Greek Exegesis of Matthew 7:1-6

This essay was submitted in my second year (May 2013) of my undergraduate degree in Theology for my intermediate Greek module. Greek was the subject I probably found the most demanding and so I am proud of this piece of work, even if it doesn’t quite have the same ‘personality’ as some of my writings. 

An Exegetical Study of Matthew 7:1-6

Matthew 7:1-6

7:1 Do not Judge, so that you may not be judged. 7:2 For by what judgement you judge you shall be judged and by what measure you measure you measure you shall be measured.7:3 And why do you see the straw dust in the eye of your brother, but in your eye the beam is unobserved? 7:4 Or how will you say to your brother “Let me remove the straw dust from your eye.” But have you seen the beam in your own eye? 7.5 Hypocrite, first remove from your eye the beam and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the straw dust from the eye of your brother.

7.6 Do not give holy meat to the dogs nor throw your pearls in front of swine lest they trample them under their feet and turn violently and ferociously tear you apart.

               (Translation mine, based on UBS 4th revised edition)


The selected passage comes from the Gospel of Matthew which has been estimated to have been written almost any time between AD 40 and AD 180, depending on the criteria used. However in a table of estimates of the date of origin it would appear that the general scholarly consensus is that Matthew was written sometime between AD 80-AD100.[1] There have been various attempts to discern which genre Matthew belongs to but Hagner suggests that the best way to classify it is as a Gospel text with a resemblance to Greco-Roman Biographies of the day.[2] This Gospel seems to follow a structure of the birth narrative, a series of discourses and story followed by the passion narrative and the great commission as a conclusion.[3] These five discourses, which end ‘When Jesus had finished all these sayings’,[4] form a Pentateuchal motif that could suggest an intended audience of Jewish readers.[5] The passage falls towards the end of the first of these discourses and is known as the Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel of Luke also records this sermon but places it on a plain, yet Marshal reconciles the passages by suggesting that the same location is presented with different symbolic emphasises in each of the accounts.[6] According to Matthew 5, Jesus was teaching on a mountain to his disciples and a crowd. So the internal context of the passage is of those who are interested in hearing Jesus teach, however there are suggestions by some scholars that some of the teaching in this section are later additions directed at Matthew’s community in and for which he wrote his Gospel.

Form/ Structure/ Movement

The passage has been selected as 7:1-6, however many scholars treat verse 6 as an independent logion.[7] Some, such as Nolland, view verse six as a literary bridge between 7:1-5 and 7:7-12.[8] Verse 6 shall be explored in more detail below, meanwhile 7:1-5 seems to be a unified wisdom complex.[9]

Generally verse’s one and two are seen as an exhortation with three to five following as a parable to illustrate the point.[10] Though Guelich divides the exhortation down to an apodictic (established) prohibition, 7:1, and the basis for the prohibition, 7:2.[11]Luz concurs and notes a progression in the rhetoric of the argument as the prohibition is formulated in the plural form –κρίνετε- but the sapiential admonition that follows is in the singular – κρίματι.[12] This exhortation is then followed by two parables which both contain chiastic structures. The first parable is structured thusly:

a-βλέπεις: Verb, you see.

b- καρφος: object, piece of straw.

c- ὀφθαμῷ: location, the eye.

d- ἀδελφοῦ: your brother.

d- σῶ: yourself

c- ὀφθαμῷ: location, the eye.

b- δοκόν: object, beam of wood.

a- κατανοεῑς : verb, to notice or observe.[13]

This Chiastic structure of verse three demonstrates a tight control over the parable and suggests that it was indeed an original piece of oral teaching that fits Jesus’s Jewish style.  This helps Luz to say that this passage is ‘a Jewish text which fits Jesus and therefore can be from Jesus’![14]  Verse five then reverses this chiasm with a modification for emphasis. The last chiastic structure is found within verse six and shall be explored within the detailed analysis.

It is worth noting that scholars such as Hagner and Guelich have suggested that this whole passage is part of a wider expansion of the Lords’ Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13, they claim that this passage corresponds with the 5th petition, namely; ‘Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors’.[15] This makes sense when the content of 7:1-5 is concerned however verse six superficially seems contrary to this concept but Davies and Turner argue that actually it’s a logical necessity to counter 7:1-5 in order to prevent the message of 7:1-5 being taken to an unintended extreme.[16]

 Detailed Analysis

Do not Judge, so that you may not be judged.

Κρίνετε is the imperatival second person plural form of the verb κρίνω which is the verb ‘to pass judgement upon (and to seek to influence) the lives of others’.[17] The preceding adverb, μὲ, forces κρίνετε into a prohibitive imperative.[18] As such κρίνετε could be considered as synonymous with κατακρίνω: to condemn.[19] So the listener is instructed to refrain from criticising others, perhaps a pointed comment to the Pharisees in the crowd.[20]

This prohibition is ῐνα μὴ, so that the following result may not occur.[21] The result being the aorist subjunctive form of κρὶνω, κρινθητε. Here Jesus’s words take on an eschatological element,[22] the aorist suggests that this judgement will only be received once and in the Jewish style of thought the allusion is clearly to the divine judgement of the day of the Lord.[23]

For by what judgement you judge you shall be judged and by what measure you measure you measure you shall be measured.

7:2 can easily be divided into two halves that form a synonymous parallelism where each half defines and clarifies the other through their distinctive paronomasiac word structure.[24] These word plays on judgement and μετρω follow the format of: the noun then the present active verbal form and then the future passive verbal form. The present active is descriptive of human behaviour now, whilst the future passives, κριθήσεσθε and μετρηθήσεται, are divine passives which emphasises God’s divine prerogative to judge,[25] and so turns means that human behaviour should be constantly eschatologically focused.[26] This form of argument would have been particularly effective for Jesus’, and Matthews, immediate audiences as it operates as lex talinos, (punishment in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) which permeated Jewish morality and ideals of justice of the time.[27]

And why do you see the straw dust in the eye of your brother, but in your eye the beam is unobserved?

This chiastic verse transitions from prosaic utterance to vivid parable.[28]  Characteristically, as a Parable of Jesus, the scale of hyperbole makes it an image that can’t actually be visualised.[29] The metaphor is based upon the καρφος in the eye being contrasted with the δοκόν. Δοκόν is the term for a piece of heavy timber used in construction.[30] As the metaphor is based upon the comparison between δοκόν and καρφος it makes sense to take the context found in the definition of δοκόν and use it to influence the lexical choice of the English translation of καρφος; which the Danker defines as an ‘insignificant speck’ or ‘a piece of straw’.[31] In order to try and maintain the construction theme καρφος has been rendered ‘Straw-dust’. It’s also a matter of irony that the thing judged is of the same nature of impairment that the disciple himself suffers, both having flaws with their sight.[32]

The other elements of the chiasm are worthy of comparison too. The αδελφοῦ seems to refer to another believer, so contemporary implications would mean the context is the judgement upon other Christians.[33] Σῷ reverses the focus of judgement so that ‘the judging one becomes the one who is judged’.[34]Lastly it is interesting to note the difference between the two verbs related to the action of perception with the eye, as Danker defines βλέπω.[35] Whilst this verb is concerned with the act of seeing, καρανοέω implies a noticing or observing of something which Davies takes to make perfect sense as when there’s an ‘object in your eye [it] can only be noticed, not really seen’.[36]

An investigation into the lexical similarities between the synoptic gospels helps to determine the authenticity of the parable as belonging to a part of the oral Jesus tradition or the Q text as the same parable appears in Luke 6:41-42 and 50 of the 60 words are the same, thus indicating a common source for the two.[37]

Or how will you say to your brother “Let me remove the straw dust from your eye.” But have you seen the beam in your own eye?

The parable now drives home the metaphor; the judgement is no longer restricted to a hypothetical judgement: ‘My brother has a speck of dust in his eye’. Rather, having made the judgement the disciple in the parable would now be actively enacting his judgement. This is demonstrated to be a ‘false superiority’ on the part of the disciple.[38]Again the sense of the previous divine passives are alluded to, this form of judging behaviour is more in keeping with what one would expect of a parent than a brother.[39]

The transition from hypothetical to action is demonstrated by ἐρεις which is the future indicative second aorist form of the verb λεγω.[40] That it is indicative and future suggests that the disciple will say to his brother ‘Ἀφες ἐκβαλω τὸ καρφοςʼ. Ἀφες is the command to allow the speaker a margin of freedom that they wouldn’t ordinarily have, as such it can be rendered simply as ‘let’ but it carries the flavour of the word ‘tolerate’.[41] This is particularly apt given the verb that follows; ἐκβαλω. This verb is constructed from the particle ἐκ, which means ‘from’, and βαλλω, to cast or move. Danker describes the compound verb as denoting the idea of causing something to be removed from something.[42] As with κατανοέω, the subtle lexical choices like Ἀφες are particularly suited to talking about eyes and lend a grounding in reality to this parable that distinguishes this form of wisdom teaching from those aphorisms that are so characteristic of Greco-Roman philosophy.

̓Ιδού, meaning ‘behold’, is recognised as being a Matthean addition.[43] It is quite clearly emphatic and builds the parable up to its’ climatic conclusion in verse five as it lays bare for all to see the disciples’ hypocrisy.[44]

Hypocrite, first remove from your eye the beam and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the straw dust from the eye of your brother.

Here the vocative case is produced so that ὑποκριτά is not merely an adjective but a form of address, comparable to when Jesus is called κύριε. Υ̓ποκριτά refers to a pretender where by their outward behaviour is false or inconsistent with their beliefs or character.[45] There is minor disagreement among scholars as to what the focus of it is; Guelich says that a hypocrite is one who plays a role but that they may be playing it sincerely.[46] However Hagner claims that the real motives are self-glorification.[47] Regardless of sincerity, the point remains that the disciple in the parable is in a situation of ironical juxtaposition whereby, to the outsider or even God, he is judged to be the fool. Jesus, in telling this parable, is placing himself in the role of the omniscient narrator that exercises judgement that seems to be the preserve of God alone, based on this very parable. As such one could argue that even teaching this parable is a subtle but radical claim to his true identity.[48] Davies says that according to Jeremias the Pharisees were the original objects of the term Hypocrite as nowhere else are believers referred to as hypocrites.[49]

The chiasmic entrance of verse three is echoed here, but with a difference. Εκβαλείν has been shifted forwards to emphasise the act of removal.[50] As a result of this removal there is a change in the quality of the ability to perceive with the eye. In verse three seeing is denoted by βλέπεις but here in verse five the same verb has the pre-fix δια on it to clarify it.[51] By itself δια usually means ‘through’ but when it’s attached to form διαβλέψεις it lends to it the idea of seeing clearly.[52] However, that the clarity of sight is caused by removing the δοκόν should not be taken to prescribe adequate conditions under which judgement is permissible but rather to emphasise the inadequacy of judging in the first place.[53] 

Do not give holy meat to the dogs nor throw your pearls in front of swine lest they trample them under their feet and turn violently and ferociously tear you apart.

This concluding verse of the selected passage divides scholarly opinion as to whether or not it is significant that it follows the preceding parable. Hagner believes it to be an independent logion,[54] whereas Davies argues that it is supposed to temper the message of the previous passage. Just because condemnatory judgements are prohibited doesn’t mean that the ability to discern right from wrong with our critical faculties should be neglected.[55] Luz agrees with Hagner and rejects any possibility of its meaning being made clear in the Matthean context.[56] Whilst word statistics based upon frequency of vocabulary seems to indicate that this logion is not of Matthean origin, the parable follows a remarkably similar structure to that of verses 1-4. [57]  Like verse 1, it opens with an apodictic prohibition leading into synthetic parallelism that builds a ‘composite image of inappropriate behaviour out of two somewhat contrasting instances.[58] It is not present in Luke, but a modified version appears in the Gospel of Thomas which perhaps indicates that there was a separate tradition from which Matthew took it.[59] It has been suggested that Luke was aware of it but found it offensive to gentiles and so omitted it.[60]

The possible offence to the gentiles comes from the understanding of the word κυσὶν, the plural of κύων: dog. At the time dogs were not the domesticated creatures of the 21st century and they would scavenge on the streets and were often used as a general turn of contempt.[61] Often this was used in the context of unbelievers which Luke could have taken to refer to the gentiles.[62] However in the context of the Matthean views on mission elsewhere in the Gospel Guelich finds it doubtful that this parable refers to gentiles but rather unbelievers or cynical mockers of the kerygma.[63]  Likewise, swine,χοίρῶν, is a metaphor for those that don’t believe, or ‘heathens’.[64]

To understand the parable an understanding of the Chiasm is required, Davies suggests that it follows an a, b, b, a structure:

a- Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν

b- Μηδὲ βάλετε τοὺς μαργαρὶτας ὑμῶν ἐμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων,

b- Μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν

a- Καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς.[65]

So it starts do not give the holy thing to the dogs. The ‘holy thing’ is the literal rendering but what is the ‘holy thing’? Danker offers two suggestions: either it refers to a pure substance of holiness or it is a reference to sacrificial meat offered under the old covenant.[66] The parallel is drawn with this sacrificial meat to the bread of the Eucharist in the Didache 9:5 where Jesus is quoted as saying this in relation to Eucharist being the preserve of the baptised and not the dogs.[67] Nolland defends the rendering of τὸ ἅγιον as meat given the context of the dogs.[68] Though Luz records that Bolton thought that τὸ ἅγιον was a mistranslation into the Greek from the Aramaic for ‘the ring’. This, it is argued, lends the passage a link to Proverbs 11:22, ‘Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion’. [69] However there is no clear purpose behind this.

Μαργαρίτας or pearls are generally seen as symbolic for an object of supreme value, the question is does it refer to the Eucharist again or for the gospel in general?[70] Arguably, the Eucharist as ‘pearls are to swill what stone is to bread’.[71] The important focus is the rejection by first the pigs, they trample so heavily that the pearls are damaged,[72] and then the meat is torn to pieces ferociously by the dogs, στραφέντες.[73] As this is the response the command is to keep these things for the Christian community referred to in 7:1-5.[74]


This passage from Matthew 7 demonstrates the tight control that the author had over the narrative and recording of the teachings of Jesus using literary techniques such as carefully planned chiasms and the shifts from plurals to singular forms of words for emphasis. The likelihood is that these two parables are authentic teachings of Jesus with the aim to preserve for the one who is Holy what is his divine prerogative, that of judgment, and of the significance of what it is that believers possess. These parables contain ‘a fresh challenge to make God our exclusive priority’ as ‘Jesus once again command[s] a radically theocentric vision of life’.[75]



Word count: 2964.

Footnotes below, for bibliography see: Bibliography

[1] Davies, Sermon, 128.

[2] Hagner, Matthew, liii

[3] Davies, Sermon, 54.

[4] Hagner, Matthew, li.

[5] Bacon, Studies, 82-83.

[6] Marshal, Luke, 241.

[7] Hagner, Matthew, 176.

[8] Nolland, Matthew, 317.

[9] Guelich, Sermon, 349.

[10] Davies, Matthew, 626.

[11] Guelich, Sermon, 349.

[12] Luz, Matthew, 413.

[13] Nolland, Matthew, 319.

[14] Luz, Matthew, 413.

[15] HagnerMatthew, 168; Guelich, Sermon, 356.

[16] Davies, Matthew, 674; Turner, Matthew, 206.

[17] Danker, Lexicon, 567. (2, a).

[18] Wallace, Grammar, 487.

[19] Davies, Matthew, 668.

[20] Davies, Matthew, 668.

[21] Wallace, Grammar, 473.

[22] Luz, Matthew, 416.

[23] Danker, Lexicon, 567. (5, b).

[24] Davies, Matthew, 669-670.

[25] Hagner, Matthew, 169.

[26] Strecker, Mount, 143.

[27] Turner, Matthew, 205.

[28] Davies, Matthew, 671.

[29] Nolland, Matthew, 320.

[30] Danker, Lexicon, 256.

[31] Danker, Lexicon, 510.

[32] Nolland, Matthew, 319.

[33] Hagner, Matthew, 169.

[34] Luz, Matthew, 417.

[35] Danker, Lexicon, 178.

[36] Davies, Matthew, 672.

[37] Davies, Matthew, 671.

[38] Nolland, Matthew, 320.

[39] Davies, Matthew, 672.

[40] Danker, Lexicon, 286.

[41] Danker, Lexicon, 156. (5, b).

[42] Danker, Lexicon, 299. (3).

[43] Davies, Matthew, 672.

[44] Hagner, Matthew, 169.

[45] Danker, Lexicon, 1038.

[46] Guelich, Sermon, 353.

[47] Hagner, Matthew, 139.

[48] Barth, Reconciliation, 235.

[49] Davies, Matthew, 674.

[50] Davies, Matthew, 674.

[51] Hagner, Matthew, 170.

[52] Danker, Lexicon, 226.

[53] Guelich, Sermon, 353.

[54] Hagner, Matthew, 176.

[55] Davies, Matthew, 674.

[56] Luz, Matthew, 418.

[57] Davies, Matthew, 674.

[58] Guelich, Sermon, 355; Hagner, Matthew, 176; Nolland, Matthew, 323.

[59] Hagner, Matthew, 176; Luz, Matthew, 420.

[60] Davies, Matthew, 674.

[61] Davies, Matthew, 675.

[62] Hagner, Matthew, 176.

[63] Guelich, Sermon, 354; c.f. Turner, Matthew, 207.

[64] Davies, Matthew, 677.

[65] Davies, Matthew, 677.

[66] Danker, Lexicon, 11.

[67] Guelich, Sermon, 355.

[68] Nolland, Matthew, 323.

[69] Luz, Matthew, 418.

[70] Davies, Matthew, 677.

[71] Guelich, Sermon, 355.

[72] Danker, Lexicon, 523. (1,a).

[73] Danker, Lexicon, 904.

[74] Luz, Matthew, 420.

[75] Nolland, Matthew, 323-324.

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