What does Jesus' mean by distinguishing between entire body bathing & foot washing? What do they represent?
"not just my feet..."
“Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.' Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!' Jesus said to him, 'The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.'“ (John 13:8-10).
In the upper room where Jesus was to celebrate the historic Passover meal with His disciples and institute the Lord's supper, Jesus quelled an argument about who would be the greatest by taking the form of a menial servant and washed their feet. However, when Peter refused, the Lord's response indicates something greater is being represented than a simple foot washing, for if Peter denies being washed he'll have no part in Christ.
Jesus gave washing a double meaning (a typical Johannine motif) where the first meaning derived from the context “...must refer to washing of the feet...” and “unless Peter submits to the feet washing he may not eat with Jesus” (Morris, 617)1. The second meaning can't have anything to do with literal feet washing, for clean feet aren't required to be a follower of Christ. Instead “the words point us to a washing free of sin that only Christ can give” and “apart from this washing no one can be Christ's” (Morris, 617). Peter's characteristic sweeping reversal to request a full body wash as an attempt to retract his last statement produce another loaded response from Jesus distinguishing foot washing from full body washing. Many scholars (such as C.K. Barrett) see these washing terms, especially the full body washing, as references to baptism, and while such an implication is possible it raises far more questions than it solves (were the disciples ever baptized? Other than John's Baptism?). Regardless, Jesus infers that this second washing of the entire body (using imagery from an Ancient Near East feast) has already happened to His disciples, indicating a “permanent character” in that “he is not simply one who once upon a time was washed, but one who continues in the character of 'the washed one'” (Morris, 618). Said another way, those who have completely accepted and identified with Christ's deity, person, and mission on the cross have been cleansed of their sin through his death. Such a washing, Jesus illustrates only need occur once. Since foot washing on the other hand occurred periodically after defilement, Jesus' double meaning is likely “symbolizing removal of defilement from contact with the world” (Howell, 307) or our continued failure to live perfect sin-free lives as we struggle with our fleshly nature. Such unrepentant sins, despite our identity in Christ through our “full body washing,” still have the detriment of interrupting or hindering our prayers and connection with Christ. This is what Jesus' explanation after Peter's refusal indicated, “that the portion Peter would forfeit by refusing to have his feet washed was not his saving connection to Jesus, but the joy of unbroken fellowship” (Howell, 306). Ultimately, in this enacted parable Christ revealed the assurance of our salvation in the need for only one washing while affirming our inability to eradicate sins from our lives by the need for continual cleansing.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.