Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Thoughtful Response to Mr. Piper – Part 3

This is Part 3 of my response to John Piper’s article on nakedness which I quoted in full in The “Traditional” Christian View of Nakedness). A reader asked me to respond to it. My first action was to highlight in red the portions of the article I considered to be biblically indefensible and in error.

I was busy posting my responses to this reader’s questions about Mr. Piper’s article when I got sidetracked and posted some other things. I had finished Part 1 and Part 2, but haven’t gotten around to the third and final part until now. My apologies for the delay.

Once again, the reader’s questions pertaining to those “red” sections from Mr. Piper’s article are in green below. My responses follow.


Apart from the text I have some basic broad questions as well. The main ones are 1.) How can post-Fall man (or woman) attain a sense of purity and godliness while being naked? If the original reaction to nudity was shame, why should ours be any different?

By that same logic, I could ask this: “If the original reaction to the opportunity to sin was to go ahead and sin, why should ours be any different?” As you can see, “original reaction” (particularly after sin arrived on the scene) is not a sufficient basis for prescribing God will for our reaction to be today.

However, to be perfectly accurate... the “original reaction” to nudity was “shame-free” (Genesis 2:25). And the pre-fall reality really should continue to be our post-fall ideal (more on that in a moment)!

You would be amazed how easy it is to be naked with a sense of purity and godliness in God’s presence—it was God’s original design, after all! Let me pose some thought questions to you:

  • Is there any part of your body that you need to hide from God’s sight?
  • Does clothing commend us to God at all??
  • Are you somehow too “impure” when you’re taking a shower to sing songs of praise and worship? Stated another way, will God not accept worship from a naked person?
  • Is God somehow offended if you have a chat with him while you’re exposed and “on the throne” in the bathroom?

You see, it is WE who make the naked state “incompatible” with godliness and an offense to the Almighty… not God! In truth, your question is actually reflective of what Adam thought when he felt that he must hide from God… that his nudity was no longer acceptable in God’s presence!

Think about the three facets of relationships we all live with and what they were like in the Garden:

  1. Before the fall, man lived in right relationship with God. It was broken at the fall.
  2. Before the fall, the man lived in a right relationship with his wife. It was broken at the fall.
  3. Before the fall, the man lived in right relationship to himself (no shame!). It was broken at the fall.

Christ died and rose again to redeem us from ALL the brokenness of the fall. He didn’t go “2 for 3,” overcoming the first two points but coming up short on the third. No, our redemption truly includes all three points. It had to be that way, because the pre-fall reality is and always has been the post-fall ideal. Dare we claim anything different?

  1. We may struggle to live in right relationship to God, but we should continue to pursue Him passionately.
  2. We may struggle to live in right relationship with our spouses, but we should continue to pursue them with all our hearts.
  3. We may struggle to live free from shame of any kind, so we should just give in to it and convince ourselves that we can never get there so don’t even try. Everyone since Adam has been ashamed of their nakedness, so there’s no use trying to live differently.

Does that fatalistic resignation sound right to you? Nope. Not to me, either. But that’s what our formal theological position essentially tells us is the truth. Can you find it anywhere in the Bible? Does Gen. 3 tell us that?

The irony is that of the three broken relationships, the easiest one to experientially restore is the the third one… at least as it pertains to body-shame (other types of shame have other sources). If we simply stop relying on our clothing to protect us from that shame, we will find that in shedding the clothes, we shed our body-shame along with them! To those still bound by body-shame, no words could sound more idiotic. But for those released from that shame, these words ring astoundingly true! There really are some things that can only be comprehended by experience!

In case you’re wondering about the “pre-fall reality” being the “post-fall ideal,” read Matthew 19:4-6. Jesus basically says that for marriage, the pre-fall reality is still the post-fall ideal. He quotes Gen 2:24 to make His point. Is there any Scriptural basis to think that Jesus would affirm verse 24 in a post-fall world, but reject verse 25?


2.) How does Naturism integrate the biblical principles of modesty?

The “biblical principles of modesty” that you reference is—at very best—a moving target. If the Bible really is clear on the matter, why is there so much disagreement in Christendom about how to define it?

Scripturally, if you’re thinking about 1 Tim. 2:9-10, are you sure that the “modesty” that’s preached today to “make sure ‘this and that’ are adequately covered” is what Paul had in mind? “Modesty” has more than one meaning even in English. I can address this particular passage more if you want, but I’ll say this… the kind of “modesty” talked about in the American church today is not taught in the Scriptures (for a detailed treatment of 1 Tim. 2:9-10, read this paper).

To help you see just how indefinable “modesty” really is, consider these questions:

  • Exactly what body parts should a woman keep covered (or a man, for that matter)?
    • Where is that found in the Scriptures?
  • Why should the beauty of the face be “permitted” but the beauty of the breasts (created to feed babies!!) be immoral to view?
  • If seeing more skin incites lust, why not cover it all? (It would seem that some expressions of Islam have embraced that logic! see The Objectification of Women – Part 1 / Part 2)

Here’s another point to explore… do some research about the history and practice of baptism in the early church. It was done nude. Don’t take my word for it… research it yourself! How does that historical reality (practiced when 1 Tim 2 was written) square with today’s ideas about the “biblical principles of modesty”? (see Nude Baptism in the Early Church? You Decide.)

One last perspective to consider… C. S. Lewis addressed the topic of modesty in his book, Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 5 – Sexual Morality). Mr. Lewis demonstrates how “modesty” is really only a social construct, when the true moral issue regarding sexual behavior is “chastity.” One particularly significant quote is this: “I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it…” I encourage all my readers to read his words in context so that you can see that I have not taken them out of his intended context.

To get back to your question of how Naturism integrates the “Biblical principle of modesty,” I would first summarize 1 Tim. 2:9-10 to say that Paul does not want us (women specifically) to use clothing or jewelry or hairstyles (or our bodies, I would suggest) to draw attention to ourselves. But in an environment where everyone is nude, “how much skin showing” is not an issue. No one is using clothing or their bodies to attract attention to themselves (or shouldn’t be, for that would be immodest!). No one is teasingly showing “a little bit more".” Everyone is simply who they really are. Everyone is “dressed” the same. In all honesty, I believe that kind of context exemplifies true biblical modesty more than just about any clothed gathering can!

Our society really does know the truth about how clothing can be used to distinguish people from one another and to allow one person to attract attention to themselves… that’s why some secondary schools have decided to require uniforms rather than allowing the kids to wear whatever they want! It puts all the students on an equal plane in reference to clothing. Well, so does social nudity.


3.) If you truly and wholly embrace Naturism, why not be naked all the time? Not that I think you should or that it would be appropriate, but if you think it’s best how do you decide when to do it or not to do it. (I realize that you are a Christian first, and this is more of a devil’s advocate question, but it definitely comes up in the general conversation).

Being a naturist does not equate to being stupid! If my body needs protection from cold or power tools, I’ll put some clothes on!

There are also laws that we have an obligation to obey. Then there is the issue of deference; I have no desire to needlessly offend those around me.

But the real heart issue is this... Am I ashamed of God’s image being seen in my body? Well, I’m not any more! I don’t care who sees me… at least for my own sake… I care who sees me only for their sakes, so that I will not be forcing them to see me if they would rather not.

There might be a place and time to “educate” people, but right now, it’s probably not the best strategy for changing people’s attitudes about God’s image in all of our bodies.


The other thing I wanted to address was something you mentioned in your opening paragraphs to the whole email. For one thing, I was wondering why 300 years was the number you mentioned. Is there a rich heritage of Naturists in Christian History that I’ve never heard of before?

As an offshoot of this I can’t help but go to the hermeneutical principle of looking at the history of interpretation of other godly men and women. Not that humans are infallible, but if we are going to say that the generally accepted position that wearing clothes is a good thing is mistaken, there should be a pretty good reason, and preferably not an argument from the Bible’s silence.

I’m all for questioning and seeking to be in accordance with God but there should be a point where we align with historical Christianity or recognize that the topic in question is a matter of Christian liberty.

That’s a very good point. It should counsel us to be very careful and reticent to simply lay aside theological understandings that have been accepted for a long time. I affirm that.

However, in the scope of all church history, the last 300 years is only a very small part (15%!). The fact of the matter is that our modern obsession with clothing was not even possible until the industrial revolution when the weaving of cloth became mechanized.

The idea that someone should never be seen naked wasn’t even “the rule” for Western societies until colonization found so-called “inferior” races that lived entirely without clothing and we “civilized” people were certainly “not like those ‘naked savages’!!” (I have heard but not been able to confirm this claim historically, yet I strongly suspect it is true). Unless I’m mistaken on this point, it means that our insistence on avoiding nudity really has its roots in a cultural—perhaps even racial—pride.

Cover are for “The Old Testament Through 100 Masterpieces of Art”Nudity in sacred art was no problem at all until the last 300 years or so (check out a book at the public library called, The Old Testament Through 100 masterworks of Art... you’ll be surprised how much nudity was used!). Imagine a Christian artist today being commissioned to paint a biblical theme that included nudity!

Bathing suits as we know them today didn’t even exist several hundred years ago. But should we assume that no one ever swam? Or isn’t it more likely that they swam the same way they bathed... in public, at the river... with no concern for who might see them?

And as I mentioned above, the fact that the early Church originally practiced nude baptism should also inform our understanding of the Church’s “historical” view of nudity.

Yes, we should consider historical understanding when we consider theological issues, but not just the last 300 years! The fact is that the nudity taboo written into the theological moral code of the church today is relatively recent. It is not founded in the Scriptures, and it is not founded on reason. It is founded only on relatively recent tradition and a very false view of the meaning of our bodies!


This concludes Part 3 of my response to Mr. Piper’s article regarding the questions raised by the brother who brought it to my attention. I’ll continue with the questions and my answers in my next post. (See also Part 1 and Part 2).

There may be other portions of Mr. Piper’s article that another reader may feel that I have not adequately addressed. If so, I welcome comments to this post with those questions and I’ll be happy to address them either as additional comments to this post, or, if warranted, a “Part 4” for this series.

— Matthew Neal


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your views on nudity, but your statement about public bathing in preindustrial Western society is a little innacurate, probably due to limited space. The sexes bathed separately, and depending on context, did or didn't care who saw them; if they did care, some effort at concealment would be made. More details can be found at
Attitudes about nude bathing were different from today more recently than 300 years ago.

God'schosenvessel4316 said...

“Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

Matthew Neal said...

Hello, GCV (God's Chosen Vessel)

I welcome comments and challenges from anyone. Thanks for writing. I do hope that you'll stick around a dialog about your comments some more.

Of course, you are quoting Rev. 16:15 ... which I have to admit, did puzzle me for a while, because it seems so contrary to the fact that nowhere else in the Bible does it equate simple nakedness with shame... I had to ask, "why here?" and "Does this really give us the Bible's intended teaching on simple nakedness?"

Let me reply first by quoting the same passage from a number of different translations:

NIV - Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.

NASB - Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.

KJV - Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

Young's Literal - happy [is] he who is watching, and keeping his garments, that he may not walk naked, and they may see his unseemliness

NLT - Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.

I've highlighted the significant phrase here. You quoted NIV, which clearly speaks of remaining "clothed," but all of the other versions use a different phrase which speaks rather to having clothes at the ready... not necessarily wearing them.

When I took a deeper look at this passage, considering what Jesus was trying to say to us, I finally realized that this passage actually points to a LAX view of nakedness rather than one antagonistic to it. Let me explain.

The fact is that during that period of time, it was culturally accepted for people to work in the fields naked. They did this so that they would not sweat and soil the only garments they may have possessed. After working, they would find a body of water to bathe, then put their still-clean clothes back on.

This understanding is actually the only thing that makes Jesus' words meaningful. You see, if people worked in the field clothed, then there would never be any chance for them to be without their clothes and caught wandering around naked. Jesus' point in the story was basically this: "When you work naked in the field, don't go out there without taking some garments along with you. Otherwise a 'thief' could raid your house and you wouldn't be able to find any clothes at home (if you could even return home) so you'd be stuck wandering around naked." This is the ONLY understanding that allows Jesus' warning to make any sense at all.

So, working in the field naked was not the "shameful" part (it was assumed and expected). Consequently, simple nakedness cannot be shameful. But that begs the question, "What IS the shameful part in Jesus' admonition?" Well, Jesus entire point in this passage is "Be Ready!" So, clearly, the "shame" is that of "not being ready." And that makes perfect sense because if there's anything you do NOT want to be caught unprepared for, it is the return of our Lord.

Jesus' words here warn against being unprepared, but they do NOT discourage simple nudity... such nudity is was a normal part of life in that culture.

Ironically, the passage you quoted to condemn nudity actually condones it.

I suspect you would disagree... can you offer a more compelling interpretation of this passage? If people in the culture of the time did NOT work in the field naked, how would Jesus' words have made any sense?

Thanks again for writing. You are welcome to respond.

-- Matthew Neal.

Matthew Neal said...


I would also encourage you to read my article on "Squeamish Translating." It surveys how modern translations--particularly the NIV, which you quoted--are quite squeamish about nakedness in the NT, and tend to obscure simple nudity when it occurs in the text, but translate it more directly when the context of the nakedness seems to be negative--such as the passage you quoted. Sadly, the NIV was the translation most guilty of actively rendering the text in ways that actually change the meaning of the passage whenever simple nudity was happening in a way that was not condemned or criticized... as they did here in Rev. 16:15.

Squeamish Translating