“Don’t feed the dogs what is holy or throw your pearls in front of pigs; if you do they may trample them and then turn and rip you to pieces.”
In New Testament days dogs and pigs were ceremonially unclean animals. As such they represented the gentile world viewed from the Judaic point of view. To throw before them the scriptural truths of Christianity would have been unwise because pagan unbelievers did not have the necessary spiritual ability to receive and benefit from what they were told. In fact, they would crush underfoot what the early church held to be sacred and then turn on believers and tear them to pieces.
To apply this injunction to us in the twenty-first century we must first understand it in its original setting. Certain foods were held to be ceremonially unclean and therefore forbidden for offerings and sacrifice. However, now in our day that is no longer the case. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus says that we are defiled not by what goes into us but by what comes out. Our passage for today serves as an example of the necessity of understanding what is meant in contrast to what is said. By “what is meant” I mean the truth or practice that lies behind the statement as expressed in its cultural setting. In this case I believe Jesus is speaking of spiritual truths. So the point is that we should not discuss spiritual matters with those in the world who are not equipped to understand – the “dogs” of secularism that are unable to benefit from the spiritual truths that we find so edifying.
But how does this work out in a practical sense? Certainly it doesn’t mean we are to be careful not to let the world know what we believe. Jesus came with the message of the kingdom and shared it openly for the three years of his ministry. In fact it was because of his claim to be the Son of God that they put him to death. I think the answer to that is that the crowds to whom he spoke were not the ceremonial “dogs” of Judaism but ordinary people that were open to hear. They were not the ones who “tore him to pieces” on the cross. Apart from the boy Jesus sharing truth with the rabbis in the temple, I can think of no other instance of Jesus explaining spiritual truth to the religious hierarchy. He labeled that group as “hypocrites, brood of vipers,“ (cf. Matt. 23:25, 33 and other relevant passages). The injunction for us as we share biblical truth is not to waste time with those least likely to accept and react strongly against us. There is a strong independence in the gospel. It should be presented in love but proudly maintained as truth if the other person chooses not to accept it. In that case we are to “shake the dust off from our feet” (Luke 9:5) and move on. The gospel story is too precious to be trampled under foot by the “dogs” of secularism.