1. The Terms Used and Their Meaning:
The American Standard Revised Version has "basin," the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "bason," the preferred spelling of the English revisers. In the Appendix to the Revised Old Testament the American Revisers (section viii) say, "The modern spelling is preferred for the following words"; then follow among others "basin" for "bason"; but no similar statement appears in the Appendix to the Revised New Testament. The Hebrew word so rendered in English Versions of the Bible is chiefly used for the large bowl of bronze (the King James Version "brass") employed by the priests to receive the blood of the sacrificial victims (Ex 27:3; compare Ex 29:16; 1Ki 7:45, etc.). It is found only once in secular use (Am 6:6, "drink wine in bowls"), if the text there is correct; the Septuagint has it otherwise. See BOWL. The "basins" of Ex 12:22; 2Sa 17:28 were probably of earthenware.
2. Of Various Materials and Forms:
While the priests' bowls were of bronze, similar bowls or basins of silver were presented by the princes of the congregation, according to Nu 7:13 ff; and those spoken of in 1Ki 7:50 as destined for Solomon's temple were of gold (compare 1Ch 28:17).
3. The Typical Ewer of the East:
(1) The well-known eastern mode of washing the hands was and is by pouring water on the hands, not by dipping them in water, an act, of course, calling for the aid of an attendant. Elisha "poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2Ki 3:11; see Kitto's note in Pictorial Bible 2,II , 330). A disciple came to be known as "one who poured water on the hands of another." Such was beyond question the prevailing custom among the ancient Hebrews, as it was, and is, among eastern peoples in general. They incline to look with disgust, if not with horror, upon our western practice of washing face and hands in water retained in a basin.
(2) The typical vessel of the East used in such ablutions has a long spout, not unlike our large coffee-pot (see Kitto, Pict. Biblical, II, 331, note). While the English Versions of the Bible unfortunately often suggests nothing like such pouring, the Hebrew expresses it, e.g. in 1Sa 25:41, where we have the Qal of rachats compare Kennedy in 1Sa 1:1-28-vol HDB, and HDB, articles "Bath," "Bathing." Kennedy shows that "affusion," "pouring on" of water, was meant in many cases where we read "bathe" or "wash" in Enoch glish Versions. Lane (Mod. Egypt, chapter v) says: "A servant brings him a basin and ewer (called Tsisht and ibreek) of tinned copper or brass. The first has a cover with holes, with a raised receptacle for the soap; and the water is poured upon the hands and passes through the ewer into the space below; so that when the basin is brought to a second person the water with which the former has washed is not seen."
4. A Basin of a Unique Sort:
(1) A wash-basin of a special sort was used by Jesus for washing the disciples' feet (see Joh 13:5). The Greek is nipter eita ballei hudor eis ton niptera, translated the Revised Version (British and American), "then he poureth water into the basin." This word nipter is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, nor in the Septuagint, nor, indeed, in Greek profane literature. But fortunately the general sense is here made plain by the context and by comparison of the cognate verbs niptein and n izein. It evidently denotes an article, not necessarily a vessel, specifically suited to the use of washing a part of the body, e.g. the hands or the feet, and hence is used with the article, "the basin," the Revised Version (British and American). It is doubtful, therefore, if "basin," or "bason," conveys a true idea of either the oriental article here meant or the scene portrayed. The fact that, according to the custom of the day, the position of the disciples here was reclining, precludes the possibility of the use of a "basin" of our sort, in the way we are accustom edition to, i.e. for immersing the feet in the water, in whole or in part.
(2) So it is likely that the nipter was a jug, or ewer, with a dish, saucer, or basin placed under it and combined with it to catch the dripping water. We know from other sources that such a vessel was kept in the Jewish house regularly for ordinary handwashings, etc. (see Mt 15:2; Mr 7:3), and for ceremonial ablutions. Hence, it would naturally be ready here in the upper room as a normal part of the preparation of the "goodman of the house" for his guests (the King James Version Mr 14:14; Lu 22:12), and so it is distinguished by the Greek article ton. Jesus Himself used the nipter, standing, doubtless, to impress upon His disciples the lessons of humility, self-abasement and loving service which He ever sought to impart and illustrate.
(3) Our conclusion, we may say with George Farmer in DCG, article "Bason," is that nipter was not simply one large basin, but the set of ewer and basin combined, such a set as was commonly kept in the Jewish house for the purpose of cleansing either the hands or the feet by means of affusion. The Arabic Tisht, authorities tell us, is the exact rendering of nipter, and it comes from a root which means "to pour," or "rain slightly." (See Anton Tien, reviser of the Arabic prayer-book, author of Arabic an d Mod. Greek Grammars, etc., quoted in DCG, article "Bason.")
George B. Eager