In the second discourse Jesus presents in Matthew’s Gospel he prepares his disciples for a mission to Israel. Among the many instructions is one that defines how the Twelve should act if a household or village “does not receive you or does not listen to your words” (Matt 10:14). In response these disciples are to “shake off (ektinaksate) the dust (koniorton) of your feet,” as a sign of God’s displeasure and impending judgment with Sodom and Gomorrah cited as exemplars.
Mark’s account is similar, but slightly different. They are to “shake off (ektinaksate) the dust (choun) under your feet for a witness to them” (6:11). In the Lukan parallel (9:5) whoever does not receive the Twelve, when they leave that city “shake (apotinassete) off the dust (koniorton) from your feet…as a witness to them.” In his instructions to the Seventy-Two disciples, if people do not receive them, they should go into the streets and say, “Even the dust (koniorton) of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off (apomassometha) against you” (Luke 10:10-11). The subsequent reference to Sodom and Gomorrah “in that day” defines this as an acted prophetic warning of judgment.
The same expression occurs in Acts 13:51 Jewish opposition to the Gospel leads Paul and Barnabas to this action: “they shook (ektinaksamenoi) the dust (koniorton) from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.” Paul acts similarly in Corinth with the Jews rejected his Gospel and became abusive. “He shook out (ektinaksamenos) his clothes in protest” (Acts 18:6). In both contexts NIV has added the phrase “in protest” to clarify the action.
In Jesus’ command to the Twelve the active forms of ektinassein or apotinassein are used in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The dust is described as “of your feet” (Matthew), “under your feet” (Mark) or “from your feet” (Luke 9). In Luke 10 they are to “wipe off the dust of the town that sticks to your feet.”
The sense “shake off” finds expression in Acts 28:5 when Paul “shakes off (apotinaksas) the wild snake into the fire and suffers no ill effects.”However, the middle forms occur in Acts 13:51 and 18:6. As well the middle form of apomassesthai (wipe off) is used in Luke 10:11). The middle form would indicate the subject’s involvement in the action..
The Greek translator of Exodus used ektinassein to describe Yahweh’s victory over the Egyptians in the Red Sea. “The Lord shook off (eksetinaksen) the Egyptians in the middle of the sea” which is an excellent translation of the Hebrew verb (shake off or out). The image is of someone shaking dust or perhaps crumbs from a piece of cloth. The translator of Psalm 135(136):15 borrows this same language to tell how Yahweh “shook off (ektinaksanti) Pharao and his force into the Red Sea.”
Nehemiah criticizes those charging exorbitant interest or loans to fellow-Jews. When they cannot repay the loans, then their sons and daughters were being sold into slavery and their lands seized. Nehemiah makes the priests, nobles and officials taken an oath to secure their agreement not to charge usury (Nehemiah 5:12-13). “I also shook out (eksetinaksa) the folds of my robe and said ‘In this way my God shake out (ektinaksai) of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out (ektetinagmenos) and emptied'” (2 Esdras 13:13). Plainly Nehemiah intends this to be a prophetic act of judgment.
The expression “shake off the dust (choun)” used in Mark 6:11 also occurs in Greek Isaiah 52:2. The prophet gives an oracle of encouragement to Jerusalem and urges the city to “shake off the dust (ektinaksai ton choun) and rise up; sit down, O Ierousalem; take off the bond from your neck, Of captive daughter Sion.” The metaphor in this context seems to describe preparation for action after a period of oppression. The city is to clean itself up and “put on its glory.” It is time to shake off the accumulated dust and dirt.The application of this metaphor then can run in several directions.
This action seems to be confined to Jewish practice. I could find no Greco-Roman texts pre-dating the New Testament or distinct from the Septuagint which used this verb with a noun such as “dust” to express the desire to disassociate oneself completely from the actions of another party and in this way not be contaminated by any guilt associated with that act.
In the view of some this action places the town which rejects the apostles and their message in the status of a Gentile town. However, only in later Rabbinic texts does this perception of Gentile lands as “unclean” emerge and this perception cannot be dated as early at the mid-first century A.D. T.J.Rogers (JSNT 27.2, 2004: 169-92) argues that in the Markan context the focus is on hospitality (6:10-11) and when a town refuses to offer hospitality and reject the message, the Messiah’s representatives shake off the dust from the feet which should otherwise have been washed off by those who received them as guests. The theme of hospitality certainly is present in Mark’s discourse (and Matthew’s account). However, the expression “dust which is under your feet” does not seem to dust which covers the feet from walking dusty roads and pathways. The sense seems more to be a total disassociation from such towns, even to the point of ridding oneself of dust particles that cling to the soles of sandals.
I would agree that hospitality refused precipitates this action which completely severs any relationship between such a town or household and the Messiah’s representatives. The result is judgement — it becomes “for a witness to them” of their dire circumstances in rejecting the good news of God. Luke’s use of this terminology in Acts to describe Paul’s actions would tend to a similar understanding. Matthew’s association of Sodom and Gomorrah and his specific mention of “day of judgment” creates similar understanding. I would suggest that this act characterizes the Messiah’s representatives as prophetic messengers who use symbolic actions to communicate how serious it is to reject the Messiah’s message and messengers. It is tantamount to Jesus’ warning to those who will be ashamed of “me and my words” (Mark 8:38). Conversely Jesus applauds those who “give you a cup of water in my name because you are of the Messiah” (9:41).