Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.Matt.7:6
A Stark Contrast
As a recommended approach to the interpretation of this verse on dogs and swine in the Bible it is beneficial to understand the cultural, historical and religious themes from some of the noted key words. There is a sharp contrast drawn between holy and dogs, and pearls and swine, and for good reason. Starting with dogs for example, in almost all scriptural references, dogs were not considered as the cherished, spoiled and often pampered household pets as commonly seen in modern culture.
Dogs in Scripture
In ancient scripture, dogs were viewed rather as wild, roaming, scavenging and even referenced as eating the blood from the dead, “And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.” [1 Kings 21:19] The Lord God once used the term dog as a derogatory one, denoting enemies of Israel, “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” [Ex. 11:7]
Further evidence of the wild and roaming nature of dogs in culture during ancient times is shown, “And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat [any] flesh [that is] torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.” [Ex. 22:31] This is also documented elsewhere, “Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat: for the LORD hath spoken it.” [1 Kings 14:11]
The figurative use of the term dog for contemptible and despicable people is also shown in this passage, “Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.” [2 Sam. 16:9] Even Solomon recorded at times the unique and often uncultured nature of dogs, “As a dog returneth to his vomit, [so] a fool returneth to his folly.” [Prov. 26:11] Paul, the most prolific writer of letters to the churches in the New Testament also used the term dogs in a derogatory sense for people who resisted or rejected the gospel of Christ, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” [Phil. 3:2]
During the earthly preaching ministry of Jesus, a woman from Canaan approached him and pleaded for healing of her daughter who was no doubt horribly tormented with a devil. Jesus stated to her that he was sent to preach only to the lost sheep of Israel (Jews) and used children’s bread and dogs figuratively for Israelites and non-Israelites respectively, “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast [it] to dogs.” [Matt. 15:26] Despite this seeming condescension, the woman persisted in her request and her ensuing faith prompted Jesus to heal her daughter with immediate effect.
Even the story of poor Lazarus the beggar who laid at the temple gate was afflicted by the nature of dogs, “And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” [Luke 16:21] The frequent reference to dogs that infers less than desirable individuals continues even near the end of recorded scripture, “For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” [Rev. 22:15] This is indeed a compelling verse on dogs and swine in the Bible.
Swine in Scripture
As for swine, they were unfortunately given little respect in scripture and according to guidance from the Lord to Moses they were not to be consumed for food, “And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he [is] unclean to you.” [Lev. 11:7] One of the prophets used the phrase, eat swine’s flesh in a most derogatory manner while describing the Lord’s frustration over the rebellious nature of the nation of Israel,
“I am sought of [them that] asked not [for me;] I am found of [them that] sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation [that] was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way [that was] not good, after their own thoughts; A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable [things is in] their vessels; Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. [These] are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.”
Other examples were written by Solomon to contrast the vile nature of swine comparable to an immoral woman, “[As] a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, [so is] a fair woman which is without discretion.” [Prov. 11:22] Not only were Israelites not permitted to eat swine, they were also instructed not to even touch the very animals, “And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcase.” [Deut. 14:8]
Interestingly, there is a case in the New Testament where Jesus encountered a man who was possessed by multiple devils and they asked him to send them into a herd of swine, “And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.” [Matt. 8:30-32]
The notable account of the prodigal son, after squandering his father’s inheritance in advance, indicated his depraved state as he fell in with swine, living in squalor, “And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” [Luke 15:15-17]
Contempt of Dogs & Swine
In summary therefore, dogs and swine in the Bible, are seldom if ever described in a positive, respectable or favorable light. Perhaps the conclusion of grouping the two of them together highlights their contemptible dilemma, “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” [2 Pet. 2:22] Here, the dogs and swine have now come together reflecting their true nature in scripture.
Holy & Pearls in Scripture
Moving on from dogs and swine in the Bible is the contrast of, holy and pearls, as recorded throughout scripture. This will help to illustrate the phrase of not throwing your pearls before swine. The word holy is used 611 times in scripture with most references identifying the holiness of or toward God. The first record of this was noted when Moses encountered the Lord on the mountain of God, “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” [Ex. 3:5]
Holy, by biblical definition, is something sacred or consecrated religiously. This ranged from the nation of Israel, the Sabbath day, the ark of the covenant and items within the temple such as the crown and priestly garments. It was God’s intention to make a nation for himself that was holy, “For I [am] the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I [am] holy.” [Lev. 11:44] In short, every single thing that pertains to God and his people are either holy now, or are to be holy going forward.
This was also Paul’s plea to believers from a spiritual sense as described in this passage, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” [Rom. 12:1-2]
Holiness was and is, never to be taken lightly. Other most notable references to holiness are the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:8), holy angels (Mark 8:38), heaven (Ps.20:6), God’s name (Ps. 105:3), John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), the Father (John 17:11), scripture (Rom. 1:2), the law (Rom. 7:12), our bodies as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:17), our calling in Christ (2 Tim. 1:9), the Lord God Almighty (Rev. 4:8), the church (Eph. 5:27) and most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1:24).
In reference to pearls, they have always been held in high esteem and symbolic of value and precious possession. Jesus used pearls in a similar figurative sense to describe heaven, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” [Matt. 13:45-46] Further indication of this is found in this passage, “The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble.” [Rev. 18:12] Pearls will also indeed have their valued place in heaven, “And the twelve gates [were] twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city [was] pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” [Rev. 21:21]
To conclude this Bible study on dogs and swine in the Bible, the contrast now becomes far more clear in giving holy things to dogs, or casting pearls before swine. With dogs and swine used in reference to ungodly things or people, most portray this in the sense of not sharing holy or precious things with the contemptible in heart. This does not mean believers are not to witness to them but that some discernment should be exercised when people continue to reject God and his saving grace. Luke, the writer of Acts, recorded a notable incident of this nature as shown in this passage.
“And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”
This would truly have been such a lost opportunity for the people looking out into eternity but perhaps in the end, they reflected who the dogs and swine were in scripture. Sadly, this tends to parallel with one of the final verses in scripture where it is noted that some people will continue in their ways, to their own demise, right to the bitter end as shown, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” [Rev. 22:11]
As believers, we are called to a different calling in Christ and that is one of holiness as written by the apostle, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” [1 Pet. 1:15-16] It is only through this respect, reverence and awe of God where new spiritual birth becomes a reality in people’s lives and this must start here as written by Solomon, “The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [is] understanding.” [Prov. 9:10] It is hopeful that this study has presented a clear contrast of the dogs and swine shown throughout scripture, for it is incumbent upon all believers to live a holy life in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit.
Bible Study Questions
- In this study on dogs and swine in the Bible, why do you think dogs were not considered as house pets?
- With the way dogs were categorized in scripture how does this contrast with the holiness of God?
- Why were swine not considered as good food for the Israelites? Hint – Leviticus 11:7.
- Can you recall the verses that reference where the devils were cast into the swine?
- What was notable about the story of the prodigal son and swine as part of this message on dogs and swine in the Bible?
- How many times is the word holy used in scripture? Hint, Holy & Pearls in Scripture section.
- In reflecting upon this study, how could you now describe the dogs and swine in contrast to holy and pearls to a close friend?
WORD GUIDE – * (rend – to tear apart) * (concision – mutilation) * (hoof – foot) * (clovenfooted – split foot) * (abominable – repugnantly detestable) * (cud – chewing food for a second time) * (fain – willingly) * (wallow – roll about or lie in mud) * (mire – swampy ground) * (nigh – near) * (hither – toward) * (sanctify – set apart, declare holy) * (beseech – ask urgently or fervently) * (multitudes – large number of people) * (blaspheme – speak irreverently about God) * (Gentiles – non-Jewish people)