Footwashing as an Ordinance -- By: Allen Edgington

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 06:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: Footwashing as an Ordinance
Author: Allen Edgington

Footwashing as an Ordinance

Allen Edgington

John 13:1–17 presents three features of footwashing which, when taken in conjunction with the practice of the early church and the implication of 1 Tim 5:10, establish footwashing as an ordinance which should be practiced today. John 13:1–17 suggests that footwashing is a physical act which is ceremonial in nature, that it is a symbolic representation of a spiritual reality, and that Jesus intended it to be perpetuated.

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For over 275 years the Brethren have maintained the practice of footwashing as part of their threefold communion service, which also includes the agape and the eucharist. They have maintained that the Lord expected his disciples to perpetuate the practice, whether it is considered a separate ordinance or part of the communion ordinance. Plaster has argued that an ordinance should be characterized by at least these three things: (1) a physical act which is ceremonial in nature, (2) a symbolic representation of a spiritual reality expressly taught in the NT, and (3) a command to perpetuate it by Christ or his apostles.1 John 13:1–17 will be analyzed from these three perspectives.

A Physical Act Which Is Ceremonial in Nature (John 13:1-5)

The Setting (vv 1-3)

Though the Greek text is not certain,2 the footwashing was probably “during supper” (δείπνου γιινομένου, v 2). Weymouth translates, “while supper was proceeding.”3 It should be noted that Jesus “rose

from supper” ἐγείρεται ἐκ τοῦ δείπνου, v 4; cf. 13:26). But even if the aorist (γενομένου) is preferred, it could be viewed as ingressive, thus signifying that the supper had been served but was still in progress.4

Jesus’ Action (vv 4-5)

Jesus removed his outer garments and clothed himself as a servant by donning something like a “loin-cloth.”5 He then washed all the disciples’ feet, including those of Judas (vv

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