Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nude Baptism in the Early Church? You Decide.

The other day, I happened upon an article where the author made a special point of declaring that baptism in the early church was indeed performed with clothes on. Here’s the quote:

Baptism was mostly done out of doors, but sometimes inside, but always by immersion. And clothed.

The special mention of baptism being clothed—and making a special point of it (in case some people thought that it was NOT true)—caught my eye. It told me that the writer was aware of the claims that baptism was indeed performed nude. All the descriptions of baptism from the early church that I had ever read claimed that they were performed nude, if any mention of attire was made at all.

So, I thought I'd write the fellow and ask him about him about his documentation for that claim. What follows is my email conversation with the man. Let me say up front that I really appreciated the respectfulness with which he treated me.

I did not mention that I was a naturist because that was not germaine to the conversation at all. This was all about claims made about historical fact and what documentation there was to support it.

I apologize for the length of this blog post, but I didn't want to put all the emails in separate posts. I've tried to format it so that it's easy to follow. The legend is as follows:

Blue = My words.
Red = His words.
Black = quotations from external sources


Nude Baptism in the Early Church
The Cases For and Against

My first email to him:




Hello.

I happened upon your article about "Baptism" and I was struck by a statement you made which was contrary to what my research has revealed.

Baptism was mostly done out of doors, but sometimes inside, but always by immersion. And clothed.

You claimed that early church baptism was performed clothed. Yet this is contrary to the uniform testimony of the early church fathers who wrote of their practices.

You went on to claim that "Another bizarre practice that some claim used to be involved with "Christianity" was nude baptism."

I recognize that the very idea seems "bizarre" to us in our day and age, but if indeed it was the common practice of the time, then it really no more bizarre than taking the bread and cup and utilizing them to remember a very cruel death. It seems to me that the question of how "strange" the practice was must be answered according to the context of the early church practices, rather than in comparison to today's practices and mores.

You also said:

As the Bible in no way endorses (nor records) nude baptism, the above demonstrates that pagan practices were used for people who professed, but apparently did not understand, Christ.

I don't see how you can conclude that simply because a practice is not mentioned in the Bible, that it "demonstrates" that the practice was pagan.

My understanding is that in the Jewish faith, the practice of the mikveh dates back all the way to the OT law where "washing with water" was a Scriptural requirement in many different circumstances. Tradition confirms that the mikveh was prescribed to be performed nude, even to the point of requiring no jewelry, unbraided hair, and clean fingernails. That tradition continues today, for in the modern mikveh, the Jewish believer still must enter into the waters completely nude.

Among other things, conversion to Judaism required the waters of the mikveh. The baptism of John was almost certainly an expression of the mikveh. If so, then it too would have been performed on nude believers. It is not at all surprising that the early church would also adopt a very Jewish ritual practice for the baptismal rite. Therefore, to say that nude baptism is a "pagan" practice is to simply dismiss the reality of the Jewish tradition of the mikveh and its influence on Christian baptism.

===========

In my research, I came across the following quote, and verified its source as from Robert Robinson's work, "The History of Baptism." I have attached screenshots from Mr. Robinson's book which I found on Googlebooks.

Let it be observed, next, that the primitive Christians baptized naked. Nothing is easier than to give proof of this by quotations from the authentick writings of the men who administered baptism, and who certainly knew in what way the themselves performed it. There is no ancient historical fact better authenticated than this. The evidence doth not go on the meaning of the single word naked; for then a reader might suspect allegory; but on many facts reported, and many reasons assigned for the practice. ...

The reasons assigned for the practice are, that christians ought to put off the old man before they put on a profession of christianity; that as men came naked into the world, so they ought to come naked into the church, for rich men could not enter the kingdom of heaven; that it was an imitation of Christ, who laid aside his glory, and made himself of no reputation for them; and that Adam had forfeited all, and Christians ought to profess to be restored to the enjoyment of all only by Jesus Christ.

That most learned and accurate historian, James Basnage, thanwhom no man understood church history better, said, When artist threw garments over the pictures of the baptized, they consulted the taste of spectators more that the truth of the fact.

This quotation was only one of many that I uncovered in my research. Furthermore, I found a large number of sacred works of art (15+) which represent nude baptisms, including works showing the Lord Jesus being baptized unclothed. These certainly are not inspired or authoritative, but the very idea that so many different artists from different times and traditions would portray baptism as being performed nude is strong confirming evidence that the notion of nude baptism in the early church has its roots in fact. I have included three such images with this email.

If you have evidence that supports your assertions, I would love to see it, for I have no interest in embracing a falsehood as truth. As it stands at this moment, however, I find the documentation that I have uncovered to be more convincing than your claim.

Thank you for your time.

Matthew Neal


Here are the attachments that I mentioned in the email above (click to see full size):




Very quickly, I received the following response:




Dear Matthew:

Thank so much for your email and comments.

In all due respect, however, in your email, you stated
"You claimed that early church baptism was performed clothed. Yet this is contrary to the uniform testimony of the early church fathers who wrote of their practices."

That is simply not true.

It is true that it sometime did happen, but my article admits that. But the EARLY CHRISTIAN writers simply did not do so. While it is true that some apostates mentioned it, that is all.

Do you have an actual early primary source that confirms your assertion? I have read about all the non-Gnostic 2nd century "Christian" writings that have been translated into English and simply have not seen what you are indicating. And as far as proof, I am not particularly interested in modern third person interpretations.

If you have such primary source information, please provide the precise citations as I certainly do not wish that my articles contain errors. But as of now, I have not seen information that suggests that my contention is in error. But if my article is in factual error, I will change it.

Furthermore, I would like to add that the idea of nude baptism would be contrary to the New Testament admonitions against lust and towards modesty. Thus, I do not believe that actual Christians really practiced nude baptism--though again, some who claimed Christ apparently did.

Best regards,

Bob _________

So I composed my next response.




Hello.

Thank you for your prompt reply.

Allow me to respond.

The "early primary sources" I have to offer are as follows:

The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. If you read down to section 21, you'll see the portion describing the practice. As I understand it, this was written in 217 AD.

Sometime in 400 AD, Theodor eof Mopsuestia wrote concerning baptism. His writings on the topic are found here: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/theodore_of_mopsuestia_lordsprayer_02_text.htm. You will find the instructions in "Chapter IV," 10th and 11th paragraphs.

Another work, The History Of The Christian Church - Vol II Ante-Nicene Christianity AD 100-325 speaks of nude baptism as a matter of simple fact. http://www.archive.org/stream/historyofthechri009648mbp/historyofthechri009648mbp_djvu.txt The mention of it is found on page 248 in section 70, The Celebration of Baptism. While written more recently, it cites several early church writers and sources.

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the 4th century AD. In his work, you can find his descriptions of the rite of Baptism and how it was performed. The text can be found here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf207.ii.xxiv.html. He assigns tremendous theological significance to baptismal nudity his his writings.

My questions to you are these...

  • Do you have any source where early church fathers ever mentioned and condemned the practice of nude baptism as being a pagan practice?

  • Do you have any early Christian writers who describe how the rite of baptism was performed in the early church which affirm that it was indeed performed clothed?

  • Do you have any explanation for the common incidence of baptisms being portrayed as nude in ancient sacred art? (I've attached some more images, three of which are intended to be portrayals of the baptism of Christ.)

===============

You did not address my point about the mikveh. This article, http://www.sinaibrookline.org/page.php/id/1288 vouches for the fact that the mikveh is still in use to day, and still requires full nudity.

In this article by Ron Mosley of the Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies, we read of the clear heritage of Christian Baptism being found in the Jewish mikveh. http://www.haydid.org/ronimmer.htm. If this is true, then it would not at all be unlikely that they would have adopted the requirement of nudity as well. Indeed, it would seem odd if they had not.

I know that these articles about the mikveh are contemporary articles about ancient practices, but I do believe that they are credible sources... at least credible enough to warrant a further search into the matter.

=============

Regarding gnosticism, I would argue that the notion that the body is lewd or indecent and cannot be seen is more akin to gnostic teaching than not. The gnostics taught that the spirit was good and the body was evil. This teaching today is expressed by excessive prudery and an unbiblical definition of "modesty."

Biblical modesty is not at all about making sure that certain parts (utterly undesignated in the Scriptures) must always be covered, but that clothing must not be used to draw attention to oneself, or for self-aggrandizement. This is the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:9. 1 Peter 3:3 teaches exactly the same thing. In neither passage is there any emphasis or definition at all on what must be worn.

I have an article that a pastor I know wrote about 1 Timothy 2 that gives a clear exegetical understanding of the passage within the Scriptural context. It exposes how this passage has been traditionally misunderstood and misapplied. I'd be happy to send it to you if you would like. I'm sure he would appreciate a scholarly review.

===============

You said that nude baptism would be contrary to the NT's admonitions against lust and towards modesty. Aside from 1 Timothy 2:9 (which does not have anything to do with requiring clothing), I know of no other NT passage which teaches at all about modesty in our attire. And I know of no passage anywhere in the NT which defines for us what parts of our body are to be covered.

Regarding lust, Jesus certainly taught against lust, but he did not lay the blame at the feet of the woman at all. It is entirely within the man where lust is born. In fact, Jesus' teaching in Mark 7:18-23 clearly teaches that lust and other sexual sins are not the result of what "enters a man" (by mouth or by eye). Nothing outside a man, Jesus taught, can defile the man, but that which comes from within defiles him.

Is there anything that needs to be corrected in these statements?

I look forward to your response.

Thank you for your time.

Matthew


Here are the attachments that I mentioned in the email above (click to see full size):







Again, his response:



Dear Matthew:

Thank you for your detailed response.

I looked over your references and none of those you cited were from individuals who held to original Christianity. All of those early individuals had accepted compromises with non-biblical practices. And the earliest one was from the third century. Certain MIthratic and other pagan practices had been adopted by those in Rome by that time (and that worsened in the fourth century).

Now I will try to answer your questions, though you may not agree that my answers fulfill your curiosity.

1) The early Church leaders simply do not have writings of every pagan practice that they condemned. However, if you read my upcoming book, The Beginning and the End of the Christian Church Eras, you will see that many practices that mainstream "Christianity" now accepts were condemned by early "Fathers" yet are still practiced.

The earliest non-biblical writings (second century) that may have been Christian that mention baptism state:

6:2... Let your baptism abide with you as you shield (Ignatius's Letter to Polycarp. J.B. Lightfoot translation).

1:2...truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him...8:2 It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast (Ignatius's Letter to the Smyrnaeans. J.B. Lightfoot translation).

18:2 For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost; and He was born and was baptized that by His passion He might cleanse water (Ignatius's Letter to the Ephesians. J.B. Lightfoot translation).

6:9 But if even such righteous men as these cannot by their righteous deeds deliver their children, with what confidence will we, if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, enter into the kingdom of God? Or who will be our advocate, unless we be found having holy and righteous works? (Ancient Christian Sermon, sometimes improperly titled 2 Clement)

Publicly nudity would seem to be inconsistent with the idea of baptism being a shield, pure, and undefiled.

Perhaps I should add that Melito of Sardis mentions Christ's baptism (On the Nature of Christ) and the heretic Irenaeus in his writings does as well, but they are consistent with the previously listed passages.

Again, there is nothing in what appears to be Christian writings that endorse nude baptism in the second century.

2) The only practices that we have recorded are in the Bible, starting with John the Baptist, including his baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3). There is no indication that He removed His clothes, nor is there any biblical indication that anyone ever did.

And that addresses your other point, "You did not address my point about the mikveh. This article, http://www.sinaibrookline.org/page.php/id/1288 vouches for the fact that the mikveh is still in use to day, and still requires full nudity. In this article by Ron Mosley of the Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies, we read of the clear heritage of Christian Baptism being found in the Jewish mikveh. http://www.haydid.org/ronimmer.htm If this is true, then it would not at all be unlikely that they would have adopted the requirement of nudity as well. Indeed, it would seem odd if they had not."

There is simply NO indication that Jesus and others were nude when baptized. Thus, whatever Jewish traditions were employed by John the Baptist and Jesus' followers simply did not have removal of clothes.

Furthermore, the reference you provided from Hippolytus 4:11 suggests that the elder and/or deacon may have been nude (I say hints because this is a translation from the Greek and as I do not have the original Greek I can not be totally sure of the translation).

But the Bible indicates that John the Baptist was clothed when he worked:

5 And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:5-6)

Notice a record of baptism in the New Testament:

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:35-39)

The idea of clothes being removed for baptism is completely foreign to scripture.

Also notice the following two accounts:

31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (Acts 16:30-34)

16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other (1 Corinthians 1:16).

The Old Testament clearly condemns viewing the nakedness of various close relatives (Leviticus 18:6-18), hence it makes no sense that new converts to Christianity violated those admonitions in regards to baptism.

The figurative baptism that Paul refers to about the children of Israel being baptized under a cloud at the time of Moses (I Corinthians 10:1-2) literally did not involve the removal of clothes--the only time massive clothing removal was mentioned in the Bible it was to shame those who had improper practices (Exodus 25:32).

Furthermore, the context related to the "baptism by the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-4) suggests that the Apostles were clothed when this occurred. I would also suggest that when thousands were baptized shortly thereafter (Acts 2:41), that there would have been a massive backlash and outcry if all were baptized nude.

Furthermore, you claimed, "Biblical modesty is not at all about making sure that certain parts (utterly undesignated in the Scriptures) must always be covered, but that clothing must not be used to draw attention to oneself, or for self-aggrandizement. This is the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:9. 1 Peter 3:3 teaches exactly the same thing".

Yet, notice a passage that you apparently overlooked:

23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need (1 Corinthians 12:22-24).

Notice that there are parts of the body that are not publicly presentable. Hence, I contend that those who decided to adopt nude baptism were doing so in violation of scripture.

3) Last year, I visited Cappadocia to view some of the claimed earliest "sacred art", and also saw some in Rome in June of this year. In all due respect, there is no such thing as "sacred art".

Idolatry was condemned in the New Testament and the so-called "sacred art" did not start to appear until some time in the third century and was not accepted even by the Greco-Romans until after Constantine in the fourth century.

I recently consulted with a Greek Orthodox scholar who admitted to me that the acceptance of this type of "art" as well as icons was a gradual development and that no such "art" exists in the first or second centuries. Furthermore, the earliest that I have seen (which was in the catacombs) looks about the same as the pagan art associated with pagan burials, thus it is little surprise that some pagan "converts" decided to be buried with some "art" like their ancestors were.

To summarize, the Old Testament and New Testament are opposed to public nudity. The record of scripture never even hints of nude baptism, nor are there any 2nd century writings that I have seen that do.

The fact that the Greco-Roman churches compromised on many matters and apparently temporarily endorsed nude baptism does not mean that it ever was a practice of true Christians.

Best regards,


Bob _________

My next response:




Thank you again for your reply.

Once again, I will respond.

In your first set of quotations, I noted no indication that the mode of baptism included the mention of clothing during the actual baptismal rite.

The reference to baptism abiding "as a shield" is clearly a simile and not a literal reference to a shield. And in truth, baptism (clothed or not) is not about clothing and certainly it is not about a defensive armor. Therefore, that first quote can in no way indicate anything about the mode of baptism.

The second quote seems to me to have no bearing on the issue either.

The third quotation holds forth baptism in purity and without defilement, but that says nothing about the presence or absence of clothing.

In response to that, however, you said, "Publicly nudity would seem to be inconsistent with the idea of baptism being a shield, pure, and undefiled." I would submit to you that your statement only reveals your own bias regarding the nature of the unclad human form, rather than objective truth. Indeed your own words betray the lack of surety of your statement for you said, "would seem." But things which seem to be in our culture today have absolutely no bearing on how things were perceived or the values and practices held in the first century. You said in your first email that you are "not particularly interested in modern third person interpretations." yet in your statement here, are you not depending more on your own perceptions than on historical evidence?

I would assert again that in reality, your statement reflects a very gnostic view of our bodies, for you are assuming that to see the unclad human form will lead to impurity. In other words, you are treating the body as if it is "evil" while maintaining that the spiritual matters are what is really important.

In response to the mikveh, you said, "There is simply NO indication that Jesus and others were nude when baptized. Thus, whatever Jewish traditions were employed by John the Baptist and Jesus' followers simply did not hve removal of clothes."

I would point out that this is faulty logic, for your statement presumes that if something was not overtly mentioned in the Bible, then it did not happen. I'm rather confident that you would never assert that as actually being true, but that is the force of your argument here.

Equally plausible (if not more so) is that if baptisms were always performed without clothing (the mikveh, and Christian baptism), then to overtly mention it would be utterly unnecessary. We bathe without clothing, and baptism is certainly a picture of bathing, among other things.

You then referenced John the Baptist:

But the Bible indicates that John the Baptist was clothed when he worked:

5 And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:5-6)

John wore camel's hair, which distinguished him from the tunic/robe that most people wore. That is why it is mentioned here. This passage does not lmean that he wore that always wore that outfit while baptizing any more than it means that he always ate locusts and wild honey while baptizing.

In this and every other account you offered in the NT regarding baptism, I will concur than none specifically mention that those being baptized were nude. But by the very same token, none of them declares that they were not unclothed. Therefore, from the Scripture text itself, we can reach no conclusion whatsoever regarding the clothed state of those being baptized. To do anything else amounts to eisegesis.

Leviticus 18 is not speaking about simple nudity. Any attempt to read it that way will leave the honest reader shaking his head about what some of the verses mean. Contextually, it is impossible to avoid the fact that in every case, sexual activity is assumed. In short, the passage defines and forbids incest. As there is no word in Hebrew for "incest," the phrase "uncover the nakedness of..." was used to reference it. When understood this way, the entire passage makes perfect sense. It simply is not a passage teaching about nakedness, it is teaching about incest.

You mentioned "figurative baptism" in Paul's writings and in the book of Acts. Figurative references are just that. They are not intended to teach about physical realities, therefore, you cannot infer from the fact that the disciples were clothed when baptized by the Holy Spirit that they were also clothed during the rite of water baptism.

Regarding 1 Cor. 12:22-24. I have studied the passage carefully. I have noted that the translation of the Greek word aschemon as "unpresentable" is really quite interpretive. The word is much better translated "uncomely" as the KJV translates it. The word simply means that something is not all that pretty to look at. Some people's noses are not all that pretty, but we don't for that reason require them to be covered from view. Furthermore, the word translated "modesty" in your quotation simply does not mean "modesty" as we use it in English. The KJV again translates the word and its context as "our uncomely [parts] have more abundant comeliness." How that could be translated into something meaning "we keep them covered" is something I cannot comprehend nor defend.

Literally, the text says that the parts of our body that we would naturally consider "dishonorable," we treat as highly honored, and those parts that we might naturally consider "ugly" are treated as if they are very beautiful indeed. We do not insist on beautiful things being covered. Therefore, the suggestion that this passage supports keeping certain parts of our body covered is not fidelity to the text, but rather a "modern third person interpretation." Like you, I have no interest in such interpretations.

No sacred art? Touche. Point taken. However, there is art that intentionally portrays Biblical events and themes. If nothing else, they do reflect the thinking, values, theology, and practices of the time and religious heritage from which they came.

Question, where in the OT and NT is there any clear opposition to public nudity? I know that most people claim that its true, but from my examination of the Words of Scripture, I have not found convincing exegetical evidence for that claim. Where do you find it?

In your summarizing remarks, you said again that the Scriptures never even hint at nude baptism, nor the earliest Christian writings. That I would acknowledge. But I would also acknowledge that they do not contradict the claim, either. So from these observations alone, we can draw no firm conclusion.

Also, while it is apt to note that the Greco-Roman churches contained theological and practical compromise, it would be be inappropriate to take that fact as a proof that everything they practiced was therefore false.

In conclusion, I find in your words no historical evidence that clothing was used in early church baptism, nor have I seen you present any concrete evidence that nude baptism had its source in pagan practices.

In contrast, I have seen the writings of the (admittedly compromised, but not entirely false) church leaders from as late as the 5th century AD which described their practices. I have also found evidence that nude baptism has its roots not in pagan practices, but in Jewish ritual cleansing. Finally, I have encountered cultural evidence from the arts that reveals the apparent belief within the church historically that Jesus was in fact baptized without clothing.

Indeed, I do remain unconvinced that your perspective is more historically accurate than mine. Do you have any more evidence that I should consider?

Thanks again for your time.

Matthew

Here was his next response:




Question, where in the OT and NT is there any clear opposition to public nudity? I know that most people claim that its true, but from my examination of the Words of Scripture, I have not found convincing exegetical evidence for that claim. Where do you find it?...Indeed, I do remain unconvinced that your perspective is more historically accurate than mine. Do you have any more evidence that I should consider?

Dear Matthew:

Again thank you for your detailed response.

Now, I cited previously, but did not quote, the following:

6 'None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the LORD. 7 The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 8 The nakedness of your father's wife you shall not uncover; it is your father's nakedness. 9 The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or elsewhere, their nakedness you shall not uncover. 10 The nakedness of your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness. 11 The nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, begotten by your father--she is your sister--you shall not uncover her nakedness. 12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister; she is near of kin to your father. 13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, for she is near of kin to your mother. 14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law--she is your son's wife--you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness. 17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness. 18 Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive. (Leviticus 18:6-18)

And while you may say that this is an admonition only against uncovering nakedness directly (or incest as your last email states), I would submit that it was also an admonition against public nudity.

You are entitled to your own opinion, but should realize that Jesus also taught:

28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28)

Thus, I contend that public nudity by females, which can incite lust, is prohibited.

Furthermore, notice what the Apostles Paul and John wrote:

13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy (Romans 13:13).

16 For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:16).

Again, you are entitled to your opinion, but you still have failed to cite one scripture, nor actual Christian writer, that condoned nude baptism.

I contend that members of the true Church of God did not participate in nude baptism and that there is no evidence that this ever happened. Hence, while some Greco-Romans did, that does not change my position.

On the other hand, because of our discourse, I probably will expand my section on nude baptism to deal with some of the issues you raised. So in that way, perhaps this has been a profitable exchange.

Best regards,

Bob _________

Then my final email to him.




If I may summarize your points, you claimed that public nudity was forbidden because of two reasons:

  1. 1. Leviticus 18:6-18 speaks not only of incest (which I would understand you to agree with me about), but also of public nakedness of any other kind.

  2. 2. Jesus' teaching that looking at a woman to lust was equivalent to adultery means that public female nudity is forbidden because it can incite lust.

I point out that neither of these passages say that public nudity is forbidden. Let me take them one at a time to demonstrate why that presumption is logically flawed.

  1. 1. If we read Leviticus 18 as literally addressing simple nudity, then we must conclude that it is only the nudity of close relatives that we are not permitted to see. This, of course, is counterintuitive, since in the course of one's lifespan, the ones they are most likely to see unclothed in the natural course of life were those they lived with. They slept in the same room (actually a tent when this passage was written to the Jews). Mothers would see their children throughout their lives. Bathing was done outdoors where the water was. Aged parents would be personally nursed in the home until their deaths.

    Furthermore, the text in no way forbids the public nudity of men, for in every case, it is specifically declared that it is the nakedness of a woman that is not to be uncovered.

    If God intended to forbid public nudity, then He could have clearly said in one verse, "You shall not uncover the nakedness of anyone besides your own wife." Case closed. But this is not the command God gave us. Unfortunately, however, it has become the "command" that men preach.

    God never even hinted that you could not "uncover the nakedness" of anyone who was not a close relative. In almost every case, the very reason given in the text is that you must not uncover the nakedness of ______ because they are a close relative!! If the reason we cannot see the nakedness of someone is because they are closely related to us, then by contrast, those that do not fall into the category of "close relative" must be excluded! Yet your statement insists that they are included. That is not logically defensible.

    Finally, it is an exegetical mistake to take a phrase which is used over and over in a passage like this and assign it two different meanings... according to our own whim. Otherwise, how could we be confident of which meaning is called for in each verse? As I mentioned before, if we read "uncovering the nakedness of" as a euphemism for "incest" throughout the passage, the passage is absolutely clear and consistent with no need for any contrasting definition. However, if you take the phrase literally, it is impossible to make sense of every verse.

    It is exegetically irresponsible to assign two distinct meanings to the phrase when one meaning satisfies the context and obvious intent of the passage. Therefore, to suggest that the passage also forbids public nudity is not sound treatment of the text.

    (For the record, I have studied this passage in detail. I would be happy to provide examples of where the literal meaning of "uncovering nakedness" simply does not make any sense)


  2. 2. Jesus' teaching on lust did not address women at all! However, for the sake of the discussion, I'll ask this... What parts of a woman's beauty must be covered? Does the Bible ever tell us? If her beauty "can incite lust," then shouldn't we respond to that beauty as the orthodox Muslims do, and require our women to cover ALL of their bodies, and especially their faces, which are so beautiful? In such circumstances, you can be sure that even the glimpse of a woman's cheek could incite lust. When we decide that a body part should be covered, we are also deciding which parts incite lust. It is completely subjective and utterly foreign to the Word of God, but it is also self-fulfilling! In essence we have given men permission to lust if they see "too much" of a woman's body, and then inadvertently allow them to blame the woman!

    Is there anything particularly sexually enticing about a woman's mammary glands? God provided them to feed babies, not to cause men to stumble. It is our culture that has defined them so, not God's Word. Interestingly enough, God never told women that men must never see their breasts, or even see them breastfeeding their babies, even though every mother who's ever lived has had to make choices about where they nurse and who sees them. They are forced to make those choices without any guidance at all from God's Word. I submit to you that God did not "forget" or "neglect" to tell women to take such care with their breasts. God must be ambivalent about it.

    Your presumption that seeing a woman's body "can incite lust" implies three things which are all false: 1. That the presence of clothing mitigates the possibility of a man lusting after a woman. 2. That if a man sees a woman's unclothed body that lust is inevitable (How do godly doctor's do it?). and 3. God is really responsible for our lust, for He's the one who made women so beautiful that men can't help but lust when they see one.

    Another important issue for you to consider: In the Bible, "lust" and "covetousness" are synonyms. In the OT, the word for "covet" used in the tenth commandment is also used to describe lust (and it is so translated in Proverbs 6:25). In the NT, the word used by Jesus meaning "lust" was used by Paul to quote the commandment against coveting. The question is, why then do we suggest that the solution to "lust" is to avoid seeing a woman's body while the solution to "covetousness" is not taught as attempting to avoid seeing my neighbor's house or his servants or his animals? In all cases, the solution to covetousness is contentment with what God has given to me while rejoicing with my neighbor because of what God has given to him. The solution to covetousness IS the solution to lust.

    Finally, I remind you again of Jesus' words in Mark 7:18-23.

    18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") 20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'"

    Jesus said that "nothing" that enters a man from the outside can defile him. He then applied it to the eating of food, but verse 20 clearly demonstrates that the even the defilements of "evil thoughts," "sexual immorality," "adultery" (mental or otherwise), and "lewdness" all originate INSIDE a man! Therefore we cannot claim that the source of lust is to be found in what a man sees! That is simply not what Jesus was teaching.

    Jesus addressed the men, not the women. He told them not to lust, he didn't tell the women to cover up. Your claim that Jesus' words forbid female nudity is not exegetically or logically sound.

In your closing statements, you have used a logical fallacy to support your conclusion. You have used circular reasoning to invalidate any evidence contrary to the position you already hold. Here's what I mean.

You state that no member of the "true church of God" participated in nude baptism. At the same time, you acknowledge that there is historical evidence that nude baptisms were practiced. But you have no way to know that these were mutually exclusive! In reality, what you have done is to declare Christians who practiced nude baptism as not part of the true church because they practiced nude baptism!

Or to put it more simply, True Christians didn't baptize nude. Those who did so were not true Christians. We know this because true Christians did not baptize nude.

It is circular reasoning and is not proof of anything because your argument is based upon the presumption of that which are trying to prove!

This also allows you to simply disregard any "evidence" to the contrary that might exist by the simply claim, "They were not part of the true church of God." What is the evidence that they were not? They baptized nude, of course. There is, therefore, no evidence that could ever be valid for you. This in spite of the fact that you have not one shred of historical evidence that "the true church" practiced it any differently. In truth, you don't really need any evidence to support your position when any evidence against your position can be so easily dismissed.

Ultimately, you have offered me nothing of substance to invalidate my understanding about nude baptism which I had before I wrote to you.

Think about it.

Thanks for your time and the very respectful interaction.

Matt


And his final response.




Dear Matthew:

In all due respect, you were the one who originally started this by stating:

You claimed that early church baptism was performed clothed. Yet this is contrary to the uniform testimony of the early church fathers who wrote of their practices.

And my response was that neither the Bible nor writings of actual true Christians supports your contention.

You then wrote the following in your last email:

You state that no member of the "true church of God" participated in nude baptism. At the same time, you acknowledge that there is historical evidence that nude baptisms were practiced. But you have no way to know that these were mutually exclusive! In reality, what you have done is to declare Christians who practiced nude baptism as not part of the true church because they practiced nude baptism!

Or to put it more simply, True Christians didn't baptize nude. Those who did so were not true Christians. We know this because true Christians did not baptize nude.

It is circular reasoning and is not proof of anything because yourargument is based upon the presumption of that which are trying to prove!

In all due respect, it is you who have misunderstood my writings. I am not using circular reasoning.

If you actually read my other writings, I make it perfectly clear who we in the Living Church of God believed were real Christians in the early writings. People such as Polycarp, Melito, Polycrates, etc. And this is based upon our history and doctrines.

All the early writers you cited have ALWAYS been considered apostates by us, hence I did not use the type of circular reasoning that you are accusing me of.

The FACT that the BIBLE NEVER indicates that people were baptized nude, nor DID ANY ONE WE IN LCG CONSIDER to actually be a Christian endorse it, combined with New Testament concepts of modesty is sufficient for us. You want to accept the practices of those we consider to be apostates as proof that we have an erroneous understanding.

Anyway, I do appreciate the detail you attempted, but disagree that the biblical and historical facts support the idea that true Christians practiced nude baptism.

Best regards,


Bob _________


To this last email, I have not responded.

So... what's the verdict? Whose evidence and argument was more compelling?

Feel free to comment.

Matthew Neal

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Boyd -- what a great sense of reasoning, and pointing out how some use their own biases to make the bible fit what they want. Thank you for this - it is very very good.
Bill G

Boyd Allen said...

It was Matt who wrote this. But thanks anyway.

Now for my comment: I agree, great reasoning! And when I knew you had to stop responding is when the man wrote: "If you actually read my other writings, I make it perfectly clear who we in the Living Church of God believed were real Christians in the early writings."
That was when he lost. When "we at a certain church". Well fine! I suppose this church also tells their people what churches today are real Christians, which I would surmise, you can count on one hand.

So no matter how you argue it, he is limited to whom he can safely quote and believe based on his doctrinal teachings from start.

Good work Matt!

Boyd

John A said...

I think you just have to agree to disagree - I doubt you will persuade the man.

From my perspective many (naturists included) often cherry pick the bible in an effort to support a particular theory. Since there is no indisputably clear teaching on the matter I believe it falls under the suggestion by Paul that "...all things are lawful but not all things are profitable". I am confident that preaching Christ to naturists falls within the "Great Commission" and is therefore profitable. I don't feel compelled to make naturists out of Christians any more than I'm compelled to make cat lovers out of them.

Boyd Allen said...

I was suspicious, and decided to look into it.

The Living Church of God is actually one of the splinter groups that got started after the Worldwide Church of God changed their doctrines. They are still pushing the older doctrines of Herbert W. Armstrong and of course, since I am still a member of the Worldwide Church of God (Now Grace Communion International) and grew up in that church, I remember their tactics of teaching. One of those tactics are based on what they feel is the departure of true Christianity in the early church (about the time the Nicene Creed was written). So anything they teach will always have that argument of who was a Christian and who was not based on what they feel the apostles actually taught.
The Nicene Creed is based on the Trinity, so right off the bat, anyone or any teaching that is based on that is automatically tossed out.

If the Church (that is the True Church, which, naturally, is their church) says a certain person was wrong, then that person is wrong, damned the true evidence otherwise. I know. I've been there, been taught that, and we got away from it. That is why we are now a Trinitarian church.

So this group picked up where WCG left off around twelve years ago.

Boyd

Jasen said...

Excellent back and forth. And one that I've seen happen before with anti-nudity people.

Point out that culturally, historically, there is ample evidence that nudity was practiced or common - yet the Bible authors made no attempt to condemn it, while condemning many other practices - and you're met with "I don't believe those sources" or "the Bible doesn't explicitly approve of it so it's wrong" or "our culture is different today so we shouldn't do that anymore".

Willfully blind.