Pearls Before Swine, etc. (Matthew 7:6)


Salvete, omnes.

I have always had difficulty with the “pearls before swime” passage in the Gospels.

I have always been a very optimistic person and believe that, even in the apparently most hopeless of cases, a person might turn to truth because of something that you said, even though you may think that it has no impact.

So, when Jesus commands(?) us not to “cast pearls before swine” or not to give that which is holy to “dogs”, because they may either harm you or trample on the pearls, it has always bothered me, I’ll be honest.

If the “dogs” and “swine” are those who seem morally hopeless and hopelessly and even irrredeemably sinful, yet, even if it’s not obvious, there may still be some hope for them in something you might say to them, even then, are we still commanded not to give the good things of our faith to them?

As I understand it, the context of the passage is speaking of rebuke of men for moral failings. So, then, perhaps this is instead saying that we should not rebuke someone who clearly already has no intention of hearing our rebuke but is so concerned with worldly things that such a rebuke has no hope of helping?

Perhaps this is in the context of specific kinds of truth and not necessarily all truth generally. For instance, if you see someone sinning sexually and you rebuke him, knowing full well that he is not going to listen to you because of his wordliness and that he may even do harm to you and the Gospel, then, perhaps we are warned not to continue rebuking him about this matter but to, as it were, simply wash the dust off our feet and move on.

Or, perhaps this refers to those who want to hear something else other than what you are offering. The pig has no use for pearls, only for his slop, so, instead of consuming the pearls, he tramples them under foot, because he has no use for them. The dog given “holy things” (perhaps other than the meat he is used to) will, in anger, turn on the one who gave it to him. Those who are clearly and evidently and even maliciously opposed to a particular truth that you want to give them should not be given it because they truly want nothing to do with it and may even respond in anger toward it. Swine, when pearls are cast before them, do not see them for what they truly are but see fit only to trample them underfoot. They would prefer the slop to which they are accustomed, on which they place much higher value and indeed true value.

The forceful “casting” of pearls before the swine is interesting, as it might imply a “casting down from above” at or in the faces of the swine (in an arrogant way?) holy things on those who are “below”…

I am still a bit confused about this passage and I hope what I say bove at least makes some sense. I hope it is at least a start to understanding this passage.

However, the question arises: Why would anyone even desire to share truth with someone who is so clearly opposed to it? Even if one knows in his heart (or assumes) that it will do no good anyway? Surely Christ is not admonishing those who would do this purely out of right motives or motives of love, who might see still some hope of conversion in a person? Perhaps Jesus even speaks to an element of pride in the preacher who would cast pearls simply to show himself better than the dog or the swine. In this case, both the motivation of the preacher and that of the dog/swine is called into question. So, then, for the one preaching in arrogance, it is better simply to leave the dog/swine alone than to cast pearsl toward them, because of the risks Jesus enumerates. So, maybe this is the key? It is not the dog/swine that is the main issue, but it is that in combination, primarily, with the motivation of the preacher? It is OK to preach to those who may seem even reprobate so long as your own heart is right, and despite the risks. But, if your heart is not right, it is better to simply stop and avoid the risks that might arise later? Perhaps even the attacks of the dogs/swine are motivated in part by the arrogant preacher’s own hypocrisy? Perhaps even the harsh use of “dog” and “swine” here serves as an image of how the arrogantly-minded perceive these people, as (arguably) when Jesus tests the Cyrophonecian woman, calling her a “dog” as would many of the Jews of His day would have likely done?

I just really have an issue with giving up on anyone, just because I know that, in many cases, we misjudge people’s hearts based on this or that. And, even ignorantly (in the faultless sense), we may not know what will or what will not ultimately touch/move people in the right direction, no matter how lost they may seem.

Any help on this would be much appreciated.

Maybe I am utterly on the wrong track with all of the (perhaps even rather innovative) hypotheses of interpretation I have proposed above? Indeed, if anything smacks of “innovation” or of “uncommonality” as far as interpretation goes, that always makes me a little uneasy, even if I am the source of it…



However, the verse in question says “if PERHAPS” these men turn on you or the Gospel. This would seem to speak against the argument that one knows beforehand that the person is definitely or even very likely to turn on you/the Gospel.


I recommend the book “God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts: Making Peace with Difficult People”, by Dr Gregory Popcak.

He discusses the difference between helping those you can help versus not letting people take advantage of you (i.e. if they aren’t willing to put in the necessary effort). He tries to relate this thought process to scripture as well. I’m not certain he references this same verse you quoted here, but I think the concept is similar.

From memory, I believe the author indicates that Jesus did not chase after the man who would not sell all he had to follow Him. He also indicates that turning the other cheek and suffering like Jesus does not mean we have to let people take advantage of our time and effort. However, he essentially asserts we are obligated to help when it does not damage our other obligations (i.e. to family, ministry, work, etc.) and when the other person is willing to put in at least as much effort as you.



Jesus is noting that not all will accept the Word of God; not all will accept correction; not all will be patient and humble enough to bear the Good New of Salvation…

…even a hungry dog may bite the hand that feeds it; pigs, as mellow as they may look (fat and sluggish) can, in an instant, turn vicious and rush those feeding/touching them, biting and trampling all in its path… when met with the demands and corrections of Scriptures many reject them and even turn from it in violent rage since they do not want to stop engaging in their lifestyle and because they want to be their own god.

Knowing this, Christ did not Command His Disciples to huddle together and sing hymns and praises but to: ‘go into the world, Preach the Good News, and Baptize in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!’

Maran atha!



You might be over-thinking this. We are also to shake the dust from our sandals if we encounter rejection of the Gospel - not in judgment, but as testimony to the Judge against those hardened hearts. As well, we do no converting on our own, or by our power. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all conversion of heart, perhaps not occurring in our lifetimes, lest we become puffed up.

If we apply our personal standards to salvation, heaven will end up looking a lot like hell.


Dear Misty,

The passage you allude to refers to what the early church would call the “Discipline of the Secret” - namely, that the most sacred mysteries of the Faith should not be paraded or exposed before those who would blaspheme or profane them.

This does not preclude the preaching of the Gospel, but it does mean that when dealing with a hardened or defiant soul, it is not productive to start with a doctrine such as Transsubstantiation (“Haw haw, you guys eat God like the Aztecs? LOL!”) or the conception of Christ in Our Blessed Mother’s virgin womb (“Haw haw, just like Zeus had sex with all those women? LOL!”), as these mysteries would serve not to build them up but to harden them further and lead them to sin more. As they advance in grace and are converted, then they must - of course - be taught about such things. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the book recommendation.



True. Also true that we can sometimes drive souls further away from God by trying to force God on them , so to speak ; particularly if they are not ready/open.

The focus might appear to be on the “receptiveness” of others* at a particular time* in their lives. I never knew whom, or if, he was quoting, but my father often said that where it involved a person’s conversion:

“Each in his/her own way, at his/her own time.”

There is an interesting essay from St. Augustine dealing with “pearls before swine” available online by clicking HERE .

Also, here’s a Catholic Encyclopedia link to an article (about the same length) giving some historical background on what RomanoAmerio is speaking of : Discipline of the Secret.

I would be inclined to follow po18guy’s way of thinking -

While praying for these souls will always be a good option , it’s good to try and maintain some sort of focus on our own sinfulness as well as we strive for our own conversion (which is a lifelong process).

I also very much like the idea of not “overthinking” something - as another author (who’s name escapes me) put it:

“It is not those passages from Scripture which I do not understand, but rather those passages of Scripture that I do understand, which give me the most difficulty.”



But, what if the Holy Spirit, in working with the will of the person, simply takes more time than the immediate encounter? What if, by sticking around and gently helping them to see the error of their ways, that is how He will work?

As far as the “dust off the feet” analogy, remember that those who were sent out were working with limited time in their missionary work, so it was both a matter of symbol and a matter of practicality. IF one town was not willing to convert, then it was far better simply to move on. In cases where we are still around people, say, friends, colleagues, etc., we are working with more time. I’m not necessarily saying to be always forceful and try to compel them at all times to convert, but, work with what you have and with where the person is, even slowly and naturally, as it would come up.


Yes, I have heard this interpretation before.

However, what if someone, either maliciously or with good intent, asks about the deeper things of the Faith? I mean, all this stuff is, these days, rather public, don’t you think, even though it is still widely misunderstood, as Catholics would conceive it? Should we lie about such things, at least in the case of those who would ask maliciously? Or, should we simply refuse to speak of these things? If we did the latter, might we not be accused of “hiding” somwething and possibly harden a sould that might, in fact, be softened if they were better to understand?


I have also heard that the “dogs” and “swine” in this passage actually refer to heretics. IN fact, I believe a later epistolary writer makes the comparison of heretics to these.

However, my issue with this is: how can you not promulgate your doctrine to heretics before you know they are going to be heretics? How can you definitely know this in advance?

For, if it were heretics being spoken of here, it would essentially be saying, “Don’t promulgate great doctrines before heretics.” This couldn’t be saying that you shouldn’t do this before heretics AFTERyou knew they were, as they would have ALREADYtrampled on your doctrine…


Another possibility:

If “dogs”, “pigs” and other unclean animals referred more to “uncleanNESS” rather than to “unclean individuals”, then maybe these dogs/pigs refer in some way more to abstract concepts of uncleanness/worldliness rather than to actual people?

Maybe casting the holy and pearsl before dogs and swine means not to use the doctrine/wisdom that you have in carnal ways? (?)


Also, back on the subject of secrets:

What of the hostile person today, who, say, runs across Sacred Mysteries on TV (say, on EWTN) or even in artistic depictions? In order to keep secrets, should we not have Catholic television or even display beautiful works of art?

Furthermore, precisely to whom should we or shouldn’t we reveal deeper truths? Should Catholics never ever ever ever under any circumstances reveal the deeper things?


Did this requirement for secrecy ever lapse in Church history?

I have heard that it did once the entire Western world had practically become Catholic, but, what about in regard to other parts of the world qhere Catholics lived and/or where missionary journesy took place?

Also, what about today where Catholicism is now far from the dominant religious persuasion? Should such secrecy be re-instated?


And, surely there are stories of men finally coming around after a persistent, though lovingly so, Christian has had a hand in doing this? I don’t see why such people shouldn’t be given a chance!



…here’s how Jesus put it:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]37 For here the proverb holds good: one sows, another reaps;

(St. John 4:35-37)

…yes, we must be concerned with bringing others to Christ… but we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit Who will Convict the mind, heart and soul of the sinner/unbeliever.

Since every person that the Holy Spirit sends to us is at a different stage in his/her life, we must assess each individual person and act accordingly… some may be open to learning about God; others may be questioning the existence of God; other still may be conflicted, aggressive or even abusive when encountering those who profess to hold the Truth.

…at any moment we could be sowing new grounds or pruning seeding or saplings–in a wonderful turn of event, we may one day even find ourselves reaping where others have sown…

Neither the sower nor the reaper can worry about finished goods that the harvest would produce; we must only worry about working the field to which God has Commanded us to labor… so our efforts must accommodate our function and our object/s; always ready to Preach the Gospel… and as it was once coined: “using words, when necessary.”

Maran atha!




All I’m saying is, I have a real problem with giving up on someone, even if they show initial resistence, because, even then, I think, there is often a way to reach past that resistence, by speaking to them where they are, trying to figure out that resistence, and attempting to counter it, not just giving up on them at the first or even the second sign of resistence and considering the job hopeless. Rather, one has to reach out to that resistence where it is and try to work through it. It may be there for at least somewhat legitimate (at least in that person’s eyes) reasons. We’ve got to understand those rather than simply dismissing the person outright. This is why I have a real and honest problem with this verse. If the person is willing to listen, to open up, even after a bit of struggle, then shouldn’t they be allowed to be given the chance? instead of being dismissed upfront?



Truth is Truth.

As Catholics we cannot deceive ourselves or others by giving false information…

Even the worst anti-Christian person in the world must be given the Truth of the Faith regardless of his/her intent.

What’s the worst that could happen? That person would go away knowing what the Catholic Church Teaches… yet, they might take away the seed of Conversion!

I once engaged a Jehovah Witness who, through his expressions, basically made it known that he enjoyed his encounters with me because it gave them an insight on how to deal with other Catholics… basically, he was confessing to wanting to pick my brains so that he could better deal/convert other Catholics… that mentality clearly dealt with malice…

Yet, my job was not to hide or feign ignorance… my job was to expose him to the Truth.

Every Catholic (and non-Catholic Believer) is Called to Witness (be a Sentinel) to the world… as Sentinels our job is to Warn about impending danger–we are not Commanded to “Save” each person but to Convey God’s Word.

We would only fail if we do not carryout our Obligation: Witness (as in, Sentinel).

What others do with their lives and the Word that has been Proclaimed to them is not our concern nor our obligation.

Maran atha!



EXACTLY!! That is what I’m rying to say! However, this verse seems to telll us not even to engage a person if they are “dogs” or "swine!

So, what do we do with this??



…dogs and pigs are creatures of habit… they are also clearly known by their physical appearance… men/women are not always known from superficial interaction with them… yet, their real selves come out as they are engaged… it is at this point that we must use reason and commonsense–preaching to the choir might make more sense then preaching/instructing those who have revealed themselves to being men/women who would react as dogs/pigs when the Gospel is presented to them.

Christ is not calling us to be clairvoyant:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]16 Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.

(St. Matthew 10:16)
…we study the situation and offer just enough of the Good News as the intended audience is able to assimilate; if things begin to go South… we must, as gentle as doves, refrain from coercing and enforcing… Love is a win win solution!

Maran atha!



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