Foolish Givers and the Father’s Gift: An Exegetical Case for Intentional Unity in Matthew 7:6-11

The prohibition against giving holy things to dogs and casting pearls before swine in Matthew 7:6 is perhaps the most enigmatic saying in the Sermon on the Mount. Varying interpretations abound, including interpreting the saying as a call to discernment, Gentile relations, and church discipline. Essential to the interpretation of this verse is the matter of structure in the Sermon on the Mount. Determining how Matthew 7:6 fits into the structure of the surrounding material is necessary for interpretation.

Matthew 7:6 is commonly grouped with 7:1-5 as a counterbalance to Jesus’ saying on judging, while other interpreters leave the verse as an independent saying. The structure I propose accounts for the problematic function of the expression in 7:6 by grouping it with the subsequent verses in 7:7–11. This pericope demarcation helps reinforce and clarify other structural concerns in the surrounding pericopes. I will first provide a summary of research concerning the treatment of 7:6 in relation to its surrounding context. I will then offer my analysis of 7:6–11 with structural and thematic reasons for its unity as a pericope. Finally, I will propose an interpretation of the pericope which fits the context of the Sermon and is consistent with the theology of Matthew’s gospel.

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