Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 26, 1964

Bible Answers

Gene Frost, 1900 Jenny Lind, Fort Smith, Arkansas

QUESTION: Is foot washing a command and is it right for Christians to wash one another's feet?

ANSWER: Our querist no doubt refers to John 13, the record of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. And by "a command" I presume as an item of worship is meant.

The practice of washing feet upon entering a house was not new with Jesus. The Hebrews wore sandals (a sole attached to the feet by thongs), leaving the feet exposed to dirt, etc. It was a home duty to wash the feet upon entering the house, and as an act of hospitality to one's guests. (I Sam. 25:91, Luke 7:44-96, I Tim. 5:10). To carry or loose a person's sandal was a menial task performed by a person of inferior rank. (Matt. 3:1).

There had been strife among the disciples as to "which of them should be accounted the greatest." (Luke 22:24). And so, Jesus humbled Himself to wash their feet. Peter was not willing for Christ to assume this inferior position in serving him, but Jesus answered, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." In reply Peter said, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head." Jesus explained that only the feet were dirty. After He finished He asked them, "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." Jesus had given them an example of true greatness, that greatness is found in service: "I am among you as he that serveth." (Luke 22:27). He did not give a religious service to characterize a part of public worship. (Read John 13:1-17).

This example of humility on Jesus' part was a sharp rebuke to their desire for greatness. If one will be great, he will achieve it in service. Greatness before God is not in occupying positions that are served, but in serving.

Jesus did not institute a religious service to be observed in New Testament worship. No where can one read of washing of feet in connection with worship. To try to make the example of humility of John 13 an act of worship today is to miss the point of Jesus' conduct then. He washed their feet because they were unclean — He did not wash them in a religious ceremony — and in so doing demonstrated the true principle of greatness in acting the part of an inferior servant.

"Is foot washing a command . . .?" As an act of worship, no. Though we do not have the home duty, nor show hospitality, in washing feet upon entering our houses today what with paved ways, shoes and socks, nevertheless the principle of humility in service must characterize our attitude and conduct. In this we follow the example of Christ.