Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Sociocultural Context of the New Testament (Part 9): The Kiss Greeting and Feet Washing

Kiss Greeting

“Greet one another with a sacred kiss” (Rom. 16:16b; see also 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14).1  Ignoring the cultural setting of this oft-repeated biblical directive might lead some to conclude that all Christians today ought to be kissing each other. However, the kiss-greeting was the conventional form of social interaction in ancient Mediterranean cultures (see Gen. 27:26; 29:13; 2 Sam. 20:9; Matt. 26:49; Acts 20:37). Rather than initiating a new form of greeting to be bound on the churches, Paul and Peter were simply regulating the customary greeting that was already practiced by their original audiences. In other words, when greeting one another in the customary way, readers are reminded to ensure these intimate exchanges are kept “holy” or “sacred” and in “love,” i.e., sincere and with moral integrity (cp. Matt. 26:48-49; 1 Cor. 6:18; 1 Thess. 4:1-8). In whatever ways Christians ordinarily greet one another in any historical-cultural environment, the underlying principle is the same.
Feet washing

In John 13:14 Jesus is recorded as saying, “If I, therefore, the Lord and the Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Failing to consider the sociocultural context of this passage has led a number of interpreters to regard the directive as a religious rite or church ordinance. Contextually, however, the Lord is not speaking to the church but to his twelve apostles whose feet he had just washed. They had been bickering over which of them should be considered the greatest (Luke 22:14-24), so Jesus teaches humility and servitude by washing their feet (John 13:3-17). 

In ancient Mediterranean cultures where sandals were worn and travel was mostly by foot on dusty roads, visitors entering a home could expect water and towels to be provided for washing dirty feet. It was a customary act of hospitality (see Gen. 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; 1 Sam. 25:41; Luke 7:44; 1 Tim. 5:10). Sometimes the host himself would do the washing, but typically this was the job of a house slave. What Jesus teaches on this occasion to his prideful, selfish apostles, employing an object lesson that was practical and familiar at the time, is humbleness and service, not a specific, permanently binding religious ritual. The underlying principle rather than the explicit act remains relevant in all historical-cultural settings.2  

--Kevin L. Moore

     Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     This is different from the Lord’s Supper, for example, the particulars of which have much broader applicability (cf. Matt. 26:29; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

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