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That which is holy is not for everyone

The dogs referred by Jesus in Matthew 7 were animals that belonged to no one, running wild and untamed, and consuming any waste that they could find, including corpses, which was why they were regarded as unclean.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz TRADUCTOR Roger Marshall 23 DE JULIO DE 2023 11:00 h
The African wild boar (Potamochoerus porcus) lives in the forests and wooded savannahs of Africa, from the Gambia to the Congo Basin. / Photo: Antonio Cruz.

In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus instructs his disciples not to give what is holy to the dogs, nor to cast their pearls before swine, “or they will trample them under foot and turn round and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). This is a zoological reference which the Master and his disciples would have understood perfectly.

As a good Jewish rabbi, Jesus uses the Hebrew method of repetition to give emphasis to the truth that he was communicating. What is holy is not for the dogs, just as pearls are not for swine. What was “holy”, and what were “pearls”? The message of Jesus Christ, spiritual truth and the ethics of the kingdom, that which is separate from the world and belongs to God. Jesus establishes here a hyperbolic comparison between the attitudes of those who mocked and despised the message and the incalculable value of this message.

The Hebrew term for pigs (jazir) is not only applied to domesticated animals but also to wild pigs or boars. Therefore, the idea that these animals could turn on human beings, attack them and tear them to pieces was by no means far-fetched. Breeding pigs, as the gentiles did, was an abomination for Jews. Hence to depths to which the prodigal son had sunk, not only in looking after pigs, but in actually feeding himself on what they ate.

In the same way, the dogs referred to in the text were animals that belonged to no one, running wild and untamed, and consuming any waste that they could find, including corpses, which was why they were regarded as unclean. They were aggressive canines that could attack human beings in packs. So both pigs and dogs were not looked on kindly by Jews. To call a gentile a dog was one of the worst possible insults.

The Lord Jesus uses this analogy to refer to people who rejected God and openly mocked the message because they believed it to be false. It is pointless to engage in continued dialogue with anyone who persists in such an attitude because, in the depths of their heart, they have already set their hearts against the Almighty. No apologetic will be sufficient for someone who refuses to believe.

Their rebellion and contempt usually conceal a desire to simply continue living as they have been. They have no intention of turning away from evil, and are therefore even ready to “tear to pieces” the messengers of Jesus Christ who approach them. This is something the apostles experienced in their own flesh, and it is what many believers still experience. It is much better to devote our attention to those who have genuine thirst for God than to continue wasting energy on recalcitrant sceptics. 

Antonio Cruz, biologist and theologian.




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