Don’t waste too much time trying to preach or witness to stubborn and obstinate people. Go on and plant the seed in more fertile soil.”

But when I read it recently in my own devotions, in The Lutheran Study Bible (ESV), I was surprised to find there an entirely different interpretation.

The ESV Bible appends it to the first five verses of the chapter, in a single section. Verses 1 through 5 go like this. You’re probably familiar with them, especially Verse 1. It’s probably the most quoted verse in the Bible nowadays.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of this passage is not to forbid us from judging anyone – indeed, further on in the same chapter Jesus tells us to judge teachers by their fruits. His point, as you no doubt see, is that we need to ruthlessly examine ourselves before judging, to make sure we’re not practicing the very sins we’re condemning in others. Judging, Jesus tells us, is a dangerous thing. It’s like a knife – if you don’t grasp it the right way, you’ll cut your own hand.

What I’d never heard of before I read the notes in The Lutheran Study Bible (and none of the pastors present had ever heard it before either, which made me feel a little better), is the interpretation that says that the “pearls” in Verse 6 are not the words of the gospel. The pearls are our fellow Christians. If we practice hypocritical judgment, our injustice drives those pearls out of the safety of the congregation, into the world, where “dogs” and “pigs” will devour them.

Ever heard of this interpretation before? The editors of The Lutheran Study Bible aren’t known for eccentric thinking.

3 thoughts on “Pearls, swine, etc.”

  1. Thank you for posting this. I’d never seen this either. It sparked my curiosity to find it in my LSB for more information. Apparently, it’s adapted from Jeffrey Gibbs commentary of Matthew for CPH. I found a PDF explaining his approach at the CPH website. Please see link below. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address chapter 7, but I found the PDF helpful. I hope you will too.

    Concordia Commentary – Matthew
    https://www.cph.org/pdf/156017.pdf

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