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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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FOOT.—The references in this connexion arise chiefly from the fact that the foot in relationship to the head is the inferior part of the body.

1. Humility and defilement.—A still lower level was reached by the shoes or sandals, which were in direct contact with the common earth. John the Baptist indicated his inferiority to Christ by saying that he was unworthy to unfasten His shoelatchet (Mark 1:7). To walk barefoot was the sign of a captive prisoner (Isaiah 20:4), and as a voluntary act of self-infliction often forms part of a personal vow. To be trodden under foot was the symbol of utter degradation (Matthew 5:13, Luke 21:24, Hebrews 10:29). At the entrance to an Oriental house the shoes are removed, not merely for the sake of cleanliness as a preliminary to sitting down with the feet drawn under the dress, but also out of regard to the sanctity of family life, so that no defilement may touch the rugs and mats that have been hallowed by prayer and the Divine presence. He who stood on holy ground had to put off his shoes (Exodus 3:5, Joshua 5:15).

Orientals are not accustomed to wear stockings with their open shoes, and it was an act not only of ceremonial duty, but of personal comfort, to bathe the feet after a journey over the hot and dusty ground. It was a courtesy due to a guest to see that this ministry was not omitted. Christ drew attention to the fact that in the house of one who prided himself upon his precise fulfilment of the Law this service had been more than rendered to Him by a woman whom the Pharisee despised as a sinner (Luke 7:44; Luke 7:46). The charge to His disciples to shake the dust from their feet wherever the message of the Kingdom was not received (Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5; Luke 10:11), was a demonstration to both parties of the unfitness of such people for its membership. When Christ washed the disciples’ feet, the cleansing meant not only that the feet under which His sacred hands had been placed could never turn aside to paths of evil, but that they could never be set down with harsh and proud authority over the lives and rights of others. His service could never lay upon those disciples any greater humiliation than had been rendered to them. It became a law of the Kingdom to ‘wash one another’s feet’ (John 13:5; John 13:14).

2. Authority and subjection.—To approach the feet of the great was the conceded right of the weak in seeking the presence and help of the powerful. To kneel down and clasp the feet and even to kiss them is still the Oriental preliminary to an important request. When inferiors salute those of higher rank, the first act of gesture is to lower the hand towards the ground as if to imply that the whole body should be there. Sometimes the word is allowed to do service for the deed, as when the supplicant says, ‘Allow me to kiss your feet.’ The impression meant to be produced is that the party addressed has the power to do what is asked, and that the only unsettled point is the question of his willingness (Matthew 18:29; Matthew 20:20, Mark 1:40; Mark 10:17).

The foot on the neck as a symbol of conquest seems to have been borrowed from the primitive pastoral life. When an Oriental shepherd wishes to punish a straying and inattentive sheep, he casts it on its side, and with all his weight presses and rubs the iron-studded sole of his shoe against its neck (1 Corinthians 15:25; 1 Corinthians 15:27). In killing a serpent, the Syrian peasant, even with a stick in his hand, usually, after a blow or two, jumps upon the serpent, and by a quick succession of stamps bruises it to death (Psalms 91:13, Romans 16:20). To sit at the feet of his teacher was the attitude of the disciple (Matthew 10:24, Luke 10:39, Acts 22:3). The Pharisees thus sat in Moses’ seat (Matthew 23:2).

The risen Lord was recognized by the marks in His hands and His feet (Luke 24:40); see Print. On Matthew 18:8 || see Asceticism, p. 129.

G. M. Mackie.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Foot'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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