"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

Washing Feet

by Bruce R. McConkie

Our Lord performed the gospel ordinance of washing of feet on the occasion of the last supper. After the supper, he girded himself with a towel, poured water in a basin, and washed and wiped the feet of the apostles. (John 13:1-17.) The Inspired Version of the Bible inserts the explanation, "Now this was the custom of the Jews under their law; wherefore, Jesus did this that the law might be fulfilled." (Inspired Version, John 13:10.)

christ washing feet
Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Life of Christ, Washing of Feet

However, after the ordinance had been performed, our Lord said: "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:13-17.)

Thus our Lord did two things in the performance of this ordinance: 1. He fulfilled the old law given to Moses; and 2. He instituted a sacred ordinance which should be performed by legal administrators among his true disciples from that day forward.

As part of the restoration of all things, the ordinance of washing of feet has been restored in the dispensation of the fulness of times. In keeping with the standard pattern of revealing principles and practices line upon line and precept upon precept, the Lord revealed his will concerning the washing of feet little by little until the full knowledge of the endowment and all temple ordinances had been given.

December 27, 1832, this command was given to "the first laborers in this last kingdom": "Sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean; That I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation." (D. & C. 88:74-75.) On that same occasion the command came to organize the school of the prophets, with the express stipulation that "ye shall not receive any among you into this school save he is clean from the blood of this generation; And he shall be received by the ordinance of the washing of feet, for unto this end was the ordinance of the washing of feet instituted." (D. & C. 88:127-141.)

In the case of this school the ordinance is to be performed by the President of the Church. In compliance with this revelation the Prophet on January 23, 1833, washed the feet of the members of the school of the prophets. "By the power of the Holy Ghost I pronounced them all clean from the blood of this generation," he recorded. (History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 322-324; vol. 2, p. 287.)

Later apostles were called and ordained, and on November 12, 1835, the Prophet addressed them, as pertaining to the washing of feet where they were concerned: "The item to which I wish the more particularly to call your attention tonight is the ordinance of washing of feet. This we [meaning the Twelve] have not done as yet, but it is necessary now, as much as it was in the days of the Savior; and we must have a place prepared, that we may attend to this ordinance aside from the world.

"We have not desired as much from the hand of the Lord through faith and obedience, as we ought to have done, yet we have enjoyed great blessings, and we are not so sensible of this as we should be .... We must have all things prepared, and call our solemn assembly as the Lord has commanded us, that we may be able to accomplish his great work, and it must be done in God's own way. The house of the Lord must be prepared, and the solemn assembly called and organized in it, according to the order of the house of God; and in it we must attend to the ordinance of washing of feet. It was never intended for any but official members. It is calculated to unite our hearts, that we may be one in feeling and sentiment, and that our faith may be strong, so that Satan cannot overthrow us, nor have any power over us here.

"The endowment you are so anxious about, you cannot comprehend now, nor could Gabriel explain it to the understanding of your dark minds; but strive to be prepared in your hearts, be faithful in all things, that when we meet in the solemn assembly, that is, when such as God shall name out of all the official members shall meet, we must be clean every whit .... The order of the house of God has been, and ever will be, the same, even after Christ comes; and after the termination of the thousand years it will be the same; and we shall finally enter into the celestial kingdom of God, and enjoy it forever." (History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 308-309.)

On Sunday, March 27, 1836, as part of the dedicatory services of the Kirtland Temple, the congregation sang that glorious hymn, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning!" One verse, as then sung, was:

We'll wash and be washed, and with oil be anointed, Withal not omitting the washing of feet; For he that receiveth his penny appointed Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.

On March 29 and 30, 1836, the leading brethren, including the First Presidency, Council of the Twelve, bishoprics, and presidents of quorums, participated in the ordinance of washing of feet. (History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 426, 430-431.)

It should be remembered that the endowment given in the Kirtland Temple was only a partial endowment, and that the full endowment was not performed until the saints had established themselves in Nauvoo. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, pp. 241-242.) The full endowment referred to in the revelation dated January 19, 1841 (D. & C. 124:36-41) -- including washings and anointings, except under unusual circumstances, is designed to be administered in the temples of the Lord.

Thus the knowledge relative to the washing of feet has been revealed step by step in this day until a full knowledge is now incorporated in the revealed ordinances of the Lord's house. Obviously the apostate peoples of the world, being without revelation to guide them, cannot comply with our Lord's command given on the occasion of the last supper.

2. Under certain circumstances, when moved upon by the Spirit but not otherwise, the elders are to cleanse their feet as a witness against those who reject their testimony. "And in whatsoever place ye shall enter, and they receive you not in my name, ye shall leave a cursing instead of a blessing, by casting off the dust of your feet against them as a testimony, and cleansing your feet by the wayside." (D. & C. 24:15; 75:20; Matt. 10:14-15; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5; 10:10-12; Acts 13:51.)

"He that receiveth you not, go away from him alone by yourselves, and cleanse your feet even with water, pure water, whether in heat or in cold, and bear testimony of it unto your Father which is in heaven, and return not again unto that man. And in whatsoever village or city ye enter, do likewise. Nevertheless search diligently and spare not; and wo unto that house, or that village or city that rejecteth you, or your words, or your testimony concerning me." (D. & C. 84:92-94; 99:4.)


The ordinance of washing of feet performed by Jesus Christ after the Last Supper with his apostles was a gesture of humility. Amidst discussion of who would be the greatest in the kingdom, Jesus, demonstrating what he had taught, removed his outer robe and performed this menial task, teaching that one who would be a leader must be a servant (John 13:1-8; cf. D&C 88:141). The Joseph Smith Translation adds this explanation about this incident: "Now this was the custom of the Jews under their law; wherefore, Jesus did this that the law might be fulfilled" (JST John 13:10). By this clarification it appears that the washing of feet was an ordinance of the Law of Moses.

There is no clear explanation of the washing of feet in the Old Testament, although it is evident that it was a social custom for administering kindness to a guest. The washing of feet is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and it is spoken of only briefly in the Doctrine and Covenants in 88:138-41.



Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Ceremonies

Mormon Doctrine, p.831



Web LightPlanet

Related Links

Recommended Books