I was given an opportunity to share the gospel to an unbelieving Jewish friend. He did not accept the gospel but kindly listened, asked good questions, and thanked me for sharing my beliefs with him and for listening about his beliefs. It was a good discussion and I’m hoping to this day that seeds were planted.
Within a few weeks, some friends let me know that they didn’t like it that I was friends with this Jewish unbeliever. They told me that I should have cut things off with him since he didn’t believe the gospel and was living a homosexual lifestyle. According to them, one of several reasons given was that I should have obeyed the “biblical command” to “shake the dust off my feet”. Since we weren’t in a sandy Middle Eastern setting, I was informed that this scripture meant I needed to simply have nothing more to do with my Jewish friend. They meant well, but they were leaning on their American, conservative, Baptist cultural background instead of looking at simple, scriptural context at that moment.
The flesh wants us all to tack on what a scripture “means to us” or to lean on “that’s what I was taught” or to find a sermon or article on the Internet that agrees with our bias in order to feel good about our lifestyle choices and preferences, whereas when believers in Jesus are yielded to the Spirit in them, then they can begin to honestly pursue the question “what did God mean in this scripture?”
A Greek word study is unnecessary for this article because the false teaching is so sloppily constructed that a simple contextual study is sufficient.
The commands given
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 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. And 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, 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. Matthew 10:5-15 (ESV)
In this context, Jesus was commanding the 12 disciples to shake the dust from their feet if nobody in a house or town would receive them or listen to what they had to say as they entered exclusively Jewish towns and healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed lepers, and cast out demons, among other things. This command was not given here in the context of the New Covenant believers in general. If it was, then contextually we are specifically commanded to avoid sharing the Gospel to non-Jewish people, to do exorcisms, and to do healings.
However, it is unlikely to be applicable to believers since this was a specific mission for the 12 disciples.
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 (ESV)
Once again, in context, if someone rejects Jesus’ disciples then they were to shake the dust off their feet. Once again, they were also given authority to perform exorcism, and were not permitted to put much preparation into their journey. This was a separate mission from Matthew 10, since in this mission they were permitted to bring a walking stick and in Matthew 10 they were told not to. Once again, if this scripture applies to New Covenant believers in general, then New Covenant Believers are also commanded to travel in pairs, are given authority to perform exorcism today, are commanded to not prepare food or clothing (other than what they were wearing) when going to towns and cities to share the Good News, and are commanded to stay at only one house for the entirety of a stay in a given city or town.
However, it is unlikely to be applicable to believers since, once again, this was a specific mission for the 12 disciples.
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Luke 9:1-6
Given that the commands and context are the same and given that both this passage and the Mark 6 passage are immediately followed by Herod’s reaction, it is likely that this is the same story.
The historic usage
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But 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. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.Acts 13:48-51
The one time that we see believers shaking the dust off their feet as a testimony against unbelievers, it was when the Jewish people of a given city disrupted their ministry, persecuted them, and drove them away. It was NOT done simply because someone who was steeped in their sin heard the gospel didn’t believe right away.
Changing a specific command to a metaphor, and changing the offending audience to someone who doesn’t believe the gospel and lives a sinful lifestyle is to ignore or neglect the reading of these passages in context.
I do have some concern for those who have taught this false teaching, since the scripture says:
…we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.James 3:1