Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unclothed and in His Right Mind

Do you remember this story from the Bible? It goes like this…

  • A man is under such deep demonic influence distorting his mind that he is literally a mortal danger to others.
  • One day, however, he comes near a man full of God’s Spirit and power. Instantly, the demonic stronghold in his life is broken.
  • As a result, the formerly demonized man is overcome by the power of God and begins proclaiming the truth of God.
  • One more detail worthy of note… While his mind was under the demonic control, he was fully clothed, but when the power of God’s Spirit controlled his actions, he stripped naked. He was, quite literally…

    …Unclothed, and in his right mind.

Did I get the story right?

I think I did.

If you are thinking that I did not, then you must be thinking of a similar New Testament story found in Luke 8:26-39.

Actually, I’m describing an Old Testament story that is found in 1 Samuel 19:9-24.

  • The demonized man is King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23), and he was influenced by the demon to kill David (1 Samuel 19:9-10)
  • When Saul heard that David was with the prophet Samuel, he himself went to Ramah where Samuel and David were staying. Even as he approached the camp, he was overcome by the power of God (1 Samuel 19:23).
  • In the power of God’s Spirit, Saul began to prophesy, speaking God’s truth (1 Samuel 19:23-24) and much more fully “in his right mind” than he had been before.
  • While under the direct influence of the Spirit of God, Saul stripped naked and remained naked for a full day and night while prophesying with Samuel and the other prophets (1 Samuel 19:24).

Obviously, I told this story in this way to intentionally point out its parallels with the story of demoniac in Luke 8. Here’s why…

Those who try to use Scripture to say that social nudity is wrong are quick to jump on statement found in Luke 8:35 which declares that the demonized man, once healed, was found “clothed and in his right mind.” They then proclaim it as proof that going around naked must be a sign of demonic delusion, but that when one is healed and set free by Christ, it will be evidenced by the rejection of public nudity. In other words, they conclude…

… Demonized and naked — Spirit-filled and clothed.

But that’s not the only story in the Bible about a demonized man and nudity. As I have pointed out, Saul’s story is the exact opposite…

Demonized and clothed — Spirit-filled and naked.

Which story gives us the definitive understanding? Both!! Public Nudity is not evidence for the presence of wicked spirits or of the Spirit of God!

It simply is not honest treatment of God’s Word to attempt to make either passage more important than the other in reference to nudity and the presence of God’s Spirit in a person’s life.

A Few Objections…

Before I close this post, let me address a few likely objections regarding how I have treated the passage in 1 Samuel 19.

  1. Objection: Saul wasn’t fully naked… he probably had on a loincloth.

    The Hebrew word used to describe Saul in 1 Samuel 19:24 is the very same one used to describe Adam and Eve in Gen. 2:25. Adam and Eve were completely naked. The same word is also used in other passages (Job 1:21, Eccl. 5:15) to describe the nakedness of newborn children. Nowhere in the rest of its biblical usage does the word ever refer to anyone who is wearing anything at all. The word means “fully naked.”

  2. Objection: The company of the prophets with Samuel was comprised of men only, and no one else saw him.

    Answer: While it is probable that the prophets were only men, it is clear that Saul was seen by more men than just the other prophets. The reaction to Saul’s prophesying naked for a day was the the reason people were asking, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:24). Had he not been seen by others that day, they would not have wondered such a thing. Of course, I cannot claim that women saw him, but neither can anyone else claim that they did not; the Scriptures do not say either way.

    Interesting Note: It is worth observing that the public sight of a prophet prophesying naked must not have been a notable departure from the norm for prophets, for the people did not wonder why their king was naked, they wondered when he became a prophet!

  3. Objection: Saul was in a trance and was actually out of his mind when this happened. It wasn’t true prophecy, but rather mindless babbling.

    This is the most egregious error of these three objections, for it contradicts the clear words of Scripture. 1 Samuel 19:23 says that “the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying…” The suggestion that this was not truly God’s Spirit at work borders on the blasphemy of attributing to demons that which is actually the work of God.

    (For the record, I did not make up this third “objection”… I’ve actually faced it in discussions with other people!)

It is possible to be naked, yet fully in one’s “right mind.” My purpose for this post is to demonstrate that—for the honest student of the Scriptures—Luke 8 cannot be used to prove otherwise.

Matthew Neal

(This post is in partial fulfillment of my intent to more fully answer the “rebuttals” listed in Does the Bible Ever Condone Social Nudity?)


Anonymous said...

How then does one respond to the the wide array of commentaries that assert Saul was only "partly naked". See
Many of the commentaries there are also used on other Bible study sites.

Every commentary that mentions the nakedness claims it wasn't real nakedness, and several even reference Isaiah and other places where "naked" is used, but discount the possibility of true nakedness.

Are there other, better, commentaries that are widely used/respected that acknowledge actual nudity? Does Logos have commentaries that acknowledge it?

It is fine to say "the language is clear and plain. He was naked." but then every commentary says, "no, he wasn't".

Matthew Neal said...

Thanks for writing... that's a very fair question.

I cannot point to another commentary that presents a different point of view... and quite frankly it wouldn't help much if I could... since it would be my "favorite" commentary against the vast majority that say something different. It would seem that I was grasping as straws looking for support of an untenable position.

The truth is that commentaries are not our authority. As valuable as they may be to provide us with the insight of studied men who have gone before, they still ultimately reflect the prevailing sentiment among theological academicians of the past... who were--we have to acknowledge--at least in some measure impacted by their culture.

So, it does not surprise me that all the English Language commentaries written in the past 300 years would reflect the anti-nudity bias that has typified the Christian community of the past 300 years.

When the anti-nudity mindset was gaining its stronghold in Christian practice and theological thought, passages such as this one about Saul are troubling, because it's pretty clear that his "nudity" was not condemned... rather it was even "prophet-like." That picture doesn't play well in Christian mind that is convinced that nudity is wrong. So the natural solution is to suggest that even while the Bible tells us that he was "naked," we don't have to conclude that he was literally and completely naked... perhaps he was just stripped down to a loincloth... yeah, that's what it must be!

Of course, my suggesting that that's what has happened does not prove me right or them wrong. The real evidence must come from the Scriptures themselves. Here are the facts as I see them... which cast serious doubt on the reliability of those commentary assertions:

1. The Hebrew word used to Saul here (`arowm - H6174) is the same word used in Gen. 2:25 to describe Adam and Eve before the fall. No one would ever suggest that Adam and Eve wore anything at all. The word literally means "naked"... completely unclothed.

2. In like manner, in Job 1:21 Job describes himself coming "naked" out of his mother's womb with the same Hebrew word. (Compare also Ecc. 5:15)

3. *NO OTHER* passage of scripture where this Hebrew word is used gives even the slightest hint that there are any clothes on the person, and most make it clear that there is absolutely none. Even the passages referenced in the Lexicon entry on for that word (Job 22:6; 24:7,10; and Isa 58:7) to "illustrate" how it can also mean "ragged, badly clad" fail utterly to demonstrate that `arowm can mean anything other than full nakedness.

4. There is no other Hebrew word that means someone is *more* naked than `arowm.

Here's the point... `arowm = "naked." No one disputes that. But there is no evidence in the text to conclude that it could possibly mean anything different than precisely that: "naked." ...except, of course, our modern discomfort with someone stripping naked publicly in response to the direct leading of the Holy Spirit of God.

Somewhere along the line, someone offered the explanation that "naked doesn't always mean completely naked" and everyone breathed a sigh of relief and the experts started citing each other to document and support the groundless assertion.

Don't take my word for it... look at every instance of `arowm in all the Hebrew Scriptures. Show me where it ever means anything less than fully naked. And keep in mind that if the passage is inconclusive (as all those cited by the Lexicon are), then the natural meaning of the word wins.

This might be worthy of a new blog post...


Jasen said...

"The real evidence must come from the Scriptures themselves."

This is very difficult, and I do not think adequate. The Scriptures are words on a page written in languages thousands of years old. To understand their meaning, we must look to extra-biblical sources - archeology, historical anthropology, and the like. We have much better access to archeological finds and other ancient texts than the earlier commentators. People like Dr. Heiser (, who works for Logos software, are working to share this knowledge.

For example, Peter is said to be "gymnos" while fishing. Many commentaries say he was only partially stripped. Yet we now have artwork from the time that shows fishermen naked in their boats. This indicates that it would be very reasonable to expect Peter really was completely naked.

Matthew Neal said...

Good point, Jasen.

Let me clarify what I mean...

The problem has been that we are too quick to interpret a biblical idea (such as "naked") through modern experience and understanding rather than through the lens of the experience of those to whom the biblical text was originally given. So, that's really what I'm getting at when I say that it needs to come from the Scriptures themselves.

But you are correct in saying—in essence—that we need to better understand the meaning of the words using, if available, even extra-biblical sources that give us insight into how they would have been understood by the original audience. This amounts to an active rejection of the "modern day experience" lens, which is completely appropriate.

Sadly, too many people are woefully unaware of how much their perception of nakedness in the Bible is colored by contemporary mores and feelings about nakedness.

— Matt

Jasen said...

Here is an article of exactly the sort I'm thinking of. It is from a 1912 edition of "The American Journal of Philology" titled "GUMNOS and Nudus". It starts by saying that most Greek and Latin dictionaries of the time equate gymnos & nudus with "lightly clad" but then goes on to challenge that assertion and show that that definition is incorrect in many cases.