In Luke 10:39, Mary "sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching". A common reading seems to be that Mary was physically sitting at Jesus' feet listening to Jesus. See Was it unusual for a woman (Mary) to sit at Jesus' feet in the account of Luke 10?

In Acts 22:3, Paul says he was "educated at the feet of Gamaliel".

Question is: Is the phrase "at the feet of [rabbi]" some kind of idiom? If so, is Luke applying the same meaning in Luke 10 as in Acts 22? Thanks!

  • Since we are approaching this question as newborn babes, completely confused by what expressions like "bend over backwards" (does it have anything to do with bending???) or "at the feet of" mean, we should not discount the possibility that Gamaliel was armless, and turned the scrolls with his toes, leading his students to examine the scrolls "at the feet" of Gamaliel.
    – Robert
    Jan 19, 2021 at 17:55

1 Answer 1


Acts 22:3 English Standard Version

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

παρὰ (para)
Strong's Greek 3844: Gen: from; dat: beside, in the presence of; acc: alongside of.

Here "at the feet of" or "alongside of" a rabbi is an idiom, a metaphor for being formally trained by a rabbi. Note the preposition.

The idiom comes from the literal image.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(3) Brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel.--His education may have begun shortly after he became a child of the Law, at the age of twelve. (See Note on Luke 2:42.) He, too, had sat in the midst of the doctors, hearing and asking questions. The Rabbis sat in a high chair, and their scholars on the ground, and so they were literally at their master's feet.

The scene in Luke is different.

Luke 10:39 English Standard Version

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

πρὸς (pros) Preposition
Strong's Greek 4314: To, towards, with. A strengthened form of pro; a preposition of direction; forward to, i.e. Toward.

In the case of Mary, the preposition is a different one. It indicates a location. Mary is not being formally trained by Jesus. She physically sat at the feet of Jesus.

These prepositions + accusative case are explained in https://ancientgreek.pressbooks.com/chapter/13/.

Is Luke applying the same meaning in Luke 10 as in Acts 22?

Yes, in the sense that both Mary and Paul were taught by their respective teachers.

No, in the sense of how formal was the training process. The verbs are different and the Greek prepositions are different. In Acts, the expression "educated alongside the feet of Gamaliel" is figurative. In Luke, "sat toward the feet of Jesus" is literal. Paul was formally trained as a Pharisee disciple by Gamaliel. Mary was informally taught as a disciple by Jesus.

  • Could you substantiate your statements regarding the two prepositions with a link or a source, please. I don't think your argument is strong enough. I am not saying you are incorrect, only that I would need to see more to be convinced.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 18, 2021 at 5:58
  • 1
    Good point. I added and softened my position some.
    – user35953
    Jan 18, 2021 at 15:55
  • Up-voted. I think you are on to something, but it might be subtle and needs developing. It might well be worth following as these types of example broaden our understanding of the scope of the Greek prepositions.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 18, 2021 at 17:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.