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IT IS BELIEVED and taught by some religious denominations that Jesus instituted the washing of Christians’ feet as an act of worship to God and that Jesus commands His church to observe feet-washing as a worship performance to God, just as the church observes the Lord’s Communion. This conclusion is derived from the thirteenth chapter of John. But is this decision “rightly dividing the word of truth,” as commanded in 2 Timothy 2:15?
The only way to scripturally and truthfully decide and settle this religious question is to further examine the blood-sealed Covenant of the Lord. It is important that we study the different facets of this subject.
THE PURPOSE OF FOOT-WASHING?
But what was the purpose of washing the feet? It was to cleanse the feet! In those early days of the world and up until the early centuries A.D., the common mode of travel was walking. And the roads were dirty and dusty. The sandals they wore were simply a sole of leather or wood, fastened to the bottom of the foot by thongs (or straps), one passing around the great toe and over the forepart of the foot, and another strap around the ankle [American Tract Society Dictionary].
These sandals were usually removed while indoors, and during meal times their feet were uncovered. While a host usually provided water for foot-washing, yet the guest many times washed his or her own feet. However, for one to remove sandals and wash the guest’s feet was a denoting humility on the part of the one performing it. In First Samuel 25:41 it reads that Abigail arose, bowed her face to the earth, and said to the servants of king David, “Here is your maidservant, a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.”
As previously stated, feet-washing was for the purpose of cleansing the feet. Exodus 40:30–32 reads, “Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the Lord had commanded Moses.” This was to cleanse their feet and hands before going into the tabernacle or going near the altar of burnt offerings.
There is only one passage found in the New Testament after the Lord’s death, pertaining to the subject of feet-washing. It is 1 Timothy 5:9-10, and this scripture refers to whether a congregation of the Lord’s church should support a widow financially on a continual basis – one who had no husband, no children, and no nephews (in old English, grandchildren). Today, in this country the elderly have social security for financial help. The scriptures indicate that this widow had to be “sixty years of age or older, the wife of one man, well reported for good works, if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet...” Even in this passage feet-washing was a home duty, an act of hospitality and humility. It was not an act of worship to God.
THE COMMON COURTESY OF FOOT-WASHING
When a Jewish Pharisee, named Simon, invited Jesus to his house (Luke 7:36-50), the man did not provide the common courtesy of giving water for Jesus to wash His feet, nor a kiss (a common custom of greeting), nor did he anoint the head of Jesus with oil (a mark of high courtesy). [Note: There were other ways of anointing – both sacred and customary.]
Next, there enters into Simon’s house a sinful woman of the city, with an alabaster box of oil, who stood at the feet of Jesus weeping and washing His feet with her tears, and wiping His feet with the hair of her head, and kissing Jesus’ feet and anointing them with the fragrant oil. Jesus, knowing what Simon was thinking about this situation, said: “‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he said, ‘Teacher, say it.’ Jesus answered and said to him. ‘There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.’ Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”
Note: This event took place while Christ was still on earth and before the establishment of His church. He could and did forgive many of their sins. But Jesus died, arose from the dead, and ascended back to heaven in order that:
Keep in mind that before any testator dies he may give many gifts to people, but after he dies his WILL goes into force. After Jesus arose from the dead and prior to ascending back to heaven, He said in Mark 16:15-16 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
AN EXAMPLE OF LOVE AND HUMBLE SERVICE
With this thought in mind, let’s notice what Jesus did and said in John 13 at this supper meal – “before the feast of the Passover” (verses 1 & 2). Supper (Greek Ref. # 1173, “a formal meal usually held at evening” - Thayer’s Lexicon). However, this event in John thirteen happened sometime after Luke seven. But in both events there was still no act of church worship to God.
After the supper had ended “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, Lord, are You washing my feet? Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.” (NKJV)
Why did Jesus say: “’He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean”? The answer is, no doubt, that if one had bathed he was clean except from the dirt and dust from walking. Therefore, the washing of the feet was all that was necessary. But this was after the supper meal had ended. There is no hint that Jesus and His disciples washed their feet before eating this meal.
Jesus said after washing the disciples feet: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
If Jesus Christ, the Lord and Master who loves us, has humbled Himself and assumed the role of a servant for our salvation, then Christians ought to exemplify the same attitude and spirit in their daily lives. However, there is:
Many Bible scholars, including B. W. Johnson in Johnson’s Notes on the New Testament, People’s N.T. Commentary, and Robertson’s N.T. Word Picture, have stated that feet washing as a church ordinance of worship to God did not take place until the fourth century A.D. (about 306 A.D.).
Also feet-washing in worship was condemned by many Bible believers, because there was no authorization from God’s Word. This ritual had become a doctrine of men for church worship (Mark 7:7), instead of letting it remain a common manifestation of brotherly love, with other acts of humble service.
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McDonough, GA 30252
[Our thanks to brother Don Snow for submitting the above article for publication]
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