Friday, May 15, 2015

But We’ll Wear ROBES in Heaven!!

It goes something like this:

“The Bible describes God and Jesus and the saints and everyone else in heaven as wearing clothes! So, obviously, God intends for us to wear clothes here and now!”

It’s an argument against naturism that I haven’t yet addressed on this blog. This was pointed out this some time ago by a reader who commented on my previous post. Thankfully, he was much more articulate and less dogmatic than my characterization above, but he did correctly identify that this was an issue I had not yet covered. Here’s what he wrote:

I have appreciated getting your perspectives as they have challenged assumptions in how I understand Scripture. I have a question that I don't think has been addressed on your blog so far.

Scripture uses a robe as a symbol for our righteous standing before God. Christ's perfect righteousness had been imputed to us to cover our sin, and this is symbolized as a robe of righteousness from God. Also, based on the Book of Revelation, it seems that there will still be clothes in eternity as it mentions people wearing white robes. Even though we will no longer have sin, our clothes may help remind us that we were once sinful and that Christ came to clothe us with his righteousness. Given the symbolic significance of clothing in our salvation, does this undermine the idealizing of nudity?

Thanks so much!

To this reader I say, Thanks for writing! And thanks for your kind words about how the blog has challenged you!

There are more than one thing that I need to say in response to your questions, so let me now address them.

Symbolism Has Its Limits…

The first point is that while the Bible does use physical items symbolically, it is a mistake to treat that item as if it cannot have any other meaning, or that we must be reminded of that spiritual meaning every time we are physically exposed to that item.

For example, Christ used the bread and wine as symbols to remind of His suffering for us on the cross. They are powerful symbols reminding us of His death and shed blood. Yet bread and wine are not without any other meaning and we are under no obligation to remember Christ every time we have a bite of bread or take a drink of grape juice or wine. Bread is used symbolically in other ways in the Bible, and so is wine. And sometime, bread and wine are just food and drink.

In like manner, the fact that we see clothing used symbolically to represent honor and glory—or a “righteous standing before God”—does not mean that that’s the only meaning or purpose of clothing, nor do we have an obligation to intentionally remember or portray that symbolism every time we put on some clothing. The fact is that clothing has many purposes (I did an entire series on that point). Sometimes it shows the greatness of a person, but sometime it tells all that the person is in mourning.

Symbolism is Culturally interpreted!

In perhaps a surprising observation, we see in the Bible that much—if not all—of the symbolism invoked in the Bible actually has to be interpreted within a cultural context in order to understand what God is intending to communicate. In other words, God saw fit to portray human cultural patterns and conventions to communicate to mankind through symbols. Let me give some examples:

  • “… I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.”  (Isa. 6:1)
    • Exactly why does God need to wear a robe? And why a robe with a train? God has no body… right? He needs no robe to keep warm, nor to cover for “modesty’s sake.” And the “train” of any robe has absolutely NO functional use at all… except to draw admiring attention to its wearer. The train comes from a time and culture far removed from ours, and would be completely lost on western culture if not for the fact that brides often wear dresses with a long train at their weddings (for the same purpose).
    • Note, if human culture hadn’t developed kingdoms with royalty wearing extravagantly ornate and decorated clothing to portray their greatness (including robes with long trains), there would be nothing of meaning in God’s “robe” and it’s “train.”
  • “Behold, I stand at the door and knock;” (Rev. 3:20)
    • What is a door but a human invention? What is knocking to seek entry but a human convention?
    • While God has always been eager to fellowship with men and women, the statement found in Rev. 3:20 could not have been spoken with any real meaning by Jesus before doors and knocking became a part of human cultural experience. Doors—we can probably assume—are not a reality in the spirit realm, given the very fact that they are a physical,material device.

So… clothing is used to convey as spiritual meaning… but I don’t believe it will be helpful to explore the various valid meanings for clothing here. The point that is important to make here is that symbolism picturing spiritual truth does not translate into moral requirements about the physical elements utilized for the symbolism.

Symbolism Utilizes Human Constructs.

Undoubtedly, there is some symbolic language in the bible which refers to completely natural events (the sunrise) or entities (animals) to make a symbolic application, but in the main—and certainly with reference to clothing—symbolism representing spiritual truth is based upon some sort of human invention or pattern. In other words, God is using human things to communicate with humans.

This truth explains why we must consider culture when interpreting the meaning of a symbol. Since mankind created the physical picture, (doors, bread, wine, clothing, mansions), God can then use those objects to illustrate heavenly truths.

Here’s the point… the spiritual “pictures” do not define the physical meaning of things—nor do they prescribe their usage—but the physical gives its meaning of the spiritual picture. This is why we can’t use the “clothing of heaven” to conclude any sort of moral obligation for clothing in the here-and-now.

But Obviously, There IS Clothing in Heaven!

Ok… so descriptions of Heaven include descriptions of clothing… shouldn’t we ask what the clothing in heaven for?

Clothing on earth has a variety of purposes (see this series regarding The Biblical Purposes of Clothing), but could the purpose for heavenly clothing be the same as on earth?

  • Is it for warmth? For protection of the body?
    • I highly doubt it.
  • What about for moral purposes… might God be offended by “unclothed” spirits? Will He be offended by an unclothed glorified human body?
    • Just pondering that for a moment reveals how silly that suggestion is.
  • Will it be to constrain sexual lust??
    • That’s not even a biblically valid purpose for clothing in the physical realm, but the suggestion that it would still apply in heaven—after we have been glorified and delivered from the presence of sin in our lives—is also inconceivable.
    • Notwithstanding the ludicrousness of this notion, people still will put forth the apparent presence of clothing on the inhabitants of heaven as evidence that we must also wear clothing to live a righteous life here on earth.
  • Does the clothing of heaven communicate something about the wearers?
    • Ah, now here we have a clear match in the probable purpose of clothing in heaven. The human inhabitants of heaven have been washed by the blood of Christ, and as the bride of Christ, they will wear “white linen” garments… pictures of how their lives have been “clothed” with the righteousness of Christ (the robes are said in that verse to actually be “the righteous acts of the saints,” clearly non-physical in nature.).

Beyond just its “purpose,” exactly what do we imagine that the clothing of heaven is even made of? As I just mentioned, in Rev. 19:8 we’re told that they were white “linen” (reiterated in Rev. 19:14) Linen is made from plants… physical plants. But does that mean that there’s an earthly textile industry with a contract for millions of white linen garments for the hosts of heaven? Isn’t that a question worth asking? Are we really supposed to conclude that this imagery speaks of literal organic linen garments? I don’t think so! That’s not at all the point of the picture. Again, the descriptions of clothing of heaven are given to communicate something about heaven, not to prescribe them for earth.

Actually Naked In Heaven?

Will we morally object to nudity in heaven as we seem to here on earth? There’s no basis to claim so… and I certainly hope that we no longer have hang-ups about the God’s beautiful design of the human form in heaven.

C.S. Lewis effectively communicated the uncertainty of the meaning and purpose—and the substance—of heavenly clothing in his book, The Great Divorce, where he writes of a “bright spirit” seen by his protagonist, who describers her this way:

I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye. (The Great Divorce, chapter 12)

While Lewis’ imaginations about what heaven will be like are no more “inspired” than anyone else’s, it’s clear the he realized that clothing in heaven must have a completely different meaning and essence than clothing as we know it today.

Again, this acknowledgement underscores the futility of attempting to derive moral absolutes about clothing in the here and now based upon the descriptions of clothing from biblical scenes of heaven.

Are We Supposed to “Remember our Sin”??

You suggested in your comments that clothing in heaven “may help remind us” of our sin… but do you really think that’s something God wants for us to do for all eternity? Don’t you think he would rather we persist for eternity in the righteousness of Christ, restored to sinless fellowship as God intended right from the beginning in Eden? Sin should be nothing more than a distant memory… if a memory at all! Doesn’t even God say that he will “remember” our sins no more?

Finally, you implied that I “idealize” nudity. I’m not sure I would concur with that characterization of my position. I think the problem is that people “idealize” (or is it “idolize”?) clothing… giving it an importance and a moral significance that it simply does not deserve.

The refusal to reject nudity (by idealizing clothing) is not by itself the idealization of nudity.

What I would idealize is the ability—even in a fallen world—to be “naked and not ashamed.” (honestly, that sounds like the Bible “idealizes” nudity at least in some measure!). To be free from shame is God’s ideal for us. To be free from man-made rules of righteousness (such as a moral requirement for clothing) is also a biblical ideal.

So, do I idealize nudity? No. I idealize the casting off of false constraints and beliefs about our unclothed bodies. It only follows then that if we cast off the false, we must choose to live contrary to the false, or else we’re still submitting to the lie (and that is the foundation of my assertion that I am a Naturist By Biblical Conviction).

Thanks again for writing! I welcome your feedback!

— Matt

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More on “Stumbling”

One of the comments on my post asking your “Biggest Scriptural Challenge,” a fellow using the name “Puddlejumper” offered this pair of questions:

Hello Matthew, I really appreciate your blog, it has been a big part in God freeing me from pornography addiction. One comment my wife often replies with when I talk about getting involved in social naturism is "I do not want to make another stumble". You have already addressed some of this in your comments on Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 but not (as far as I recall) the Matthew 18 vv6-7 and parallel passages. My own feeling is that these gospel passages are talking about non-believers who deliberately cause believers to sin rather than Paul's writings addressed to believers' freedom. I would appreciate your thoughts on these verses from the gospels and also what you understand from Paul's comment in 1 Cor. 8 v.13 where he says "..he will never eat meat again..." rather than qualifying his argument with something like "...I will not eat meat in a weak brother's presence...".

Thanks again for all your blog posts.

Puddlejumber (There has to be a story behind that handle… can I call you “PJ”?),
Thanks for writing. I am thrilled to hear that God is renewing your understanding of the human body with truth and it has liberated you from the bondage to pornography!
You’ve asked for comments on two different passages of Scripture, so I’m going to tackle them separately.
Causing a Child to Stumble
To be very honest with you, I never considered this passage with reference to the kind of “stumbling” that most Christians talk about when they say we’re not to “cause a brother to stumble.” Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8 are much more central to those ideas. And as we’ve seen in my treatment of those passages, we cannot be held responsible for the sinful responses people have when they see us living our lives in righteousness, else we would have to conclude that Jesus was responsible for the Pharisees’ wicked response to Him.
But let’s look at what this passage says… in context:
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 
Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (Matthew 18:3-9 NASB)
You can see first of all that Jesus is talking about how we need to come to Him… with the faith of a child. He’s talking about faith for salvation. A child easily and simply believes in Christ’s love and forgiveness. But then Jesus transitions to talk about “Stumbling Blocks,” but remember that the context is still salvation. Unlike Paul, Jesus is not referring to the “stumbling block” of a questionable activity.
Let me show why I say that in this case, “stumbling” means “keeping someone from making it to heaven.” Jesus’ next paragraph states that you should not allow your eye or hand to cause you to “stumble.” The consequence if you do not guard against that? “Eternal fire.” Jesus said it would be better to have only one eye or hand than go to hell.
This is not about “I just committed a sin with my eye or my hand.” This is about the importance of entering heaven and avoiding hell… and if you “stumble,” you’re on your way to hell.
Causing someone to “stumble,”—according to Jesus’ use of the word—is to cause them to “be cast into fiery hell.”
Doesn’t that fit the context of Jesus’ warning about causing a child to stumble? One who causes one of these “little ones”—children, or anyone prepared to response with childlike faith—to “stumble” is one “bad dude.”
This makes perfect sense… if someone interferes with a child’s opportunity to express saving faith, or who dissuades that child from expressing saving faith, that person has just put a “stumbling block” between that child (or any person) and their salvation. This explains why Jesus metes out such a severe curse on that person.
Misguided Definitions
Paul used “stumbling” one way. Jesus used it another. It might be tempting to assume that they were using it the same way, but the context makes it clear that they were not. Sadly, however, many people hear the word “stumble” in the Bible and they assume a meaning that does not match how Paul used it OR how Jesus used it. Instead, they assume a definition that is foreign to both texts but they use it to interpret both texts. Their interpretation in both cases is wrong, and so their application is also wrong. Instead of submitting to God’s Truth, they find themselves laboring to submit themselves to a lie… to a man-made rule.
It is critically important that we understand the actual meaning of the words we read in Scripture. When we don’t, we risk missing something that God intended for us to know, or—worse—believing that God has said something that he really hasn’t.
I’ll Never Eat Meat Again.
Let’s look at your second question… the passage is 1 Cor 8:13.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13 – NASB)
The context is about being careful for brothers with “weak consciences” so that—even though the meat offered to idols neither hurts nor helps the one who eats it—if they were to eat it, they would be drawn in their hearts back into idol worship, or at least they might feel like they were. In that case—when we can discern that weakness in a brother—we should abstain from eating the meat, harmless though it may be in itself.
So is Paul saying that he simply will never eat meat no matter what because someone might have a problem? I don’t think that’s the force of his words. I believe that he’s saying two things:
  • I don’t mind giving up the meat for a brother with a weak conscience.
  • If that were to mean that I’d never ever get to enjoy a steak on the grill again, I’m still ok with that!
Note the word “IF” in Paul’s words. His decision to not eat meat is—and always will be—conditional. It is not a once-and-done decision to go vegan.
I Hope This Helps…
Thanks for writing, PJ. I hope you’ll write again if you have any more questions.
— Matthew Neal

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The BEST Blog Comment From a Non-Naturist… EVER!!!

A Pleasant Surprise!

I woke up this morning to a new comment on one of my blog posts. It is by far the best non-naturist response I’ve EVER received to anything that I’ve written! You can see the comment attached to the pivotal article from the Purpose of Clothing series where I address the presumption that clothing is intended by God to “Control Lust.

The comment was wonderfully affirming and encouraging, but it also contained a very significant question that deserves a detailed treatment. That’s the purpose of this blog post.

Here are David’s comments:

  • Hi Matthew, I am not a naturist, nor do I have an intention of becoming one, but I have found some of the concepts taught here and at to be incredibly helpful in thinking rightly about lust and the body. Thanks for being committed to the Bible as your authority.
  • I read the "Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9" article, and found it a compelling translation, but I'm not entirely convinced that "apparel" is an incorrect translation of katastole. One issue that was not addressed: a quick google search of the word brings up lots of christian sites claiming that the word means "long dress". Kata meaning "to let down" and stola being a common female garment in Greek culture. If that is correct, then we have to say that 1 Tim 2:9 commands wearing clothing, specifically long dresses. Could you please address that claim? Thanks in advance.

My Response

First of all, David, to have a non-naturist write and affirm anything that I’ve written is unprecedented! Thank you for your honest evaluation and consideration of my arguments.

I want to respond to much of what you’ve said line by line… so I’ll give a bit of your words and then offer my response.

  • Hi Matthew, I am not a naturist, nor do I have an intention of becoming one, but I have found some of the concepts taught here and at to be incredibly helpful in thinking rightly about lust and the body.

I agree with you about the significance and power of the teaching found at I wish everyone who has any sort of struggle with pornography would read it… then read it again… then again… until its liberating truths really sink in and make them free.

Furthermore, their friends, family, and spouses should also read it to. Frankly, it would be good for anyone to read, because our culture’s (and the church’s!) dysfunctional perspective on the human form has resulted in much more damage than bondage to pornography. Women in particular have been led to believe that their value is based primarily upon their sexual impact on men. The secular world promotes the “hot” looking girls and demeans the “fat,” “flat,” or “saggy” woman’s body, while the church considers a woman to be “loose” or “immoral” if her attire is judged to “cause men to stumble” (see this article in the series, You Can’t Do That!).

But as to your own thoughts about “becoming a naturist,” I say that you are right… that no “ism” is going to change the world or set people free. Furthermore, there is no particular virtue in nudity. It is only in embracing and living by truth that we will benefit from its power to liberate.

However, I urge you to consider how you are going to live out the truth… or even more importantly, how are you going to teach your children to understand and embrace the truth? If you never show them the truth about the human body, you can be sure that the world and pornography (and sadly, the church) will indoctrinate them with the lie. To preempt that, you cannot live in your home the way that the world and the church dictates that you must. There has to be at least some level of openness that has the effect of “naturism” in your home. But if you do that, then you have to mitigate against the implications of the rule that “it’s OK at home, but not with anyone else,” which isn’t true. So, if we really want to live by and teach our children the whole truth, some sort of family naturist activity is actually worth considering (You might want to read my series called, Naturist By Biblical Conviction).

  • I read the "Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9" article, and found it a compelling translation, but I'm not entirely convinced that "apparel" is an incorrect translation of katastole.

You are a thinking man, David. You recognize the compelling nature of the argument in that article, but you also discerned a potential etymological “weakness” in the argument. In truth, I too considered this very issue and was compelled to discover if it really was a solid reason to interpret katastole as a garment. But my further research confirmed that there is still no basis for translating it as “apparel.” I’ll explain as we go on.

  • One issue that was not addressed: a quick Google search of the word brings up lots of Christian sites claiming that the word means “long dress.”

There is no doubt that your Google search will pull up hundreds or perhaps thousands of Christian sites who declare that katastole is a garment, and many will attempt to tell you what kind of garment it is. But this can be considered unreliable for three reasons:

  1. For hundreds of years (probably only since the KJV was translated), Christians have understood 1 Tim. 2:9 to be a command for women to dress in modest clothing, for the KJV translators actually translated katastole as “apparel.” To my knowledge, no one has really ever questioned that translation or the resulting “command” for clothing so the only question they’ve ever asked is “What kind of garment is a katastole?” They’ve tried to use etymology to suggest a type of garment, but that’s literally the only thing to go on! Then they look around to see what other Christian teachers have said and they quote one another… and every last one of the people they quote have assumed the same meaning for katastole.
  2. You will not be able to find a single secular source that will refer to the katastole as a garment used in ancient Greco-Roman culture. The only sources which offer any such description are those who have been influenced by the KJV translation of the word.
  3. The very fact that nowhere in the rest of the Bible nor in all of secular history refers to any piece of clothing as a katastole is impossible to explain if katastole were really a piece of clothing. And It’s very odd to suggest that Paul told women to wear a garment that no one knows what is, and judging from a comprehensive survey the biblical text, no one in the Bible ever wore!

Hopefully, that’s sufficient argument to lay aside the “so-many-Christian-sites-say-so” argument and consider the claim on its textual merits alone—and there certainly are textual merits to consider!

  • Kata meaning "to let down" and stola being a common female garment in Greek culture.

And here are the points that merit our consideration.

First of all, however, I don’t think your representation of kata- is accurate. Kata- is a prefix, but you’ve defined it here as a verb. Actually, I believe “to let down” is a reasonable translation of the word, katastello, which is the verb form of katastole. As the Rightly Dividing article points out, the prefix kata- means “down, against, according to.” As a prefix, it modifies the meaning of the verb or noun that it is connected to. So, the real path to understand a word’s meaning is to be found in the root word first, not its prefix.

So, let’s look at the root of katastole, which—as you pointed out—is stole.

And here’s where the potential of your argument seems to gain some merit, for even in English, stole is a garment that someone can wear. Furthermore, the etymology of the English word “stole” can be traced directly to this Greek word. Additionally, I suspect that the contemporary article of clothing called a “stole” may be traced back to the article of clothing worn in biblical times.

The argument that stole is a biblical garment—so therefore katastole should be considered a garment—finds even more support in the fact that we find the Greek word stole in the biblical text used to describe a garment! Take a look… here are all 9 places it appears in the New Testament:

  • Mark 12:38 - In His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes [stole], and like respectful greetings in the market places,…”
  • Mark 16:5 - Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe [stole]; and they were amazed.
  • Luke 15:22 - But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe [stole] and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;…’
  • Luke 20:46 - Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes [stole], and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 
  • Rev. 6:11 - And there was given to each of them a white robe [stole]; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
  • Rev. 7:9,13-14 - After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes [stole], and palm branches were in their hands; … Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes [stole], who are they, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes [stole] and made them [stole] white in the blood of the Lamb.

So… have I presented a compelling biblical and etymological case for considering stole to be a garment so that katastole may correctly be considered one, too?

To be sure, when I was first considering this question, I was leaning that way on the issue. It seemed pretty convincing that this offered a reasonable basis for translating katastole as “apparel.” And, I would not be surprised at all if that’s exactly the logic followed by the KJV translators when they came upon the word katastole and wondered how they should translate it.

But we’re not done yet… let’s look deeper and ask some more questions about what we see here in the biblical usage of stole.

Stole as a Garment… of Position!

Note first that from a biblical perspective, it is incorrect to say that stole was only a feminine garment. Where we can discern the gender of the wearer, it was always male.

Right away from the texts above, we can see that while some people may have worn a stole, it was certainly not a common garment worn by normal folks. The Scribes and Pharisees loved them. An angel wore one in the empty tomb of our Savior when the disciples dropped in to investigate. The Prodigal Son’s father put the “best” stole on him (“best” is protos in Greek, which signifies “first in rank”). And finally, the host of the saved in heaven will be wearing white stoles.

Based on this survey of its biblical usage, this garment was evidently one that signified position or authority. That explains why the Pharisees loved them. That’s why the father put it on his lost-and-restored son. That’s why an angel proclaiming the resurrection wore one. That’s why we will wear them in heaven… we’ve been made clean and we will be seated with Christ!

Immediately now we can discern a troubling conflict with Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:9, where he is telling the women to DE-emphasize their wealth and position! He’s certainly not telling the ladies to wear something that will call attention their standing in society or the church. And obviously, Paul is telling ALL the women in the church to “adorn” themselves with katastole. Therefore, it cannot be a garment just for the “elite” in society to wear as stole evidently was.

So… What Was a Stole?

Clearly, a stole was something that could be worn. But just as clearly, it was not something worn often or by common people.

  • But what kind of garment was it? Was it really a “robe” as we find it translated?
  • How did it come to have the meaning (signifying high position) when it was worn?
  • And why is the name of it based on the verb stello which means “to arrange, prepare, gather up” (as one might gather up the sails of a ship) come to describe a garment in the first place??

I surely don’t have the final word on the answers to these questions, but I have a theory that fits all the facts.

Perhaps the best way to explain my theory is to give a real example in English… one that—in fact—even is similar in meaning and history as stole must have had in Greek!

Why Do We Wear Ties??

I grew up wearing suits and ties to church. As a kid, my ties were literally the “clip-on” variety, but I eventually learned how to tie a “real” tie. But it was clear to me from the start that a “tie” was completely useless functionally; it’s only purpose was for “dressing up.” Fast forward 40 years, and I almost never wear a tie. If I do, it’s still only for dressing up.

Yet, in formal political, business, and religious contexts, wearing a tie is still the standard for those in positions of influence. Even news anchors wear them. What’s up with that?

And where did “ties” come from to start with? Why do we call that thing a “tie”?

Well, the reality is that when people first started wearing ties, it was completely and only functional. They didn’t have buttons yet, and there were no zippers, so the only way you could hold a garment together was by tying it with a rope or a long strip of cloth. In order to get the collar of a shirt to stay closed around the neck, they used a cloth to “tie” things together. At some point, the cloth itself began to transcend it’s function of “tying” and began to also contribute to the fashion design of the wearer’s attire.

In time, of course, the original and very practical function of the tie became completely overshadowed by its function as an adornment. And today, the higher ranking individuals in our society wear a suit and tie on a daily basis, because they must uphold the position that they have attained and the expectation is that they will always wear a tie… even though it has absolutely no practical function any more!!

So, now we have a garment item which draws its name from the original function that it performed; we literally refer to it by the the noun form of the verb which is was its original function.

Could a Stole Be a Modern Day Tie?

I would not say that a “tie” is the 1st century “stole,” but I do believe that both garments’ usage and names followed the very same functional paths.

The Greek verb, stello, means “to arrange, prepare, gather up” and “to restrain.” It then follows that the noun form of that verb would most likely refer to a device used to accomplish the action of the verb. Based on that assumption, I believe that the stole was a piece of cloth that was named for the practical function that it performed… perhaps a long strip of cloth used to “gather up” a person’s garments to keep them from flapping around or dragging on the ground.

In time, the natural desire of people to “look good” resulted in the application of aesthetics to the cloth, so that it also became an fashionable adornment, even while it continued to perform its function. Eventually, its practical function ceased to be as important as its ornamental function and it came to be used as a symbol of position, often being highly decorated itself. This would explain why the Pharisees “loved” to wear them. After all, just about everyone wore a robe… but only the “important” folks had a stole!

Let me draw the parallel:

Modern Tie

Ancient Stole

Functional Beginning: a piece of cloth used to tie together the collar of a person’s shirt

Functional Beginning: A cloth used to gather up a person’s loose-fitting tunic and/or robe.
Functional Expansion: It began to take on an adorning function, such that people who wanted to appear to be from higher classes wore more ornate cloths to tie their shirts. Functional Expansion: It began to take on an adorning function, such that people of higher position took pride in a fancier stole.
Function in Contemporary Culture: The “tie” is now entirely an adornment used almost exclusively in the realms of power, influence, and formal social events. Function in Biblical Times: Worn by people who were recognized (or wished to be recognized) as a higher class or more important than others.

DISCLAIMER: I do not have any hard empirical evidence to support these claims about the use of the stole aside from what I read of its use in Scripture. I just believe this is a best guess that helps us explain and understand the word stole and how it is used in the NT. 

The Modern Day Stole

Fast forward to today, and I think the modern day heir of the stole is probably the military “sash.” Consider the photos below. The sashes here have absolutely no practical function, and are entirely about the position of their wearers.


Above Left: Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos’ inauguration.
Above Right: Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s inauguration.
Below: United Kingdom Princes William and Harry dressed in military attire for the Royal Wedding.


[As a side note, I find it interesting that in American Sign Language, the signs for “Lord” or King” are made by drawing the hand diagonally across the body tracing the “sash” using the letters “L” or “K” respectively. See the ASL Video Dictionary online for a demonstration]

Another possible heir of the Ancient Greek stole might be the academic graduation stole—which again, conveys the position and accomplishments of its wearer. And the more colorful the stole, the higher the degree earned by the graduate.

But Might Katastole Still Be a Garment?

Perhaps some would still argue that katastole could be a garment, but unless it’s original function AND form was drastically different than I believe the etymology suggests, it’s evident that a garment used as a binding devise is unlikely to become a “modest” long dress-like garment called katastole.

Furthermore, it is probably a mistake to assert that since a stole was a wearable item, katastole must also be a garment. The more likely etymological path to understanding the meaning of the noun katastole is by its relationship with the verb form, katastello. And this is the path used in the article Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9. Consequently, I don’t think the article’s conclusions should not be considered erroneous on the basis of the usage of stole in the Bible.

Is Every “Tie” a Tie?

The fact that stole is a “garment” does not mean that katastole must also be. We can see the same reality in English with the word “tie,” which does not always signify a different article of clothing when we attach a prefix. Let me give examples:

  • Power-tie – yes, this is wearable, but it is obviously a type of the tie we’ve been talking about, and this term didn’t come into use until long after a “tie” was a recognizable garment item.
  • Bow-tie – yes, this too is wearable, but it also is a distinct form of the tie that probably didn’t even have its distinctive name until after “long” ties came into vogue.
  • Wire-tie – Clearly, this is not a wearable item. Its name is much more clearly associated with the meaning of the verb “tie” than the garment noun “tie.”
  • Twisty-tie – Once again, we all know what this is, and it is not a garment.
  • Hog-tie – OK… this is really a verb rather than a noun, but the mental image was interesting…

The point is this… without any biblical or historical evidence that katastole is an identifiable type of garment, basing the claim that it is a garment on the fact that stole is a type of garment is simply too weak to stand upon.

  • If that is correct, then we have to say that 1 Tim 2:9 commands wearing clothing, specifically long dresses. Could you please address that claim? Thanks in advance.

I think you can see that I still don’t agree with the claim that 1 Tim 2:9 commands clothing because I still do not believe that katastole is a garment at all. I tell you the truth, though, I seriously wrestled with this before I reached the conclusion that I’ve written in this blog post—evidenced by the fact that I wrote this blog post in one day; the research was already done!

I hope that you’re convinced as well, but as always, I welcome a careful review by you or anyone else. Either way, I hope to hear from you again!

Thanks again for writing!

— Matthew Neal

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Reader’s Question — Circumcision…

A while back, I asked my readers to submit their Biggest Scriptural Challenge to Naturism so that I could offer my own take on the issue, honestly and biblically.

One reader from the Fig Leaf Forum submitted this question… not so much a “scriptural challenge” but a request for my view on the matter of circumcision. This past week, another reader posted a comment asking about the same issue. So here’s my response.

I’m No Expert…

I’m quick to admit that I am not any sort of scholarly expert on matters of ancient Hebrew culture or ritual practices. Nor am I a true student of biblical Hebrew or Greek. My only claim is that I make an effort to be thorough, faithful, and honest in my analysis about what the Bible really says and means, making full use of the resources available to me (and any of us!).

Having said that I’m happy to give my thoughts on the requirement of circumcision in Hebrew culture and its implications regarding the exposure of nakedness in the public sphere.

This is ALL Speculative!

The first thing I will say here is that what I’m about to talk about is all speculative. As such, it will do nothing to influence someone holding the nudity-taboo mindset to change his or her mind about what the Bible teaches concerning nudity.

Its practical value is for those of us who have already concluded that God is not offended by human nudity, and that the Scriptures never regulate against socially nude activities. I think that we can find in these speculations some additional affirmation of our beliefs about what the Bible does and does not say.

That said, let’s take a look at the question that was raised. Here’s the question:

What about Circumcision?

When the Israelites prepared to exit Egypt, their instructions were to be ready for when Pharaoh became sufficiently exasperated to order them away, that they could be on the move.
Israelites, hirelings, and aliens could go, but, they had to meet the qualification:  circumcision.
Was circumcision a visible qualification?

The requirement of circumcision for the ancient nation of Israel is well documented. It was to be the mark of the Abrahamic Covenant for Abraham and all of his seed (Genesis 17:9-14) It became such a notable distinction between “God’s Chosen People” and all other people that Jews referred to themselves as “the circumcised” and all Gentiles were called the “UN-circumcised” (Judges 15:18, Ephesians 2:11) 

It is hard for us to imagine the scope of national pride and identity that was wrapped up in a surgical procedure performed on all male members of the nation, yet it was very real at the time.

Add to that the fact that God’s word spoke of the fact that the temple was “profaned” when the Israelites permitted men who were uncircumcised to enter it (Ezek. 44:7).

By the time Jesus was walking the earth, the sect of the Pharisees had become very fastidious about keeping God’s word “to the letter.” Some years later, one of the accusations they brought against the Apostle Paul was that he had brought a “Greek” into the temple and thus “defiled” it (Acts 21:28-29)

So… How did they know?

If the Jewish National identity was wrapped up in being one of the “circumcised’'”—that is, one of “God’s Chosen People”—and no one who was uncircumcised could come into the temple, just how did they know who was and who wasn’t circumcised when they came to the temple?

It’s almost inconceivable for us to imagine today, but it really is possible that temple officials performed a “lift-your-robe” check on everyone coming to the temple… particularly if the worshippers were from “out of town.” Is there any scriptural data to suggest such a thing? None… except the clear evidence that they were such sticklers about ritual details at the temple. Knowing what we know about the Pharisees, it’s hard to imagine that there was any requirement of the Law that they just “trusted” people for… particularly when it had to do with the temple… and those unclean… “Gentiles.”

Funny thing today, though… I know lots of guys, but I don’t know which ones are circumcised and which are not. Do you? You and I have no reason to need to know, so we don’t care that we don’t know. But that would not of been true for the Jews in Bible times.

Bonus: Joseph and His Brothers.

Speaking of circumcision, here’s a rendering of Joseph’s story that you haven’t heard before…

You remember the plot, right? Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him so they sell him into slavery in Egypt. God blesses him there and raises him up to be the second-in-command in all of Egypt. Fast-forward to a few years of famine and those same brothers show up in Egypt asking for food… from Joseph!

There’s a lot more to the story, but eventually, Joseph sends all the Egyptians out of the room so that he can tell his brothers that he’s really their long-forgotten brother. At first, they’re so stunned they simply don’t believe him… so the narrative continues like this:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt (Gen. 45:4).

This part of the story always struck me as odd… Joseph was weeping so loudly that he was heard all over the palace! His surely brothers had no difficulty in hearing him… so why did he want them to “come closer”? He’d already told them that he was their brother… how could he be even more convincing if they were standing closer to him? Well, I can think of a way…

Given the significance of the Abrahamic covenant—to which they all were heirs—I believe it is most likely that he called them close to him so that he could actually show them that he was circumcised, just as they were! It would have been incontrovertible proof to his brothers that he really was who he claimed to be. Think about it…

  • Only the real Joseph would know that circumcision was their grandfather’s special “family” sign (Gen. 17:11-12).
  • The Egyptians likely were not circumcised… so Joseph’s circumcision would show that he was not a native Egyptian (this point might be debatable… I don’t know the Egyptian practices regarding circumcision during that time period).
  • Only by “coming near” could they see that he really was circumcised.
  • And one more thing—since he was their brother—they would have seen him naked many times in years past… it’s likely they would have literally recognized Little Brother’s genitals.

I’ve never heard anyone else suggest this interpretation before, but it sure seems to me that it fits the narrative better. Your thoughts?

And Then There’s the Mikveh…

I don’t want to go into details, but it’s well documented that the mikveh (ritual Baptism) was—and still is—performed nude. Since the pools where this ritual was performed were near the temple and quite public (such as the Pool of Bethesda and the Pool of Siloam), exposure of the unclothed body would not have been an uncommon occurrence as part of religious ritual for the Jews. Certainly, during a man’s mikveh, you’d be able to confirm that he was also circumcised.


Like I said… interesting and instructive discussion, but nothing historically concrete. Ultimately—for me a least—it’s just speculative, but it does underscore the fact that cultural differences between Bible times and the 21st century are pretty significant. Perhaps there are others who have more information than I. If so, I’d love to hear it!

— Matthew Neal

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I Don’t Promote Naturism

Does that come as a surprise?

I call myself “The Biblical Naturist” but I don’t promote Naturism

…perhaps I should explain!

The Back Story

Like Most Christians, I was taught all my life that Naturism (the practice of social nudity) is sinful and forbidden by God. In point of fact, it was never really discussed because the nudity taboo was so completely assumed as true that there was no need to discuss the ethics of social nudity (See The Unchallenged Belief).

But when I was first exposed to Christians who claimed to be “Naturist,” and offered a biblical “justification” of their practice, I was pretty surprised. And I was quite sure they were abusing the Scriptures to defend their “sin.”

To my surprise, however, my initial examination of their claims revealed that I could not immediately refute their arguments if I was truly honest about what the Scriptures do and do not say. In the end, I had to admit that the nudity-taboo had no basis in the Bible, and I was compelled to reject it in my own belief system. And since I rejected the taboo, I also had to live contrary to it. That’s why I became a Naturist By Biblical Conviction.

But I Still Don’t Promote Naturism!


I promote Biblical TRUTH.

And I oppose Biblical ERROR.

I write to prove that the Bible—where it speaks on the human body and human nudity—does not mean what we have been told that it means. I write to show how all of the passages that have been put forward with the claim that “God forbids nudity” fail to make that case. And I also write to demonstrate how there are a number of passages that have been ignored—or even mistranslated—because (I believe) they actually speak positively of human nudity in a public setting.

So, I think you can say that I defend naturism; I defend it from false condemnation based upon false interpretations of Scripture.

Primarily, I defend naturism so that Christians who are exploring the morality of social nudity can consider an honest and accurate treatment of the Scriptures that have been used to condemn it, and examine an interpretation that is hermeneutically sound and which demonstrates that the condemnation of naturism is Scripturally unfounded.

I Cannot Convince Anyone!

It has been over 7 years since I originally studied the Scriptures regarding nudity and reached the conclusions that compelled me to embrace Naturism. In all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anyone of the things I have come to believe.

To be sure, my discussions and my writings have influenced people who have been seeking the truth, but if God has not been working in their hearts before they read my work, there has been no change in their beliefs.

I’m thankful that my writings have made a difference for those whom God has called to explore Naturism while committed to remaining faithful to God’s revealed truth. I trust that my words have given them assurance that embracing naturism is not a rejection of God’s ways. And I hope that they can pass my work along to others in their lives where they see that God is also working.

But First of All, Pray!

If you find my writings helpful to you, that’s great… but please don’t depend upon them to convince anyone; they won’t work for you any better than they have for me.

Instead, pray that God will begin the same work in their hearts as he has already been doing in yours.

A Battle Rages…

There is a battle for truth in our world today as it pertains to the meaning of the human body. I believe that Satan has successfully placed his distorted view of the human body into the fabric of our society. That of course is to be expected; he is the “ruler of this world,” the Bible tells us (John 12:31).

But the tragic reality is that Satan has also infiltrated Christian theology with his distortion… to such a degree that when someone openly rejects it within the church, they are presumed to have rejected righteousness itself. This demonic stronghold will not be broken by rhetoric alone… whether written or spoken. It will only be broken by men and women of God whose lives are submitted to God and aligned with the truth… who pray until God begins to break that stronghold.

And when that stronghold is truly broken, we won’t even NEED “Naturism” any more!

So, no, I’m not about promoting “Naturism”… I’m promoting something much more world-changing… Truth!

It’s a new year… Who’s with me?

— Matthew Neal

Friday, December 27, 2013

“Biggest Scriptural Challenge” — The “Shame” of Egypt

In a recent blog post, I requested my readers to submit their Biggest Scriptural Challenge to Naturism to me so that I could address it from my own studies on the topic in the Scriptures.

This Scriptural challenge was sent to me by the editor of the Fig Leaf Forum (FLF) who had reprinted my post in the FLF newsletter. One of the FLF readers wrote to raise this issue:

The scripture is from Isaiah 20:

(NASB)  In the year that the commander came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him and he fought against Ashdod and captured it, 2 at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loosen the sackcloth from your hips and take your shoes off your feet.” And he did so, going naked and barefoot. 3 And the Lord said, “Even as My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot three years as a sign and token against Egypt and Cush, 4 so the king of Assyria will lead away the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. 5 Then they will be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and Egypt their boast. 6 So the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, such is our hope, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria; and we, how shall we escape?"

Verse 4 has always bothered me when it says "naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt."  suggesting it is shameful to be naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered.  I know what my response to this would be but  I am curious as to what Mathew says about this.

The “Shame” of Egypt

There are several important observations to make on this passage to help us understand what it is and is not saying about shamefulness and nudity.

  • First of all, God commanded the prophet Isaiah to go completely naked for three full years.
    • There was no shame for Isaiah in his obedience to God’s personal directive to him.
    • And God would never command one of His prophets to sin.

We can all draw more conclusions about God’s perspective on nudity from this observation, but this one is not really the focus of the question that was raised… which referred to the “shame of Egypt” when all their conquered inhabitants were forced to march out of town completely naked.

  • Secondly, the text does not attribute this “shame” to individuals, but to a nation!
    • In the prophetic narrative, Egypt had just been so utterly defeated that all of its citizens lost every last thing they possessed. They literally lost the shirts off their backs… and their own homeland. They marched away without a stitch or a cent to their names.
    • If a nation so utterly fails to protect its people that they are conquered and marched away destitute, that nation has been deeply shamed.
  • Finally—and perhaps most astonishingly—the word here translated “shame” is not the OT word for shame at all!
    • The Hebrew word is ervah (H6172), about which I have written extensively. The word that is most frequently translated “nakedness.”
    • This means that the text should more correctly be translated, “the nakedness of Egypt.”

It is this final point that I believe helps us to best understand this passage of Scripture. So my remaining comments will focus on its implications.

The “Nakedness” of Egypt

At first glance, it seems very odd to describe Assyria’s conquest as being “to the nakedness of Egypt.” Consequently, it’s easy to understand why the translators rejected the natural translation of ervah and replaced it with a word that actually means something different, but seems to help the passage make more sense.

I believe that rather than helping us understand Isaiah’s meaning, this “adjusted” translation actually does two things: 1. It betrays the hint of a bias against nudity that considers it shameful, presuming that “shame” and “naked” have enough in common as to be treated synonymously in this passage. 2. It obscures a much more colorful and descriptive meaning that might be evident if we were forced to struggle for the true meaning of the “nakedness of Egypt.”

I’ll lay the evident bias about nakedness aside for this article (read this series for more) and focus on the interpretation that I believe is best for this passage.

The Meaning of Ervah

I’ve posted a blog entry on this topic, and also written a full blown word study on the Hebrew word ervah that explains what I believe the best biblical definition of the word is. If you wonder how I reached that conclusion, I recommend that you read the word study. But for now, let me summarize the word’s definition and apply it to the passage in question here.

Ervah, as used throughout the Old Testament, does indeed refer to nakedness, that is, the state of being unclothed. But it very consistently also implies the active expression of that nakedness, and almost always, that active expression is sexual. So, we can safely interpret the Scriptures understanding that ervah is not just nakedness, but sexually active nakedness.

So… does that help our understanding of Isaiah 20:4? “… to the [sexually active nakedness] of Egypt.”

Not yet, right? But hang in there… I’m not done yet.

The “Rape” of Egypt

Remember that Egypt was conquered. This ervah, or “sexual nakedness” was not voluntary; it was forced! We have a word in English for forced sexual activity… we call it rape.

This suggests a bolder (albeit somewhat startling) translation of the text: “.. to the rape of Egypt.”

In other words, if my reasoning is correct, Isaiah is prophesying that Assyria would rape Egypt. Clearly, this is figurative language, but since there’s no OT Hebrew word for “rape,” it makes complete sense that if Isaiah wanted to invoke that mental image, he would use the word ervah to communicate it. And I believe it does so quite powerfully… and much more potently than “… to the shame of Egypt.”

This is the conclusion that I presented in my word study on ervah, where Isaiah 20 was one of the more significant passages that I addressed.

To me, this is one of those cases where a more accurate definition of the original language word helps us arrive at a much richer interpretation of the biblical text than if we depend on the English translation alone.

Is Nakedness Shameful?

Given the enriched interpretation that I’ve offered here, was does it mean in reference to the notion that simple non-sexual nakedness (“… naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered”) is shameful?

To my thinking, this passage says nothing at all to that question. Or perhaps more to the point, this passage cannot be invoked to say that any and all public nakedness is shameful. It starts with a prophet obeying God by going publicly nude for three years. It continues with a figurative prophecy about a nation being so utterly defeated that Isaiah could figuratively declare that the nation would be “raped.”

This is one of many passages that have been put forth by Christians who claim that social nudity is wrong. And like all the others, this passage fails to support that claim when it is carefully and thoroughly studied and interpreted with sound hermeneutics.

— Matthew Neal

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Reader’s “Biggest Scriptural Challenge”–Part 1

Jasen’s “Biggest Scriptural Challenge
In my previous post, I invited readers to submit their “Biggest Biblical Challenge” with reference to the practice of naturism by a Christian who genuinely wants to live a godly life.
One reader named Jasen responded with the following:
My problem is not with the concept of social nudity. I believe the Bible makes it clear God intended for us to be naked, and that culturally within Biblical times there was plenty of public nudity that God could have condemned if He'd wanted to but did not, and all the other things your blog so richly explores.
However... Romans 13 tells us to submit to authority, and Romans 14:19 "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."
I believe (and I can't put my hand on a nice collection of verses to back it up at the moment) that we are instructed to live at peace within our culture in so far as that culture does not directly contradict God's Word. If I lived in India, I would wear pajamas. If I lived in the Middle East, I would wear a beard. If I lived with a tribe in the Amazon, I'd most likely wear next to nothing (I'd at least give it a try and see how my soft body would handle such exposure).
I currently find myself in the USA. And the USA has a deep cultural aversion to social nudity. The roots of such aversion are incidental; it is the custom of where I live. Therefore I restrict my participation in social nudity, and limit my public advocacy for social nudity. Yes, I believe I have freedom to visit the local nudist resort, or to vacation to a nudity accepting place (like St. Martin or Mallorca or Germany). However, I recognize that if word of my being socially nude got back to people in the USA it would most likely damage my testimony. That is challenging.
Is it worth participating in an activity that I have personal freedom and comfort with Scripturally, knowing that the culture I live in condemns such activity?
A Thoughtful Response to Thoughtful Questions
Well, Jasen, thanks for writing! I suppose it all boils down to that last question, doesn’t it? But to satisfactorily answer that one question, we need sound answers to your other questions.
Let me address your questions just a few at a time.

My problem is not with the concept of social nudity. I believe the Bible makes it clear God intended for us to be naked, and that culturally within Biblical times there was plenty of public nudity that God could have condemned if He'd wanted to but did not, and all the other things your blog so richly explores.

This is a good place to start. Sadly, however, this simple and honest conclusion from an unbiased evaluation of biblical and extra-biblical history is quite rare. Most people approach the entire issue of nudity with such a bias against it that the only conclusion they will even entertain is one that supports their bias. More often than not, they are completely unaware that their bias is the true driver of their conclusion.

However... Romans 13 tells us to submit to authority, and Romans 14:19 "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

Yes, we are commanded to obey our civil authorities… and that would extend to those laws with govern nudity in public. And yes, we should not be looking for opportunities to “stir the pot" just for the sake of being cantankerous.

But… there is a caveat… What if the beliefs that undergird the “law” are false? What if there really is a lie to be opposed? We can’t take this passage to mean that we must pursue peace instead of truth. And the reality is that when a lie has a firm foothold in a culture or in a life, opposing that lie will not result in peace. And the “edification” that comes from promoting truth may not be well received if the lie holds sway in someone’s life.

But I have not actually given you an answer here that you can run with regarding the practice of social nudity or “letting people know” that you practice it. The real question is: “Is this lie worth opposing and exposing?” … or… “Is the lie doing damage to the lives of people, so that opposing the lie is actually a compassionate investment in people’s lives that will potentially result in the promotion of true righteousness?”
Keep those questions in mind… I’ll come back to them.
Live at Peace With All Men…
I believe (and I can't put my hand on a nice collection of verses to back it up at the moment) that we are instructed to live at peace within our culture in so far as that culture does not directly contradict God's Word. If I lived in India, I would wear pajamas. If I lived in the Middle East, I would wear a beard. If I lived with a tribe in the Amazon, I'd most likely wear next to nothing (I'd at least give it a try and see how my soft body would handle such exposure).

I think the verse you’re thinking of is from Rom. 12:17-18…

Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Rom 12:17-18)

It definitely is a good thing to be sensitive to the norms of a culture when we’re walking among people of that culture. Adopting the clothing styles and eating the same food as the “locals” will always be a good thing because it minimizes differences between people and expresses respect for the people and customs of those around you.

BUT… if I’m visiting among Indian friends, and when they enter their own house, they take off their shoes and then do homage to their house deity, I’m happy to take off my shoes, but I will not bow down to their god… If my refusal to bow to their god results in a disruption of the “peace,” so be it.

So again… is there an identifiable lie that I must not submit to? Can I follow customs without affirming falsehoods? Do I need to find a way to proclaim truth in order to break the power of the lie in someone’s heart? These are the defining questions that have to drive our decision on how to live in light of the truth we understand about the meaning of the human form.
The Symptom, Not the Disease…
I currently find myself in the USA. And the USA has a deep cultural aversion to social nudity. The roots of such aversion are incidental;…

Ok… gotta stop you there… I would argue that the roots of such an aversion is NOT incidental! Maybe you need to research that a bit more. If that aversion is based upon and continues to promote a lie, doesn’t that matter?

… it is the custom of where I live. Therefore I restrict my participation in social nudity, and limit my public advocacy for social nudity. Yes, I believe I have freedom to visit the local nudist resort, or to vacation to a nudity accepting place (like St. Martin or Mallorca or Germany). However, I recognize that if word of my being socially nude got back to people in the USA it would most likely damage my testimony. That is challenging.

Yes, that is challenging. But I think your focus is off just a bit. It might sound weird for me to say this—I do call myself The Biblical Naturist, after all—but I don’t think that promoting the freedom to practice social nudity should be what we are about!

You see, the rejection of social nudity is the symptom, not the disease. The real theological “disease” is the perception of the human form as only sexual. It is the assumption that our one and only “automatic” response to its sight is sexual arousal and desire. The real issue is that we—the people of God—have utterly rejected the Glory of God as revealed by the unadorned human form, made in God’s Image.

Defining the visible human form only in terms of its impact on the libido is an insult to the One whose image is seen there. But it is ONLY by such a redefinition that anyone can reject social nudity! We correctly discern that God commands sexual purity, but then we assume that since the sight of the naked human form is a sexual experience, we must also reject nudity because it “obviously” promotes impurity.

So, at its core, the rejection of social nudity is evidence that someone has rejected the visible image of God and replaced it with what I would call a pornographic view of the body.

The nudity taboo that springs from that pornographic view of the body is therefore, a false rule; it is man-made. And Col. 2:20-23 tells us that such man-made rules for righteousness are of “no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Why I Do This…
I don’t promote “social nudity.” I promote a biblical understanding of the meaning of the human form.
And I do that for two reasons:
  • For the glory of God. We must recover the truth of the Imago Dei…
    • God’s self-revelation in the human form has been rejected by the church today. The prevailing sexualized understanding of the human form is an Insult to God.
    • Only by embracing the full meaning of the Imago Dei and rejecting that pornographic understanding of the natural human form can we see the Glory of God revealed in our bodies as He intended.
  • For the pursuit of true Purity. We must reject false, man-made rules that have “the appearance of wisdom… but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Col. 2:20-23)
    • The man-made “nudity taboo” has been the central teaching of the church regarding the pursuit of moral purity for a long time. By any measure, it isn’t working. The church today is less sexually pure than perhaps any time in its history (the secret addiction to online pornography is epidemic).
    • Only by teaching the correct perception of—and response to—the visible human form can we have any hope of seeing real and lasting moral purity in the people of God.
This is my real purpose. This is my real message.
How Then Should We Live?
But as you may have read in my 3-part series, Naturist by Biblical Conviction, It is not credible to reject the falsehood, but then still submit to it in every aspect of my life. If I am truly going to reject a lie, I must live as if the lie is not true.

And this gets back to your issue… if you really reject the lies that undergird others’ adherence to the nudity taboo, should you never even let on that you live by a different understanding of the human form?

What do I recommend for you or anyone else? I’ll put it this way:
  • If you only practice naturism because it’s a freedom you have before the Lord which you personally enjoy, then keep it to yourself.
  • If you practice naturism as a conviction about living by the truth and opposing the lie in our culture and within the church, then be prepared to proclaim the truth and to be persecuted for it.
    • But don’t promote “naturism”… that will not get you anywhere. Proclaim the truth about what our bodies really mean. That’s the real issue.
    • And don’t be stupid about it… pray for, look for, prepare for, and anticipate those opportunities where God is at work in someone’s heart, preparing them to embrace a life-transforming truth.
      • I have learned that unless God is doing that work in someone, no amount of logical or persuasive words will break the grip of the lie in their heart. Spouting off your beliefs when there is no readiness to receive truth will usually only result in needless conflict.
What About “My Testimony”?
You mentioned the issue of your “testimony.” This is probably a good spot to talk about that a little bit.
First of all, I think that’s often a euphemism for “reputation” or perhaps “credibility.” Here’s why I mention this… often we make decisions in our life with a view to maintain our “testimony” when what’s really happening is that we are making our decisions based on how they are perceived by others. In other words, we are submitting to the moral judgment of others instead of standing before God alone with regard to what is morally right. This is called “the fear of man” in the Bible, and it is also called “a snare” (Prov. 29:25)… a trap.

What really matters is whether or not we are living in the truth before the Lord… not the “truth” as perceived by others. Many prophets in the Old Testament had an awful “testimony”… if you judge by how poorly they were received by the people around them. So long as you are following God and living faithfully according to the truth, your “testimony” is exactly what it should be. Ultimately, people will see that you live consistently with your beliefs, even if they think you’re wrong.

Truly, our real "testimony" is never enhanced by submitting to lies. In fact, when we refuse to embrace, promote, or abide by rules or beliefs that are NOT biblical and NOT part of the gospel and NOT measures of true righteousness, I submit that our credibility goes UP—not down—especially before unbelievers.
Think about it this way: I proclaim an assortment of "truths" to an unbeliever—either by word or by my life. Those truths include the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But they also include "truths" that are really culturally adopted lies. In that unbeliever's heart, however, the Holy Spirit is working to draw them to the truth. Unfortunately, however, the Spirit can only confirm some of those "truths" that I'm proclaiming. So that person is left wondering why only some of what we've communicated really rings true (confirmed by the Holy Spirit) in their heart. In other words, our real "testimony"—our impact for God—is damaged by our adherence to the cultural falsehoods. It is not damaged by the criticism of other believers.
If You Have to Hide It, It Must Be Wrong… Right?
Let me change gears here and talk about a related issue. It has been very difficult for my wife to accept the practice of naturism “in secret.” For her, just knowing that people would reject us “if they only knew makes the whole thing seem “wrong” to her. It feels like if we have to hide something, then it must be wrong, because why would we need to hide something we’re doing that is right?

But that’s not really the measure of right and wrong, is it? God’s character and His Word are the measures of right and wrong. Standing firm on what God has revealed to you when it seems like every Christian around you thinks you’re wrong, though, now that can be pretty difficult.
A Very Strange Predicament…
So… do you tell them about your beliefs, or do you not? (that question again…)

It is interesting to me that we can find ourselves facing the rather odd reality on this matter… such that greater openness actually promotes falsehood rather than truth. Here’s why…

Right now, people perceive of my wife and me as a godly couple who serve the Lord faithfully and are raising a family to love and serve God. This, I trust, is genuinely true. It is not diminished in the least by the fact that we have visited naturist resorts and have no requirement for clothing in our home.

But if those facts were known, the same people who view us as godly now might begin to perceive of us as perverse and ungodly people who are damaging our own children and leading them astray—ideas which are patently false.
  • So by withholding some information, people continue to believe the truth.
  • By revealing information they are not prepared to comprehend, people would believe a lie.
I genuinely wish I could tell everyone about my beliefs about the body and my practice of naturism. I don’t think there has been any other decision in my life (besides my faith in Christ and my marriage) that have had a more profoundly positive impact on my life. And while I’m constantly alert to opportunities to invest related truth in others’ lives, I’ve determined that—at this point in time—full disclosure would be more of a hindrance to truth than a help to it.
And So… Your Question Still Remains…
Is it worth participating in an activity that I have personal freedom and comfort with Scripturally, knowing that the culture I live in condemns such activity?

Ultimately, I think everyone has to answer that for themselves…

But before you answer that question, you might consider framing the question this way:
  • Is it worth restricting my freedom just to avoid the condemnation of others?
And there’s another even more important way to think about that question:
  • Is there a truth to proclaim that’s worth facing unjust criticism and mistreatment for?
For me, the answer to the first of these two questions is “no,” and the answer to the second is “yes.”

But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to be indiscriminate in the practice of my beliefs, nor am I going to needlessly subject myself and my family to the attacks of others. So, that’s where I stand at the moment.
Sorry… I Can’t Answer For You.
No, I can’t answer the question for you or for anyone else.

I can only urge you to seek the Lord and follow His leading for your life a faithfully as you can.

But, honestly, I hope that you’ll be one of those that He calls to proclaim and live the truth about the real meaning of the human body. The task before us is great, and we are few…

— Matthew Neal

Part 2 (still to come…)