After that he pours water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)After that he poureth water into a bason.—Better, . . . into the bason. It was the bason in the room, commonly used, and now ready for suck purposes. The water was at hand. All suggested then that one of the disciples might have performed this act which the Lord now performs. That it was commonly regarded as an act of reverence from an inferior to a superior is made clear by the Rabbinical passages quoted here by Schottgen and Lightfoot. (Comp. Note on Luke 7:44.)
And began to wash the disciples’ feet.—The exactness of the narrative notes that the act was only begun, and was interrupted by the objection of Peter. This word “began” is frequent in the earlier Gospels, but it is only in this touch of accuracy that St. John uses it.1 Samuel 25:41. It became a matter of necessity where they traveled without shoes, and where they reclined on couches at meals. It should be remembered here that the disciples were not sitting at the table, as we do, but were lying with their feet extended from the table, so that Jesus could easily have access to them. See the notes at Matthew 23:6. John 2:5. The bason to wash the feet in, called by the Jews was fixed by their doctors to hold, "from two logs to nine kabs" (t); not "from two logs to ten", as Dr. Lightfoot has rendered the passage referred to. A "kab" held about a quart of our measure, and a "log" was the fourth part of a "kab".
And began to wash the disciples feet. This custom of washing the feet was not used by the Jews at their passover, nor at their private entertainments, or common meals, but at the reception of strangers or travellers, which were just come off of a journey, whereby they had contracted dirt and filth, and was a servile work, never performed by superiors to their inferiors, but by inferiors to superiors; as by the wife to the husband, by the son to the father, and by the servant to his master; and was an instance of great humility in any others, as in Abigail, who said to David, "let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord", 1 Samuel 25:41, upon which place some Jewish Rabbins (u) have this note:
"this she said, , "by way of humility", to show, that it would have been sufficient to her, if she became a wife to one of the servants of David, and washed his feet, as was the custom of a wife to her husband.''
But what a surprising instance of humility and condescension is this, that Christ, the Lord and master, should wash the feet of his disciples, when it was their proper work and business to have washed his? Though Dr. Lightfoot says, he does not remember that this was expected from the disciple toward his master, unless included in that rule, "that the disciple is to honour his master, more than his father"; whereas it was a fixed point (w) with the Jews,
"that all works which a servant does to his master, a disciple does to his master, except unloosing his shoe.''
Since therefore it was the work of a servant to wash his master's feet, a disciple was obliged to do this to his master likewise:
and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded; as he began he went through with his work; and having washed their feet, he wipes them clean; which may design the purity of the lives and conversations of the saints in general, and of the ministers of the Gospel in particular, whose feet are beautiful when shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, and their conversations are as become the Gospel they preach; both which they have from Christ.
(t) Misn. Yadaim, c. 4. sect. 1. Vid. Misn. Celim, c. 20. sect. 2.((u) R. Levi ben Gersom & R. Samuel Laniado in 1 Samuel 25.41. Vid. T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 96. 1. & Maimon. Hilch. Ishot, c. 21. sect. 7. (w) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 96. 1.After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 13:5 εἶτα … νιπτῆρα. Each step in the whole astounding scene is imprinted on the mind of John. “Next He pours water into the basin,” the basin which the landlord had furnished as part of the necessary arrangements, [νιπτῆρα is only found here; but ποδανιπτήρ is not so rare; see Plut., Phocion, 20, where ποδονιπτῆρες filled with wine were provided for the guests.]—καὶ ἤρξατο νίπτειν … “nihil ministerii omittit” (Grotius). [Plutarch says of Favonius that he did for Pompey ὅσα δεσπότας δοῦλοι μεχρὶ νίψεως ποδῶν.] He “began” to wash the feet of the disciples; “began,” perhaps because, as Meyer suggests, the washing was interrupted, but this is not certain.5. into a bason] Better, into the bason, which stood there for such purposes, the large copper bason commonly found in oriental houses.
began to wash] Began is not a mere amplification as in the other Gospels (Matthew 11:7; Matthew 26:22; Matthew 26:37; Matthew 26:74; Mark 4:1; Mark 6:2; Mark 6:7; Mark 6:34; Mark 6:55; Luke 7:15; Luke 7:24; Luke 7:38; Luke 7:49; &c. &c.), and in the Acts (Acts 1:1, Acts 2:4; Acts 2:18; Acts 2:26, &c.). The word occurs nowhere else in S. John, and here is no mere periphrasis for ‘washed.’ He began to wash, but was interrupted by the incident with S. Peter. With whom He began is not mentioned: from very early times some have conjectured Judas.
Contrast the mad insolence of Caligula—quosdam summis honoribus functos … ad pedes stare succinctos linteo passus est. Suet. Calig. xxvi. Linteum in a Greek form is the very word here used for towel.John 13:5. Εἶτα, [after that] next) There is no doubt but that the disciples must have been in a great state of expectancy as to what He was preparing to do.—τόν) [the basin, not a]. There was generally within reach, in the room where the supper was, a foot-basin, of metal or of wood, as our wash-hand basin in the present day. This is the force of the article.—ἤρξατο, He began) A new and marvellous “beginning.” The word is rare in John.—νίπτειν, to wash) Great condescension, and yet becoming. The angel did not do so to Peter, Acts 12:8.
Only here in the New Testament. From νίπτω, to wash.
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