Friday, November 5, 2010

Judging Pigs

Onward through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, where we recently discussed how Jesus taught to pray discretely and non-specifically and how Jesus' teachings may discourage people from doing anything to pull themselves out of poverty. This time, we will double-check our judgement on a few popular verses.

Judging Pigs
There are some Biblical expressions which transcend their Biblical origins. Unleashed from their context, they get misapplied by anyone with just enough Biblical knowledge to be dangerous, or at least inaccurate. In this study, we will look at a few of those sayings closer to get the correct meaning.

Continuing the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:1 begins with the command:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” NIV
That seems pretty plain. Do not judge. The parallel verse in Luke 6:37 states the same thing, adding to forgive in order to be forgiven. But did Jesus really mean not to judge? You have got to look at the context to get the correct meaning.

Matthew 7:2 continues saying that you will be judged in the same way in which you judge others. Mark 4:24 echoes this, as does Luke 6:38 after a plea for generosity. This begins to paint a slightly different picture, like maybe it is OK to judge about a particular issue if we are sure that we are not being hypocritical.

Continuing on in Matthew 7:3-5, indeed, a call for judgement without hypocrisy is what we see. Removing the plank from your own eye before removing the speck of sawdust from your brother's eye means to make sure that you yourself are right before trying to correct someone else. So go ahead and judge, but make sure you could not condemn yourself with the same judgement. The parallel in Luke 6:41-42 states the same thing. Luke 6:39-40 precedes this message with the parable which says that a blind man cannot lead another blind man, which in this case likely implies that you have got to know what is right and what is wrong (from God) in order to know what it is that you should do.

Secularists and liberal Christians often get this wrong in thinking that Christians should not judge anyone about anything. I know I have before. However, as we have seen, Jesus says to go ahead a judge as long as you are right with God on that matter.

That is where conservative Christians often go wrong, or right, depending on your interpretation; interpretation of the Bible, that is. Because as a whole, there are so many mixed messages of condemnation and mercy, particularly when considering both the New and Old Testaments, that many people think that they are in the right and are acting according to God's will while doing some of the most heinous acts.

For example, in the U.S.A. there is a conservative Christian group which protests at military funerals with signs that say the fallen soldier has died by God's will of punishment for allowing gays in the military. They think that they are right with God's will, and they certainly have the Scriptural references to back them up, so they feel free to make this judgement.

Speaking of judgement, Jesus goes on to tell His followers to make judgements of character. In Matthew 7:6 we see:
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” NIV
This metaphorical statement essentially tells you not to preach the Gospel to intractable sinners, because they will profane the Gospel and attack or persecute you. On the surface, this seems logical, but upon closer scrutiny this judgement rather appears wildly inappropriate.

For example, contrary to Matthew Henry's exegesis, this does not suggest trying to give some of the Gospel to sinners and then abandoning the effort if they become obstinate. Instead, this statement commands not giving any of the Gospel to them at all. Jesus is saying to be discerning to the point of judging a book by its cover.

Yet even more strange is that this denies the power of God, both in His potential ability to transform anyone through the Gospel message and in His ability to protect those who are spreading the Gospel. The message of this statement is “do not bother trying to convert the depraved, for your own protection.” Why would these self-denying words come from the mouth of God, in the form of Jesus?

There are two likely reasons conjoined by a single man-made thread.

First is that these expressions were somewhat in the common vernacular of the Jewish religious world, but in a much more physical sense, such as the restriction that you could not feed dogs with the leftovers from the sacrifices to God. So using this expression elevates the Gospel message to the level of Holy offerings and items. To Jewish converts, being entrusted with such a Holy thing (the likes of which were typically reserved for priests) would have seemed a great privilege and honor, and thereby motivate the spreading the new religion of the Gospel.

Second is that there was no real God to act behind this proselytizing effort to provide either a divine influence in conversion or protection against persecution. So the early church leaders would have needed to advise their Gospel-spreading foot soldiers in a way which would keep them reasonably safe.

It would be remiss to leave off a third possible reason in God's defense, if you could call it that. As McGarvey and Pendleton point out in their exegesis, Jesus never really bothers trying to convert the self-righteous Pharisees. He rebuked them plenty, but other than that He did not want anything to do with them. So the defense is that Jesus was not a hypocrite to this statement.

Yet this third reason falls short of explaining a lack of transformative power and protection for proselytizers. Plus, it is not internally consistent with the Bible, because we see that God sent prophets to the Israelites begging them to return to God or else face destruction and exile, despite the fact that supposedly God knew that these prophets would not be able to change the sinfulness of the obstinate Israelites (Jeremiah 6:10, Ezekiel 3:7).

In summary: judge. Judge, as long as you are not being hypocritical. Judge people's characters before deciding if you should attempt to save them with the Gospel, despite the fact that this would seem to contradict the part of Luke 6:37 which states “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (As by choosing not to share the Gospel with them, you are condemning them in a way.) Judge the pigs, just use your better judgement when doing so.


  1. In the first half of this post, I believe you are right on! Verses 2-5 clearly back-up what you are saying. I do think you went wrong on verse 6 though. The context of verse 6 is judging people, not sharing the gospel. Jesus is telling us that we shouldn't give our judgements to those who are too stubborn in their ways to see that they're wrong, lest they "turn and attack [us]." This fixes all of the problems you had with the original interpretation.
    So, let me know what you think!
    This is the first post I've read of yours, but I really enjoyed it and hope to read more! Thanks!

  2. Hello, Jake, and thanks for stopping by.

    As you likely know, in the Sermon on the Mount, there are often subject changes without any kind of segue. While it is tempting to put verse 6 into the preceding context of simple judgement noted in verses 2-5, I think that the wording in verse 6 suggests that it probably does not belong.

    While "pearls" are a little metaphorically ambiguous, possibly translating into "of high value", the word "sacred" brings it to a whole new level, in my opinion. Sacred calls to mind that which is holy, that which is of God, such as His word. Certainly the Gospel would fall into the category of both being "of high value" and sacred. That is the path I followed to my interpretation.

    Judgement, in an idealized form, could also be considered "of high value" and sacred. Yet I get the sense from verses 2-5 that we are not talking about such a high-minded notion. However, there is certainly support for your point of view on verse 6, such as we see in Proverbs 23:9, Proverbs 26:4, Proverbs 29:9, and several other places.

    So Jake, I am inclined to believe that I still have the correct interpretation here. However, I will not go as far as saying that you are wrong in your interpretation on this particular verse.