What does John 13:5 mean?
ESV: Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
NIV: After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
NASB: Then He *poured water into the basin, and began washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel which He had tied around Himself.
CSB: Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him.
NLT: and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
KJV: 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.
NKJV: After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
Verse Commentary:
In the ancient world, washing of feet was not a quick, tidy, or glamorous task. People walked on roads covered in dirt and manure, wearing open sandals. In most cases, people cleaned their own feet. Sometimes, mostly to show hospitality or honor, it would be done by someone else. The foot-washer would have to sit or kneel in front of the person being cleaned. In the prior verse, Jesus changes clothes in order to take on this grimy, humble chore.

In that time and place, such a task was always performed by the person of lower status. The disciples have expressed arrogance and hunger for power (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:54), but they have never wavered in considering Jesus to be their Lord and Master. So His action here is a direct attack on assumptions about power and leadership. In the upcoming verses, Jesus will explain this in no uncertain terms. He is the Master (John 13:13), yet He acts in humility. Those who claim to follow Christ are not better than Christ, so they are not above serving other people (John 13:14–16).

The Greek words used in this passage carry meanings that can be missed in an English translation. These verses describe what Jesus does to the feet of the disciples using the root word niptō, corresponding to the English "wash." When explaining how this is different from a single, total-body cleansing in verse 10, Jesus instead uses the root word louō, corresponding to the English "bathe." Jesus will make a comment in verses 10 and 11, using Judas as an example, which highlights the difference between a person's once-for-all salvation and their subsequent confession of sin.
Verse Context:
John 13:1–11 begins the ''private'' phase of John's gospel, as Jesus meets with the disciples for a Passover meal. As usual, John skips details covered in other Gospels in order to add his own memories. Jesus performs the task of a lowly servant: washing others' feet. Jesus reassures everyone that this task will make more sense later. Peter is offended by his master acting like a slave, but Jesus responds that washing is necessary for those who follow Him—and not all of those present are clean. That subtly points to Judas, who has already made plans to betray Jesus. A ''full-body'' washing only needs to happen once, while ''foot washing'' needs to be done more frequently. This helps explain the difference between once-for-all salvation, and routine confession of sin.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus meets with a smaller group, possibly only the twelve disciples, in a private setting. Before eating a meal, Jesus performs the work of a lowly servant, washing the feet of the disciples. He explains that this is an object lesson. Their Lord is willing to serve in humility, so they are obligated to do the same. Jesus also predicts His impending betrayal, subtly telling Judas to leave and complete His conspiracy. The disciples don't realize what's happened, however. Peter foolishly brags about his loyalty. Jesus responds with a cutting prediction: Peter will deny his relationship to Christ three times in the next few hours.
Chapter Context:
The first twelve chapters of the gospel of John describe the public ministry of Jesus. Starting in chapter 13, most of what John describes are the last private moments Jesus enjoys prior to His crucifixion. This begins with Jesus washing the disciples' feet, establishing both an example and a command for humble service. Jesus also predicts His impending betrayal and Peter's cowardly denials. Following chapters contain Jesus' last instructions to the disciples, including a rich collection of truths which are central to the Christian faith.
Book Summary:
The disciple John wrote the gospel of John decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls "signs"— to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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