Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Inconceivable Omission…

Daily Decision
I went to church this morning.
After my shower, I had to pick out something to wear. Once I got to church, a simple glance around confirmed that every other person there had faced the same decision.
It’s a decision that we’re very accustomed to… we all make it every day. We’re naked when we step out of the shower, but we can’t go out and about in that condition, so we have to decide what clothes we’re going to put on.
What to Wear… How To Decide….
But on what basis do we make that decision?
Wow… there are probably a gazillion different cultural or “personal experience” answers to that question… but there is one answer that will NOT be among them! That answer is:
     “I’ll just wear what the Bible tells me to wear.”
The Bible never gives us any instructions about what to wear. Did you realize that? Wait… I take that back… it tells women who are under authority to wear head-coverings while praying in public (1 Cor. 11:5-6)… but that’s not exactly about covering our nakedness. Aside from that verse, however, there’s nothing.
Let me restate it this way…
     The Bible never tells us what clothes to wear, when to wear them, or what body part to cover.
Period.
Yes, it tells specific people to wear specific things at specific times, but there’s no general command that applies to all people at all times. There are no guidelines provided. There are no standards of “godly” attire in the Bible.
What about “Biblical Modesty”? That’s in the Bible!
No, it’s not at least not like in the way everyone seems to believe. Modesty is always an attitude of the heart; it is never the presence or absence of clothing on certain body parts.
1 Timothy 2:9—the only passage in all the Bible that one could possibly use to promote the false “biblical modesty” notion—does not tell anyone to get and stay dressed, nor does it tell us which body parts must be covered to satisfy “biblical modesty.”
Paul’s instructions actually tell women what not to wear. His concern is not about the amount of skin on display, but rather the amount of wealth on display (read the text again… I’m not making this up).
There are millions of horribly immodest (“designer-dressed” to impress) women (and men) in churches all across America every Sunday. Yet, in direct disobedience to James 2:1-7, such immodesty is often applauded and rewarded with preferential treatment and tacit or public acknowledgment of the person’s importance or position in the church.
So… if anything, truly biblical “modesty” instructs us in what not to wear; it is certainly not—and never was—a command to wear something.
(I encourage anyone who disagrees to explore this issue further. Read Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9 and C. S. Lewis’ chapter on “Sexual Morality” from his book, Mere Christianity—available online here).
What Shall I Do with My Nudity?
Every human being who has ever lived on this planet has had to answer—every day(!)this question: “What shall I do with my naked body?”
We all have assumed that the correct answer is “Cover it up!”… but that answer is not found in the Bible.
We have all assumed that we must cover our genitals, but that’s not found in the Bible, either.
We’ve all believed that we are not permitted to be seen naked by anyone other than our own spouse, but that’s not in the Bible…
Oh, and we take it for granted that it’s OK for our doctors to see or even touch our genitals, but… well… that’s not in the Bible, either.
And, of course, all the ladies must keep their breasts out of the sight of other men… everyone knows that, right? So it doesn’t actually need to be in the Bible (and, of course, it isn’t).
See the pattern here?
Why Isn’t It There?
If everyone who has ever lived needed to know how to righteously respond to his or her own nudity, why don’t we find anything in the Bible that gives us the instructions we need?
It is a rather Inconceivable Omission… but is there any reasonable explanation?
Could it be…
  • God just forgot to include it? After all, there’s a lot of other important information in the Bible, too. 
    • Covering up our bodies really is necessary to live righteously, but God just neglected to include those instructions in the Bible. We just have to be smart enough to “figure it out.” Right?
Wrong. The Bible tells us in 2 Peter 1:3 that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. God did give us everything… including all the instructions we will ever need to live a godly life. If God didn’t give it, we don’t really need it.
Could it be…
  • Everyone just knows and does it naturally? After all, the Bible never tells us to breathe, either!
    • Some things are so instinctual and automatic that there’s no reason for God to give us special instructions to do that which we do naturally. Right?
Wrong. Just look around you… clothing may be pretty common in our culture, but there’s still a LOT of different opinions about nudity! Some may judiciously hide it, but others believe that nudity in art or even recreation is not a problem. Still others use the partial or full exposure of their bodies to tantalize, tempt or titillate. Beyond our own borders and timeframe, the worldwide response to nudity throughout history has been anything but consistent or automatic; some cultures have even lived socially nude almost exclusively.
Could it be…
  • It wasn’t a problem when the Bible was written? After all, the Bible doesn’t tell us that smoking is bad, either.
    • People didn’t even think about going around naked until after the Scriptures had all been written. There are always going to be sins in a modern society that are not addressed in the Bible since those sins didn’t exist in Bible times. Right?
Wrong. The Biblical authors were not unaware of human nakedness; references to nakedness are found throughout the Bible. Furthermore, in New Testament times, one of the significant elements of Greco-Roman culture was the use of the public bath and “gymnasium” (named for the Greek word gymnos, which means “naked”). Every NT author knew about them… there was even an active gymnasium in Jerusalem when Jesus walked its streets (Built or rebuilt by Herod the Great [and this link]. See also  1 Maccabees 1:14).
Every person to whom those authors wrote was familiar with the baths and gymnasiums. Buildings and practices that encouraged and enabled public nudity were cultural cornerstones of the day. Undoubted, most (if not all) of the Gentile believers to whom Paul and other NT authors wrote had actually been to—and participated in the naked activities of—the local gymnasium and/or baths. Yet… those NT authors never warned their audiences to avoid visiting the baths or gymnasiums! (see Hellenism: Center of the Universe and A Day at the Baths)
Could it be…
  • That God has just shown us the “principle” that nudity is shameful? After all, when we read about nudity in the Bible, it’s never a good thing.
    • God doesn’t give us a black and white answer in the Bible to every ethical question. Many times, principles are taught in the Scriptures that we have to apply to our lives in order to make ethical decisions. We know that God wants us to stay clothed because public exposure to nudity is always shameful. Right?
Wrong. To be clear, it is correct that we must make a lot of ethical decisions based upon principle, and so there are many clothing decisions that have to be made that way. But this is not a principle that is being promoted here… we are discussing something which has been put forth as a moral absolute! We have been told that God requires us to be clothed. Principles are never absolute in their application; they are guidelines to point us towards wise choices. Moral absolutes—such as the Ten Commandments—are always directly declared in the Bible.
Furthermore, even principles must be directly declared before we can have full confidence in them. They are stated like: “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24); “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10); or “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7). We know the principles are true because God declared them to be true. We each apply them in our own lives (and only our own lives) as the Lord individually leads us. There are no principles declared in the Bible that speak to the nature of nudity, our bodies, or any requirement for clothing.
Finally, the statement that in the Bible, nudity is “never a good thing” is simply in error. 
  • Adam’s and Eve’s nakedness in the Garden was a good thing (Gen. 2:25).
  • Isaiah’s obedience to the Lord and prophesying naked for three years was a good thing (Isa. 20).
  • King Saul’s being overcome by the Spirit of God and prophesying for a day and night naked was a good thing (1 Samuel 19:9-24; see also this article).
  • The nakedness of Jews and Christians as they were baptized (including Jesus) was a good thing (see paragraph How Immersion Was Done in this article).
  • Jesus’ taking his clothes off to wash His disciples’ feet was a good thing (John 13:4-5; see also this article) .
  • Christ leaving all his grave clothes behind in the tomb was a good thing (John 20:6-7).
We simply cannot categorically declare that every instance of nudity in the Bible is “never a good thing.”
(As I demonstrated in this series of articles, “good” and neutral instances of nudity have been systematically translated out of the modern versions of the Scriptures, leaving us with the false impression that nakedness really is always bad.)
Wait, it was God that clothed Adam and Eve after the Fall! That’s for us, too!
No… read Gen. 3 again. God clothed Adam and Eve, but did not even give them a command to stay clothed. There’s simply no command at all that they—or we—must remain clothed!
(see also The Biblical Purpose for Clothing)
I once had a brother in Christ take me to that passage to “show” me that God wanted us to stay clothed. Only after some rather heated discussion did he finally admit that, “Well, the command isn’t actually there.” I said, “Great, now that we agree on that point, let’s look in the Bible to see if there’s anywhere else that God commands us to be clothed.”
As I recall, that was the end of our conversation and his attempt to show me that God commanded clothing. Unfortunately, it was not also the end of his conviction that God does require clothing.
Could It Be… That It Isn’t an Omission After All?
It is utterly inconceivable that God wants us to keep our nakedness covered in public at all times, but simply omitted those instructions in His inspired Word. As I stated before, every person in all of human history has had to deal with their own nudity. Divine instructions on this issue would be critically important and applicable to us all.
The only tenable explanation for the “omission” is that it was not an omission at all! God did not include instructions for “godly attire” simply because clothing was not, is not, and never will be a requirement for righteousness living.
How Dare We?
Despite the fact that instructions concerning any requirement for wearing of clothing are completely missing in the Bible, most Christians in America seem content to “add them in” anyway, claiming that it really is God’s will for us all.
But how dare we presume to know and speak the mind of God on requirements for righteousness when He Himself has chosen to be silent? Is it not a personal insult to the Almighty to suggest that He didn’t quite “get the Scriptures right” or that the inspired Word is “incomplete” or lacking in any way?
Holding A Non-Biblical Conviction
I mentioned in the side-bar above that a brother in Christ was unable to demonstrate that God commands clothing, but he was also unwilling to dismiss his conviction that God does require clothing.
I am astounded how common this reality is among professed Bible-believing Christians. They cannot adequately defend their beliefs about nudity or clothing from the Scriptures, but they hold to their conviction anyway (see: A Surprising Admission).
For my part, I’m simply unwilling to do that. If I can’t conclusively demonstrate from the Bible that God speaks clearly on an issue, I cannot and will not maintain adherence to an absolute position on it.
I have stated and written that I am a “Naturist by Biblical Conviction,” but if you read that work carefully, you’ll see that the convictions are not about “nudity” or “naturism,” but about the fact that I cannot defend—and must reject—the nudity taboo that is assumed and taught in the church today. I cannot reject that taboo and continue to live as if it is right. The only way I know to do that is to actively and intentionally live contrary to it. That is why I am a naturist.
How About You?
  • Can you demonstrate from God’s Word that God is offended by the unclad human form?
  • Can you find any Scripture that commands all people to restrict their nudity to the marriage bed?
  • Can you locate a passage that describes which body parts are in moral need of covering?
  • Can you quote any verse that permits the “exception” of nudity for “medical necessity”?
If you cannot, how do you explain the omission?
— Matthew Neal

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Squeamish Translating – a Response…

Someone wrote a comment in response to the series on Squeamish Translating that I thought deserved more exposure than just the Comments section under the Prologue

It was signed as “Anonymous,” so I don’t know who wrote it nor can I validate the claims made. Still, it’s a very striking statement. If what he (she?) says is true, it means that my assessment of “Squeamish Translating” is spot on. The troubling truth, however, is that it was evidently more openly intentional than I was prepared to suggest.

Here’s the text of the comment:

I just finished reading your PDF file “Squeamish Translating”. Well done!

I attended a seminary which required proficiency in translating Greek and Hebrew. (We weren’t even allowed to have English translations of the Bible in the classroom!) It may surprise you to learn that the biases of the NIV and other modern translations were openly discussed and are common knowledge, at least to the clergy of my denomination.

What may be even more surprising—and I have no more than my anecdotal recollections to prove this—is that the translators of the NIV in particular were very open in academia with their desire to water down Holy Scripture on these points! They seemed to have a passion for keeping the Bible g-rated, though I don’t remember exactly why, presumably to keep the Bible accessible to the general population.

Nudity isn’t the only topic they watered down. Bodily functions of all types, slang idioms, and acts of violence all fell victim to the translators good intentions. By the way, I found your blog via Fig Leaf Forum. Blessings!

Brother or Sister—whoever you are—thanks for writing. If you ever find any documentation for your statements here, please let me know.

I’d welcome knowing the name of the seminary, the name of the course, and the professor(s) who taught it. I just might do some snooping of my own on the topic.

(I’d prefer the information in a private email, but if you’d rather not send it directly to me, post it in a comment and I will get the information. Then I’ll decline posting the comment to the blog)

— Matthew Neal

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

Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Squeamish Translating – Prologue

My Reticence to Write This

Christianity and Naturism are seen by most Christians today as morally incompatible. Yet, I have proclaimed myself to be a Naturist by Biblical Conviction. In other words, not only do I see them as morally compatible, I have found that my commitment to Biblical truth forces me to counter the lies of our culture (including Christian culture) by literally embracing naturism.

For many Christians today, that fact alone puts a bull's-eye on my forehead. Being a “target” for attack and condemnation is certainly not something I need to make worse.

But… suggesting—as I will in this series of articles—that the Bible has been translated into modern English in a way that communicates a bias against nudity might be like begging people to take more pot-shots at me. They might feel justified in claiming that I don’t respect the Scriptures and that I’m just trying to “explain away” any negative reference to nudity; as if I were saying, “I don’t like that passage… I’ll just claim that it’s a bad translation.”

I recognize that some might assume that… or want to make it appear that that’s the case, but it is not.

My View of Scripture

I have the utmost respect for the Scriptures. They are inspired by God and without error in the original documents. They are true and authoritative.

And it is precisely this commitment to the inspired text that drives me to write these articles.

The English translations are not “inspired” (none of them!). Only the original language text is inspired by God. Therefore, every translation must be assessed according to its accuracy to the true meaning of the original language text. Thorough study of the Bible must include an examination of the original language words used to ensure that the process of translating the text into English neither obscures nor adds to the meaning intended by the original author communicating with his original audience.

How I Discovered This Bias

When I first began to study the Bible’s perspective on nudity, I searched the Scriptures for every place where nudity is mentioned or implied. My search was conducted primarily by finding the original Greek or Hebrew terms that reference nakedness, then examining every passage that uses those terms in multiple English translations.

To my surprise, it seemed that every time there was a passage that spoke of nakedness in a positive or neutral way, the modern translations rendered the passage in a way that would allow the reader to avoid imagining or thinking about nakedness. Conversely, whenever a passage criticized or condemned a negative expression of nakedness, the modern translations did not shrink at all from using the word “naked.”

The pattern was consistent enough that I began to suspect a bias.

Hats Off to the KJV!

I am not suggesting that all English translations are biased against nakedness. Where the NASB and the NIV were evidently squeamish about the N-words, the KJV was bold and accurate.

The real question is this: if the KJV translators were willing to use the word “naked” wherever the original authors of the Scriptures did, why weren’t the NASB and NIV translators willing to do the same? If the KJV narratives describe contexts where nudity was possible (according to the original language text), what compelled the NASB and NIV translators to modify the meaning or add words that preclude that understanding?

I Have to Write This

My commitment to Biblical accuracy compels me expose the evidence for this bias.

Some may dismiss the evidence as inconclusive or meaningless. Some will dismiss anything I say because I have dared to criticize the highly trained and skilled people who gave us God’s Word in English. Some will declare that it is I who am unwilling to hear what the Scriptures are saying and that I am only attempting to explain away that which I don’t like.

But, others will look honestly enough at the evidence to question their previous assumptions. They may find that things they’ve always thought the Bible taught aren’t actually there after all. They may see—as I do—a squeamishness on the part of the translators that prevented them from translating the inspired text as accurately as they should have.

Either way, I write to promote the truth. If I take some shots in the process, so be it.

— Matthew Neal

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

Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Squeamish Translating - Introduction

My Choice in Scripture Translations

I was raised on the King James Version. Growing up, my father always preached from the KJV. As a child, it was the KJV that we memorized in Sunday School class.

I was never taught that the KJV was the only valid translation; my father correctly believed and taught that Scriptural authority is to be found in the original language texts rather than a translation into a modern language by fallible men. Consequently, he regular read and considered the renderings of other translations as they became available.

I myself have embraced the New American Standard Bible (NASB) as my translation of choice. Like the KJV, it is intentionally translated to maintain a word-for-word alignment with the original Greek or Hebrew texts. This means that for most words I read in the English text, I can trace them back to the specific Greek or Hebrew word from which it was translated. This ability is very important to me in my effort to be a student of the Scriptures.

My Approach to Biblical Study

I use the close connection to the Greek or Hebrew text as a springboard from which to dive into the original language words used for any passage that I’m studying. Using the amazing electronic tools available to us today, I can find the Greek/Hebrew word wherever it is used in the entire bible and use that to discern what the original term means (blueletterbible.org is a great online resource).

Often enough, the meaning of an original language term is slightly different than how we understand the English word used to translate it. When that is the case, we must lay aside any implications derived from the English which are not found in the Greek or Hebrew. Furthermore, we must expand our understanding to include any implications found in the original languages which did not survive the translation into English.

If you are brutally honest about doing this, it can be very disruptive to your current understanding of the Scriptures. You might find that things you’ve always believed aren’t really scriptural at all. Or things you never would have found in the English are implied in the original texts… and that also will have a profound impact on how you understand God’s Word.

Of course, this reality is unavoidable; it is simply the result of having to translate God’s Word into the languages that people speak. We have to recognize it, study through it to the best of our ability (not actually knowing the original language), and allow what we learn to inform our Scriptural interpretations and beliefs.

The Challenge of Translating

I so appreciate the herculean efforts of those who have studied for years to gain the knowledge it took to translate the Bible into modern languages! Where would we all be if they had not done so?

An Authoritative
Statement on Translating

The Forum for Bible Agencies International has produced a document stating their Basic Principles and Procedures for Bible Translation (available here).

All of the principles they present are excellent, but some of the principles that are especially worth noting for the purposes of this series of articles (emphasis mine):

1. To translate the Scriptures accurately, without loss, change, distortion or embellishment of the meaning of the original text. Accuracy in Bible translation is the faithful communication, as exactly as possible, of that meaning, determined according to sound principles of exegesis.

4. To represent faithfully the original historical and cultural context.
Historical facts and events should be expressed without distortion. Due to differences of situation and culture, in some passages the receptor audience may need access to additional background information in order to adequately understand the message that the original author was seeking to communicate to the original audience.

5. To make every effort to ensure that no political, ideological, social, cultural, or theological agenda is allowed to distort the translation

“Squeamish Translating,” as I have defined it in this Introduction, is a violation of these principles, particularly those specific statements that I have underlined above.

But translating is never an exact science. The effort has surely been made to translate the original text as accurately as possible, but it is literally impossible to completely rid oneself of every pre-understanding or cultural perspective in order to get it right. The translators are human after all.

Consequently, we should not be surprised if—from time to time—we can discern a bias in the English translation that inadvertently hides a meaning that should be there in the English text or introduces a meaning that was not there in the source text. To acknowledge this possibility is not to disrespect the translators. To suggest that it has happened is not to discount all the high-quality work that has been done elsewhere in the text.

Squeamish Translating

I already mentioned that I left the KJV behind when I transitioned to the NASB as my study version of preference. However, I still compare multiple versions—including the KJV—when I’m digging into something.

Rather unexpectedly, I found my appreciation for the KJV deepened when I began studying the issue of nakedness in the Bible. The reason for this is that by comparing the KJV, NASB, NIV and other translations to the original language texts, I found that the KJV was the most likely to “tell it like it is” whenever nakedness was mentioned or implied. In the KJV, if the word was “naked,” in the Greek, it was “naked” in English. By contrast, the NASB and NIV seemed to shy away from using the “N-word.”

This tendency is one I call “Squeamish Translating”… and no, I’ve never heard anyone else describe it that way. Let me define it this way:

  • Squeamish Translating of the Scriptures is the phenomenon where Scripture passages which mention or imply nudity are:
    • reworded to soften the words describing the nudity
    • given additional words that slightly change the meaning which obscures the idea that nakedness may be possible or implied.
    • translated word for word, but only when the nakedness is cast in a negative light.

I do not doubt the purity of motives of those who translated the Scriptures in a squeamish manner, but I am suggesting that there exists in our culture today a bias against nudity. It is perceived as wrong and sinful in any but a marital or medical context. I believe that bias has made its way into the modern translations.

The KJV translators, however, did not display that sort of squeamishness! For this reason, my appreciation of their work has grown.

I Will Show You What I Mean…

In the posts that follow, I will show you where I have found evidence of this squeamishness in the NASB and the NIV. At the same time, I’ll show you how the KJV translates the Greek text more literally. In all cases, the comparison will be made to the words in the source text, for every translation stands or falls based on its fidelity to the original language meaning. For the sake of keeping the series of articles manageable in quantity, I have limited my examples to New Testament passages.

None of the passages I review here will, by themselves, prove that there is any sort of bias against nudity. In each case, the translations provided are not without justification. But collectively, they betray a subtle prejudice against any nudity that is not presented in a negative way. In each case, the translation is such that we may not have to create any sort of mental image that someone may literally be naked… and we don’t have to read the N-word, even if that’s the word used in the Greek or Hebrew.

I will first present the Scripture text in Greek, KJV, NASB, and NIV, then offer some observations or comments. The texts will not be altered in any way except to highlight the words of interest in a contrasting color. There will be no dispute about the textual data. My comments, on the other hand, will likely meet with some objection. I ask my readers to hear me out… and see if you discern a bias as well. And bear in mind… the bias you discern may be your own.

— Matthew Neal

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

Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Squeamish Translating – Part 1 – Naked Disciple(s)

In this series of posts, I intend to demonstrate how modern translations seem to be squeamish about how nudity, particularly when that nudity was a natural part of normal life.

Peter was Naked…

The first example might be a familiar one… it comes from John 21:7b. Here are the texts… the word in red is the Greek word gymnos (G1131) which means “naked.”

Greek οὖν Πέτρος ἀκούσας ὅτι ὁ κύριός ἐστιν τὸν ἐπενδύτην διεζώσατο ἦν γὰρ γυμνός καὶ ἔβαλεν ἑαυτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν
KJV

Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt [his] fisher's coat [unto him], (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

NASB So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.
NIV As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

Comments

There are several important things to note in this passage, but let’s start with that which is easiest to see.

The simple reading of the various versions demonstrates quite clearly that the KJV uses the English word “naked” because that’s the word found in the Greek text. However, in both the NASB and the NIV, different words are used. They do not require the reader to face the word “naked.” Instead, the wording is such that common usage might employ either phrase to describe someone who was not, in fact, completely naked.

Was Peter fully naked? Well, that’s the word used in the Greek. Perhaps the word gymnos could describe someone who was not completely naked, but there’s no other word in Greek to describe anyone who is any more naked than gymnos.

In any case, the Greek word used by the author is not in question. It would seem that the best approach to translating it would be to use the English word that most closely matches the root Greek word that God chose to use. That way, the reader can take in the words as God inspired them, studying the passage more closely if needed to discern its true meaning.

Yet, for some reason, the modern translations do not allow us to see it that way. I suggest that this is an example of squeamish translating.

Allow me to discuss a few additional thoughts in support of this claim.

Was Peter Alone?

First of all, the fact that Peter was uncritically described in the text as gymnos means that we have no basis in this passage to criticize him ourselves. If we ask why he was gymnos, the text itself provides the answer; he was naked to do his work… he was fishing.

But Peter was not fishing alone. There were six other disciples that went with him and the text tells us the names of all but two of them (the “sons of Zebedee” were James and John). Could Peter have been the only one who was gymnos? I find that highly unlikely. If Peter was naked because he was fishing, surely those who shared his task also matched his “attire.”

Peter, James and John had all been professional fishermen before they met Christ. This fishing trip was not a casual outing with a can of worms and a hook on a string to pass the time; it was a return to their previous profession, complete with a fishing boat and nets. They worked all night long, intending to catch a boatload of fish to sell, earning some money.

Fishing with nets on a boat is a dirty, wet, and smelly activity. Clothing was valuable and had to be hand washed every time the laundry needed to be done. Taking off clothes to avoid soiling them was a very sensible strategy to keep clothing in wearable condition. Going naked on a boat, particularly while fishing, was most likely the standard practice at the time (see the ancient stone relief image below… the men in the boat are all naked).

fishermen

I found the picture above in a Bible-History book in my church library. It is a 2nd or 3rd century stone relief showing three boats and their sailors battling a rough sea. Note that all of the sailors are completely nude. Click the picture to see it full size.

I don’t believe that Peter was naked alone. I suspect that the only reason we were told that he was naked was because he took the time to grab his garment before jumping in the water to swim ashore. The narrative focuses on Peter and he was the only who acted, so he’s the only one whose attire—or lack thereof—was mentioned.

A Boat Full of Naked Disciples?

The logical path I have just trod is not difficult to traverse, nor is the conclusion at all unlikely. But if I am correct in that conclusion, it means that there were seven naked guys in the boat… and all disciples of Jesus at that!

That’s not a mental movie clip that plays well in the modern Christian mind. Most people—including, perhaps, the translators—would simply say, “well, surely they weren’t all naked….” The next thought, of course… Peter probably wasn’t really naked either…

As it turns out, the translators had the opportunity to soften the blow—to “protect” us from having to think about a boat full of naked fishermen. So… Peter was “stripped for work” (NASB). Or even more palatable, Peter was just putting on the “outer garment” that he had “taken… off” (NIV). Now we don’t even have to visualize Peter naked, either.

Is that squeamish translating? Maybe… it sure smells fishy to me (pardon the pun). But for sure, the words the NASB and NIV translators used are different than the natural meaning of the Greek word. I would prefer that they gave us the real word, then trusted us to seek God’s enlightenment as to its true meaning.

But There’s More…

My study of this passage has revealed a couple of other oddities that bear examination. The first has to do with the garment that Peter grabbed before he jumped into the water.

The Greek word is ἐπενδύτην (ependytēs - G1903).

  • This is the only place this word is used in the Bible.
  • It is not the same word used in the NT to describe the tunic or robe typically worn in that day.
  • The KJV translators acknowledged this by calling it a “fisher’s coat,” but evidently this was something of a guess, since other translations do not render it that way.
  • The precise type of garment Peter had is not known for sure. Extrabiblical sources mention the garment, but generally as something of an ornamental garment worn over other clothes (and it has no specific relation to fishing).
  • Consequently, while it is probably accurate to call it an “outer garment” of some sort, it would be a mistake to conclude from that translation that it was just a robe.

These observations have more significance when we also look at the verb used to describe how Peter put on the garment.

The Greek word is διαζώννυμι (diazōnnymi- G1241).

This is one of the only two places this word is used in the Bible, the other being when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. It is not the same word typically used for “girding” oneself, which is περιζώννυμι (perizōnnymi – G4024).

I will address this word more fully in Part 2, but for now, suffice it to observe that not only was the garment Peter put on an unusual garment, the word used to describe how he put it on is unusual. This means that the precise definitions of diazōnnymi is impossible to determine from its contextual usage alone.

Summary

My points here are these:

  • The original text describes Peter as gymnos, “naked.”
  • Simple reason concludes that he was probably not the only one.
  • There is no compelling textual or historical reason to avoid the the word “naked” in the modern translations.
  • Our knowledge of the garment Peter had and how he put it on is very minimal, so even this provides no justification for altering the English rendering of the Greek word, gymnos.

This may be evidence of an intentional avoidance of the word “naked” in a Scripture text where the nakedness was normal, natural, and not condemned.

— Matthew Neal

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Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Squeamish Translating – Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior

Squeamish About Nudity…

In this series of posts, I intend to demonstrate how modern translations seem to be squeamish about nudity, at least when that nudity was a natural part of normal life.

If you have not yet read the Introduction and Part 1, please do so before reading this segment.

In Part 1, I noted the apparent reticence of modern translations to note that Peter was actually naked in John 21:7b. Instead, they use language which allow us to imagine the scene without any nudity.

In this next passage, we turn our attention to Jesus and His washing of His disciples’ feet.

Jesus Took His Clothes Off

This is a familiar story; Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. It comes from John 13:4-5. Here is exactly what the texts say. The word in green is the Greek word, himatia (G2440) which refers to Jesus’ garments. The words in red are two forms of the same Greek verb, diazōnnymi (G1241), which tells us how Jesus “put on” the towel which He used to dry the disciples’ feet.

Greek [Ἰησοῦς]… ἐγείρεται ἐκ τοῦ δείπνου καὶ τίθησιν τὰ ἱμάτια καὶ λαβὼν λέντιον διέζωσεν ἑαυτόν. εἶτα βάλλει ὕδωρ εἰς τὸν νιπτῆρα καὶ ἤρξατο νίπτειν τοὺς πόδας τῶν μαθητῶν καὶ ἐκμάσσειν τῷ λεντίῳ ᾧ ἦν διεζωσμένος  
KJV

He [Jesus] riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

NASB

[Jesus]… got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

NIV …so he [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Comments

The questions that I would like to raise with this passage are these:

  1. How much clothing did Jesus take off?
  2. How did Jesus wear the towel?

Interestingly, if we look at the NIV, we get a very different answer than the other two English translations. The NIV tells us that Jesus only took off His outer clothing, and the towel was worn specifically “around His waist.”

The other two translations are in agreement that it was His “garments” and that He used the towel to “gird” Himself. Without much question the KJV and NASB are more faithful to the Greek, but even there, I believe there are important things to look at as we consider our understanding of the passage.

Was It All His Clothes, or Just His Outer Garments?

The Greek word used for “garments” is actually the plural form of the word used for the outer garment common at the time. I assume that this is the reason that the NIV translators rendered it “outer” clothing. However, a wider review of the scriptural usage of that term in plural shows conclusively that the term when used in plural can (and may always) refer to the outer garment as well as the tunic worn beneath it.

  • A comparison of the four gospels’ description of Jesus at the cross shows that one of the writers (John, 19:23) tells us that the soldiers stripped Jesus of both His outer garment and His tunic (chiton G5509). But in all four gospels (Matthew 27:25, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:24 ), we are told that that they took His himatia – the same word used to describe what Jesus took off to wash the disciples’ feet.
  • Since we know from history that the Romans crucified criminals naked (How Did Jesus Die?), it can be understood that the use of the “outer garment” in plural can refer to all the clothing being worn.

This does not prove that Jesus stripped naked when He washed the disciples’ feet, but it certainly shows that it is a possibility, given the Greek word used. The English rendering by both the KJV and NASB correctly allows this understanding while the NIV clearly leads us away from it. This may be evidence of some squeamishness on the part of the NIV translators.

Was the towel around Jesus’ waist?

This question requires a more detailed analysis to answer.

The English word, “gird”—used by both the KJV and the NASB—leaves us with the impression that Jesus wrapped the towel around His waist. However, upon further examination of the Greek word used in this passage, there is evidence that calls that understanding into question.

I’d like to call your attention to three different Greek terms which refer to putting on clothing.

  1. ζώννυμι (zōnnymi G2224)
  2. περιζώννυμι (perizōnnymi – G4024)
  3. διαζώννυμι (diazōnnymi- G1241)

All three terms are related… The first term, zōnnymi, is the root word upon which the other two words are based, each including a prefix.

When they appear in the NT text, all three words are translated the same way (“gird”) by both the KJV and the NASB. But if all three words really mean the same thing, we have to wonder why they are different in the Greek. We should instead expect that the root word means one thing, and the added prefix modifies the root meaning in some way.

Let’s look at the words one at a time.

#1 - Zōnnymi is only found in one verse in the NT, John 21:18, where Jesus tells Peter that a time is coming when others will “dress” (NIV) or “gird” (NASB/KJV) him. From Jesus’ words to Peter, there’s nothing to indicate in what manner the “girding” or “dressing” would be done. Notably, the NIV does not use the same word as the other translations, but rather selects a neutral word that simply denotes the act of putting on clothes.

  • Because it is a root word and…
  • There is no indication in its NT usage as to how one is dressing…
  • I suggest that zōnnymi does not communicate any specific manner of dress. This means that the English word “gird”—which denotes the wrapping of clothing around a person—may actually communicate more than the Greek word actually means.

#2 – Of the three words, Perizōnnymi is the most commonly found in the Greek NT. Of the 7 times the word appears, three times the specific location of the clothing is mentioned. Two mention the loins (Luke 12:35 & Eph. 6:4) while one indicates that the wrapping happens around the chest (Rev. 1:13 - NIV and NASB). More precisely, however, the sash is around the “paps” (KJV) which actually refers to the nipples, albeit those of a man.

  • The prefix is peri-, and it is a prefix which we are familiar with in English. It means “around” and we see it with that meaning in the word “perimeter.”
  • The contextual usage of the word in the Scriptures point to a meaning that indicates the wrapping of a garment around a person’s body.
  • I suggest that of the three terms, perizōnnymi has the best evidence that it really means “gird” as we think about it in English.

#3 – Finally, διαζώννυμι appears in only two verses in the NT. One instance (John 21:7)—already noted in Part 1 of this series—describes the manner in which Peter put on the his ependytēs. The other instance is the one we are looking at above.

  • The prefix is dia-, and it is also a prefix which we are familiar with in English. It means “through” and we see it with that meaning in the word “diameter.”
  • Both verses in which this word appears in the NT offer little or no indication as to how a garment is put on since both verses describe the wearing of an uncommon garment.
  • Because the prefix dia- means something very different than the prefix peri- we should expect that diazōnnymi describes a different manner of dressing oneself as compared to perizōnnymi.
  • Based on the meaning of the prefix, I suggest that the we should consider this Greek word as describing the act of putting on clothing by passing a body part through an opening in the garment, much like we put on a sweater or T-shirt today.

But Does it Fit?

If the etymology of the word diazōnnymi leads us to consider a different manner of dressing oneself than “wrapping” with a garment, can we find that it makes sense with the context?

Looking first at Peters dressing himself with the ependytēs, we can’t really tell if he passed his head “through” the garment simply because we don’t know much about that type of garment. Still, it is certainly possible that it is a garment with a hole for the head; therefore, we cannot rule out this understanding of diazōnnymi idea based on its usage in John 21:7.

Looking at Jesus and his towel, let’s start with this question: how is a towel generally worn? Well, many times we take a towel and wrap it “around” us. But if that’s what Christ did, why didn’t the author of the text use perizōnnymi (peri- = “around”) instead of diazōnnymi? Couldn’t it be that Jesus didn’t actually wrap the towel “around” Himself?

Wrapping a towel around the body is not the only way that a towel may be worn; it also may be draped across the shoulder, or behind the neck and across both shoulders. We’ve all done this ourselves… if you grab a towel by its ends to flip it over your head, you would literally be creating a loop of the towel through (dia-) which you would pass your head. If this is what Jesus did, it would explain why diazōnnymi is used instead of perizōnnymi.

In other words, judging from the Greek text, it is conceivable—even probable—that Jesus did not wear the towel around his waist, but rather draped on His neck/shoulders.

Where Would You Keep a Towel for Drying Feet?

Thinking about it further, if you intend to wash someone’s feet and you want to keep a towel handy for the purpose of drying those feet, you would not wrap that towel around your waist… rather, you would drape it over your neck so that it is literally hanging inches from the feet you were washing.

I remember having a Sunday School teacher tell this story when I was a kid. She suggested that it “must have been a very long towel.” Why? Well, because a short towel would not have been long enough to keep Jesus “girded” when He used it to dry His disciples’ feet. But that’s just an assumption about the story that is simply not found in the text.

The Towel Wasn’t Around His Waist.

The Greek term used to describe how Jesus wore the towel was not the Greek word that describes “wrapping” or “girding.” The word used in this passage, diazōnnymi, actually supports the idea that the towel was worn across the shoulders instead of around the waist. Simple reason and practicality says that the best place to “wear” that towel is across the shoulders.

I don’t believe Jesus wore the towel around His waist at all.

In Review…

I’ve examined two questions in reference to John 13:4-5.

  1. Did Jesus take off all of His clothes to wash the disciples’ feet?
  2. Did Jesus wear the towel around His waist?

Neither of these questions can be conclusively answered from the Greek text. However, the textual evidence actually points to a “yes” for question #1, and a “no” for question #2.

However, if we answer the questions that way, it leaves the story wide open for us to imagine the scene with Jesus completely naked, save a towel across His shoulders… and the thought of a voluntarily naked Savior is not one that we are very willing to entertain today.

What do we find in the English translations, though? NASB and KJV both do well with Question #1, but with the use of the word “gird,” they tend to lead us away from the answer “no” on Question #2.

The NIV is another story altogether. On both questions, we are clearly led away from the answers that I have suggested are the most accurate.

Was Jesus Actually Naked While Washing the Disciples’ Feet?

There is evidence that in ancient times, those who did manual labor as slaves/servants often performed their work unclothed. If that is true, then being unclothed was literally one of the signs of servant status. Within such a cultural context, Jesus’ act of stripping naked would have very poignantly communicated His intent to take the role of a servant before His disciples.

While the Scriptural text does not lead us to a firm conclusion that Jesus was naked, it absolutely does not contradict the idea. Instead, it actually leans towards it.

Squeamish Translating?

What we find in the English translations definitely leads us away from the understanding that Jesus may have been naked before His disciples. This is most clearly in evidence in the NIV’s rendering. There simply is no textual reason to slant the English rendering that way.

Is it a reflection of our cultural squeamishness about nakedness?

Perhaps it is. One passage cannot make that case by itself. However, as we continue to examine other examples, the combined weight of evidence from several different passages may make the case more compelling than one passage can.

— Matthew Neal

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Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Squeamish Translating – Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked

In this series of posts, I have been trying to document how modern translations seem to be shy away from references to nakedness unless it is a negative context and/or we associate that nakedness with sin or improper behavior.

The Bible does mention nakedness at times when it is not condemned or criticized. In such passages, I have observed that we are typically shielded from the real meaning of the original text in modern translations. This allows us (or even leads us) to form conclusions that are in direct opposition to the meaning of the inspired text.

Such is the case in this next passage that I want to highlight.

The Apostle Paul was Naked While Writing to the Church at Corinth.

The passage in 1 Cor. 4:11 is not one that we hear about much. Paul writes these words to the Corinthians almost in passing as he details to his audience the hardships that he and his companions have suffered in their service to Christ.

Here is exactly what the texts say. The word in red is the Greek word, gymnēteuō (G1130) which is based on the Greek word, gymnos (“naked” G1131).

Greek ἄχρι τῆς ἄρτι ὥρας καὶ πεινῶμεν καὶ διψῶμεν καὶ γυμνητεύομεν, καὶ κολαφιζόμεθα καὶ ἀστατοῦμεν
KJV

Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

NASB To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;.
NIV To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.

Comments

The disparity between the various translations is easy to see. The Greek word is a derivative of the word gymnos which we have already noted means “naked.”

The KJV faithfully and accurately translates it according to the real meaning of the Greek word.

However, I have a very hard time finding any justification for the other two translations. The meaning of the English translation is actually the opposite of the Greek word’s meaning:

  • In the Greek, Paul said, “we are naked.”
  • NASB says, “we are … clothed”
  • NIV says, “we are in rags.”

In both translations, a very different mental picture is painted than Paul (and God!) intended for us to have!

Even If They Weren’t Naked…

Were Paul and his companion(s) literally naked as he penned these words? Perhaps not. But even if they were not, do we really need the translators to insulate us from hyperbole for fear that we just might take Paul’s words at face value? Evidently, the translators of the KJV felt no such need to modify Paul’s writing. If they were willing to translate Paul’s words exactly as they were written, why are the NASB and NIV translators evidently unwilling to do so?

Maybe Paul was not actually naked as he wrote, but at the same time, it’s entirely possible that he really was naked! Either way, that IS what Paul really said. So, that’s what the English rendering should say!

Could they have literally been naked? Yes. There is no reason in the inspired text to assume otherwise.

Consider the situation they were in: they were being persecuted! Their persecutors were not concerned at all for their “dignity” nor did they care for their welfare. Paul and the others were being mistreated and clothing was an item of value that could have been—and evidently was—taken from them. The idea that they may have been genuinely naked certainly is not contrary to the context or the plain meaning of Paul’s words.

We Don’t Need a Censor.

Even if Paul was not completely naked, he chose a word to describe himself that way on purpose. It is not the place of translators to “filter” the text to make it more palatable to the contemporary mind.

We are followers of Christ. We are students of the Bible. Let us read the Word as God inspired it!

To me, this is one of the clearest examples of squeamish translating that I have run across. It is made all the more evident by the fact that the KJV translators did not shrink from translating Paul’s words directly and accurately. However, for some reason the NASB and NIV translators intentionally avoided the word “naked” and translated it in a way is actually contradicts the inspired text.

— Matthew Neal

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Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Squeamish Translating – Part 4 – Unclothed Servants

In this series of posts, I have been trying to document how modern translations seem to be shy away from references to nakedness unless it is a negative context and/or we associate that nakedness with sin or improper behavior.

Sometimes it is not the Greek word gymnos (“naked” G1131) itself that is mistranslated, but a different word or phrase describes a context where nudity might have been present. In such cases, once again, I find that words or phrases have been chosen to mask or hide that possibility. Rather than translate the text as it appears in the Greek, we are given a modified translation that leads us to a mental image that does not include nudity.

If it were just a matter of my lack of knowledge of the Greek language, then this could be dismissed as only an unlearned man (me) spouting his linguistic ignorance. But the fact is that the KJV is not squeamish about the text and translates the Greek exactly as it is in the original text. If I am mistaken, then the KJV translators must be mistaken also.

Servants Coming In from the Field.

Jesus is giving a variety of instructions for life in Luke 17. I want to draw our attention to Luke 17:7-8 where Jesus is teaching about faithful service to our Master. Verse 7 sets up the scenario, but it is verse 8 that I want to focus upon. Rather than quote verse 7 four times, I’m going to quote it once from the KJV, then examine the different renderings in the other translations in verse 8 only.

But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, “Go and sit down to meat?”  - Luke 17:7 (KJV)

This rhetorical question is clearly meant to indicate that none would say this to their servant. Jesus’ next words describe how his listeners—in the role of the master—would respond instead:

Greek ἀλλ᾽ οὐχὶ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ Ἑτοίμασον τί δειπνήσω καὶ περιζωσάμενος διακόνει μοι ἕως φάγω καὶ πίω καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα φάγεσαι καὶ πίεσαι σύ
KJV

And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?;

NASB “But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and [properly] clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?”
NIV “Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?”

Comments

As you can see from the Greek text above, Luke used the word perizōnnymi for the command a Master would give to his servant. As we saw in Part 2 of this series, this word is best translated “gird” in English; zōnnymi indicates dressing oneself, and peri- means “around.”

  • KJV — The KJV translates the word correctly. But consider the mental picture created by this rendering…
    • If the master needed to tell his servant to gird himself, it implies that a servant has been plowing or tending animals unclothed.
    • When his duties now required handling the master’s food, he was expected—and ordered—to get dressed.
  • NASB — The NASB almost translates the word adequately, but they actually added a word to change the meaning.
    • The word “properly” does not appear in the Greek text. To their credit, the translators acknowledge that fact by rendering that word in italics in printed or online versions of the text (I’ve placed it in brackets for the same reason).
    • If the word “properly” were removed from this translation, then the implication would be essentially the same as found in the KJV, that is, that the servants were not clothed out in the field.
    • The addition of the word “properly” specifically denies that implication and leads us to a mental image that matches our own cultural experience… we have one set of clothes for working with dirt and animals, and a different set of clothes for serving meals. 
  • NIV — The NIV doesn’t even come close to an accurate rendering of the passage.
    • The Greek word perizōnnymi is a word about getting dressed. This is indisputable. Yet the translators instead rendered the word in a very general sense of “getting ready.”
    • This leaves us with absolutely no mental image that the servant might have been unclothed and leads us to think of all sorts of other ways we might “get ready” for the task of serving a meal.
    • I’m not saying that other preparations would not have been required in this scenario; I’m just saying that this is not a faithful rendering of the original text! Isn’t that the first priority of translators?

The KJV translators exhibit no squeamishness at all. The other two, however, seem to very intentionally render the passage so that we can imagine the scene as we would experience it today… with no nudity.

Did Servants in the Field Really Work Naked?

Clearly, the Greek text itself—and the KJV’s rendering—imply (or at least allow) that the workers were unclothed while working in the field. But is that culturally accurate? Does the Bible ever imply that any other time?

  • Cultural Practice of Working Nude
    • Proving a cultural practice is pretty difficult, especially when the practice is so common and unremarkable that it never bears mentioning in historical accounts written at that time. I believe that is the case here, but I cannot prove it.
    • Some ancient art displays workers in the nude, but not much art focused on the common people. Such evidence is weak, however, and only shows that it is possible or likely.
    • Those that deny that workers worked nude have only historical silence to build their case upon, which is weaker yet.
    • Consequently, I will not try to “make the case” here.
  • Scriptural Evidence of Working Nude
    • I can point to three or four passages in the New Testament that reflect the likelihood that workers with dirt and animals worked in the nude. The most logical reason for doing so would have been to keep the few garments they had from becoming soiled and smelly.
      1. As I already addressed in Part 1 of this series, John 21:7 strongly suggests that fishermen worked nude. Surely Peter was not the only naked fisherman in the boat.
      2. “And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.” Mark 13:16 (KJV) confirms that, in an emergency, one of the things a person working in the field would wish to return to the house for would be a garment (the Greek is himation which could refer to a garment {KJV} or the coat {NASB}).
      3. “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” Rev 16:15 (KJV). This passage is about Jesus’ return and our need to be ready for it.
        • This instruction to be watchful and “keep our garments” makes no sense if people were never anywhere without their garments. The implication is that there are tasks performed naked, with no clothing nearby.
        • This is not a command to stay clothed while working, it is a warning to keep clothes close at hand rather than leaving them back at the house (this is in agreement with the implication of Mark 13:16 made in the point above).
        • Notably, none of the three English translations I’m reviewing were “squeamish” about translating gymnos as “naked” in this passage. I submit to you that this is because the nakedness seems to be associated with shame (I believe it this not the shame of nakedness, but of un-readiness… demonstrating that needs to be the topic of another article altogether).
      4. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away…’” John 20:15 (NASB) is a resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. It is a mystery why she mistook Jesus for a gardener. However, the most reasonable explanation is that Jesus was “dressed” like a gardener at the moment.
        • Unless God supernaturally created garments for Jesus at His resurrection, He came out of the tomb naked.
          • We know that Jesus’ garments were taken from Him at the cross (John 19:23-24).
          • We know that Jesus left all of the grave clothes in the tomb (John 20:6-7).  
        • Agnolo_Bronzino_Noli_Me_Tangere_1561If Jesus had been given supernatural clothing by God at His resurrection, they most assuredly would not have looked like “gardener’s” clothing… worn and soiled. Instead, they would have been fresh and clean!
        • This surprising event—if we really think it through—leads us to conclusion that gardeners actually did work naked. This is the only explanation which makes any sense of Mary’s failure to identify Jesus.

While not conclusive, there certainly is both cultural and biblical evidence that support the idea that servants worked in the fields without clothing. This means that the rendering of Scripture texts in ways that obscure that fact—or indicate that it was not the case—is inaccurate.

(The picture above-right was painted by Agnolo Bronzino in 1561. While it does not portray Christ as completely naked, it’s clear that the artist knew that He had left His grave clothes behind in the tomb. Click the picture to see it full size.)

Squeamish Translating?

Why would the NASB and NIV translators be reticent to render Luke 17:8 as the KJV translators did? Could it be that they were uneasy with the mental image suggested by the Greek text?

I fear that it is.

There are a variety of passages where non-sexual, practical, or incidental nudity are evident (or possible) in the inspired Greek text. Yet, in each case, they are rendered to hide the idea of any nudity that is not shameful, unwarranted, or condemned.

Once again, no one passage is evidence enough of a bias against nakedness on the part of the translators, but there is a pattern here. Collectively, they betray that the bias exists.

— Matthew Neal

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

Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

Squeamish Translating – Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals

In this series of posts, I have been trying to document how modern translations seem to be shy away from references to nakedness unless it is a negative context and/or we associate that nakedness with sin or improper behavior.

The next example doesn’t mention nakedness at all, but it does reference the genitals. Here, the words selected to translate the KJV seem to be very accurate to the original Greek text. However, the newer translations render the text differently, using words that—in my opinion—betray a bias against the genitals being seen. I see no evidence of that sort of squeamishness in the Greek, nor in the KJV.

“Uncomely” Body Parts

The text is 1 Cor. 12:23-24a and the context is Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian believers about diversity in the “body” of Christ, the church. His illustration using the physical human body declares that there are different roles performed by different body parts, yet all are important and all are needed. In the same way, every believer is a part of the body of Christ, and every one is important and needed.

Here is the text as it appears in the Scriptures… the orange word is the Greek word, aschēmōn (G809). The red words are both derivatives of euschēmōn (G2158).

Greek 23 καὶ ἃ δοκοῦμεν ἀτιμότερα εἶναι τοῦ σώματος τούτοις τιμὴν περισσοτέραν περιτίθεμεν καὶ τὰ ἀσχήμονα ἡμῶν εὐσχημοσύνην περισσοτέραν ἔχει 24 τὰ δὲ εὐσχήμονα ἡμῶν οὐ χρείαν ἔχει ἀλλ᾽ …
KJV

23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 24 For our comely parts have no need…

NASB 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it…
NIV 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

Comments

  • This passage is not primarily about human body parts…

To start with, it’s important to note that Paul’s discussion of the body parts is really for the purpose drawing a parallel to the Body of Christ, the church; our view of and response to different body parts and their functions correspond to how we view and respond to different people and their roles in the church. This is an important point to make because it means that however we interpret the physical body parts, we must be able to apply it to people within the body of Christ, or else our interpretation of the physical references will be suspect.

In other words, if we misunderstand Paul’s statements about the human body, we will not correctly understand Paul’s teaching about the church. And if we cannot discern an application that makes sense in the Body of Christ, then it should alert us that our perception of Paul’s words about the physical body is askew.

  • Paul is talking about the genitals…

Paul does not actually name the “less honorable” or “uncomely” body parts. However, my take from digging in to the Greek and reading the KJV is that Paul is referencing the genitals. Also, as I read the NASB and NIV, I surmise that they both have reached the same conclusion. Consequently, I’m going to take this for granted for the sake of this article, even though some people may suggest alternative meanings.

  • The Greek words used…

We need to examine the Greek words here to start with. I see no dispute over the words in verse 23a translated “honorable,” as all the versions agree. But in verses 23b-24a, there are two other words of interest.

      • aschēmōn(a – schemon) G809
      • euschēmōn. (eu – schemon) G2158 
    • The words are the same except for the prefix.
      • “schemon” (G4976) has to do with form, structure, or design; we get the English words “scheme,” “schema,” and “schematic” from it.
      • “a-” is a negative prefix
      • “eu-” is a prefix that means “good.”
    • Because of the prefixes used, these two words have essentially opposite meanings:
      • aschēmōn is “bad form.”
      • euschēmōn is “good form.”
      • Within this specific context, it seems that the KJV’s rendering of “uncomely” and “comely” is very appropriate, since it is only by the external visual appraisal of human body parts by which we might assess some to be of “good” design and others of a negative or “bad” design.
      • The other two translations usage of “presentable” seems also to confirm a consensus that Paul is really talking about the external visible form of the body parts.
  • What Paul means…

Now, if I consider the passage in the attempt to understand Paul’s references to these body parts, here’s what I believe it means:

    • (vs. 23a) Body parts that we might be tempted to look down upon (dishonor), we instead give great honor to because of their role in our lives.
      • Our sexual virility is housed in our genitals, therefore, they are very important to us. Consider how we view them today:
        • Think how protective men are of “the family jewels.”
        • We even refer to a man’s genitals as his “manhood.”
    • (vs 23b-24a) There are body parts that are not that “lovely,” yet because of the role they play, we pay special attention to them.
      • Human genitals are not very pretty… male or female, but this is not the reality that determines their value to us.
      • My wife’s vulva is not visually “attractive” in reference to objective beauty. Yet, because if its role in our sexual relationship, I am very attracted to it and I am delighted to see it (it has more abundant “comeliness”).
      • My penis is nothing special to look at. Penises are not pretty. But to my wife, it’s another matter altogether. She’s attracted to it for reasons completely other than how it looks.
      • This exactly matches Paul’s teaching about certain body parts and how we respond to them.
    • To apply this understanding to the Body of Christ, Paul is saying that there are people in the church that do not necessarily attract the attention and praise of the rest of the church for their obvious gifting and outward ministry involvement, but who perform functions and serve in ways that are indispensible to the health of the body. Consequently, they are honored and appreciated for very different reasons. This is (or should be!) true in the church.
  • Are Genitals really “unpresentable”?

When we look at the rendering of aschēmōn in the NASB or the NIV, we read the words “less presentable” or “unpresentable.” But is this a good rendering?

The KJV renders it “uncomely” which implies (in English) that the passage only speaks of how visually appealing the body parts are. However, the English word “unpresentable” adds the idea that this part is something that should be hidden. “Presentable” things we readily put on display; un-presentable things we hide away so no one sees them… we don’t even publicly acknowledge their presence.

I submit to you that this is not implicit in the Greek word aschēmōn.

In other words, I sense that the words “presentable” or “unpresentable” represent—in some measure—a hostility towards nakedness in general, and the genitals in particular. These words introduce a concept of response to the genitals that is not conveyed by the Greek text itself.

  • What Paul doesn’t mean…

Some may disagree with my assertion that “presentable” and “unpresentable” are not the meaning in the Greek, and not intended by Paul. The real test, however, is in determining if the NASB or NIV’s renderings actually fit with what Paul was trying to communicate about the Body of Christ.

If Paul were trying to say that there are body parts that are rightly hidden and unfit to be seen, can we also conclude that there are people in the church that are rightly hidden from view? Can it be that their presence in the body should be concealed and their function within the church never publicly acknowledged?

That would be ludicrous to suggest. But is there any palatable way to apply the notion of “unpresentable” members of Christ’s church?

I don’t think there is.

Correctly understood, Paul is actually saying something very positive about the genitals… and—by application—the people in the church whose role and function do not naturally attract attention. Paul would rather that we publicly acknowledge and thank those in the body of Christ who serve in important yet un-celebrated roles. He absolutely is not telling us to hide them.Cleft Palate

  • Is ugly “unpresentable”?

Some might suggest that the difference between “uncomely” and “unpresentable” is not important… that both indicate that there is a need to keep that body part covered.

But if a body part is ugly—that is, if it is “uncomely”—does that really mean it should be considered “unpresentable”? Should unattractive physical attributes by hidden from view?

What if a child is born with a cleft palate? Or a man has a birthmark on his face? What about the sags, wrinkles, veins, and moles on the faces, arms, and hands of the aged?Dr. Whaley

The Academic Dean of the Bible College that I attended had a deep red birthmark that covered the left side of his face (middle right). Such a mark is certainly not pretty… but would anyone suggest that he should have worn a mask to hide the deformity as the “phantom” did in Phantom of the Opera (lower right)?

The Academic Dean was a great man and he was highly honored by the school. He never made any effort to cover the birthmarks on his face. We all accepted and honored him exactly as he looked. His value as a man and as a leader had nothing at all to do with the fact that he had an ugly mark on his face.phantomoftheoperaerikunmasked

Ugly Does Not Equal “Unpresentable.”

The Apostle Paul does acknowledge that some body parts are not as pretty as others. But the notion that some body parts must be hidden because they are “unpresentable” is foreign to Paul’s teaching. That is not what he meant and therefore it cannot be how we should understand it.

Without question, this passage should not have been translated that way by the NASB and NIV translators. The use of the words “presentable” and “unpresentable” is in direct conflict with Paul’s teaching about the Body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12.

Squeamishness… (and Subtle Hostility)

By translating aschēmōn as “less/un- presentable” and euschēmōn as “presentable” (or “with special modesty”??), I believe that the NASB and the NIV betray two elements of bias against the human body:

  • There is an assumption that certain body parts must be covered at all times. There is a squeamishness over simply talking about the human form unless there is an implication that it really should not be seen fully naked.
  • There is a bias particularly against the genitals (What other body parts might be considered “unpresentable”? What part of the human anatomy must be hidden?).

Does the Greek text really justify even a small measure of hostility towards any body part?

Does Paul’s teaching here justify denigrating any member of the Body of Christ?

No body part is “unpresentable,” and neither is any Christian.

The Price of Protecting the Bias…

One of the tragic consequences of the NASB and NIV rendering of this passage is the implication that there are some people in the church that are best hidden. The squeamishness about the human body has resulted in a translation that introduces a foreign concept into the Scriptures, leading to a false application of that Scripture.

In truth, I have never heard anyone expound the application that I suggested above… that some people should be “hidden” in the church. But how else can we make application of this passage to the Body of Christ when we say that certain physical body parts are “unpresentable” and must be hidden?

It is as if they sacrificed the meaning that Paul intended in order to insert an antagonism towards human genitals… making the passage teach something that is actually foreign to Greek text.

As I said at the beginning of this post, Paul’s intent is not to teach about the human body or genitals; he’s teaching about the church. This body-part analogy is core to what Paul is trying to teach… we can’t just ignore the implications of our understanding of the physical when applying the truth to the ecclesiastical. If our understanding of first element of the analogy is incorrect, it will lead to a false application to the second element. The “squeamish” rendering leads to that false application… therefore, it must be incorrect.

Thankfully (once again), the KJV demonstrates both an accurate rendering of the Greek, and a willingness for us to read it in English precisely (or as precisely as possible…) as it was given by God in the Greek.

— Matthew Neal

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Squeamish Translating

Prologue
Introduction
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Summary

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)