John 13

8 “Never shall You wash my feet!” Peter told Him. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus told him, “Whoever has already bathed needs only to wash his feet, and he will be completely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you

My question is from Verse 10, specifically the words "whoever has already bathed"

How can we understand this Spiritually since He was speaking to the Twelve?

How would the Apostles understand these words - do they have a deeper 'Spiritual' meaning?

  • 2
    Does this answer your question? What does washing of the feet symbolize in John 13:10?
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 14:39
  • No it doesn't. My emphasis is not what the Washing of feet symbolize. But how the Disciples understood its Spiritual Context. Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 16:04
  • 2
    @FaithMendel - I think you need to explain more about how those two things are different. When I read the symbolism question, I understand it as "what did Jesus mean?" Are you suggesting that the disciples may have understood it a different way from what Jesus intended?
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 21:24
  • Yes I am suggesting so. As The response of Peter when he said Lord wash both my hands and feet meant he understood what Jesus meant to be "part of him" Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 22:22
  • @SteveTaylor, The OP is asking about being already bathed - which Jesus indicates the disciples were before having feet cleaned. The other question asks about the washing of feet.
    – Austin
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 21:43

7 Answers 7


Jesus does not fully deny but partially reject the instructions of cleanliness in the Pharisean tradition. He points out that inner purity is what is really requested. This is visible in the disputes with the "Pharisees and Scribes" Mt 15:1-20, Mk 7:1-23, Mt 23:1-36, Lk 11:37-53 (also Papyrus Oxyrhynchos 840 if considered reliable).

"Whoever has already bathed" means "who has received the true cleaning in the baptism with the holy spirit",

As in John 3:1-8

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

and continously aims at the inner cleanliness, as to the passages cited above.

Cleaning the feet is, in contrast, a sign of servitude, as it can be seen in the context of the entire passage, and Jesus wants to point out this difference.


It is a paradoxical metaphor that invites to multiple interpretations. One can hazard any interpretation, given it does not contradict the spirit and intention of the Gospels; the deeper one's life in Spirit, deeper will be his interpretation of this paradox.

My shallow interpretation would be that "feet" here stand for human will and intention, for before the whole body starts to go somewhere, first our legs, on which the body depends, have to start going, and unless both feet choose the same direction, no walking will be possible.

Similarly, before we do any God-pleasing deed, our will should decide to do this deed in cooperation with God's grace. And unless our will is strong and unitary, i.e. totally directed to God (cf. no division between two feet, but both going to the same direction), we shall not be able to do this deed or get that what we pray for (cf. Luke 9:62; or James 1:6-8).

The Lord here alludes to Psalm 119:133 "Direct my feet according to Your word", for in this psalmic verse also "feet" is a similar metaphor standing for will, that is basis of actions, just like motion of feet is the basis of entire body's going somewhere.

And it is enough indeed to have washed heart and thus form a good and God-choosing will and resolve in us, for all other things are either futile, or useful and will be provided by God (Matthew 6:33).

  • 1
    You have missed the fact that two different verbs are used, with different meanings : λελουμενος ('laved' - full bathing) and νιψασθαι ('wash' - just hands and feet). The baptism of repentance (the baptism of water and spirit) and the further day to day cleansing as one passes through the dusty world.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 14:24
  • @Nigel J Yours is one of the possible interpretations, just as mine; if both are spiritually useful, then both are plausible. Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 17:03
  • 1
    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 19:06

Judeans who travelled up north, in the wastelands of "Israel" (as opposed to Judeans, who lived in the south) were to stomp their feet to kick off any dirt from that dirty land because there might be pig blood in it. So though they themselves were living The Life, simply passing through the territory where "anything goes," they felt compelled to rid themselves of the dirt of the ground.

The disciples were supposed to understand, I think, that they were already clean by virtue of their rebirth:

[Titus 3:5 KJV] (5) Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

It was their contact with the "world" that soiled them from the outside:

[James 1:27 NASB20] (27) Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, [and] to keep oneself unstained by the world.

And if/when they did become defiled, they were to "shake it off" and allow Jesus to bathe in the water by a [fresh] declaration (rhēma) in his role as their compassionate High Priest:

[Ephesians 5:26 NASB20] (26) so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

[Ephesians 5:26 MGNT] (26) ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι

[Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV] (14) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast [our] confession. (15) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all [points] tempted as [we are, yet] without sin. (16) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

[Isaiah 1:18 NKJV] (18) "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.


So I think others have already pointed to numerous meanings around "humility" and standard ritual bathing practices so I will focus on another area. Specifically What "feet" symbolize in the biblical prophetic imagery and how this also related to the symbolism of Israels temple/tabernacle rituals.

Feet in the bible is actually pretty straight forward symbol. The earth itself (and sometimes more specifically the temple) is described repeatidly as being "Gods footstool". Its where God places his feet.

There are many scriptural quotes which shows this but I will start with the most obvious one from Ezekiel 43:7 when God is describing the temple and its "cleansing".

Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies2 of their kings at their high places,

But there are many others.

Isaiah 66:1 This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.

Matthew 5:34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool.

Chronicles 28:2 Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building

Psalm 32:7 “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!”

In addition to these very direct and overt references to the earth/temple and Gods feet there is the deeper and more elaborate prophetic imagery around this. It is described in the temple construction given by God to Moses and the image of the "Son of Man" and also the 4 living creatures. These are described as having "burnished bronze feet". See Revelation 1:15, Daniel 10:6 and also Ezekiel 1.

His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace

When Moses created the Tabernacle in the wilderness by the image of the pattern he had seen from heaven it was constructed with different "areas". Each area was representative of something within Gods kingdom. There was an "Outer Court" where the Brazen bronze Altar used for animal sacrific was located and the polished "Bronze Laver". (Hebrew: כיור נחשת kîyōr nəḥōšeṯ). It was seperated from the "tent of meeting" by a curtain. Priests were required to wash their feet and sometimes hands in the bronze basin before completing the sacrifice of atonement and entering into the "inner sanctuary" and the "Holy of Holies" within the "tent of meeting".

See an image which shows the layout of the tabernacle here -> https://i.sstatic.net/yilEo.jpg

Exodus 30:18 “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die.

They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

Many theologians associate the symbolism of the outer court and "bronze" with "earthly blood sacrifice" and atonement. It obtains a certain degree of purification required for humanity to then enter into the tent of meeting and inner 'Holy of Holys' to commune with God. That inner section of the temple is covered in Gold which most believe represented the heavenly abode of God. The heavenly figures with burnished bronze feet pointed to the earthly ritual purification and sacrifice required for the place God would "place his feet". His Footstool.

In this respect at the last supper we see Jesus right before he enters into his passion. His earthly sacrifice on the "brazen alter" of the cross as the "lamb of God". He sits with his 12 disciples who represent Israels 12 tribes. His washing of their feet "symbolically" represents the cleansing of Israel / Temple and the Earth. It is the washing of "Gods feet". "Cleansing his earthly temple". His footstool. This then allows for the curtain that separated the "brazen outer court" from the Golden "inner sanctum" to be opened.

Then Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

In short summary Jesus only washes the "feet" because its symbolic of washing of Israel / The temple / the earth. The rest of Gods abode and kingdom and body is already clean and does not require washing. Also this shows the "humility" of God. That the almighty - the one who sits on the throne as King with supreme authority - who rightfully should be "served" by those at his feet - has instead lowered himself down and come to serve and cleanse them.


From the article "Judas Iscariot, Believer or Unbeliever?" by Max Klein (www.maxklein.org) :

Christ washed the disciples’ feet to teach the doctrine that forgiveness of sins would be based on his work on the cross: “In whom we have redemption [the primary accusative as object of the verb: the work of redemption took place on the cross] resulting in the forgiveness [the secondary accusative of result] of sins.” (Colossians 1:14)

“Then He came to Simon Peter [on the couch]. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet? [at that moment Peter probably withdrew his feet back]’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘You do not understand what I do now [Peter didn’t understand the doctrinal significance of Jesus wanting to wash his feet], but you shall know hereafter [later Peter would realize that this was an illustration of forgiveness of sins].’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never ever wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me [two meanings: first, if you don’t wash your filthy feet, you cannot sit with me at the table; second, by analogy, if you don’t confess your sins, you cannot have fellowship with God].’ Simon Peter [in using Peter’s full name, John, the writer seems a little exasperated with Peter’s stupidity] said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and head [Peter still did not comprehend the analogy].’ ” (John 13:6-9)

    Rituals and analogies are meaningless unless one understands the doctrine related to them. Christ taught the necessity of confession of sins as a prerequisite for fellowship with God.  This he did by analogy through the custom of washing ones feet before entering a home.  

“Jesus said to him, He who is bathed [louo: analogous to salvation and the forgiveness of pre-salvation sins: all twelve had bathed before arriving at the house] has no need [to bathe again, to be saved again] except to wash [nipto: to wash the extremities] his feet [analogous to Rebound], apart from that [washing his feet] he is completely clean [katharos: in fellowship: the cognate verb katharizo is used in 1 John 1:9:]. And you are clean [katharos: eleven disciples were in fellowship], but not all [for Judas was out of fellowship].’ For He knew who would betray Him [betrayal in the mentality motivated by avarice means that Judas was out of fellowship]. Therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean [katharos, not all are in fellowship].’ ” (John 13:10-11)

    Jesus Christ makes it quite clear that there was no need for any of the apostles to bathe since all twelve had already bathed (analogous to salvation).  Judas was saved, but he wasn’t katharos, he wasn’t in fellowship.  He wasn’t in fellowship because he had decided to commit the sin of betrayal as stated in the passage above.  
  • wonderful answer. So are you saying now that Judas was Saved even though he wasn't in fellowship? And also that the Apostles have been saved before the Cross? Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 11:54

He is talking about Baptism and Confession. In Baptism, we are bathed in Christ's Blood by water and the Spirit. As we go through the world, we still tend to sin, which can be removed by Confession. It is neither possible nor necessary for a man to be baptized a second time, no matter how grave his sins, for indeed, since we were baptized once into Christ's death, to be baptized a second time would require Christ to die a second time, which He cannot do. Rather, the same death of Christ that we are baptized into is sufficient to reconcile us when we confess our sins.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 6:15

Protestants do not understand because they reject or don't believe in the sacrament of confession (penance). This refers to the two cleansings, one for original sin through the sacrament of baptism and a serial cleansing of the sins we commit along our path by way of the sacrament of confession.

  • Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics forum, user69682. Please note that this forum is different than most others because it's focused on supporting any assertions with specific scriptures, opinions of experts, context, linguistic analysis, historical sources or references, and logic to build a case. In this case, you will need to support your assertion that Protestants don't confess their sins and repent. You might want to consider the parable Jesus provided in John 15 to his disciples and what he was communicating to his disciples about himself and about the Father.
    – Dieter
    Commented Jun 17 at 15:00
  • @ user69862 - Thank you for your contributing to BHSE. However it is best to stick to the main topic of the question. A referenced comment on the actual verse, backed up by hermeneutical principles, would be in order, instead. The understanding of the topic of the question applies to all denominations when real exegesis is applied. Keep studying the Bible; it will bring you closer to Jesus!
    – ray grant
    Commented Jun 21 at 19:54

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