Wash or Bathe?

What the JST does in the first part of John 13:10 caught my attention. So at the beginning of the chapter after supper Jesus goes around and starts to wash the feet of his disciples. He comes to Peter who basically says “what the…you’re gonna wash my feet?” To which Jesus replies “Yeah, you won’t understand now but it will make sense later.” Peter replies “You shall never wash my feet!”, because Jesus is his master and the master doesn’t serve the servant in this way. It’s a humble task, possibly even demeaning. Jesus says “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”

Now up to this point the verb “wash” has been niptein, which is the verb Jesus uses for the washing of feet, and which makes sense. The verb is usually used for a washing of a part of the body rather than the whole body (like washing one’s hands for lunch), and so it makes sense to use it for the washing of feet.

So Peter, again misunderstanding, says “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Basically, “Oh, ok, well in that case do the whole kit and caboodle.” Note that in the quotation within the verse there isn’t a single verb. I think that is intentional, as it sets up Jesus’s retort in verse 10 which is based on the appropriate verb to use in this context:

Now in my view the KJV completely muffs the translation of verse 10:

“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.”

Compare this with the JST: “Jesus saith to him, He that has washed his hands and his head needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.”

The problem with the KJV is that two different Greek verbs are both rendered “wash,” which basically means that a KJV reader misses Jesus’s whole point. When Jesus says “He that is washed needeth not,” there the verb is not niptein talking about washing the feet (with its possible connotation of ritual ablution), rather it’s the Greek word louein, which is definitely talking about normal cleaning in a bath. Virtually every modern translation distinguishes these two verbs here, the first rendered by “bathe” or “have a bath” and the second by “wash” just as it has been rendered all along. The sense is, “Hey, if you’ve already had a bath that’s cool, you don’t need me to do that for you. But I still need to wash your feet.”

Because the KJV uses “wash” in both places, the English reader doesn’t get the distinction Jesus is drawing here. It’s just a bad translation. But in his own way Joseph fixes the problem. First, he changes the intransitive “is washed” to the transitive “has washed,” so now the verb can take an object. And for the object to that first washed verb he repeats Peter’s misunderstanding from the prior verbless verse “his hands and his head.” So the first washed verb is referring to Peter’s misunderstanding about washing the whole body (i.e. bathing) and the second washed verb is the specific verb about washing the feet, which is still necessary. By giving the repeated “wash” word two different objects, Joseph has in effect accomplished what modern translations do by distinguishing the nuances of the verbs themselves. So in effect “if you’ve already had a bath you don’t need another one; but you still need for me to wash your feet.”

Comments

  1. Aussie Mormon says:

    nifty

  2. Thanks for posting.

  3. To what degree is Peter’s alleged misunderstanding connected with the large pools that Jews bathed in to be completely clean all over their body before going to the temple?

    I think this there’s some connection to those pools and the use of verbs.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting thought, but I don’t think Peter could have confused the washing of feet with a mikvah. Jesus just had a water pitcher and a towel; a mikvah requires a source of living water and full immersion.

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