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At Luke 10:10-11 (NRSVCE) we see one of the instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples while sending them out to preach the Gospel :

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

At first appearance, dusting of one's feet against someone else would be a form of curse. I am, therefore, eager to know if the said instruction of the Lord was given with reference to some law in the OT, or a traditional practice of the Jews.

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My NIV Study Bible refers to the same account as recorded in Matthew 10:14:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”

The NIV notes make this comment:

A symbolic act practised by the Pharisees when they left an “unclean” Gentile area. Here [in Matthew 10:14] it represented an act of solemn warning to those who rejected God’s message.

It seems that the Pharisees had a tradition of shaking the dust off their feet when leaving an unclean place. There is a similar event recorded in Luke 9:5:

“If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.”

The NIV notes make this comment:

A sign of repudiation for their rejection of God’s message and a gesture showing separation from everything associated with the place.

Before Paul and Barnabas left Pisidian Antioch they shook the dust from their feet in protest against the Jewish community who had stirred up persecution against them and who expelled them from their region (Acts 13:50-51). The NIV Study Bible notes make this comment:

Paul and Barnabas did this to show the severance of responsibility and the repudiation of those who had rejected their message and had brought suffering to the servants of the Lord.

The only other similar reference I can find is when the prophet Nehemiah shook out the folds of his robe as a symbol of the solemnity of an oath and to reinforce the attendant curses that would follow should the oath be broken:

I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!” (Nehemiah 5:13)

There may not have been any O.T. law regarding shaking the dust off sandals when leaving an unclean place, but the symbol would not be lost on Jewish people. No curse may have been uttered but the gesture clearly demonstrated the disapproval of the person whose message had been rejected. It is one thing to reject the messengers of Jesus, but even worse to reject Jesus himself:

"I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town" (Matthew 10:15).

The NIV notes make this comment:

Although Sodom was so sinful that God destroyed it, the people who heard the message of Jesus and his disciples were even more accountable, because they had the gospel of the kingdom preached to them.

By rejecting Jesus’ messengers, who proclaimed the nearness of the Kingdom of God, they were effectively rejecting the gospel message, and so they would have to answer to God for their unbelief.

Edit: Regarding the question that Paul and Barnabas were not following the instructions passed on by Jesus but may have been following some Pharisaical tradition, the biblical evidence shows some marked differences between the actions of the Pharisees and the actions of Paul and Barnabas.

Jesus said he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) and his disciples took the gospel message to Jews. After Pentecost the gospel message was preached to the Gentiles. Had Paul and Barnabas been following some tradition of the Pharisees, they would not have returned to those places where the Jews had persecuted them and rejected the message. They did not place a curse on the towns from which they had been forcibly ejected. They came back to continue preaching the gospel, which was received by the Gentiles in those places, and they established churches and appointed elders.

"Later developments in Psidian Antioch followed the same pattern of acceptance and rejection... [re Acts 49:50]: "The expulsion of the missionaries was probably violent. It is confirmed by Paul's own later statement that Timothy knew all about his persecutions and suffering 'in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra'. The missionaries for their part shook the dust from their feet, a public protest against those who rejected the gospel, in accordance with the teaching of Jesus." (Source: "The Message of Acts" by John Stott, pp 227-8 - Inter-Varsity Press, 2000)

Paul and Barnabas were following Jesus’ instructions to shake the dust off their feet at the rejection of the gospel message by the Jews. It represented a warning of the danger to those who rejected God’s message. This had nothing to do with the Pharisees attitude towards Gentiles.

  • What evidence do we have that Paul and Barnabas were not following the known and passed on words of Jesus, rather than following a supposed Pharisaical tradition ? – Nigel J Jul 8 at 16:48
  • Good question. Will look into it but I have to sign off for tonight. – Lesley Jul 8 at 17:16
  • @Nigel J See edit added just now. – Lesley Jul 9 at 14:44
  • Noted and up-voted. +1. – Nigel J Jul 9 at 14:50
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The dust from the surrounding nations was recognized as causing uncleanness.

On a account of six doubtful cases of uncleanness is terumah burnt: on account of the doubt of a beth ha-peras [grave area], on account of earth about which there is doubt whether it came from the land of the gentiles. Mishnah Taharoth 4.5

Also, Mishnah Oholoth 17.5, notes this concept. Thus, from Jewish sources it can be seen to be interpreted as a sign of uncleanness. Since Jesus sent the apostles only to Israel (Matthew 10:5-6), the audience would have understood it as such.

Therefore, this pericope seems to be building on the idea of purity. The instruction was to heal the sick, those who are typically unclean. However, those who reject Jesus, were the ones to be treated as unclean. Thus, Jesus seems to be re-framing the concept of purity not around physical ailments, but around one's association with Jesus (Luke 10:16). This was to be the warning to them.

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Why did Jesus instruct his disciples to dust their own feet against unwelcoming towns?

Luke 10:10-11 (NASB)

10 "But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet [a]be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near."

Jesus instructed his disciples that if they entered a city or a house and did not receive them or listened to their words, they were to shake or wipe the dust off their feet. This would indicate that the disciples were leaving peacefully that house or city to the repercussion that would eventually come from God.

Acts 13:50-51 (NASB)

50 "But the Jews incited the [a]devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their [b]district. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium."

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"Why did Jesus instruct his disciples to dust their own feet against unwelcoming towns?"

It is similar to God the Father's commands of prophetic acts given to the prophets in the old testament as a final visible warning.

To understand this you have to go back to the Old Testament and look at the books of the prophets. From careful study of them a pattern begins to emerge. First the God often begins His work in reaching out to man by demonstrating His goodness. Acts of deliverance, healing sickness and causing those who obey to prosper. You only have to consider God's mighty deliverance of the children of Israel from Pharaoh in Genesis to see this pattern unfold. The purpose of The Goodness of God is to soften the hearts of men to receive correction.

Romans 2:4 "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

It isn't until this demonstration of His goodness that He begins to warn, through His messengers, about judgement to come due to their lack of faith and obedience, (many examples found throughout the books of the prophets)

Finally He uses prophetic acts, also performed by His prophets. I believe God chooses this method in part due to the fact that human beings are visual creatures. It is not necessarily because we may listen better to this form of speaking, but simply so that we will not forget after judgement occurs that God did in fact try to warn us. He wants mankind to know and remember that even in judgement He is good and does not want men to perish. (Eze 4:4; Eze 5:12; Isa 20:3)

You can see this pattern in the commands Jesus gives to the disciples, but not necessarily in the same order I mentioned previously.

  1. Demonstration of The Goodness of God:

Mat 10:8 "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

Mat 10:12-13 "When you enter the home, give it your blessing. If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand..."

  1. Repentance:

Mat 10:7 "Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

  1. Prophetic Acts of warning:

Mat 10:13-14 "...if it is not, take back the blessing. If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave."

The judgement warned about in the next verse is a result of the rejection of the goodness of God demonstrated through signs and wonders and a lack of faith in the message preached by the disciples. The prophetic act is meant to come to the minds of those who saw it. If they are still alive, they will give God glory for His goodness and possibly still repent.

Matthew 10:15 I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.

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