footwashing in bible study

By: Casey Robinson on Mar 9, 2022 | Categories:

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On Saturday, February 26, 2022, I performed a foot-washing service with my Bible History Class students as an experiential learning event. In class, we are currently studying Jesus' last week on earth leading to his trial, crucifixion, death, and burial. John 13:1-17 records the event of Jesus' Last Supper with His disciples. After the Supper, John records that Jesus washed His disciples' feet as an example of humility and servitude; and tells His disciples that they are to follow His example and do likewise.

Before performing the foot-washing, I explained the historical context of foot-washing, beginning with Abraham in the Old Testament. Foot washing occurs frequently in the Old Testament. Generally, there are at least three situations where foot washing is observed:

1. Religious ceremony

2. domestic settings for hygiene and comfort, and

3. domestic settings devoted to hospitality.

Foot-washing was also observed in the New Testament during the Graeco-Roman period of the Bible. As in the OT, foot-washing was associated with religious ritual acts, a sign of hospitality, and also personal cleansing and hygiene. Those who received foot-washing from another were social superi9ors of those who performed the task. Jesus says he is “the Lord and Teacher (Jn.13:14)” and he washes the feet of the disciples, effectively becoming a slave on account of love. He then says, “Servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them (13:16).” Jesus takes the form of a slave and washes the feet of others effectively making them his master, but Jesus asks them to do this to each other which effectively makes the disciples the slaves of all if the feast is kept. Christ’s first act of freedom is to make Him a slave to all. Consequently, Christ then asks His disciples to be slaves of all as well.

First Century Christian Athanasius stated "They likewise may see the lowliness of the Savior in you. This is profound in that it gets at the sacramental aspect of foot-washing. It is not necessarily the action of washing the feet that makes clean, but rather, the participation in the humble act of the Lord and teacher. Augustine wrote, "For when the body is bent at a brother's feet, the feeling of such humility is either awakened in the heart itself or is strengthened if already present."

The students received the foot-washing from their teacher and felt humbled. One student stated that he felt vulnerable.

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