What Did Shaking The Dust Off Your Feet Mean In The Bible?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

The Bible mentions the phrase “shaking the dust off your feet.” What does this mean? How does it apply to Christians?

Made of the Dust

In Genesis 2:7 it is written that “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” but after the sinful fall of mankind God said “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). The Hebrew word for man, “’adam” means “to be red” referring to the ruddy color of the human skin but something very interesting is the fact that the Hebrew word for “earth” is “adamah” which is strikingly similar to Adam. Even in the psalms it is written “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) so the point in all this is that dust is close to the idea of humanity and fallen humanity at that. Maybe that’s why the phrase that Jesus used that we must sometimes “shake off the dust from your feet” (Matt 10:14b) may have significant meaning and I hope to show that.

What Did Shaking The Dust Off Your Feet Mean In The Bible

Sending out the Twelve

Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to go out and preach the kingdom of heaven telling them to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:5-6) but only to Israel because later, Jesus would send Saul-turned-Paul to go to the Gentiles (Acts 9). They were given the authority to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matt 10:8). They were to take no provisions with them, possibly so that they could learn to depend on God for their needs which is why Jesus said “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food” (Matt 10:9-10) and then “whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it” (Matt 10:11-13a). This is the key to the context of these verses; preach the kingdom of heaven, take no provisions but depend on God to supply their needs, and then find a place willing to accept them and stay there until they’re ready to depart. If someone takes them into their home, let the peace of God come upon them in their home but only if “the house is worthy.” In other words, if they accept the message and they are made worthy…really, if they believe the message they are worthy to receive those who Jesus sent. Jesus would later say “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt 10:40), however the other side of this is “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). But what happens if they don’t receive the apostles or anyone else sent by Christ? It’s time to shake the dust off their feet!

Shaking the Dust Off

Jesus gives a stern warning for those who didn’t receive the apostles that He sent because He already said that whoever doesn’t receive them, doesn’t receive the One Who had sent them which is why He said “but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matt 10:13b-15). The symbolism is that by shaking off the dust from their feet, they are showing that those in that town didn’t receive the message of the kingdom of heaven and that makes them unworthy. Anyone that rejects Jesus’ message can never be worthy to inherit eternal life but only worthy of the wrath of God (John 3:36b). If they neither listen to them nor receive them then the peace of God is to return to them because if no one believes in Christ, they don’t have what they need and that is the peace of God (Rom 5:1) and there is no condemnation lifted (Rom 8:1).

Why is it going to be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who reject Christ? That’s because they had the message of Christ first hand and so are without excuse. Jesus said that “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matt 13:12) and much was given and that “much” was in the preaching of the kingdom of heaven. The dust will be used as a witness against them which makes sense of Luke’s statement “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5).

A Sign of Judgment

The image of shaking the dust off of the feet is found elsewhere in the Bible when Paul and Barnabas tried to present the gospel when coming to Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14). Just after Paul preached the gospel of repentance and faith toward God and in Christ, “the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50). What was the reaction of Paul and Barnabas? “They shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51) however they didn’t take it as a personal rejection but “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). This is why Jesus said “if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11) for “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near’” (Luke 10:11) so that dust actually becomes a witness against them which is reserved for the day of judgment.


Have you made peace with God? You cannot ever have the peace of God until you are first at peace with God (Rom 5:1) so for all that have rejected the gospel up to this point, you stand condemned at this very moment (John 3:18) and your only hope of escaping the wrath of God (Rev 20:12-15) is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). What about you? If you reject the gospel, the dust off of the feet of those who witnessed to you will be used against you on the coming day of judgment so today must be your day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2) because if you die before that, it’s your judgment day (Heb 9:27).

Have you read this biography? Apostle Paul Biography and Profile

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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