An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount

by Kent Young

© 2017



One aspect of Jesus’ teaching that is often overlooked is what he taught about teaching. Not wishing for his words to terminate with his immediate audience, Jesus compelled his twelve disciples not only to obey him, but perhaps just as importantly, to instruct others also in the teaching that he gave. Remember in the Great Commission Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). Likewise Jesus said just a bit earlier in this sermon that it is not only the one who keeps his commands, but it is also the one who “teaches them” who will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens (Matthew 5:19). Clearly teaching other believers is a crucial requirement for a disciple of Jesus.

However, we need to be aware that there are both righteous and unrighteous ways of teaching. There are appropriate as well as inappropriate times and places for a disciple of Jesus to help another disciple to better understand and obey Jesus’ words, and there are proper as well as improper methods for doing so. In order to properly obey Jesus’ instructions regarding teaching others, there is a certain level of judgment required on the part of the disciple. In order to know best how to teach others, a disciple must be able to discern, at least to some degree, another disciple’s spiritual condition. This “judgment” or “discernment” that we are talking about here is both dangerous and necessary. Jesus explains in this next section of his sermon what is and what is not the proper and appropriate place for judgment to be exercised by his disciples.

Jesus will discuss three different occasions where judgment is called for, each of which will require a different response from his disciples. These three instances are: official judgment regarding the world (7:1,2), personal judgment among fellow believers (7:3-5), and personal judgment regarding the wicked (7:6). We will start with the first: official judgment as it relates to the world.

Official Judgment Concerning Worldly Affairs

Judge Not

“Do not judge, so that you are not judged...”
Matthew 7:1

While the concept of “judgment” is the theme for this entire section, the Greek words that are normally translated as “judge” (κρίνω) or “judgment” (κρίνω, κρίμα, κρίσις) are used only in this first subsection about worldly judgment and not in either of the two subsections to follow. There is a very good reason for this. The word “judge” (κρίνω, etc.), throughout the New Testament, is most often used to refer to official, public or civil judgment, and I see it as carrying that same sense in this passage. Though it is a common understanding among commentators, Jesus is actually not here forbidding the personal discernment of another’s moral behavior. Rather he is in fact forbidding judgment in the normal, official sense of the word.

Though according to my study the majority of commentators seem to reject the view I am here taking, I would only ask that you hear it out and see if this is an example of letting “God be true though every man a liar.” Let me be absolutely clear, my contention is that, in this passage, Jesus is not discussing interpersonal judgment about another’s behavior. Rather, Jesus is forbidding his disciples from sitting in the seat of a civil magistrate (i.e. a judge). Allow me to explain.

In the crucifixion account found in the gospel of John, when the Jews brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate, notice the wording of the conversation. Pilate’s response to those seeking to have Jesus killed was to tell them to “judge him by your own law.” The Jews objected by stating that their own law did not allow them to put someone to death (John 18:31). “Judgment” in that passage referred to the sentencing and carrying to execution an official, magisterial decision. Likewise, in Exodus 18:13, Moses, when sitting as magistrate over the nation of Israel, is described as “judging” (LXX: κρίνω) the people. This is what is normally meant by the word “judge.”[1] While it is true that there are times when this word is used to mean personal discernment in a non-magisterial sense (see Acts 20:16, Titus 3:12), it is rare enough that we can assume that in these cases it is being used figuratively with its literal sense remaining magisterial judgment.[2]

So why does this understanding of the word κρίνωmatter so much? Well, often this verse is quoted by people trying to warn against looking down on others because of their sinful, or perceived to be sinful actions. This seems to be the opinion of the bulk of the commentaries, or at least of those with which I am familiar. Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that this would be a bad warning to give. In fact Jesus will discuss that idea in the very next section in Matthew 7:3-5. But what I am saying is that this is not what Jesus is saying in this verse.

In this verse Jesus gives no mere warning against judgment. Jesus is good about making it very clear when he is giving a direct command and when he is simply giving an instructional warning. Remember the example of his instruction concerning publically visible acts of righteousness in Matthew 6:1. That was an example of a warning rather than a command, and it is very reasonable because at times public acts of righteousness are necessary. Jesus merely warned his disciples that the praise of men cannot become their inner motivation.

In this passage, however, Jesus does not say, “beware when judging” or “be careful how you judge.” Rather, Jesus emphatically commands, “Do not judge.” Almost every commentary that I have come across misses this point. They all wish to interpret this passage as saying, to use the words of Calvin’s commentary, “These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging.”[3] Because Calvin and many others misunderstand the word “judge” (Greek: κρίνω) in this passage to mean interpersonal discernment of another’s righteousness or unrighteousness, they cannot see Jesus as emphatically forbidding judgment. But a plain reading of the passage makes it clear that that is exactly what Jesus is doing.

I believe that there is also a deeper reason that many commentators cannot acknowledge that Jesus is giving a full prohibition against judging. Simply put, they cannot do so because their doctrinal systems will not allow it. To take Jesus to be forbidding judgment in the normal, civil/magisterial sense cuts strongly against much that has been taught in various religious traditions. Lange says of the passage, “Least of all does (the command to ‘judge not’) apply to the sentence pronounced by a judge (who should always bear in mind that he is under the holy law of God).”[4] In Lange’s mind, a Christian holding the office of judge has an obligation to make right judgment according to the “law of God” (assumed here to refer to that given to Israel through Moses). Therefore it would be a contradiction to tell him to withhold judgment altogether. It seems that for many it is unthinkable that Jesus was actually forbidding his disciples from holding this type of office altogether.

It should not be unthinkable, though, especially considering the one other time the word κρίνωis used in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:40 Jesus says, “To the one who would sue (Greek: κρίνω - “judge”) you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” It should be clear to all that Jesus, in that passage, forbids his disciples from even making a claim on their own property in a law court. Is it too far to assume that Jesus would also have his disciples refrain from being the mediator of justice in that same court?

Under the Law there was indeed a civil court system that the Israelites maintained, and thus certain from among them were in charge of maintaining a system of justice. Not so, however, with the disciples of Jesus. Mercy, not judgment, is what is required of God’s people today.

There are perhaps some who do not see mercy and judgment as being in such opposition to one another. A good judge, a Christian judge, they might say, would do well to maintain justice to some degree, while still maintaining a heart-attitude of mercy. Indeed the Old Testament scriptures, while having provisions regarding approved civil judgment, also contain certain admonitions toward mercy (Proverbs 11:17; Micah 6:8). Never, though, are these instructions toward mercy given to those who are actually wielding the magisterial power. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

In the chapter regarding civil judgment in Israel, those holding the office of magistrate were strictly forbidden from allowing mercy to effect the performance of their duty: “The elders of the city shall send and take him (the premeditated manslayer) from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel” (Deuteronomy 19:12,13; see also vs 21; 13:8,9; 25:12). According to the Mosaic Law, as well as common sense, it undoes the proper sense of justice and respect for law if a magistrate is given the discretion to allow his pity and empathy to affect his decisions. A good judge ought never to forgo judgment in favor of mercy. Therefore, it stands to reason that the disciples of Jesus, those who are called, in this age, to be unceasingly merciful, would be forbidden from taking the magisterial seat.

Robert Govett is one of the few who takes the difficult yet correct view of this passage. Govett makes this observation: “Even the world seems to feel an unseemliness and some sort of inconsistency, when clergymen sit on the bench of magistrates. They seem to own, that there is something unfit in his passing the sentence of justice on the offender from whose lips should proceed glad tidings of great joy to the sinner. But that which the world would confine to the clergyman, the enlightened believer sees to be nothing but the true standing of every renewed man in Christ Jesus. For every believer is God’s priest, and witness of the glad tidings of peace by the blood of the cross.”[5]

Motivation of Contingent, Future Judgment

“...for with the judgment you judge you will be judged, and with the measurement you use you will be measured.”
Matthew 7:2

It is very important to notice that immediately after forbidding his disciples from judging, Jesus brings up the notion of the future judgment that they will receive from him (with its kingdom implications). This will provide further confirmation that we ought to take the plain meaning of the preceding passage as a direct command against magisterial judgment. Let me explain.

Jesus says that the judgment his disciples use against others is the standard that will be applied to them when they are judged. Now firstly we need to ask, When exactly does this judgment of the disciple take place? Certainly Jesus cannot be referring to the eternal judgment upon sin, as that was dealt with finally and completely on the cross at Calvary. One does not receive forgiveness in that respect through having proper interaction with other people. Forgiveness in that sense is secured only by faith in Jesus. The judgment being referred to in this verse Jesus explicitly says is determined by the works of the disciple; specifically here by the disciple’s judgment or lack of judgment against others. Based on all that we have heard in the Sermon on the Mount so far, we ought to conclude that Jesus is again referring to the pre-kingdom Judgment Seat of Christ that will determine the inheritance or loss thereof for his disciples in the coming millennial kingdom.

So if that is the when, then the next question we need to ask is, How will this principle be worked out? How does a disciple’s judgment standard being used against him apply to this future judgment? Now, as we have seen, most commentators see Jesus as referring to discernment regarding someone else’s righteousness or unrighteousness. But I ask you, does this translate directly to Jesus’ future judgment? Think about it. Based on what we have read so far, is it true that the person with the least sensitivity to the good or evil of those around him will be in the best position during the Judgment Seat of Christ? Will Jesus be less alert to a disciple’s disobedience so long as that disciple is undiscerning of the unrighteous deeds of others?

When you think of it that way, it does not really add up. Jesus will not simply notice or comment on the behavior of his disciples when they stand before him. As has been shown since the beginning of the sermon, Jesus gives retribution, both positive and negative, to his disciples based upon their obedience to all that he has commanded. Therefore, his statement “with the judgment you judge you will be judged” cannot be referring to a simple mental or spoken evaluation of another’s behavior.

When we stand before Jesus, it will not be our awareness of the sins of others that will be judged, it will be our reaction to those sins that will affect our own reward or discipline. It is not whether we are aware of the sinfulness of the one who takes our tunic, it is the actual going to court to demand it back that Jesus forbids (Matthew 5:40). Jesus will judge his disciples on whether they struck back, sued, or even held hatred in their hearts toward those who sinned against them.

Up to this point in the sermon Jesus had only mentioned reaction within interpersonal situations. In Matthew 7:2 Jesus says that the same principle applies to magisterial judgment as well. In this passage he shows that to condemn the wicked of this age to prison or execution will also affect the disciple’s future judgment, even if done under a just system as a civil magistrate. Be warned! The standard by which you judge, in whatever the context, Jesus says you will likewise be judged!

Having already escaped the eternal penalty for sin through faith in Jesus, all believers now have only the pre-kingdom Judgment Seat of Christ remaining as a judgment for them. On that day all your works and even your inner motivations will be laid bare (1 Corinthians 4:5). There is only one means of accruing mercy for yourself at that judgment, and that is to be merciful to others today. James gives this same warning. He reminds us that “judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.” (James 2:13) If our behavior is defined by judgment today, we should expect the strictest judgment also then. But James also encourages us that “mercy triumphs over judgment,” showing that our mercy toward others will cause the righteous Judge to also show mercy toward us.

It goes without saying that this ought to motivate believers to be the most merciful people on earth. Think of the testimony it would be of the truth of the gospel if Christians were known by all as the most merciful of people. “Even when persecuted, they only bless others. They refuse even to claim in court what should rightfully be theirs! Perhaps there is merit to the radical mercy that they claim that their God offers to men.”

A Common Objection

While I am not entirely alone in my understanding of these few verses, there can be no doubt that much, if not most of systematized Christian doctrine interprets Jesus’ words regarding judgment quite differently from the strict literalness that I am espousing here.

The most common objection that I hear generally goes something like this: “How can you expect the world to carry on if all righteous Christians took Jesus to be forbidding them from magisterial office? Indeed society itself would soon crumble. The positions that legally and rightfully carry with them the exercising of force over other people are the positions that most importantly require just, godly men to occupy them.”

How are we to answer this objection? Firstly, by pointing out that the disciple’s calling is one of “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16), not judge and jury. Jesus speaks of our influence on the surrounding world as being the agent of preserving elements of justice and righteousness (see also 1 Peter 2:12 and Ephesians 5:11-14). It is the purity of the believers’ devotion to the Lord and their prayers for those who rule over them that preserve the world and society from deteriorating into lawlessness. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians told to extend this influence into the realm of judicial coercion.

Secondly, I must point out that those who make this objection are ignoring the fact that God’s sovereign mercy has allowed many civilizations to peacefully exist and prosper with hardly any Christian influence whatsoever. Ancient Greece, for example, had centuries of peaceful existence without a trace of Christian influence. China, likewise, had over two millennia of civilization before any knowledge of Christianity reached them. While Christian influence no doubt helps to preserve a decent and peaceful society, we cannot make the claim that it is necessary for one.

More important than either of these two points, however, is the fact that biblical prophecy makes it clear that God has sovereignly placed “the Gentiles,” not the Church, nor even the Jews, in the current position of political power. This is important because the Jews, more so even than the Church, might feel that they have legitimate reasons for thinking that God would put them in the position of magisterial ruler.

The kingdom of Israel was, for a time, God’s chosen instrument for expressing God’s authority on the earth. God’s intention for man’s ultimate involvement in sharing his rule dates back to the beginning of creation. God told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The Lord promised to Eve that she would have a “seed” who would ultimately bruise the head of God’s enemy, “the serpent” (Genesis 3:15). To Abraham God promised a “seed” through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). This seed was, in one sense, to be Christ himself (Galatians 3:16b). Yet, in another sense, Abraham’s seed referred to Abraham’s physical descendants, the nation of Israel. Israel was a chosen “kingdom” (Exodus 19:6), for a time, privileged to be the unique nation used by God to express God’s authority on the earth.

God promised to King David that his ruling throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:12,13). Jesus Christ himself is, of course, that “Son of David” who will sit on that throne (Luke 1:32,33). However, if we read the promise to David carefully we will find that there were also aspects of it which specifically applied to King Solomon, David’s immediate heir. Solomon serves as a type or picture of Jesus’ future reign as the prince of peace, and the one with boundless wisdom, who blesses all the nations of the earth (1 Chronicles 22:9; 1 Kings 4:29). However, when the nation of Israel rebelled against the Lord, their status as the predicted blessing to the nations gradually went out. Even Solomon himself began to lead the nation of Israel into idolatry.

After Solomon’s reign, the kingdom became divided, and the succeeding kings, with few exceptions, led the nations of Israel and Judah into wickedness and idolatry. Eventually, God caused the Gentile nations of Assyria and Babylon to conquer Israel’s northern and southern kingdoms. The Babylonians destroyed the temple and carried off all of its contents to Babylon. This demonstrated that God’s presence had left Israel and that Israel had temporarily been removed from her position of expressing God’s rule on the earth.

Without getting into too much detail, I would like to explain that I say Israel was “temporarily” removed from her position because the promise to David was that his throne “would be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). While Solomon’s reign and the subsequent descendants of David were a partial fulfilment of this promise, the return of the Lord Jesus, son of David, to reign over the earth for a thousand years and then in the new heavens and new earth into eternity will be the final fulfilment of this promise (Revelation 20:4; 22:4).

However, there is no denying that, for a time, the earth was prophesied to be ruled over by Gentile powers. After Israel was taken into captivity, God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, how the coming “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) would play out. God gave the king a dream and then interpreted the dream through the Jewish prophet Daniel (Daniel 2:31-45). Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that there would be four successive Gentile kingdoms, Babylon being the first, that would rule over that focal region of the civilized world. For a determined period of time, the rulership of the earth would be given to the Gentile powers. Daniel continues on to explain, however, that there will be a day when the Gentile powers are finally conquered, and in their place will be put “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.”

Daniel makes a point of saying that, once the dream was revealed to him, he “blessed the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:19) prior to giving the explanation to Nebuchadnezzar. It is interesting to note that during the explanation, Daniel constantly refers to the Lord as “the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:17-45). It seems that Daniel wishes to make clear that, although God’s earthly rule and testimony have been suspended, and although his earthly people are currently held captive by another world power, God still reigns in heaven and is still in complete control over the kingdoms of the earth (Daniel 2:19-23). Daniel explains that the kingdom which will eventually destroy the Gentile kingdoms will be one that is setup, again, by “the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:44).

Considering the phraseology within this prophecy, it is no wonder that the people of Israel were stirred by the message of John the Baptist that the “kingdom of the heavens” was at hand. All four of the Gentile kingdoms prophesied by Daniel had arisen, the fourth of which was the mighty Roman Empire. When John, as a prophet of God, declared that the heavenly kingdom was drawing near, the natural expectation of the people of Israel was that the present earthly kingdom (Rome) was about to be crushed and the kingdom of Israel, the kingdom of “the God of heaven,” was about to be restored (Acts 1:6b).

However, as Jesus’ teaching makes abundantly clear, this heavenly kingdom is not to be inherited by the wicked. The people who enter the kingdom are the righteous, as described in the beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. This is why John’s and Jesus’ messages were not, “Rejoice! For the kingdom is at hand,” but rather, “Repent! For the kingdom is at hand.” Israel’s place as “God’s kingdom on earth” was taken away as a result of the spiritual apostasy of the nation. Now the spiritual condition of the children of Israel will need to be one of righteousness toward the Lord before they can again take their place as the heavenly kingdom on the earth.

Because the nation of Israel largely rejected Jesus’ call to repentance, the establishment of the kingdom, with Jesus as the rightful ruler, was deferred for a time. Jesus explained this delay of the kingdom’s establishment through a parable (Luke 19:11-15),[6] though it seems the disciples did not fully understand at the time, since prior to Jesus’ ascension, the twelve were still expecting the kingdom of Israel to be restored immediately (Acts 1:6). Upon leaving Jerusalem the final time, Jesus prophesied that the nation of Israel would not see him offered as their king again until they were in the spiritual condition to say of him, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

So Israel, prophesied to be the heavenly kingdom on earth, is for a time put under Gentile rule. Looking back at our passage in Matthew 7:1, can you see that it may not be completely out of character for Jesus to forbid his people from sitting as a civil magistrate? God did it with the nation of Israel when they were taken captive into Babylon. For a time, God has placed the Gentiles in the position of political power. Neither the Jews nor the Church are to attempt to displace them. There will be a day when the Lord returns, and at that point he will rule the nations (Revelation 19:15), and those from among the redeemed whom he deems worthy will co-rule with him (Revelation 2:26,27). Until that time, though, Jesus instructs his disciples to “judge not,” but rather to be exclusively devoted to mercy, just as Jesus is during this day of grace.

Interpersonal Judgment among Believers

As we continue through this section regarding “judgment” we will find that, while Jesus continues with the theme of various forms of judgment, he does not continue to use the same Greek word. “Judgment” (Greek: κρίνω), in its strict sense, has been expressly forbidden. But in this upcoming section, Jesus will continue on by addressing judgment in the interpersonal sense. Now that our subject moves to interpersonal relationships rather than judicial authority, it may be wise for us to use the word “discernment” rather than “judgment,” as we are here talking about something quite distinct from what Jesus had forbidden in Matthew 7:1.

Discernment of a Brother’s Sin

“And why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the log in your own eye?”
Matthew 7:3

In this section, Jesus essentially tells his disciples that their attitude should be the exact opposite of the way men behave naturally. Men naturally tend to look with far greater strictness on the faults of others than they do toward their own. There is almost always swift condemnation of others, especially when a fault of theirs causes personal offense. However, whenever one’s own fault is pointed out, it is usually only a moment before an excuse or justification is found for whatever behavior or attitude has been called into question.

Jesus, on the other hand, refers to any fault or sin that one can find in someone else as simply a “speck.” While irritating, a speck in one’s eye is certainly no emergency. Most daily activities can actually still be carried out, albeit with some difficulty, while one has a speck in his eye. By comparison, a disciple of Jesus is taught to view his own sin and failure as being of far greater importance. If your brother’s sin is a speck in his eye, then your own is a log in your own eye.

Imagine the absurdity of a man with a wooden plank the size of a tree lodged into his eye taking any notice of the fact that another man is trying to blink a piece of sawdust out of his eye. This is what Jesus says it is like for one believer to notice another’s sin when there is still sin in his own life. Christian maturity leads more and more to a believer having greater strictness with himself and greater mercy toward others.

Corrective Action

“Or how will you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck out of your eye’? And, behold, the log is in your eye! Hypocrite! First remove the log out of your eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Matthew 7:4,5

First Jesus addressed the attitude of his disciples toward theirs and their brother’s sin. Now he addresses the action to be taken regarding those sins. There is a time to “remove the speck out of your brother’s eye,” but it should be of secondary importance compared to the “log” being removed from one’s own eye. Christian accountability, the helping of one another with escaping the snares of sin, does have its place. However, because of the tendency for men to see others’ failures as far greater than their own, Jesus tells us to treat with far greater severity our own sins.

The apostle Paul says something very similar in Galatians 6:1. He says that, if any believer is caught in a trespass, it is the ones who are “spiritual” who ought to work to restore him. A carnal man trying to help another carnal man will only lead to pride and greater sin. Even to the spiritual ones, Paul warns to help the sinning brother in “a spirit of gentleness,” and to be “looking at yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

In that passage in Galatians 6, Paul was simply describing Jesus’ concept of the log and the speck in practical terms. Before any action is taken to help a brother with his sin, the disciple must first be certain that his own spiritual condition is correct. Even after that point, the one in the position of “judging” or better “discerning” the spiritual condition of his brother, must the whole time be looking back to take notice of his own.

Dealing with those Deemed Wicked

“Do not give[7] the holy to dogs and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them with their feet and turn and tear you up.”
Matthew 7:6

We have in this passage a syntax structure that is called a “chiasm.” In his book Basic Bible Interpretation, Roy B. Zuck explains that in a chiasm pattern “elements one and four in one or more verses are parallel in thought, and points two and three are parallel in thought.”[8] In other words, a chiasm is a syntax structure where words or phrases follow an A,B,Bl,Al pattern.

Notice, in this passage, the first thing warned against is giving “the holy to dogs” (A), and the next is throwing “pearls before pigs” (B). Then, when describing the consequences, the order is reversed. Jesus first says they may “trample them with their feet,” something more applicable to pigs than to dogs (Bl), and then that they will “turn and tear you up,” something more applicable to dogs than to pigs (Al). The outline looks like this:

    A. Give the holy to dogs
       B. Throw pearls before pigs
        Bl. Trample them with their feet
    Al. Turn and tear you up

The two classes of wicked men that Jesus warns his disciples about are categorized as “dogs” and “pigs.” Dogs, according to the Mosaic Law, were unclean animals because they neither “part the hoof” nor “chew the cud” (Leviticus 11:3). Pigs likewise were unclean, because though they do “part the hoof,” they do not “chew the cud” (Leviticus 11:7). In other words, the pig appears clean outwardly, but is unclean inwardly, while the dog is unclean without even any appearance of being clean. The two animals in Jesus’ illustration represent two categories of wicked men.


We should understand those pictured by the dogs to be worldly men who are neither righteous nor give any pretense toward righteousness. In Revelation 22:15 “the dogs” are described as being in line with “sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters.” Many commentators see in this illustration a piece of meat from the altar of the temple being thrown out to the wild dogs outside.[9] Jesus warns that giving “the holy” to men like this will cause them to attack you. It seems that what Jesus is referring to “the holy” as representing is the high standard of righteousness that Jesus is bringing in his teaching.

Jesus was very different from the simple moral teacher that many in the world today wish to make him into. As we have seen a number of times already, Jesus’ teaching makes no sense for a person who does not believe in the spiritual realities of God, resurrection, and a future kingdom. In this passage Jesus actually warns that it is dangerous for a believer to attempt to instruct wicked men in his spiritual standard of righteousness. It should be no surprise that Jesus would give such a warning, considering the fact that he has given very specific instructions regarding how to interact with evil men, and in each case the disciple leaves himself in a state of utter vulnerability (see Matthew 5:39-42). While a disciple of Jesus should have the faith to know that God can and will protect him in these kinds of circumstances, he should not therefore put God to the test by telegraphing his vulnerability to men who would be likely to exploit it.

Notice how powerful, yet balanced Jesus’ teaching is. While disciples of Jesus are instructed to teach other disciples to obey Jesus’ words (Matthew 5:19; 28:20), they are warned to not be careless in bringing these instructions to unbelievers. Likewise earlier they were told to “let your light shine before men” so that God might be glorified (Matthew 5:16), yet were also warned to “be careful not to perform your righteousness before men” in case the praise of men should become their motivation (Matthew 6:1). Similarly, Jesus said, “Do not resist the one who is evil” and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). However, lest anyone should take him to be advocating a self-glorying martyr complex, Jesus also instructs his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). While Jesus’ teaching is, in one sense, radical to the point of being humanly impossible, it is at the same time profoundly balanced and remarkably reasonable.


The other category of people whom Jesus discusses consists of those who are referred to by him as “pigs.” While not so much an animal to be feared like the dog, a pig is undesirable for its own reasons. A pig was unclean under the law just as the dog was. However, externally, a pig could have the appearance of being clean since the pig does “part the hoof.” Therefore the pigs in Jesus’ teaching picture unrighteous men who perhaps give some pretense toward righteousness.

There are those who, by the world’s standard, are difficult to distinguish from godly Christians. They can be polite, well-respected, and even considered by outsiders to be devoutly religious. It is only upon closer inquiry that one finds out that their heart’s desire is set on worldly and carnal things with little or no care for the things of God. Pigs, in my view, can picture people who are well-mannered and even religious, but have no genuine faith in Christ; or possibly they can picture those who truly believe, but are living carnally, walking according to the flesh, while putting on some pretext of piety. In either case the person may appear at first glance to be godly, but upon further inquiry turns out to care nothing for the things of the Lord. Paul describes these kinds of people in Philippians 3:19, perhaps implying they may even be found within the assembly.

Jesus warns against “throwing your pearls” before men of this type. There is some difficulty in determining what exactly Jesus is saying these “pearls” represent.

Some commentators see the “pearls” as representing the gospel. Calvin takes them this way, and thus feels the need to harmonize this passage with Jesus’ words in Mark 16:15: “Preach the gospel to every creature.” Calvin squares the two commands by making the pigs to whom the pearls of the gospel are not to be thrown into “those who, by clear evidences, have manifested a hardened contempt of God, so that their disease appears to be incurable.”[10] MacArthur, taking a similar view, compares this teaching with the command in Matthew 10:14 to “shake the dust off your feet” when gospel preaching has been consistently rejected.[11] The problem with this view is that Jesus’ command is not, “Do not keep throwing[12] your pearls,” as though it will take time for the pig to prove himself to be a pig. With the gospel, believers proclaim to “all men,” knowing that only some will respond (1 Corinthians 9:22). Of the pearls, Jesus says simply, “Do not throw...” implying that the pig is able to be identified prior to the pearls being thrown.

Matthew Henry takes a position which makes more sense based on the context of the command. Henry sees the pearls, as well as the “holy things” mentioned earlier in the verse, as being the type of edifying correction spoken about in the previous verses.[13] He sees Jesus as saying, “Only rebuke your brother after your own sin is dealt with (vs 3-5), and as for the wicked, it would be fruitless and even dangerous to attempt to correct their behavior this way at all” (vs 6). While this view does better at considering the context of the verse and staying more accurate to the text, I still believe that this is unlikely to be Jesus’ true meaning.

When considering what the pearls rightly represent in this illustration, we would do well to consider where else in the scriptures pearls are mentioned, and perhaps the most memorable place is the gates of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:21. The presence of pearls in this holy, heavenly city, in which the people of God dwell once sin and death are finally eradicated, makes Matthew Henry’s contention that the pearls represent rebuke for sin unlikely. How can they picture rebuke for sin if they are most notably present in the city where sin no longer exists?

It is very interesting to note that pearls, though mentioned eight different times in the New Testament, are never mentioned in the Old Testament.[14] It seems that the pearls represent things that are both hidden and heavenly, as the revelations given in the New Testament are described as being (Ephesians 3:4-10). Our understanding of the scriptural meaning of “pearls” will be helped by looking at H.A. Ironside’s commentary of Matthew 13:44-46. He discusses his own view of the two parables found in that passage, the second of which discusses a merchant in search of pearls:

“First, He (Jesus) tells of a treasure hid in a field. Remembering the ‘the field is the world,’ we ask, What treasure was here hidden? All through the Old Testament, Israel is so pictured. They formed Jehovah’s ‘peculiar treasure.’ To them Christ came from glory, but the time had not yet arrived for His acceptance; so He ‘hideth’ it, and then went to the cross to pay the purchase-price for the whole world-the field, not merely the treasure. Hidden still that treasure remains, but soon it shall be brought forth from its hiding-place, and He shall acknowledge it as His own. ‘They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My peculiar treasure’ (Mal. 3:17, literal rendering). It is the earthly aspect of the kingdom...[15]

This notion of the treasure hidden in the field picturing Israel, God’s earthly people, temporarily being “hidden” in the world makes an important contrast to how Ironside sees the next parable about the pearl being properly interpreted:

“The merchantman seeking goodly pearls pictures the value of the true kingdom in His own eyes. For He, not the sinner, is the merchantman....He who was rich, for our sakes became poor, leaving the glory that He had with the Father before ever the earth was, and coming into this scene to seek a goodly pearl to adorn His diadem forever. One pearl He found, and that of great price! It is the heavenly aspect of the kingdom-the Church for which He gave Himself. At Calvary’s cross He paid the full price of its purchase; and now none shall dispute His title to that Church which He hath purchased with His own blood. He ‘loved the Church, and gave Himself for it’....Soon it will be removed from its surroundings of evil filthiness, and be placed in its proper setting, to be the chief ornament of His crown throughout the eternal ages.”[16]

This pearl, the Church, according to Ironside, is a unique, heavenly creation, which remained a mystery hidden for ages. Even now having been revealed by the apostles (Ephesians 3:4-6) the Church is very little understood by the men of the world. Jesus now has his pearl, purchased by his own blood. Similarly, the teaching here in Matthew 7:6 demonstrates that we believers also have our own pearls. All who serve the Lord have “pearls” of heavenly blessings and revelation, often gained through suffering and trial.

Something interesting to note about these pearls, is that believers do not wish to keep them for themselves. They want to share them with others. We all know the joy we have in sharing heavenly truths with other seeking believers. A profound, heavenly insight gained from studying one of the New Testament epistles, or perhaps a spiritual experience of the Lord’s strength or love, is strangely always accompanied by a desire to share this treasure with others. A lover of pearls wants them on display, not hidden away in a safe! So too, Christians desire to share their deep, spiritual experiences with one another.

Knowing this to be the case, Jesus offers the warning here in Matthew 7:6. Many believers have had the sad experience that Jesus is here warning about. If someone, no matter how refined or religious, knows nothing of the genuine experience of the Lord, any attempt to share the precious and mysterious Christian fellowship with them will be met with, at best, misunderstanding or indifference. Even those who may truly know the Lord, and even externally keep up an appearance of godliness, if internally they are not in communion with the Lord himself, any attempt at sharing precious, heavenly treasures with them will lead to frustration and discouragement- their pearls will be “trampled underfoot.”

Jesus graciously desires to spare his disciples of this discouragement. Just as he warns about the vicious attacks likely to come from wicked men, Jesus warns about the simple rejection that will come from those without a spiritual sensitivity. Let us, then, beware of both giving “the holy to dogs” as well as “throwing pearls before pigs.”

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] In English we rarely if ever use “judge” as a verb when referring to judgment in this sense. An English speaker, if he were trying to convince his friend not to “judge” in this sense, would be far more likely to say, “I don’t think you should be a judge” than to say, “I don’t think you should judge.” Thus, in English, when someone uses “judge” as a verb, it is usually understood to mean interpersonal judgment. This has caused a great deal of confusion with Matthew 7:1, because in the English, it sounds like Jesus is simply saying “Don’t judge” in the modern sense of the expression. The Greek use of the word is very different.

[2] To give a modern example, imagine three friends were deciding whether to have Chinese or Italian food for dinner. The first argues for Chinese, while the second for Italian. Assuming the third will break the tie and thus make the final decision, one of the first two may turn to him and say, “Well, Judge, what’s the verdict?” The words “judge” and “verdict” would not be assumed to have lost their normal, literal definition simply because they had here been used figuratively. The same should be understood about κρίνωand its usage in the New Testament. “Judge” means “judge” unless there is some contextual reason to take it figuratively.

[3] (Calvin, J., & Pringle, W., 2010)

[4] (Lange, J.P. & Schaff, P., 2008) (First parentheses mine, second parentheses his)

[5] (Govett, Sermon on the Mount, 1984, p. 246) (Italics his)

[6] Specifically Luke 19:11 makes it clear that this was indeed Jesus’ purpose in sharing the parable: “But as they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.”

[7] The English translation here seems to indicate that Jesus is giving another direct command similar to the one given in 7:1. The Greek actually says something different. The verb “give” is not in the strict imperative form; it is in the subjunctive form (used to express the command in a more mild fashion). Unfortunately, the difference between the strict imperative and the subjunctive (in an imperative use) is difficult to articulate in an English translation. With the strict imperative form (e.g. Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge...”), there is a more clear indication of a direct command. The subjunctive (e.g. Matthew 7:6 – “Do not not throw...”), is more of a helpful warning given for the benefit of the hearer. The instruction given here in 7:6 is perhaps more similar to the warning given in 6:1 (“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men...”), than the command given in 7:1 (“Do not judge...”).

[8] (Zuck, 1991)

[9] See the commentary on this passage in the following commentaries: (Wilkin R. N., 2010), (Wiersbe, 1996), (Lange, J.P. & Schaff, P., 2008), along with many others.

[10] (Calvin, J., & Pringle, W., 2010)

[11] (MacArthur, 1985, pp. 438, 439)

[12] The command, along with the one regarding “giving the holy to dogs,” is given in the aorist tense. If it were in either the present or imperfect tense one could make the argument for there being an implied “continuous” aspect (i.e. “do not be giving”; “do not be throwing”). The aorist or “undefined” tense makes the “point action” aspect (“do not give”; “do not throw”) more likely.

[13] (Henry, 1994)

[14] Some translations do in fact have pearls mentioned in Job 28:18, but I take the translations of the words mentioned there as being the coral, crystal, and rubies used in the 1901 ASV. The LXX does not use the Greek word “μαργαρίτας,” translated here in Matthew 7:6 as “pearls,” anywhere in the entire Old Testament.

[15] (Ironside, 1938, pp. 30, 31) (Italics mine)

[16] (Ironside, 1938, pp. 31, 32) (Italics mine)