“What about foot-washing (John 13:1-17)?”
The text you cite has prompted several Christian denominations to practice foot-washing as a religious ceremonial rite. We feel the Lord was merely teaching the apostles a lesson about humility, a lesson they sorely needed (Lk. 9:46; 22:24).
In Bible days, feet that walked in sandals on dusty ground needed washing when they arrived at their destination (Gen. 19:2; 24:32). This humble task was often rendered by a servant (Gen. 18:4) or those willing to serve as a servant (Lk. 7:38; I Tim. 5:10). Proud men would of course refuse to wash a man’s feet (Lk. 7:44), and since this was sadly true of the apostles, the Lord washed their feet as “an example” (John 13:15) of humility.
This word example is important. The Mona Lisa is an example of Renaissance art, but this does not mean all Renaissance art is characterized by portraits of women. It rather means that the Mona Lisa has the same spirit of other works of that era. Thus the Lord washed the apostles’ feet to exemplify how they should treat others in the same spirit of humility. While washing a man’s feet exemplified this spirit well in Bible days, paved walks and leather shoes have rendered this particular example of humility obsolete. Today, guests are shown the same humble spirit with a beverage, a meal, and other gestures. We feel those who insist on practicing the exact example of humility the Lord gave are emphasizing symbolism over substance. They sometimes ask why we observe the Lord’s Supper but not foot washing, but the former is never said to be an example of what to do. Paul rather says, “This do” (I Cor. 11:24,25).
Finally, there is a doctrinal significance to this ceremony that renders it exclusive to Israel. God promised Israel they’d be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6), and priests had to be washed in an initial baptism ceremony to initiate them into the priesthood (Ex. 29:4). Later they had to wash their hands and feet as part of their daily service (Ex. 30:19-21). When John preached that the kingdom was “at hand” (Mt. 3:2), he meant the kingdom in which Israel would be a kingdom of priests, so he baptized them to initiate them into the priesthood. In John 13, the time for the twelve to minister to the world as priests was drawing nigh, so the Lord washed their feet so they could function as priests (cf. John 13:6-10).
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.
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