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When referring to washing up before eating in Luke 11:38 (actually referring to not washing), the greek word used is ἐβαπτίσθη (ebaptisthē: he washed).

Yet, in Mark 7:3, which is also referring to washing before eating νίψωνται is used (nipsōntai: they washed).

Why is the washing in Luke referred to as a baptism (ceremonial dipping or submerging) yet the washing in Mark simply a cleansing?

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  • What you have here is an instance of Synoptic differences. Two folks witness (or are told about) an incident through the eyes of two or more people. One person or group "sees" the same incident differently than the other person or group. I, for example, can see a neighbor of mine dutifully washing his car. Another person sees the same person lovingly detailing his car. We both see the same behavior, but characterize it differently. In the Synoptic Gospels, something similar is occurring. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the perspectives, though different, are equally true, accurate, and significant. Mar 17 '15 at 10:03
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Both references imply a vigorous washing. Mark 7:3 has πυγμή (fist) which suggests a vigorous washing hand of fist; the same word is used for 'boxing'. Luke 11:38 uses βαπτίζω, which has a history of referring to not just washing, but serious, vigorous dipping, used for drowning, or drunkenness (like in English we might say 'sodden' for someone who is drunk) or the sinking of a ship.

NRSV of Mark 7:3 has "thoroughly wash". Most translations have "ceremonially wash" for Luke 11:38. Perhaps this is an indication that the technical use of βαπτίζω is being overemphasised here - it was also a word in contemporary use and indicates vigorous washing.

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In Mark 7:3 there is a modifier, "πυγμῇ νίψωνται". "...unless they fist-wash their hands...". No one knows what the modifier "fist-wash" indicates. It could be washing "vigorously" or "using the fist" or something else to enhance cleanliness:

ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ 7:3 Greek NT: Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants] οἱ γὰρ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐὰν μὴ πυγμῇ νίψωνται τὰς χεῖρας οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν, κρατοῦντες τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων,

In Luke 11:38 it appears that Jesus had decided to dispense with washing his hands at all before the meal presumably to "pick a fight" Samson style with his host. So the words "fist-wash" are not at all being used ceremonially as the focus was on some kind of "scrubbing".

Jesus tells them that what they need is to have their hands cleansed from [having shed] innocent blood.

So as I see it, in the Luke case Jesus had not washed at all but in the second, not to the measure of "fist-washing" as required by the oral tradition.

the washing in Mark simply a cleansing?

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