I'm currently studying John 13:1-20. I go to a church where they believe that foot washing is an ordinance similar to baptism and the Lord's supper. I personally disagree and believe that as Jesus said, v.15 (ESV)

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

I believe that Jesus is demonstrating that if the greatest (being Jesus) is willing to serve the lowliest of tasks, we too should be willing to serve one another in humility. So I understand that as acts of kindness and service (which can obviously take many forms).

Where I'm really struggling from an exegetical perspective is in v10 which says

Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.

My assumption is that Jesus meant by you are already completely clean, is that by faith in Christ they have been cleansed of all sin, and have transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

So my question finally is, what connection does the symbol of washing only the feet have to do with the cleansing of the overall body. If the cleansing of the body is the forgiveness of sin by grace through faith, then what does the washing of the feet symbolically represent, and how does that link back to forgiveness of sin? I hope that makes sense. If you need any clarifications please let me know.

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    Johannine literature is marked by certain leitmotifs, such as water/blood, life/death, light/darkness, truth/testimony, etc., the Last Supper being no exception to the over all rule; thus, whereas all other previous Gospels only have the element of blood being connected to the cup of wine, John also adds water (the washing of feet), as is also the case with 19:34, wherein both elements are once again mentioned together.
    – user46876
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:13
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    Welcome to C.SE. There is another answered question that may help you: Foot Washing - Required for salvation?. You may need to restrict your question to a particular denomination to be acceptable to this site, as obviously different denominations have different answers. See also wikipedia article. Sep 3, 2020 at 17:14
  • Good feedback, thank you. I didn't consider the wide range of denominations represented here.
    – Rob Wood
    Sep 3, 2020 at 18:22
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    This is a matter of spiritual interpretation, not a matter of 'proof'. So this is a comment, not an answer. Those who are baptised with the baptism of repentance and who live by justifying faith receive the Holy Spirit in a new birth and are washed, by blood. But their daily walk in this world causes the dust of earth to adhere to their feet and they need a daily washing to rid them of it. Christ himself performs this service, by a cleansing. And disciples are involved - in exhortation, in warning, in charity, in instruction. They wash one another's feet and cleanse away the dust of earth.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 3, 2020 at 18:54
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    @NigelJ I totally agree. I just want to add that the laver in the temple service served the same purpose.
    – Bit Chaser
    Sep 6, 2020 at 18:21

4 Answers 4


The story of Jesus washing the feet of Peter and the other disciples has two related meanings.

When Jesus washes Peter's feet, Peter objects, since he believes Jesus should not be doing such a lowly task for him. Jesus response tells Peter that this washing is an integral part of Jesus and Peter's relationship and so Peter enthusiastically accepts not just the foot washing but as much washing as Jesus wants to give him.

There is clearly an element here in which Jesus is foreshadowing that he is about to perform an even more lowly task for Peter (and the others, and us) that of dying on the cross for our sins.

Jesus then explains the message that he wants the disciples (and hence us) to take away which is that since he will perform not just the symbolic lowly act of foot washing, but also the ultimate lowly act of dying, for us, we should also serve one another.

When we as Christians re-perform the symbolic foot washing act we are reminding ourselves of this. However unlike Jesus our actions do not cleanse others from sin, so that part of the initial story is not part of the reenactment. Our actions merely teach and remind us of the call to mutual service and submission.

  • There is a danger in "re-preforming the symbolic foot washing act" and it is that we might be tempted to believe that we have fulfilled, in the ritual act, the true intent of serving one another in humility. Like most Christian religious activity there is nothing wrong with it until we think we have checked a box on the to do list. Sep 6, 2020 at 15:19
  • That danger exists in doing anything. Of course we mustn't forget the danger of being tempted to do nothing... Sep 6, 2020 at 21:43

This is almost like a living parable rather than a spoken one. From a strictly earthly perspective someone who had bathed and then visited another's home would not need to re-bathe but would only need to have his feet washed clean of the grime of travel.

Jesus is using practical, mundane earthly things to impart spiritual truths. At the point where Peter declares, "You shall never wash my feet." he is responding strictly to the physical humility demonstrated in Jesus' act. In essence Peter is refusing to let Jesus serve him.

Much like Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well (John 4) the Lord begins to assign spiritual significance, not to the act itself, but to that which underlies the act.

Jesus says, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." In other words, you are rejecting my service for you but my serving you is necessary for your salvation.

Peter, then, is all in. Not just my feet but all of me! An acknowledgement that Peter understands, if Jesus is talking about spiritual dirt then He needs a bath.

Jesus reminds Peter that the washing of filth from his being has already taken place and that he is completely clean and all that is necessary is to allow Jesus to continually cleanse him of the dirt accumulated by a sinner's walk in a broken world.

"If we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" - 1 John 1:9

This scene draws upon truths regarding the once for all nature of our salvation in Christ and the inevitability of our daily failings but it is not a dissertation on soteriology. The lesson is in how we should go about the forgiveness of each other.

Why would we accept the massive humility of God's condescension toward us in Christ (our complete cleansing) and yet not seek small daily acts of grace from Him (foot washing)? Why would we acknowledge that same Grace of God toward others and not forgive them as we have been forgiven.

If Jesus, the Lord and Master, is willing to forgive the daily sin of his people we should just as willingly forgive the daily sins of each other.

Judas also had his feet washed and it availed him nothing but clean feet because he did not obtain the qualifier: Jesus was not Lord and Master of the heart of Judas. The other disciples did not know Judas' true spiritual state at this time. We often justify offering or withholding forgiveness from others based upon what we perceive to be their spiritual state. Jesus has demonstrated that it should not be so by washing the feet of one whom He KNEW was not clean.

Interestingly, it is not recorded in this story that anyone washed the feet of Jesus.


Simon Peter at this inaugural time didn't understand either. He exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and my head as well – not just my feet.” John 13: 9

No, foot washing is nothing to do with cleansing from sin - Peter, initially, assumed it was related to being 'made clean' spiritually as in baptism - hence his exclamation.

Jesus was instituting and teaching a practice of submission to one another, to serve and be willing to be humbled amongst one another as the brethren - the 'body' of himself. None are better than another - no matter the office or not that each may have. They are all one under God and members of one another Rom 12:5

Foot washing is meant to address pride and vanity - that in which one might think himself 'better' than another. Jesus, the master, showed them that there was a new way to understand power and authority - not as might and violent action, but humility and love -

By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another. John 17:21.

Footwashing was part of the first 'Lord's Supper' for good reason. Alongside the elements of the bread and wine , symbolising his broken body and spilt blood, we're reconfirming our relationship with God through His son, and also focussing on the important relationship between brothers. There is much to experience in the humble/appreciative washing of another's feet and being so washed!

Jesus did it - and asked us to do likewise.

  • 1
    "No, foot washing is nothing to do with cleansing from sin - Peter, initially, assumed it was related to being 'made clean' spiritually as in baptism - hence his exclamation." But baptism does symbolise being cleansed from sin! What do you mean by being made clean spiritually if not from sin?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 4, 2020 at 0:19
  • the key words were 'assumed it was related' It isn't related to being sp. cleansed - more of a 'heart' cleansing, seek first the kingdom etc. part of the process of salvation.
    – steveowen
    Sep 4, 2020 at 0:29
  • That sounds exactly like being cleansed from sin to me...
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 4, 2020 at 0:31
  • Jesus' sacrifice cleanses from sin. Footwashing does not. Maybe you have another question?
    – steveowen
    Sep 4, 2020 at 0:35

As i read this passage it seems that the footwashing is a metaphor for forgiveness, as much as it is literally an example of humility and service. I think this because Jesus goes on to say that if He does not wash their feet, they can have nothing to do with Him. Since Jesus is God He has the power to forgive, and one can only be forgiven and sanctified through Christ, "no one comes to the Father except through Me." - Jesus. Another part that makes me think it has to do with forgiveness is in vs. 14, Jesus says since I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash each others feet, the bible teaches that we should forgive others as He has forgiven us. I also agree that the idea of one who has bathed need only to wash his feet has to do with the fact that we are clean and forgiven in Christ, but still need to keep short accounts of the sin we stumble in daily. So washing your feet would be a metaphor for asking forgiveness promptly. This does not means we forgive others sins against God, but we must forgive others when they sin against us personally. Praise the Lord, and i love you all in Christ!

  • Jesus isn't God - God gave him authority, 'they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men' Matt 9:8
    – steveowen
    Sep 6, 2020 at 3:41
  • There are many places in the bible where Jesus shows He is God. He many times says He and the Father are one. God the Father, God the son, God the holy spirit. Jesus is God
    – user50750
    Sep 6, 2020 at 4:04
  • Collosians 2:9 For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
    – user50750
    Sep 6, 2020 at 4:07
  • 1 Timothy 3:16 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh,vindicated by the Spirit,seen by angels,proclaimed among the nations,believed on in the world,taken up in glory. (ESV)
    – user50750
    Sep 6, 2020 at 4:07
  • John 10:30 30 I and the Father are one.” (ESV)
    – user50750
    Sep 6, 2020 at 4:07

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