Anchor Sunday School Class

 

April 14th – Ryland Scott – John 13:1-20

I will be out of town this week therefore I am sending our lesson summary for next Sunday a little early.  We will be covering John 13:1-20 which deals with Jesus foot washing of the disciples.
 
The following excerpt comes from the “Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament” which gives a good in-depth overview of the practice of foot washing and why Jesus did it.
 
Carol & I look forward to opening God’s word with you this Sunday 
 
Ryland
 
          
IN DEPTH: The Practice of Foot Washing
 
 So how, exactly, should the foot washing be applied to the Christian, especially when it is distinct from the primary “bath”? The answer to this question is rooted in the interpretation of the act of the foot washing. The following are the three traditional interpretations of the foot washing, followed by their potential applications.
 
 (1) Exemplary Interpretation. The clearest interpretation of the foot washing is that it was intended to be an example to be followed, especially since Jesus specifically commands it as such in v. 15. According to this interpretation, the foot washing is representative of humble service and self-denial.
 
 The application of the exemplary interpretation emphasizes the moral aspect of the foot washing. Since the foot washing is representative of humility, it primarily focuses on the humility of Jesus, and only later is it applied to the disciples (vv. 12–20). In reference to the element of “washing,” the application is in regard to humble service and not as an actual cleansing from impurity; “it represents Jesus’s servanthood and not the disciples’ impurity.” For this interpretation, the foot washing is to be applied by following the example of Jesus and serving in a manner that models his humility and self-denial.
 
 (2) Christological Interpretation. This interpretation places the foot washing within the larger movement of the narrative, coming as it does at a turning point in the Gospel in which the act depicts the task, meaning, and application of the cross, the cleansing of the “sins of the world” (cf. 10:17–18). This interpretation fits nicely with the work of Christ, whose humility was expressed by his death on the cross (Phil 2:6–8).
 
 The application of the christological interpretation emphasizes the spiritual aspect of the foot washing. While for some the application is merely the doctrine of Christ, for others an application can be applied to the disciples as well by taking the “illustration” as the interpretive framework. Since the “illustration” depicts the cleansing of the feet alone since the rest of the person is already clean, it can be argued that the foot washing is to be interpreted spiritually to refer to the need for Christians to be cleansed “from the sin contracted through daily life in this world.” Carson, for example, compares v. 13 to 1 John 1:9 where the Christian is exhorted continually to confess sin as something like a partial “wash,” reflecting dependence on the already accomplished and primary “bath,” the atoning sacrifice for sins (1 John 2:1–2). This was also the application of Calvin, who argues that “feet … is a metaphor for all the passions and cares by which we are brought into contact with the world … the part in which we are carnal, we crawl on the ground.” The foot washing is to be applied by being continually cleansed or renewed from daily sin and the struggle of the flesh. For this interpretation, the foot washing is to be applied by beholding the saving work of Christ on the cross, by depending on its power, and by working at embracing daily its “cleansing” effects.
 
 (3) Sacramental Interpretation. Based upon the prominence of the foot washing in the Gospel, along with the absence of any words of “institution” of the Last Supper (the Eucharist), this interpretation suggests that the foot washing must be functioning sacramentally. Some think it refers directly to the Lord’s Supper, but others think it refers to baptism (or some post-baptismal forgiveness or purification practiced by some in the early church); the latter is made more feasible with the removal of the text-critical variant “except his feet.” But both of these views interpret the foot washing symbolically in reference to the two sacraments already clearly established elsewhere in the New Testament. For this reason, others suggest that neither of the traditional sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and baptism, are in view, but a new and literal sacrament—a third sacrament of foot washing. But there is minimal evidence for this new sacrament, nor much clarity regarding the relationship between a physical foot washing and Jesus’s death.
 
 The application of the sacramental interpretation emphasizes the ceremonial aspect of the foot washing. Beyond the symbolic interpretations of the foot washing, which find some discussion in the early church, some suggest that the foot washing, especially in light of the command to perform it on one another (vv. 12–20), is intended to be performed as a physical ceremony or rite. This view finds some support in the early church and the history of the church (the rite of Pedilavium) as a visible sign of grace or sacrament which has Christology as its focus. Proponents argue that this view makes better sense of the rest of the pericope, where the physical practice is commanded to be repeated (vv. 12–20). The foot washing is to be applied by the establishment of a footwashing ceremony, an ordinance or sacrament similar to baptism and the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. For this interpretation, the foot washing is to be applied by practicing it as a ceremony, a sacrament that facilitates the Christian’s identification with Jesus (and therefore one another) in his humble service and death.
 
 While each of these three interpretations has exegetical warrant, our interpretation of the foot washing does not view it as an ordinance or sacrament, interpretation (3). This is in part because the debate over whether the foot washing is to be taken literally or symbolically is to create a false dichotomy. As Bauckham explains, “There is no indication that the command is not meant literally, but literal footwashing is a concrete instance of the practice of the humble service in ordinary life.” That is, to be literal in this case is also necessarily to be symbolic. To make foot washing an ordinance, a ceremonial practice, is to remove it from its place as one of the daily chores of the Christian life. Rather, our interpretation is rooted in interpretations (1) and (2), since foot washings in their social-cultural context reflected upon both the servant who performed the washing—the emphasis of interpretation (1)—as well as the person who received the washing—the emphasis of interpretation (2). To choose between the washer and the washed is to create another false dichotomy. The foot washing refers both to Jesus and to his disciples, for it is a christological depiction of what Christ has done for us and what we must do in and for Christ. That is, it is both a reflection of the hospitality of God toward us and our preparation for service in the mission of God. The foot washing and its illustration give exegetical warrant for the Christian to apply it morally or spiritually; in fact, to make too much of a distinction between “moral” and “spiritual” applications is to separate two things that belong together.

 

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