Naturism and the Judeo-Christian Tradition

by Marv Frandsen
2005.12.31 last modified



All too often it is incorrectly assumed that the Judeo-Christian tradition is hostile to simple public nudity.  Yet, a close examination of the topic of public nudity in the premier document of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible, suggests an entirely different and opposite conclusion. 

This paper will examine the references in the Bible and other prominent Christian writings to simple, nonsexual public nudity. 

The surprising conclusion from a thorough survey of the topic is that public nudity was not a moral concern for either the Hebrew authors of the Old Testament or the Christian authors of the New Testament.  The Bible does not condemn simple public nudity, and in at least one case an opponent of public nudity was cursed by Deity.  Furthermore public nudity was explicitly praised by several prominent Hebrew and Christian writers as a positive moral and religious good.  This praise includes a little-noticed pro-nudity teaching to his disciples by Jesus Christ himself.


In the Beginning ...

    Perhaps the most-referenced nudity story in the Bible concerns the famous situation in the Garden of Eden.   Often this story is interpreted as a divine injunction to wear clothing after committing sin and being expelled from the Garden.  However this common interpretation of Genesis is shallow and does not fit the facts of the account for the following reasons:  (1) Body shame seems to be exhibited on the part of Adam and Eve only, after sin, and is never expressed by Deity; (2) God does provide clothing for Adam and Eve for an unspecified purpose, but this clothing is leather and notably unsuitable for swimming and sunbathing; (3) God does not provide Adam and Eve with a bathing suit (which would have been an anachronism, since the bathing suit was invented not by Deity but by garment manufacturers roughly 150 years ago); and (4) God never states a commandment against nudity to Adam and Eve, and the consequences of their sin do not include any reference to nudity.  Thus, the Hebrews who wrote and preserved this ancient story gave little thought to the idea that simple nudity offended Deity or that God concerned Himself with simple nudity as a moral concern.

The Biblical Language of Nudity

    Before further examining the view of nudity by Biblical peoples an important linguistic point should be made.  Where nudity is concerned, the English language does not convey the nuances of Hebrew.  In Hebrew several distinct and different words are used to discuss nudity.  The Hebrew the words "Arom" or "Erom" have an innocent, nonsexual meaning.

    In contrast the Hebrew "Ervah" connotes sexuality - usually a shameful or licentious sexuality.  (See Nakedness and the Bible, by Paul Bowman, 1992).  For example, the Adam and Eve story concerns nudity as Arom, whereas denunciations of nudity in sexual context use the word Ervah.  When this distinction is made the Bible presents a surprisingly unified view of nudity negatively in the context of Ervah and positively or neutrally in the context of Arom.

Does the Bible Teach Not to Be Nude in Tents?

    After Eden the next major Biblical reference to nudity occurs in the famous story of the nude and drunken Noah and the disrespectful behavior of his son Ham.  Deeply interpretive discussion of this story will be avoided, noting only two points:  (1) Although the existence of a social taboo is evident, Deity's anger is directed not against the nude person but against the disrespectful son, and (2) the incident concerns a man in his private tent.

    Generally the Old Testament Hebrews equated extensive clothing (rather than nudity) with unchastity.  For example when Judah mistook the veiled and wrapped Tamar for a prostitute, because " ... he thought her to be a harlot, for she had covered her face." (Genesis 38:15)  In the Bible, the clothes make the harlot.

The Law of Moses - It's OK to be Nude In Public All Day, But Sleep Warm

    A clear statement that the God of the Hebrews considered public nudity to be an issue only of comfort and practicality and not of morality is made in a commandment of mercy which forms part of the Law of Moses:  "If ever you take your neighbor's garment in pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep?" (Exodus 22:26-27) 

    In the Bible the only moral concern for a debtor going about his daily activities totally and publicly nude is that he have something to wrap himself in to keep warm at night!

The Connection Between Nudity and Prophecy

    A very interesting story concerning nudity occurs in 1 Samuel 19:23-24.  Here it is recorded that when the Spirit of God came upon King Saul he prophesied, but it is not until Saul finds Samuel and with Samuel strips off his clothes all day and all night that the people wonder if Saul is not also a prophet.  Here the word Arom is used for Samuel and Saul's nudity.  Bo sense of indecency is conveyed concerning the public nudity of these two prominent men.  Indeed, the sense of the story is that public nudity was common and expected of the Hebrew prophets, and even served as a standard professional practice and method of identification of true holiness.

King David's Nude Dance, and a Curse on the Anti-Nudist

     Another very interesting look at how the God of Israel viewed nudity is given in 2 Samuel 6:12-23.  Here the Ark of the Covenant has finally made its long-awaited entrance into Jerusalem.  King David demonstrated his joy by dancing nude (Hebrew galah in this case, which does have erotic overtones) in public (wearing only a linen ephod, ceremonial upper body wear). 

    King David's wife Michal was apparently offended by his public nudity and gave a very modern-sounding speech about how shameful it was for King David to expose himself to the young women. 

    King David responded that it was right to demonstrate his joy nude before the Lord and protested that the young women  weren't offended. 

    The Bible then records that Michal was cursed with barrenness until her death.  Thus this account not only approvingly records a claim that God approves of public nude dancing as a means of expressing a message of righteous joy, but also records that a high rank Israelite who disapproved of public nude dance was rewarded with a curse.  Such an account could hardly occur in a society with a blanket disapproval of public nudity.

God Commands Public Nudity for Prophets Conducting Political Protests

    The Hebrew Bible also records that the Prophet Isaiah was directly commanded by God to openly use extensive public nudity as a teaching device.  In Isaiah chapter 20 Isaiah is commanded by God to remove the clothing from his loins and the shoes from his feet and to preach naked and barefoot in public for three entire years.  No mention is made of restricting Isaiah's appearances to areas designated for nudity.  (From our modern view it is interesting that the naked man is the one preaching repentance - and not the one being preached to!)  Again, the implication of this story is that God and ancient Hebrew society did not view simple public nudity as an adverse moral issue.

    The Prophet Isaiah was not the only Hebrew prophet commanded by God to walk publicly nude while preaching his message.  The Prophet Micah also walked publicly nude as part of his ministry (Micah 1:8).

Israelite Children Grew Up Nude

    An allegory in Ezekiel (chapter 16) indicates that it was the common practice of the Israelites to let even sexually mature female children run totally naked until they were married.  As verses 7-8 state,

    "... And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your [pubic] hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.  When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness:  yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you ... "

    As Bowman (Nakedness and the Bible) points out, an allegory cannot be effective in communicating a truth if the circumstances are unfamiliar to listeners.  The assumption should be that the described situation was familiar and common to the audience.  The only logical conclusion then is that premarital public nudity was common and taken for granted as a way of life for Hebrew youngsters even after sexual maturity.

Jesus Christ Teaches Naturism as an Antidote to Materialism

    The New Testament also in passing makes some very positive statements about simple public nudity.  The "in passing" is all the more telling as we are informed that some public nudity was commonly a way of life for first century Christians.

    Jesus Christ praised public nudity as a virtue when he asked, "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  ... And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."  (Matthew 6:25, 28-29) 

    The image of flowers greeting the sunshine and breeze as a metaphor for nude bodies in nature might seem unusual to modern Westerners.  However the metaphor was quite familiar to a Jewish audience steeped in their own literature, which we see in the "Old" Testament. 

    The Prophet Ezekiel made exactly that connection between the natural plants of the field and natural human nudity (Ezekiel 16:7, more clear in RSV).  In praising a natural naturist lifestyle Jesus was using a literary allusion already quite familiar and common to his Jewish audience and likewise used by a major Old Testament prophet.

St. Peter, Jesus and the Jewish Working Man's Uniform

    In John 21:7 we are informed that Saint Peter customarily stripped nude (Greek gymnos) for his work as a fisherman on the public waterways.  (According to Bowman (Nakedness and the Bible) we should not be surprised at this as depictions of Egyptian fishermen of that period often show them fishing in complete nudity on public lands without any recorded government designation of the areas for nudity and it is reasonable to believe this custom was prevalent in Israel as well.) 

    When the resurrected Jesus appeared Peter does dress for company, but any reprimand for nudity on public lands or waterways is noticeably absent.

    Peter's nudity is a simple, unremarked-upon work uniform.  It is thus ironic that although Jesus himself did not condemn Peter certain modern anti-nudity laws brand Saint Peter himself as an affront to moral society and demand fines and jail time for such innocent behavior.  A more dramatic highlight between the misunderstanding of some modern persons and the realities of acceptance of public nudity in Western civilization and Judeo-Christian religion would be difficult to find.

    Interestingly, like the biblical peoples far eastern civilization has also had a common custom of accepted and widespread public nudity for physical laborers.  In the case of Japan this has extended well into the twentieth century.  As ruled in a United States court decision, "The Japanese do not consider nudity indecent.  A Japanese woman pays no heed to the absence of clothing on workmen." (Parmelee v. United States, 113 F.2d 279, 733 (1940), quoting Sumner, Folkways (1906))

    One may wonder if Jewish carpenters did not also assume the common man's working uniform and publicly work in the nude when practical.

Jesus Greets Cheering Naked Crowd on Palm Sunday

    Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday also provides evidence of His positive acceptance of public nudity. 

    In Matthew 21:8 we are informed that the crowd spread their garments on the road.  In Greek the common garment is called a himation.  According to Bowman the himation was typically the only and single garment owned by the common majority in those times (recall the Law of Moses commandment against keeping a debtor's garment). 

    Historically, underwear as we understand it first came into general use only about 200 years ago (see The Importance of Wearing Clothes by Lawrence Langner, 1991 edition, chapter 16).  Thus, lacking underwear, when the crowd removed their himations to honor Jesus most of the crowd would inevitably have been naked. 

    There is no record that Jesus considered this mass public nudity in his honor as morally incorrect.  On the contrary, He accepted the crowd's honor.  There is also no record that the Roman authorities were concerned about the public nudity of Jewish crowds - only their support of a Messiah.

    In contrast to the cheering nude crowd that honored Jesus on Palm Sunday, the officials and mob that sought his death were apparently dressed.

 Jesus Performs Rite of Service and Humility in the Nude

    John 13:4 also records an instance where Jesus Christ himself would be a criminal offender according to some modern anti-nudity ordinances.  

    St. John's account informs us that at the Last Supper Jesus laid aside his clothing and wore only a towel which he then used to clean his Apostle's feet rather than as an article of clothing. 

    Inevitably, Jesus would have been exposed to the other persons in the room.  If the Last Supper were held in an eating place open to members of the public, as was the custom of the time, then Jesus' famous act of humility in washing the Apostle's feet would have deserved a criminal arrest according modern anti-nudity ordinances which define nudity in any establishment open to the public except for a nudist club as a criminal offense.

The Nude Resurrection

    St. John also states that when Jesus rose from the dead, his linen garments were left behind (John 20:5,6).  Immediately after St. John's report of that observation by St. Peter and another disciple, St. John states that Mary Magdalene met Jesus outside of the tomb and mistook him for the gardener.  This incident would be understandable only if the expected work uniform of the gardener as a common laboring man was nudity.

    Christians in 1678 also understood the holy connection between nudity and resurrection.  In the Christian classic The Pilgrim's Progress, author John Bunyan wrote that when the Christian heros Christian and Hopeful finish their heroic journey of faith and pass through a River (symbolizing death), before entering heaven “also they had left their mortal Garments behind them in the River; for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, though the Foundation upon which the City was framed was higher than the Clouds; They therefore went up through the region of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely got over the River, and had such glorious Companions to attend them.”

The Future Nude Christian Church and Other Prophecies

    St. John's positive view of public nudity continues in the Book of Revelation (12:1), where the Christian church is portrayed as a nude woman "clothed with the sun."  Throughout the allegory the nude woman never shows any interest in being dressed in more than sunlight.  (Interestingly, for many years the name of The Naturist Society's magazine was Clothed With The Sun.)

    St. John follows the prophecy of the righteous nude woman "clothed with the sun" with the prophecy of the Bride of Christ who is "clothed in fine linen, bright and pure - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:8), thus echoing St. Paul's advice to Christian women who desire true modesty that the only important dress is good deeds (1 Timothy 2:9,10, discussed below). 

    In contrast the evil "great harlot" (Rev. 17:1) who is "Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations" (Rev 17:5) wears extensive and expensive literal cloth of "purple and scarlet" (Rev. 17:4).

Nudity of Christ's Disciples a Necessary Preparation for the Second Coming?

    An apocryphal Gospel which openly praises public nudity as a part of holiness is credited as being "the most authentic of the rejects" and almost became part of the standard Christian canon in 382 A.D.. 

    Prof.  Paul LeValley points out that the Gospel of Thomas "is the closest thing we now have to the original Q; it contains some additional sayings not found in Matthew or Luke."  (Q is the posited original source for the canonical Gospels.) ("How Early Christians Dealt with the Naked Christ," Naturally, Winter 1995/1996, p. 16) 

In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus taught that:

     36.  Jesus said, "Do not be concerned from morning until evening and from evening until morning about what you will wear."
     37.  His disciples said, "When will You become revealed to us and when shall we see You?"  Jesus said, "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid."

St. Paul Recommends Christians Be Covered With Good Deeds, Not Clothing

    Although Saint Paul wrote often and strongly against nearly every stripe of sexual immorality with which modern Christians concern themselves, it is telling that St. Paul never condemned nonsexual public nudity.  For example, the nude are not listed by St. Paul as being among "the unrighteous" in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  Nudity also did not make the list of the four things which the Apostle James stated that Gentile Christians must abstain from in Acts 15:20, 29.

    When St. Paul does recommend modesty, he asks that Christian women adorn themselves in "seemly apparel."  However St. Paul's definition of "seemly apparel" is not cloth but rather "good deeds, as befits women who profess religion." (1 Timothy 2:9,10)

St. Peter Advises Christian Women That Modesty is Not Clothing, but an Attitude

    In his advice to Christian wives, Saint Peter pointedly stated that the adornment of chastity or modesty is "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."  (1 Peter 3:3-4, KJV).

Early Christian were Naturists at the Roman Baths

    The lack of any moral concern about public nudity in the New Testament was not an oversight.  All Jews and Gentiles were well acquainted with the influential Hellenistic Naturist traditions of athletics and academic discourse in the nude - a tradition that was extended to women as well when more advanced Hellenistic societies allowed to participate with men as equals. 

    Furthermore mixed-gender public nude bathing (virtually indistinguishable from modern Naturist recreation) was a distinct feature of life in the first century Roman Empire.  Christians are known to have commonly participated along with everyone else.

    As an example, (see Dayton Daily News, 13 Feb 1993) Roy Bowen Ward, a professor at Miami University in Oxford, has published a study in the Harvard Theological Review that says early Christians "might not have objected to public nudity the way many people object today."  Professor Ward states that "Mixed bathing was customary with Christian men and women until about the end of the fourth century AD."  According to Prof. Ward, Christian morality did not originally preclude nudity.  It was not until the fifth century A.D. that an anti-Naturist philosophy became established.

    Ward's study states that in the first centuries of Christianity, public baths - sometimes several acres in size - became a gathering spot throughout the Roman Empire.  More than 850 public baths existed by the end of the fourth century.  Christian women frequented the baths and were bathing with men.  Although not without controversy, Naturist Christians were in the majority until about 400 years after Christ.

Nude Baptism as a Christian Requirement

    Prof. Ward also points out that in the third century, nudity was consciously mandatory for the Christian rite of baptism.  Such public nudity was upheld as a moral and religious good.

    In accordance with Prof. Ward's conclusions, existing writings of early Christian leaders supports fact that early Christians practiced public nudity as a matter of course in their religion. 

    Saint Hippolytus of Rome (c. 200 A.D.) wrote that men, women and children were baptized together while nude.  In fact women were asked to remove even jewelry and combs from their hair.

     Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350 A.D.) recorded his instructions to early Christians as they were baptized:

    "You are now stripped and naked, in this also imitating Christ despoiled of His garments on His Cross, He Who by His nakedness despoiled the principalities and powers, and fearlessly triumphed over them on the cross."

    After the baptismal service Saint Cyril would then tell the new Christians:

    "How wonderful!  You were naked before the eyes of all without feeling any shame.  This is because you truly carry within you the image of the first Adam, who was naked in paradise without feeling any shame."

    Another early Church Father, Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 400 A.D.) stated Christian beliefs thusly:

    "Adam was naked at the beginning and he was not ashamed of it.  This is why your clothing must be taken off, since it is the convincing proof of this sentence which lowers mankind to need clothing."

(See Jean Cardinal Danielou, S.J., The Bible and the Liturgy, Univ. Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind., 1956, p. 38-40.)

    Ironically, although the early Christians mandated that baptism be performed in the nude,  nude baptism is specified to be a crime in many anti-nudity ordinances.

    One is left to wonder at the true authorship of these new anti-nudity ordinances.

 Nudity and the Pope
    Modern as well as ancient Christian leaders have expressed a tolerance of and support for public nudity.  One example is that of Karol Wojtyla, now known as Pope John Paul II, who has taught that:

    "Sexual modesty cannot then in any simple way be identified with the use of clothing, nor shamelessness with the absence of clothing and total or partial nakedness ... Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness."  (Love and Responsibility, tr. H.T. Willetts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, N.Y. 1981, p. 176, 190).


1.  The Bible version used here is the Revised Standard Version, copyright 1973, unless indicated otherwise.
2.  The St. Johns County, Florida, anti-nudity ordinance has proved a popular template for anti-nudity laws throughout the United States after early challenges led to the law being upheld in federal court.  This ordinance and its clones bans nudity in any place open to even the willing public (sometimes but not always exempting nudist clubs).  Restaurants, hotels, churches and public waterways are not excepted.  It is most ironic that this type of ordinance has been pushed by avowedly Christian organizations where these laws would have made criminals out of untold centuries of Hebrews and at least four centuries of Christians, including Jesus' disciples and Jesus Christ himself.   Properly understood, these laws are anti-Christ, not Christian.

But, what about ...

A sincere challenger to the idea that Judaism and Christianity are supportive of nonsexual nudity pointed out the following verses from the "Old" and New Testaments which seem to associate nudity with shame:

Isaiah 47:3 (New International Version)

3        Your nakedness will be exposed
          and your shame uncovered.
          I will take vengeance;
          I will spare no one."

Lamentations 1:8

8        Jerusalem has sinned greatly
          and so has become unclean.
          All who honored her despise her,
          for they have seen her nakedness;
          she herself groans

Micah 1:11 (New International Version)

11      Pass on in nakedness and shame,
          you who live in Shaphir.
          Those who live in Zaanan
          will not come out.
          Beth Ezel is in mourning;
          its protection is taken from you
          and turns away.

Nahum 3:5 (New International Version)

5       "I am against you," declares the LORD Almighty.
          "I will lift your skirts over your face.
          I will show the nations your nakedness
          and the kingdoms your shame.

Revelation 3:18 (New International Version)

18     I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can
        become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful
        nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see

My reply is as follows:

Isaiah 47:3

The chapter refers not to Israel but to the "virgin daughter of Babylon."  Here (as per my Bible commentary) "virgin" means the previously unconquered status of Babylon. 

Babylon is cursed with various things, of which nudity is only one:  "on the ground without a throne", "no more be called tender and delicate", forced to grind meal (my Bible commentary says this means the former royalty is now doing slave scut work).

As per the nudity:  Babylon is metaphorically stripped of its veil (uncovering its face), its [royal] robe (uncovering the legs), "pass through the rivers" (commentary doesn't say what, but this is evidently not a pleasurable skinny dip - probably more beast of burden scut work).

The straightforward meaning of Isaiah 47 is that the shame of Babylon is a loss of status from royal superpower to slave people - including wearing the slave uniform of nakedness as a vivid badge of their new subordinate status.

Shame is here being associated with the nudity of Babylon.  The problem is the challenger is wrong because s/he is reading his/her own culture and moral viewpoint into the verse. 

Simple nudity to the ancient Hebrews was a shame and a reproach only in the context being a part of the condition of economic and military failure.  Such failure was catastrophic because the price of failure was literal slavery and status at the far bottom of the social hierarchy (and the winners weren't at all nice about it). 

But this shame is the shame of being the dregs and underdogs of society.  This is not body shame or concern of decency as modern Westerners think of it.

Isaiah is not telling Babylon to put on clothes for decency's sake.  Isaiah is predicting the shame of slavery for the wicked (well dressed) empire.

If we read Isaiah in the ahistorical sense then apparently God is commanding all women to wear robes and veils, and don't go swimming.  This is an absurd meaning that is obviously not the message of the text.

Lamentations 1:8

The Lamentations of Jeremiah concerned the now accomplished Babylonian conquest of the remaining southern kingdom of Israel (the northern portion being wiped by the Assyrians over a century earlier).

Here Jeremiah is using the time-honored symbol of a woman for Jerusalem as the conquered - and thus shamed - city.

Verse 8 speaks of Jerusalem's filthiness (my commentary says "or a mockery").  Again we have the clear message of humiliation in terms of status.  Those who honored her for success now despise her for failure.  Military failure and defeat is the context of the nudity of a conquered, impoverished and humiliated people. 

Note verse 9 specifically states that Jerusalem's filthiness is not due to her nudity, but "Her uncleanness was in her skirts.

I.e. Jerusalem's sin is not nudity - that is not on God's mind - but rather her conduct in the days of her prosperity and power.  (Prosperity and power were symbolized in the ancient world by textiles - a luxury item for the privileged and powerful.)

Here nudity is indeed shame - but only in the context of defeat, humiliation, and want.  This is not a verse that is moralizing about personal modesty.

Micah 1:11

Micah was a younger contemporary of Isaiah.  In the Book of Micah the "minor" prophet Micah prophesied the imminent fall of Jerusalem.

The context hasn't changed here - living in nakedness is the consequence of military defeat and serious poverty.

Prefacing Michah 1:11 is the verse (Micah 1:8) where Micah himself goes naked as part of a theatrical prophetic demonstration to graphically demonstrate Jerusalem's imminent fate.

Shame, yes - but status shame, not Western style body shame.  Else, why is the Prophet of God going naked in front of all of the people as a part of his mission and testimony?

Nahum 3:5

The Book of Nahum is a "paean of joy" over the forthcoming destruction of Nineveh.  This book is the epitome of schadenfreude (delight in the downfall of your rivals/enemies).

Mostly the same deal - a woman symbolizing a nation, poverty-nakedness as part of the humiliations of military defeat.

Here the Assyrians apparently suffer an embarrassment by getting their metaphorical skirts lifted.  But this is again misreading the text by reading our own prejudices and preoccupations into it rather than reading it on its own terms.

Recall from Ezekiel 16 that the Hebrew custom was that children grew up naked into and including the age of sexual maturity.  But when married, females by tradition did wear a skirt (but, apparently still topfree, breasts were not an issue).

This passage is another "so there" to the Assyrians, but is not about the embarassment of simple physical nudity.

The nudity of Nahum 3:5 is probably "Ervah" (sexual, licentious nudity) not "Erom."

This would make sense because the immediately preceding verse (Nahum 3:4) assails Assyria for "countless harlotries" and the betrayal of nations with harlotry.

Remember this is about a metaphorical vision about a defeated, sexually licentious nation.

Considering the severity of Ninevah's condition ("hosts of slain, dead bodies without end", etc) interpreting this verse as simple embarassment would be rather ridiculously beside the point.

In this context the vision of getting your harlot skirt lifted is probably a prophecy of sexual rape of the married females of the Assyrian men - another great humiliation of the military defeat.

The prophecy also is a picture of the exposing of Assyrian licentiousness as the world will know what the Assyrians have done. 

It is not, however, about simple body shame.  Nahum has bigger fish to fry.

Revelation 3:18

Nice try, but no.  This is not about the Bible condemning physical Erom-style nakedness (of course we're into common Greek now).

John the Revelator is writing to slam the Christian church at Laodicea for spiritual poverty. 

As the prior verse 17 states, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."

St. John's prescriptive white "clothing" needed to "keep the shame of your [spiritual] nakedness from being seen" is the same "clothing" worn by the woman symbolizing the church of God - the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev. 19:8, 1 Timothy 2:9,10).

John is not talking about threads here.

If we read these verses literally - obviously not what is meant - then we have to conclude that St. John or God is condemning poor people and blind people.  Not likely.

In fact, don't ignore the rest of the prescription to "buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich ..."  If we take this literally (thus entirely missing the point) then all Christians should be hoarding gold while wearing (specifically white) clothing.

But John isn't talking about gold here either.

This is a spiritual parable.  The shame here is a shame of spiritual poverty which is allegorically related to the long tradition of ancient shame over physical poverty.

None of this is a slam against naturist style nudity, such as the simple nudity praised by Jesus and John himself for that matter.

By the way, when Revelation is written here we near the end of the first century and Christians are commonly attending the Roman baths in the nude.  Where is the denunciation of this practice?  Nowhere. 

Response Summary:

It is striking that all of the Old Testament supposed nudity=shame examples come from the same historical period and from the same prophetic genre of military defeat and subsequent humiliations.

In three of the four Old Testament challenges the nudity is probably Erom because it is notably nonsexual.  This is the nudity of want and social status humiliation.  The shame is in having low status.  The idea of indecency as a sexual offense or sin in itself is notably not present.

Two of the four challenges are written by the same prophets who went nude in front of the people to testify.  So much for nudity = indecency.

Only in the fourth and last Old Testament challenge is even the slightest hint of nudity as an embarrassment.  However this too is a misreading of the author's message.  The image is a picture of sexual violence and the exposure of Assyrian scandals to the world.  It is not about schoolyard nudity embarrassment.

Only one challenge was presented from the New Testament.  However this challenge like the others is taken out of context.  In context the passage is clearly talking about a shameful spiritual poverty which mirrors the classical shame over physical poverty.  The prescriptions deal with doing good deeds, not any need to wear physical clothing.  In fact this passage buttresses rather than refutes the idea that Christianity supports naturism, i.e. other scriptures which similarly make metaphors about the true clothing being righteous deeds.

Bottom Line:

None of these passages support the idea of simple nudity as such being shameful or sinful.

But, what about #2 ...

Some other miscellaneous challenges to the Bible being pro-nudity:

Exodus 28:42

"And you shall make for them linen breeches to cover their naked flesh; from the loins to the thighs they shall reach;"

My reply:

Again, read in context!  Exodus chapter 28 is all about the priestly uniform of Aaron's sons when (and only when) they officiate in Hebrew temple ceremonies.  In fact the very next verse specifically states that the linen breeches of verse 42 "shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place". 

Thus verse 42 applies (1) only to Aaronic priests, and (2) only when acting as priests.  The rest of the time, God gave no prohibition to them in regard to going naked.

Verse 41 is in no way a prohibition of simple nudity for the common people.  In fact the context argues exactly the opposite.  Why would the Lord have to specificy that Aaronic priests - only when officiating! - should wear pants over their "naked flesh" unless nudity was a common and unremarkable state of dress for ancient Israelites?

If God was really anti-nudity, why didn't he command all the Israelites to wear breeches over their naked flesh?  In fact there is no such commandment in the Bible, anywhere!

Leviticus 18:6 and following verses:

"None of you shall approach any one near of kin to  him to uncover nakedness."

My Reply:

Leviticus 18:6 and following verses are obviously about sexual nudity (Ervah) not simple nudity (Erom).  Here the Lord is specifying which relatives counted as incestuous sex when people had sex.  This is not about family skinnydipping.

Genesis 9:22-23

"And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.  [23] Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness."

My Reply:

Whatever Noah's "nakedness" was, it wasn't just about sleeping in the nude in his very own tent, and then being seen by his same-gender relatives.

If you as a Jew or Christian believe that is the case, do you believe that God has forbidden same-gender sports locker rooms?  If so then why aren't you campaigning to shut down the local YMCA as a den of iniquity?  (Oops, I guess that is a Christian organization, right?)

Or has God forbbidden you to sleep in the nude in your own bed in your own room?

Get real.

Whatever this is about, it is about some sexual scandal (Ervah) not common nudity (Erom).

Habbakkuk 2:15 (RSV)

"Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink of the cup of his wrath, and makes them drunk, to gaze on their shame!"

Habakkuk 2:15 (KJV)

"Woe unto him that giventh his neighbour drink, that puttest they bottle to him, and makes him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!"

My Reply:

It is interesting that the RSV doesn't even reference nakedness at all, but simply some sort of shame.

Regardless:  Ervah, not Erom.  This verse is about getting someone drunk and engaging in or viewing some sexual activity.

-- Marv Frandsen


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