Matthew 7:6,  pearls before swine

7:6 “Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

(Matt 7:6 WEB)

Giving holy things to dogs

As Jesus continues his teaching on ‘do not covet,’ once again generosity is central. He has encouraged a generosity of spirit that is only possible in the assurance that God cares for you. However, he now introduces a note of caution. Holy things were precious, as were pearls, so they needed to be given wisely.

The Romans loved pearls and would use them to adorn their furniture and temple goods. They loved to wear them on their clothes, a practice that extended to adorning their footwear and its laces with them. It was that practice which, around 77 C.E., caused the first-century encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder to write It is not enough to wear pearls, but they must tread upon them, and walk with them under foot as well” (Plin Nat 9:56). The Romans, it seems, certainly knew how to trample a pearl in the mud in a gratuitous show of ostentation.

Judaism considered both dogs and pigs indiscriminate feeders whose diet, behaviour and other characteristics made them unfit to present to God as an offering. Amongst followers of Judaism, it was therefore common to refer to those outside their faith, whose attitude to the Law they considered similarly indiscriminate, as dogs or pigs. Therefore, Jesus’ saying should probably be read along the following lines - 

“Beware of lavishing precious gifts on indiscriminate scavengers, not only might they ignore the value of what you offer them, but they may see you as nothing more than a source of sustenance and ruin you in the process.”

(Matt 7:6 personal paraphrase)