Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine community
This dissertation examines John 13: 1-20, the pericope which describes Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. For a variety of reasons, there is no scholarly consensus concerning the meaning of this passage. In addition, very little reflection has been devoted to the place religious footwashing may have held in the Johannine community. This dissertation reexamines the fundamental issues raised by the passage and investigates the likelihood that footwashing was a community rite. Chapter one gives an overview of the prominent interpretations of John 13: 1-20 in the history of interpretation. This chapter also presents an elaboration of the dissertation's purpose, together with a preview of and justification for the methodology employed, which includes text-critical, background-historical, literary-exegetical, and historical-reconstructive components. In view of the decisive bearing on interpretation, the textual problem found in John 13: 10 receives considerable attention in chapter two. Here a decision is made in favor of the inclusion of the longer reading, because of superior external evidence and internal probability. In chapter three a survey of the practice of footwashing in Jewish and Graeco-Roman antiquity uncovers first-century attitudes to footwashing, which in turn leads to a more informed interpretation of footwashing's significance in John 13. The survey reveals that footwashing functioned as an act of hospitality, an expression of love, a sign of servitude, and a sign of preparation generally. Chapter four is devoted to a literary and exegetical analysis of the text of John 13: 1-20. This investigation indicates the pericope's literary context within the Fourth Gospel, as the first episode in both the "Book of Glory" (John 13-21) and the farewell materials (John 13-17). The role of the disciples in the preceding narrative (John 1-12) is also explored. An exegetical study follows, which seeks to interpret the text of John 13: 1-20 as it now stands in the Fourth Gospel. The analysis finds that the footwashing of John 13 is best understood as a sign for the forgiveness of the disciples' post-conversion sin. The analysis concludes with reflection scholarly discussion about the literary unity of the footwashing pericope. The evidence which makes likely that the Johannine community engaged in footwashing as a religious rite is explored in chapter five. This examination utilizes information from the implied readers in the Fourth Gospel, from actual readers of the Fourth Gospel in the early church, and from the practice of footwashing in early Christianity. An examination of similar categories of evidence suggests that footwashing signified the forgiveness of post-conversion sin for the Johannine community. The final section of the dissertation is devoted to a set of conclusions and suggestions for future research.