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Washing the Disciples’ Feet

13 Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that his time[a] had come to depart[b] from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end.[c] The evening meal[d] was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart[e] of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray[f] Jesus.[g] Because Jesus[h] knew that the Father had handed all things over to him,[i] and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed[j] his outer clothes,[k] took a towel and tied it around himself.[l] He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.[m]

Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter[n] said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash[o] my feet?” Jesus replied,[p] “You do not understand[q] what I am doing now, but you will understand[r] after these things.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!”[s] Jesus replied,[t] “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”[u] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash[v] not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus replied,[w] “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet,[x] but is completely[y] clean.[z] And you disciples[aa] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 (For Jesus[ab] knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is[ac] clean.”)[ad]

12 So when Jesus[ae] had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table[af] again and said to them, “Do you understand[ag] what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly,[ah] for that is what I am.[ai] 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example[aj]—you should do just as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the solemn truth,[ak] the slave[al] is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger[am] greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you understand[an] these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

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  1. John 13:1 tn Grk “his hour.”
  2. John 13:1 tn Grk “that he should depart.” The ἵνα (hina) clause in Koine Greek frequently encroached on the simple infinitive (for the sake of greater clarity).
  3. John 13:1 tn Or “he now loved them completely,” or “he now loved them to the uttermost” (see John 19:30). All of John 13:1 is a single sentence in Greek, although in English this would be unacceptably awkward. At the end of the verse the idiom εἰς τέλος (eis telos) was translated literally as “to the end” and the modern equivalents given in the note above, because there is an important lexical link between this passage and John 19:30, τετέλεσται (tetelestai, “It is ended”). sn The full extent of Jesus’ love for his disciples is not merely seen in his humble service to them in washing their feet (the most common interpretation of the passage). The full extent of his love for them is demonstrated in his sacrificial death for them on the cross. The footwashing episode which follows then becomes a prophetic act, or acting out beforehand, of his upcoming death on their behalf. The message for the disciples was that they were to love one another not just in humble, self-effacing service, but were to be willing to die for one another. At least one of them got this message eventually, though none understood it at the time (see 1 John 3:16).
  4. John 13:2 tn Or “Supper.” To avoid possible confusion because of different regional English usage regarding the distinction between “dinner” and “supper” as an evening meal, the translation simply refers to “the evening meal.”
  5. John 13:2 sn At this point the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. C. K. Barrett (St. John, 365) thought this was a reference to the idea entering the devil’s own heart, but this does not seem likely. It is more probable that Judas’ heart is meant, since the use of the Greek article (rather than a possessive pronoun) is a typical idiom when a part of one’s own body is indicated. Judas’ name is withheld until the end of the sentence for dramatic effect (emphasis). This action must be read in light of 13:27, and appears to refer to a preliminary idea or plan.
  6. John 13:2 tn Or “that he should hand over.”
  7. John 13:2 tn Grk “betray him”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  8. John 13:3 tn Grk “Because he knew”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  9. John 13:3 tn Grk “had given all things into his hands.”
  10. John 13:4 tn Grk “and removed”; the conjunction καί (kai, “and”) has been left untranslated here for improved English style.
  11. John 13:4 tn The plural τὰ ἱμάτια (ta himatia) is probably a reference to more than one garment (cf. John 19:23-24). If so, this would indicate that Jesus stripped to a loincloth, like a slave. The translation “outer clothes” is used to indicate that Jesus was not completely naked, since complete nudity would have been extremely offensive to Jewish sensibilities in this historical context.
  12. John 13:4 tn Grk “taking a towel he girded himself.” Jesus would have wrapped the towel (λέντιον, lention) around his waist (διέζωσεν ἑαυτόν, diezōsen heauton) for use in wiping the disciples’ feet. The term λέντιον is a Latin loanword (linteum) which is also found in the rabbinic literature (see BDAG 592 s.v.). It would have been a long piece of linen cloth, long enough for Jesus to have wrapped it about his waist and still used the free end to wipe the disciples’ feet.
  13. John 13:5 tn Grk “with the towel with which he was girded.”
  14. John 13:6 tn Grk “He”; the referent (Peter) is specified in the translation for clarity.
  15. John 13:6 tn Grk “do you wash” or “are you washing.”
  16. John 13:7 tn Grk “answered and said to him.”
  17. John 13:7 tn Grk “You do not know.”
  18. John 13:7 tn Grk “you will know.”
  19. John 13:8 tn Grk “You will never wash my feet forever.” The negation is emphatic in Greek but somewhat awkward in English. Emphasis is conveyed in the translation by the use of an exclamation point.
  20. John 13:8 tn Grk “Jesus answered him.”
  21. John 13:8 tn Or “you have no part in me.”
  22. John 13:9 tn The word “wash” is not in the Greek text, but is implied. Here it is supplied to improve the English style by making Peter’s utterance a complete sentence.
  23. John 13:10 tn Grk “Jesus said to him.”
  24. John 13:10 tn Grk “has no need except to wash his feet.”
  25. John 13:10 tn Or “entirely.”
  26. John 13:10 sn The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet. A common understanding is that the “bath” Jesus referred to is the initial cleansing from sin, which necessitates only “lesser, partial” cleansings from sins after conversion. This makes a fine illustration from a homiletic standpoint, but is it the meaning of the passage? This seems highly doubtful. Jesus stated that the disciples were completely clean except for Judas (vv. 10b, 11). What they needed was to have their feet washed by Jesus. In the broader context of the Fourth Gospel, the significance of the foot-washing seems to point not just to an example of humble service (as most understand it), but something more—Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross. If this is correct, then the foot-washing which they needed to undergo represented their acceptance of this act of self-sacrifice on the part of their master. This makes Peter’s initial abhorrence of the act of humiliation by his master all the more significant in context; it also explains Jesus’ seemingly harsh reply to Peter (above, v. 8; compare Matt 16:21-23 where Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan”).
  27. John 13:10 tn The word “disciples” is supplied in English to clarify the plural Greek pronoun and verb. Peter is not the only one Jesus is addressing here.
  28. John 13:11 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  29. John 13:11 tn Grk “Not all of you are.”
  30. John 13:11 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.
  31. John 13:12 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  32. John 13:12 tn Grk “he reclined at the table.” The phrase reflects the normal 1st century Near Eastern practice of eating a meal in a semi-reclining position.
  33. John 13:12 tn Grk “Do you know.”
  34. John 13:13 tn Or “rightly.”
  35. John 13:13 tn Grk “and I am these things.”
  36. John 13:15 sn I have given you an example. Jesus tells his disciples after he has finished washing their feet that what he has done is to set an example for them. In the previous verse he told them they were to wash one another’s feet. What is the point of the example? If it is simply an act of humble service, as most interpret the significance, then Jesus is really telling his disciples to serve one another in humility rather than seeking preeminence over one another. If, however, the example is one of self-sacrifice up to the point of death, then Jesus is telling them to lay down their lives for one another (cf. 15:13).
  37. John 13:16 tn Grk “Truly, truly, I say to you.”
  38. John 13:16 tn See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51.
  39. John 13:16 tn Or “nor is the apostle” (“apostle” means “one who is sent” in Greek).
  40. John 13:17 tn Grk “If you know.”