Wash - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


plyno (G4150) Wash
nipto (G3538)
louo (G3068)
Unfortunately, only the English "to wash" is an adequate translation for the Greek words plyno, nipto, and louo, each of which the biblical writers used in distinct ways. Thus plynein always means "to wash inanimate things" (usually garments), as distinguished from living objects or persons. But plynein is not only used for garments. In Luke 5:2 it refers to the washing or cleansing of nets. When David exclaimed: "Wash [plynon] me thoroughly from my iniquity" (Ps. 51:2), this was not an exception to the rule. The mention of hyssop in verse 7 indicates that he had in mind the ceremonial purifications (i. e., by sprinkling) of the Levitical law, the purification of the garments of the unclean person, though he may have foreseen a better sprinkling in the future.
Niptein and louein each refer to washing living persons. Niptein and nipsasthai almost always refer to the washing of a part of the body; and louein (whose meaning is closer to "to bathe" than to "to wash") and lousthai ("to bathe oneself") always refer to the whole body, not just a part. The restriction of niptein to persons, as opposed to things, is always observed in the New Testament, as it is elsewhere (with but few exceptions). A single verse in the Septuagint (Lev. 15:11) uses all three of the words in their distinct meanings: "And whomever he who has the discharge touches, and has not rinsed [neniptai] his hands in water, he shall wash [plynei] his clothes and bathe [lousetai] his body in water."
In the Authorized Version, John 13:10 suffers the most by the translators' failure to distinguish between niptein (to wash a part of the body) and louein or lousthai (to wash the whole body): "He that is washed [ho leloumenos] needeth not save to wash [nipsasthai] his feet, but is clean every whit." The Latin Vulgate has the same defect: "He who has been washed [lotus est] needs only that he wash [lavet] his feet." De Wette tried to preserve the variation of words: "He who is bathed [gebadet ist] needs to wash [waschen] but his feet." The New King James Version is an improvement: "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean." Because Peter had not understood the symbolic nature of the foot washing, he exclaimed at first: "You shall never wash my feet!" But as soon as he comprehended the true meaning of Jesus' actions, he wanted to be completely washed: "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" Christ replied that this was not necessary because Peter had already received the washing of forgiveness that included the whole man. He was leloumenos (i. e., bathed all over his body), and this absolution not only did not need to be repeated but was incapable of repetition: "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3). Although Peter already possessed this all-inclusive forgiveness, he did need to wash his feet to be clean. He needed to allow his Lord to cleanse him from the defilements that he (a justified and partially sanctified man) would acquire by living in a sinful world. Some have suggested that this was an allusion to the Levitical ordinance where Aaron and his successors in the priesthood were to be washed once for all from head to foot when they were officially consecrated (Exod. 27:4; 40:12). But afterwards, whenever they ministered before the Lord, they were to wash their hands and their feet in the brazen laver (Exod. 30:19, 21; 40:31). This view would have more to commend it if we did not find hands and feet in the same category there, whereas in John they are not merely separated but opposed to one another (John 13:9-10). The whole mystery of our justification (once for all, sufficient for every need, embracing our whole being) and sanctification (a daily process) is wrapped up in the antithesis between the two words. Augustine expressed this clearly:
A person indeed is cleansed in holy baptism, not with the exception of his feet but totally; however when he lives afterward in human situations, he certainly abuses the ground. Accordingly human passions, without which there is no mortal life, are as feet when we are influenced by human situations. Therefore he daily washes our feet by interceding for us and daily we must wash our feet with the Lord's Prayer when we say, "Forgive us our debts."

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