headerphoto

New Testament Views

 

New Testament

Was nudity common then? What did the Christians think?

 

Here we are, several hundred years and a few captivities later and we find our friends the Israelites, (Jews primarily) back in Jerusalem but this time under Roman occupation. Many things have changed. The ruling parties, (the Sadducees and Pharisees), have added more laws and regulations than Israel has ever seen, especially the ceremonial rules and the rules concerning the Sabbath. Don't these sound like the Republicans and Democrats of our day?

Those rules came about because of Israel's disobedience to God and the resulting punishment of captivity and slavery. Their sins were Idolatry and Sabbath/Holy day breaking. They were very strict about cleanliness, and the foods they ate and, of course, sexual sins.

But it is rather interesting that a nude body was not that much of an issue.

Is it because "No Public Nudity" was an "unspoken rule" that everybody obviously knows? Apparently not everybody knew that rule. Many cultures in Africa and the surrounding area, including Rome allowed nudity. To say that there is a natural modesty that causes people to want to dress and hide themselves when there are too many cultures that say otherwise cannot be a fact. It's all on how they were brought up and taught. So how does the New Testament church look at this?

There was Roman baths that were communal. Some were men/women only and some were co-ed. Their athletes, especially during the Olympics were nude. Gymnasiums were places that people exercised in the nude. Gentiles and Christians all "pumped iron" in the nude. That is what the word "gymnasium" means. So if you want to go the the gym,....think about it! The strict Jews probably did not go there because they didn't want to associate with the gentiles. That was against their "religion". But it had nothing to do with the nudity issue.

What in the world did the Christians think of all this? If our modern day Olympics decided to host an all nude or even partial nude program, would we as Christians go and see it or watch it on TV? Or would we protest it as an evil sick society bent on perversion and sin and call it "lewd conduct"? What did the Apostle Paul say about this, (many years after Christ)?

First, the words for naked and nakedness do not have that much difference in the Roman culture. Gumneteuo: naked; gumnos: naked, nude; gumnotes: nakedness. No real in depth study of the different types of nudity was necessary. To them, naked is naked. No big deal. It is all in how you use it. It's very much like our own English language in this sense. You have to understand what is going on. It's all in the context. In Heb. 4:13, "...all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." and Rev. 3:17 "Because you say, "I am rich....and need of nothing...and do not know that you are wretched, ...blind, and naked..", both indicate not physical nudity per se but brings us right back to the very beginning with Adam when he found himself not so much as physically naked (even though he used it as an excuse to cover his spiritual sin) but was spiritually naked. These people may very well be rich, and with a wardrobe to rival Hollywood. But spiritually, God was mocking us and reminding us that no matter how clothed we become and hide from one another, we are still naked. God can still see right through us and see that we're in desperate need of God and Jesus Christ. It doesn't matter if we are physically nude our entire lives, if we know and accept Jesus Christ, we are saved. That was the opportunity that Adam and Eve had but missed out on. Jesus Christ became our Passover Lamb. The skin of Jesus Christ was broken and became in a physical sense, useless (I hope that didn't sound blasphemous). The skin of the sacrifice that was made for Adam and Eve was useable and used for a covering. Spiritually, Jesus Christ became the covering for our sins.

To answer what Paul had to say about it is in Hebrews 12:1 "..let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us," using an athlete or runner who runs naked without any weight, as an example of our Christian faith and he did so without condemning them for their nudity. Also in Colossians 2:20 "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations..", (21) "'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,'... ", (23) "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." Acts 15:20 shows the instructions to the gentiles turning to God, "but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood." Romans 6:13 "Use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God". Nothing about their dress code. To abstain from sexual immorality, yes. But nothing about nudity, public baths or the Roman Olympics for which the gentiles were accustomed to.

We should no longer use our bodies, whether clothed or naked as an excuse to hide from God or each other. There is no shame. Why? Jesus Christ became the "shame" for us. As long as we hide our bodies thinking we are hiding our shame, then we will never really believe that there is a True Covering for our spiritual shame. We will forever be "hiding in fig leaves and behind bushes". Even then, what Christ had done is not really a covering because a cover covers what is still there. (We still have a nude body even though we cover it.) Jesus Christ washed our sins away and is as far away from us as East is from the West, (Psalms 103:12). He didn't just cover our sins, he removed it! There are references to being naked and shameful but they are most always referring to the spiritual emptiness of man. Revelation 16:15 "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame." It is obviously referring to our spiritual garments and watching our lives and what is going on around us and not becoming involved in the ways and sins of this world. Keep your garments spotless. Being physically naked and shameful is usually associated with sexual sins which can be committed with or without clothing such as in Noah's case. You can sin, even sexually, and be dressed to the hilt.

There is also a lot of historical writings and paintings showing that men, women and children were baptized in the nude. Even Jesus Christ was portrayed as such in many paintings!

There is indication that the disciples worked nude or near nude and quite close to the shore, at least enough for Jesus Christ or anyone else who might have been there to see them from there. John 21:7 in the RSV says that Peter had to "put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work,". Stripped for work? Sounds like that was normal for them. Think about it, if you were a fisherman in a hot climate and it gets wet, and you could sink your ship or get pulled over board, wouldn't working naked be a good idea? Working anywhere naked would feel comfortable and easy for that matter. But Peter did throw on his coat just before jumping overboard. (Jesus never said a word about it). The NKJV says "outer garment" and the KJV says "for he was naked". This passage does not necessarily mean that the others were dressed and Peter was the only one not. They may very well have been "stripped for work" as well. It was just emphasizing Peter's enthusiasm to see Jesus.

James was talking about faith and works when he wrote in James 2:15-16 "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:36-44 warned us of our lack of compassion towards others when they are in need. These verses teach us to take care of each other. To clothe the naked does not mean to force clothing on another person or treat physical nudity as a sin or sexual crime any more than someone going without food for a while (fasting) as a sin and you need to make them eat. It also said to "feed the hungry"! To ignore their needs is your sin, not theirs for not having anything.

1Cor. 5 (all), deals with sexual immorality within the church and quickly went over other sins as well, but again, the naked body or social nudity was never mentioned. Keep in mind that someone going nude, though most did not, was still not a strict taboo in those societies. Actually, it is usually a sign that they were poor, a slave or servant. They had plenty of opportunity and reason for saying something about it by this time. It's when you are associated with idolaters and street celebrations in some local (usually pagan) festival, which included sexual acts as part of their worship, then you disassociate your selves and do not become a victim of false accusations. Another words, there is a time and place for everything. 1 Timothy 5:22 "Abstain from all appearance of evil."¹ 

Clothing has never stopped sexual immorality or sin itself. Nudity does not necessarily cause it either. Jesus Christ condemned lust, and nudity does not in itself create lust. Lust is the responsibility of the person who is lusting, (King David's mistake). However it is the Christians responsibility to be careful around others as to not deliberately arouse them. Again that can very well be done with clothes.

Whether nudity was common then or not, there is no spiritual ruling we see in the bible for or against simple nudity.  It was treated as just that, someone without clothes. Some were treated with contempt because of nudity, but not for nudity sake but for being poor, a servant, a slave, in other words, social status and looking down on others.  Something which Christians should never do.  Nudity is nothing compared to the sin of social belittling and snobbery.

¹ See this excellent article on "abstaining from all appearance of evil"

Boyd Allens Christian Naturism © 1998-2012