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The Bible; nudism and naturism

Nudity, as mentioned in the Bible

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According to one source, there are 104 references to the word "naked" and its derivatives in 87 verses of the King James Version of the Bible. But with the New International Version, a translation preferred by many conservative Christians, there are only 49 references in 47 verses. 6 The NIV translators may have tampered with the original Hebrew and Greek, perhaps because they find nudity too embarrassing.

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Passages from the creation story in Genesis

There are a number of passages near the beginning of Genesis  that might be considered to have a relationship to social nudism:
bulletGenesis 2 Adam was created from mud, and Eve was created from one of Adam's ribs. Both had remained naked in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:25 states: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." (KJV).
bulletGenesis 3:7: "Then the eyes of both [Adam and Eve] were opened and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." (NIV)

There is an ambiguity in the original Hebrew text over the word translated here as naked. It may be:
bulleteromim which means to be naked, without clothes, or
bulletarumim which means the uncovering of deceptions

Genesis and the rest of the Torah was written using only consonants, with no letters or signs indicating vowels. Thus "eromim" and "arumim" appear the same in the Hebrew text, as rmm.

The Hebrew word translated here as coverings is chagowr which literally means a belt for the waist. But some translators of the Bible into English seem to have recoiled from the thought of Eve walking around topless, wearing just a belt. The King James and Revised Standard Versions both mention "aprons" which could have covered most of their bodies. The Modern Language version describes them as "skirts". The Living Bible mentions that they covered "themselves around the hips" The New American Standard Bible calls them "loin coverings." The NIV translation is particularly obscure; they refer simply to "coverings" without defining what type was used. In spite of what the NIV translators wrote, it is obvious that Eve went topless.

bulletGenesis 3:10-11: God called for Adam, who replied: "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." God answered: "Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (KJV).

There are many conflicting interpretations to the significance of nudity in these passages:

bulletSome interpret that passages as implying that Adam and Eve had once lived a sinless life. But after eating the fruit, their thoughts became selfish. They lost their unconditional, pure love for each other and began to look upon their partner as sex objects -- as a body to exploit in order to satisfy their sexual appetite. Their clothing might have been intended to protect themselves from the other.
bulletSome suggest that the act of covering of their body was a metaphor. It symbolized their real need to try to hide their sin from God.
bulletSome feel that Adam and Eve were so embarrassed by their nudity that they had to create clothes to hide their genitals. However, that interpretation seems unlikely, because Adam and Eve would have been used to seeing each other naked continually since Eve was created. They would hardly suddenly become embarrassed in each other's presence. 
bulletSome Christians interpret the passage as implying that once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, Adam and Eve knew felt shame because of their naked bodies, and nudity became intrinsically sinful. Adam and Eve then wished to be clothed when they became aware of their sin.
bulletAnother explanation was that the aprons would give them at least some form of physical protection when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden into a barren land. Perhaps the belts would facilitate the carrying of knives to ward off dangerous animals.
bulletStill another interpretation of the passage is that Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit gave them knowledge. God had created them as a type of proto-human, with their natures intermediate between that of animals and of the humans they would become. They lacked a moral sense. They had no knowledge of good and evil, and without much knowledge of themselves and their surroundings. In some magical way, the eating of the fruit brought them instant knowledge of morality: of good and bad behavior. The fruit made them fully human, It may have also brought them knowledge of how sexual intercourse can lead to procreation. They realized the tremendous magical power of sex. They decided that their sexual organs were so powerful and mysterious that they should be covered.
bulletReligious liberals tend to interpret the first part of Genesis as a series of religious myths. They are stories of great spiritual significance, but unrelated to any historical happenings. The passage about Adam and Eve wearing a belt might simply be a myth that the author(s) included to account for the embarrassment that youth and adults often feel when they are naked in the presence of the opposite gender. 
bulletOthers refer to a Pagan Babylonian religious text, the Gilgamesh epic. It contains a passage that is very close parallel to the Genesis story. It involves Enkidu and a harlot who received sexual knowledge as a result of eating the forbidden fruit. This caused them to be embarrassed at their nudity. The Epic was written many centuries before Genesis. Religious liberals generally assume that parts of Genesis were copied from The Gilgamesh epic. This would include the stories of the forbidden fruit, the clothing, and the universal flood.

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Passages from the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

bulletGenesis 9:20-29: This is the story of Noah becoming intoxicated and lying naked in his tent. He had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japeth. Ham sees his father, and tells his two brothers. The Hebrew word for nakedness is here "ervah," which connotes a display of the genitals. Shem and Japeth then cover their father without looking at him. When Noah wakes up, he engages in evil sorcery: He lays a verbal curse; not on Ham, but on Ham's son Canaan, and all of his descendants. Some conservative theologians interpret this passage to mean that Ham's descendants were cursed because Ham had observed his father naked. This would imply that nudity with a family is forbidden behavior. Others interpret it to mean that Ham ridiculed his father's nakedness and was being punished for his disrespect. That would be more in agreement with Exodus 21:15 and Leviticus 20:9 which calls for a son to be punished if he curses or shames his parent (the Hebrew word is ambiguous). Others reject the passage as profoundly immoral. By today's secular and religious standards, people are not punished for the  behavior of their parent(s) or other ancestor; individuals are responsible for their own behavior, not for others.
bulletExodus 32:19-25: At least 3,000 men and an unknown number of women danced while worshiping a golden calf. Various translations of the Bible say that they were "unrestrained", or had "broken loose" or were "committing adultery" or were "running wild." The original Hebrew appears to imply that they were naked. The sons of Levi sided with Moses who disapproved of idol worship and exterminated the worshipers. The worshipers appear to have been punished because they revered the golden calf, not because they were publicly nude. 
bullet1 Samuel 18:3-4 "And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt." (NIV) Since people in those days did not wear underwear, Jonathan stripped himself naked in front of David. This is one of many indications in the Bible where David and Jonathan's relationship may have been sexual in nature.
bullet1 Samuel 19:20-24: Saul had sent a group of messengers to capture David. The "Spirit of God" descended on the messengers, and they started to prophesize. Saul sent a second group of messengers, with the same result. Finally Saul went himself and the Spirit descended upon him as well. Verse 24 states: "And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night...." (KJV). The nudity of Saul and his messengers while prophesizing is the first of many similar instances in the Bible.
bullet2 Samuel 6:14: "And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod." (KJV) David engaged in some kind of whirling dance to the accompaniment of music and ritual shouting. An ephod was a type of simple apron that covered his genitals. David was nearly naked. Presumably his genitals would have been exposed as he danced.
bullet2 Samuel 11:2: "...David...went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking her evening bath." (NIV) David and Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, later engaged in an adulterous affair. Bathsheba became pregnant, David sent her husband into a hopeless military situation so that Uriah was killed. This passage appears to reflect the building design in Palestine at the time. The populace generally had no access to indoor bathtubs, and commonly bathed in public in the river. In Bathsheba's case, she was probably bathing in her courtyard out of sight of passersby, but visible from the roof of the palace. Her nudity was mentioned in passing without comment. That would seem to imply that to be naked in the view of others, or to observe a person naked, are not sinful acts. David was later punished by God, not for gazing on a naked woman, but for committing adultery with her and for being indirectly responsible for arranging the death of her husband.
bulletIsaiah 20:2: "The Lord told Isaiah, the son of Amoz, to take off his clothing, including his shoes, and to walk around naked and barefoot" (NIV) Isaiah's nudity, which was to continue for three years, was symbolic of the Assyrians conquering Egypt and Ethiopia, when they carted their prisoners away naked and barefoot. Isaiah was clearly acting as a naturist, but not necessarily of his own choosing. And God used his nudity to teach others. Many centuries later, St., Francis of Assisi followed Isaiah's behavior. He removed his clothes in the center of the village. He and Brother Rufino later preached nude in church. 1,2
bulletEsther 1:10-11: "...when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded ...the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on." (KJV) Ancient rabbinical interpreters suggested that she was ordered to appear naked, wearing only her crown. She refused.
bulletJob 22:6: "For thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for nought, and stripped the naked of their clothing." (KJV) This is a criticism of unrighteous people who are totally lacking in empathy for other individuals. They are so keen to exploit others that they take from the naked what they do not have: clothes. There is no condemnation for the naked in this passage.
bulletJob 24:7: "They cause the naked to lodge without clothing, that they have no covering in the cold." (KJV) Same comment as above.
bulletJob 24:10: "They cause him to go naked without clothing, and they take away the sheaf from the hungry." (KJV) Not only do the unrighteous take clothing from the naked, they even steal food. Again, there is no condemnation of those who simply are naked.
bulletIsaiah 58:7: "Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (NIV) This is clearly not a command to clothe all naked persons. Rather, it is an instruction to care for the people who are in need of shelter, food and clothes in order to sustain life.
bulletMicah 1:8: "Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked" Like Samuel and Isaiah, Micah prophesied while unclad.

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Passages from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

There are a number of passages in the Christian Scriptures that might be considered to have a relationship to social nudism:
bulletMatthew 5:28: "...I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (NIV) Some would believe that more lustful thoughts might be experienced at a nudist facility than at a textile resort. However, it can equally be argued that the suggestive nature of many modern bathing suits arouse greater feelings of sexual lust at a textile beach or clothed resort than in a naturist location. So, the passage could be used to support or criticize naturism.
bulletMark 10:46-50: "... blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging...And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus." (KJV) It is unclear why he wished to come to Jesus naked. But his actions were not condemned.
bulletMark 14:51-52: "And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked." (KJV) This verse is a bit of a puzzle. Some theologians speculate that the young man had just been baptized naked and had afterwards put on a white linen sheet. In the early years of the Christian movement, believers and the person doing the baptizing were both nude. 
bulletJohn 13:4-5: Jesus "... riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded." This is a passage from the last supper. After finishing eating, Jesus removed all of his clothes, wrapped himself in a towel and later used the towel to wash the feet of his disciples.
bulletJohn 20:5-7: Two disciples visited the tomb where Jesus was interred. They found strips of linen and the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. Presumably, when Jesus was resurrected by God (according to Paul) or resurrected himself (according to the Gospel writers), he was without clothing. See also Luke 24:12.
bulletJohn 21:7: "...And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work); and threw himself into the sea.". (NIV) Once again, as in Genesis 3:7, the NIV translators seem to recoil from a vision of nudity; the idea of Peter working as a fisherman in the nude appears too much for them to handle. They chose an obscure term to describe the garment that Peter put on. The resultant passage is ambiguous whether he put the outer garment on over an inner garment, or over his previously naked body. The King James Version translates this verse quite clearly: "...he girt his fisher's coat onto him, (for he was naked)..." The New Revised Standard Version renders this passage: "...he put on some clothes for he was naked." This passage describes how Peter had stripped naked to work on the fishing boat, and later put on a garment and dove into the sea. Public nudity while fishing was apparently a common practice among fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and Peter was no exception. Since Peter's nakedness was stated without comment, one could conclude that public nudity was/is acceptable behavior.
bullet1 Corinthians 8:9: "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." Some interpreters believe that this is a generic statement that a Christian must not engage in any behavior that might cause another believer to falter. They might argue that nudism may tempt some persons to have unclean thoughts. Other interpreters note that the passage is preceded and followed with discussions of eating meat that had been used in Pagan rituals. The instruction may be limited to interaction with animal-sacrificing Pagan groups, as is seen today among the followers of Santeria.
bullet1 Corinthians 12:23: "and those (parts) of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely (parts) have more abundant comeliness; whereas our comely (parts) have no need: but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that (part) which lacked." (ASV). Paul is apparently saying that parts of the human body which are not presentable are to be treated with special modesty, while the rest of our body needs no such special treatment. He is apparently referring to social practices in his culture, which prohibited nudity in social situations.
bulletThere are three other passages in the Christian Scriptures where nudity is mentioned. Two are associated with mental illness, which the Bible attributes to indwelling demons. (Luke 8:27, Acts 19:13-16). The remaining reference is in Luke 10:30, when the man rescued by the good Samaritan was stripped and left for dead by robbers. None of these are related to consensual nudity in public.

The Gospel of Thomas is a recently discovered Gospel that was in wide use among early Christian groups, but which never made it into the official canon of the Bible. One verse reads:

"His disciples asked, 'When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?' Jesus answered, '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.' "

Nudity in this case appears to be refer to achieving a state of personal innocence.

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Two additional passages in Romans:

bulletIn Romans 14:13, Paul writes:
bullet"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."

That is, social nudity may be acceptable for one person, yet might cause another person who is more susceptible to sin to falter and sin. Thus one is obligated to avoid social nudity out of concern for others. If applied to social nudism,

bulletIn the next verse, Romans 14:14, Paul writes:
bullet"I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean."

That is, a practice is not necessarily sinful. However, if a person feels that it is unclean or sinful, then it is so, and should be avoided.

One very conservative source, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, suggests that, after death, God might punish those who have engaged in social nudism while on Earth. The author wrote:

"Don't be so naive as to think that you might not tempt others to sin. You will need to answer this question before your God. Consider it carefully. You do not want to be confronted by God on the Day of Judgment with the accusation that your practice of social nudism tempted yourself or others to sin."

If one is to apply these verses to social nudism, then one has to conclude that naturism induces sinful thoughts and behaviors. However, many nudists report that naturism generates feelings of freedom, liberation, unity with nature, and not lustful thoughts.

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Conclusions:

One source lists many dozens of verses in the Bible and interprets each. That author concludes that God abhors nakedness when:
bulletIt is forced upon a person against their will (as when captured as a prisoner).
bulletIt is associated with a sinful act (as in Pagan worship of a golden calf or engaging in an orgy or temple prostitution).
bulletIt means that the individual is lacking in basic needs to the extent that they are unprotected from the harsh elements, without shelter, food, and clothing. 3

But God also used nakedness positively, in order to communicate the message of some of the Prophets more effectively.

We have been unable to find a passage in the Bible that specifically condemns public nudity, as in attendance at a naturist resort. There appear to be none which condemns private nudity. There seem to be a number of passages that mention nudity in the presence of others as acceptable behavior. There also appears to be many instances in the history of the Christian Church where public nudity was a normal activity. We would conclude that naturism is not disallowed by the Bible, or by church tradition and that Christians should feel free to investigate naturism freely.

The two passages in Roman cited above have been used to condemn social nudity. But this appears to be based on incorrect beliefs about the possibility of lustful thoughts.

Pope John Paul II, while still a Polish Cardinal wrote:

"Nakedness itself is not immodest... Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment." 4

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Related menu on this web site:

bulletMenu: Nudism and naturism

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References:

  1. "The Little Flowers of St. Francis", Part I, Chapter 30.
  2. Thomas of Celano, "The Life of St. Francis."
  3. Jeff Rockel has written an essay: "The Bible, Society and Nudity: A study of social nudity from a Biblical and secular perspective", See: http://my.voyager.net/
  4. Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, "Love and Responsibility", Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York, NY, (1981) pp. 176, 186, 189ff.
  5. St. Hippolytus, "Apostolic Constitutions."
  6. Jeff Rockel, "The Bible, Society and Nudity: A study of social nudity from a Biblical and secular perspective", See: http://www.execpc.com/
  7. "Christian Living / Human Behavior," Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, at: http://www.wels.net/
  8. "Edward Bonham," "Truth is life! Life is truth!," at: http://truthislife.freehostia.com/ 

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Copyright © 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-SEP-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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