2

In John 13:8, it is written,

8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me KJV, 1769

Ηʹ λέγει αὐτῷ Πέτρος Οὐ μὴ νίψῃς τοὺς πόδας μου εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς Ἐὰν μὴ νίψω σε οὐκ ἔχεις μέρος μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ TR, 1550

Was Jesus referring to the apostolic office or salvation when he told Peter “thou hast no part with me”? How can we understand the above text?

3

The Greek phrase is ουκ εχεις μερος μετ εμου. It can mean portion of something, as in English, but it is used here and elsewhere in the Gospels in the sense of membership:

Matthew 24:50–51

The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Luke 12:46

The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

I believe one could interpret it here as meaning that Peter would have no part as a member of Jesus disciples (the Apostles) as well as meaning at the same time that he would have no fellowship with Jesus personally (which most theologies would equate to loss of salvation). Christ is not upbraiding Peter for failing in something that only an Apostle should do (i.e. showing obedience), so I do not think that He is referring only to something like expelling Peter from the band of the Apostles.

3

The Talmud states,1

All Israel have a portion in the world to come.
כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא

The Hebrew word חֵלֶק (ḥēleq) also occurs frequently in the Hebrew Tanakh, often translated by a declension of the Greek noun μερὶς. While it is actually the noun μέρος that occurs in John 13:8, LSJ notes the following on its entry for the noun μερὶς:

III. = μέρος IV. 3, “εἰς ἀρετῆς μερίδα τὸ ψεύσασθαι τιθέμενος” Id.Mar.29; “χρυσὸν ἐν οὐδενὸς μερίδι ποιήσασθαι” Paus.10.28.4.

Hence, when the Lord Jesus Christ told the apostle Peter, «Ἐὰν μὴ νίψω σε οὐκ ἔχεις μέρος μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ»—“Ιf I do not wash you, you do not have a portion with me,” he was referring to the portion they would share together in the world to come, for all those who have been washed and believe in Christ are “in him,” i.e, in communion with him, and likewise, they are “joint heirs with Christ.”2

To answer the original question, the Lord Jesus Christ was primarily referring to salvation, for if he did not wash Peter, then Peter would not share a portion in the world to come with the Lord Jesus Christ. The office of the bishop (ἡ ἐπισκοπή) exists regardless of the virtue of the one holding the office.3


Footnotes

1 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 11, Folio 90a, Gemara
2 Rom. 8:17: «συγκληρονόμοι...Χριστοῦ». It is also noteworthy that the Greek word κλῆρος (“inheritance”) also occurs often in conjunction with μερὶς in the LXX; cp. Deu. 10:9, 12:12, 14:27, etc.
3 cp. Acts 1:20

2

Passage in Context

To understand this passage, one must understand "in Context" Jesus's remarks, and not pull a particular phrase out which on it's own appears ambiguous.

Jesus was meeting with His disciples. These were the ones who left all and followed Him from the beginning of His ministry. In John 13, they were assembled together to eat the Passover, and also to receive their final instructions before His Crucifixion. Peter was blessed,

"and Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."(Matt. 16:17 KJV)

he was also given pre-eminence,

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.(vs 18)

so the idea that he had somehow fallen, or being in danger of falling from grace because of a false perception of what Jesus was saying is ludicrous.

The Lord prefaces His remarks by saying,

"Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter."(vs 7)

Peter's response betrayed his misunderstanding in verse 8; when the Lord counters with

"If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me."(vs 8), Peter immediately goes to the opposite extreme and says,

"Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."(vs 9)

Then the Lord has to correct him again,

"Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all."(vs 10)

Jesus then explains the meaning to His disciples,

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.(vs 14)

He is modeling servant leadership, a lesson that Peter understood later on in his ministry;

Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.(1 Pet. 5:3 KJV)

Jesus was demonstrating a style of leadership that at first offended Peter; He was doing a servant's task, which was foot-washing. The action didn't take away from Jesus's authority, He said,

"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am."(John 13:13 KJV)

But in washing His disciple's feet, He was telling them 'This is how I want you to demonstrate your authority', not in striving for position and recognition, but in serving those under your care.

Summary

Jesus is gently admonishing Peter for failing to understand the object lesson He is demonstrating. Peter's salvation was never in jeopardy, rather, he is being used a 'teaching opportunity' to reveal an important lesson on servant leadership.

  • How can you maintain that "Peter's salvation was never in jeopardy", unless salvation is defined as some sort of state wherein one has no part in Christ? – user15733 Jan 12 '17 at 22:20
  • @TheNonTheologian You're missing the context. Jesus had already told His disciples "That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel". That included Peter. It is an IF:THEN statement, 'IF Peter, you continue to not let Me wash your feet, THEN you will have no part of Me. Peter's next response betrayed his lack of understanding-he wasn't going to 'miss out' on the Lord. The Lord then had to explain to all of them what it meant. – Tau Jan 13 '17 at 2:06
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    Scripture is more than a collection of syllogisms. Judas was one to whom Jesus was speaking in the Scripture you quoted. – user15733 Jan 13 '17 at 2:13
  • @TheNonTheologian I deliberately ignored the "Judas" connection because although the Lord washed his feet also, it didn't benefit him. Judas takes us down another path, which is important, but outside of the OP's concern. That's why I ignored him. – Tau Jan 13 '17 at 2:46
  • It is a long-standing principle for me not to DV or comment on an answer to a question I have also answered, in case of a potential conflict of interest. However, @Tau, you have given me licence to comment (although I will not DV): I do not see how this answer addresses the question of what "“thou hast no part with me” means. You have discussed the context and given us a theological opinion of what that context means, but apparently without telling us what the phrase in question means. Do you know? – Dick Harfield Jan 15 '17 at 21:52
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Most theological commentaries are somewhat ambiguous as to what Jesus meant by his words, which seem surprisingly harsh to come from Jesus, but Matthew Poole's Commentary plainly expresses the view that Jesus was saying:

that except he washed him, he had no part with him; that is, he should never be saved (My emphasis).

This raises the question as to why Jesus would be so unforgiving of a minor fault on Peter's part, where at least Peter's intentions appear to have been good. I believe the answer lies in the research done by the respected scholar, Elaine Pagels. Pagels says in Beyond Belief, page 70, that that she discerns throughout John’s Gospel a distinct bias against Peter. There is no direct criticism of Peter but, for example, Peter frequently comes out poorly in comparison to the 'disciple whom Jesus loved', to the point that the Gospel ends with Peter querulously asking Jesus why the disciple was favoured over him, and Jesus replies by asking Peter what business that is of his:

John 21:21-22: Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

I agree with Pagels that there appears to be an authorial bias against Peter in this Gospel, so that the warning to Peter (John 13:8) is probably an authorial insertion that was intended as a veiled criticism of Peter. The author of John's Gospel may have become concerned that, by the time of writing, Peter had become the subject of excessive veneration. If the author sought to correct this, we can say he was successful, as it is now recognised that Peter, although the leader of the apostles, was human and had his faults like any other.

  • Dick, I was just curious: does Pagels make a similar case for a genre in the Gospel of John to downplay "doubting Thomas" as well? – Joseph Jan 12 '17 at 4:51
  • Hi @Joseph I'm not sure what you mean by 'downplay'. Pagels has a secure reputation in the scholarly community, receiving the Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities from Princeton University where she is Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion. Otherwise, in answer to your question, she does conclude that "doubting Thomas" is an authorial construct in John's Gospel. Thomas does not figure much in the other gospels, but Peter does figure in them without any of the negativity we find in John. – Dick Harfield Jan 12 '17 at 6:33
  • Dick, I have her books, so I know who she is. (Her studies in Gnosticism are remarkable.) I was just curious how she understood Thomas as an invention (and therefore non-existent disciple). – Joseph Jan 12 '17 at 11:29
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    (+1) This is a helpful answer, and it would be good for those users downvoting it to actually give their reasons for doing so. – Steve Taylor Jan 12 '17 at 11:59
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    @Tau Please reread my answer and note that it is not really based on source criticism, but does use the historical-critical method. Manfred Oeming says in Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics, page 31, ""Academic interpretation of the Bible is almost synonymous with historical-critical interpretation." Our site, Biblical Hermeneutics, is to a large extent committed to the academic study of the Bible, so my answer ought to be helpful (I even cite a widely respected academic), even if you prefer (and might choose to write) a different answer. – Dick Harfield Jan 13 '17 at 7:30
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I would translate John 13:8 like this:

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The word μέρος (Strong's G3313 - meros) refers to a portion of a whole that is distributed/shared/apportioned. It is used in relation to administrative/geographic districts (Matthew 2:22, 15:21, 16:13, Mark 8:10), inheritance (Matthew 24:51, Luke 12:46, Luke 15:12), the distribution of Jesus' clothing by the soldiers at his crucifixion (John 19:23), etc.

The writer of the Gospel of Luke fills in the missing details for us:

The Apostles' Part/Lot/Distribution

28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. 29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; 30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
-- Luke 22:28-30 (KJV)

If Peter could not exercise the grace necessary to accommodate Jesus' act of humility, then there would be no place for him at Jesus' table, and no throne upon which to sit governing the twelve tribes of Israel in Jesus' kingdom.

  • That's a very interesting conclusion... so the author of John gave this detail in his account with the intention of it being understood in light of comments made in Luke or other texts? And so when Jesus says "no part with me", me is intended to be a metaphor for things which Jesus would later give them? – Steve Taylor Jan 12 '17 at 11:37
  • @SteveTaylor Are you suggesting that John should written all those books he mentions would be necessary to record all the things that Jesus did? No. He wrote what he was moved by the Spirit to write, the author of the Gospel of Luke did likewise, and we are the wiser for their efforts. – enegue Jan 12 '17 at 11:44
  • Now there's a very handy excuse for ignoring questions of authorial intent. So the text isn't intended for the original recipients, and it's only those many decades later holding both texts side by side who would interpret it correctly? I think you'll actually find that the author of the Gospel of Luke wrote "an orderly account" in order that the recipient could have certainty about the things they had been taught (1:3). The text is God-breathed, and so are many other carefully structured texts like Proverbs, Leviticus, Ecclesiastes... Authorial intent is a critical aspect of hermeneutics. – Steve Taylor Jan 12 '17 at 12:08
  • @SteveTaylor You've got it all sewn up, Steve. Just ignore my answer. It's not for you. – enegue Jan 12 '17 at 12:18
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    (-1) for ignoring authorial intent and providing limited explanation for the re-interpretation of Jesus' words. – Steve Taylor Jan 12 '17 at 12:50

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