Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You Can’t Do That! - Introduction

You Can’t Do That! it’s Wrong!
At what point must a Biblical Christian modify his own behavior because someone else thinks that what he is doing is wrong?
I’m not talking about the black and white issues where God has clearly spoken… I’m talking about the “gray” areas that the Bible does not directly speak to. Sometimes, committed Christians study the same Bible, but come to completely opposite conclusions about the morality of a particular activity.
When that happens, does the one who doesn’t conclude that an activity is wrong have a moral obligation before God to refrain from that activity because the other believes that it is? There are three different options in response:
  1. Refrain completely, at all times.
  2. Refrain while that person’s presence.
  3. No obligation to refrain at all.
Of course, one may decide to refrain out of deference to someone else, or to avoid conflict, but that is at the sole option of the individual, and not a matter of moral obligation.
Doesn’t the Bible Teach Us to Do That?
Well… that is the question… Does the Bible teach us to refrain from certain behaviors around others whose beliefs about right and wrong differ?
And, like many questions, the answer is, “It depends.” If it truly is a “gray issue,” then the answer to what a Biblically faithful believer must do is dependent upon the context and the people involved.
Interestingly enough, the Bible IS pretty clear about what our response should be, depending on the various people and contexts. Or to put it another way… The Bible is black and white about “gray areas”!
The problem arises when someone tries to enforce their own views about gray areas upon others. Is there any Biblical justification for that? 
That question is my real target for this series of posts. In the process of answering it, I will show what the Bible really teaches on the topic I raised above.
The Passages in Question
I will be addressing three primary Scriptural commands that are frequently used by some to impose their own view of “gray areas” on others:
The “Appearance of Evil”
1 Thes. 5:22 (KJV) “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
The “Weaker Brother” (Causing to Stumble & Giving “Offense”)
Romans 14 (NASB) “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” (v21)
1 Cor. 8 (NASB)
“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (v9)
For “Conscience’ Sake” (Meat offered to Idols)
1 Cor. 10:23-33 (NASB)
“But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;” (v28)
These are the passages that are frequently misinterpreted and misapplied.
If we desire to be truly Biblical Christians, we need to avoid that mistake.
— Matthew Neal
In this Series:
You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”

“You Shouldn’t Do That!!”

Those of us who have been Christians for a lot of years have undoubtedly been told that there are certain things that we must not do… not because they are wrong in and of themselves, but because people might see us and think that we are doing something wrong.

“The Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil!” They would say…

And… well, it is right there in 1 Thes. 5:22… in the King James Version at least.

So, we’ve been taught that if “most people” associate an activity with sin, that we should simply abstain from participation… because of the “appearance of evil.”

This is what we were told about rock music… and playing cards… and dancing… and alcohol… and movies…

But Is That Right?

That’s a very important question! If what we were told is correct, then we need to apply that passage to our lives exactly that way. So, let’s take a closer look at the text. Let’s see if this really is about “appearances.”

Here is the passage in multiple versions:

1 Thessalonians 5:22

KJV “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
NKJV Abstain from every form of evil.”

Abstain from every form of evil.”

NIV “Avoid every kind of evil.”
Amp “Abstain from evil [shrink from it and keep aloof from it] in whatever form or whatever kind it may be.”

The underlined words above are each translated from the Greek word, eidos (G1491). It is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “the external or outward appearance, form figure, shape” or “form, kind.” It actually refers to something visible… in other words, it is something actually appearing.

Is “Appearance” Just About “How Things Appear” (but aren’t really)?

The word "appearance," as we use it in English, has the connotation of something which "appears" to be something when in fact it is not. And that’s exactly how it’s been applied to various issues like those I listed above.

But the only English translation that seems to support that idea is the KJV… all of the others seem to go out of their way to avoid wording that leads to that understanding. It’s as if the translators knew that the KJV’s rendering led to a faulty idea about “appearances” so they translated it in a way that show the actual meaning is to avoid real evil, not just something that might be thought by others to be evil.

I would restate Paul’s words this way:

  • “Avoid evil, wherever it appears.”
    or (to use the KJV’s word)
  • “…wherever evil makes an appearance, abstain from it.”

Dangerous Application…

But what if someone else really believes an activity is sinful? Are we morally obligated to refrain from an activity that we know to be morally pure (or neutral) because someone else thinks it’s wrong?

Let’s put it in more stark terms… Does the Bible teach that we are obligated to follow the moral standards of other?  

Well, that can’t be what 1 Thes. 5:22 means…  Jesus Himself didn’t practice it!

  • Religious people of Jesus’ Day considered it “evil” to work on the Sabbath. They had a long list of things which constituted “work.” Jesus was well aware of their list, but did some of those things which had the “appearance of evil” anyway: He allowed His disciples to pick grain (Mark 2:23-24). He healed people (Luke 14:1-6). He told a man to carry his bedroll on a Sabbath (John 5:5-11). When the Pharisees “reminded” Jesus that it was forbidden (read, “sinful”), He rebuked them and rejected their standard of behavior. And He did the “forbidden” thing anyway!
  • Religious people of Jesus’ Day knew that it was “evil” to be associated with “sinners.” Jesus knew of their standards yet He spent time directly with “evil” tax-collectors (Matthew 9:9-13) and adulterous women (Luke 7:36-39).
  • Religious people of Jesus’ day would never allow themselves to become defiled by touching anything that was “evil” and “unclean.” Yet Jesus touched the dead (Luke 8:40-42,49-54, Luke 7:11-15). He touched and healed lepers (Luke 5:12-13). And rather than rebuke an unclean (bleeding) woman for mixing with the pressing crowd without announcing her uncleanness, He praised her for her faith expressed through her desire to touch Him (Luke 8:43-48).

Why didn’t Jesus avoid the “appearance of evil”? He knew exactly what the religious leaders of His day thought was right or wrong… Why did he blatantly violate their standards?

The answer, of course, is that Jesus was not obligated to follow other peoples’ ideas about right and wrong.

And neither are we.

Avoiding Real Evil

As all the versions besides the KJV show, we are to avoid real evil. In other words, our measure is not others’ opinions, it is God’s Word alone.

And there are things that are truly wrong…

As biblically faithful Christians, we must not participate in or condone behaviors that are clearly contrary to God’s Word. At the same time, true Christlikeness means that we are willing to be criticized and persecuted for participating in activities that may “appear evil” to other Christians.

— Matthew Neal


In this Series:

You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)

Are we really allowed to do that??

So, what about the “weaker brother”? What about Paul’s instructions that we should not eat meat offered to idols because it could cause a brother to stumble?

There are several passages that Paul wrote dealing with this issue. We’re going to look at them in two sections, starting with the passages from Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8.

Causing a “weak” brother to “stumble”… giving an “offense.”

In that heading, I’ve captured three of the primary terms used by Paul.

The phrase “weaker brother” comes from Romans 14:1-2, where Paul tells us how to treat “gray” areas when we are with someone who is “weak in faith.”

Twice in Rom. 14, Paul mentions “stumbling”… that is, putting an “obstacle or a stumbling block” in a brother’s way or doing something by which a brother “stumbles” (Rom. 14:13,21)

Finally, there’s a mention about giving “offense” (Rom 14:20).

The parallel passage in 1 Cor. 8 also talks about a brother that is “weak” and causing him to “stumble.”

Define the terms!

If we really want to know what Paul means in order to know how to apply this in our lives, we must know what Paul meant by these terms… and what he didn’t mean.

I’m not going to quote and explain the entire passage here, but I will give the definitions that are easily discernable from the text. I encourage all my readers to study the passages for themselves to see that I’m not just twisting it to my own preferred meaning.

Here are the significant terms:

  • In Rom. 14:2 and in 1 Cor. 8:7,10, we can see that the “weak” brother is one who believes that something is wrong when in fact it is not (this, too, Paul makes clear – 1 Cor. 8:8).
  • But it’s more than just that; the true symptom of his “weakness” is that he is susceptible to influence from others to violate his own conscience by doing that thing which he still believes is wrong.
  • In Rom. 14:14, 22-23 and in 1 Cor. 8:8-9, to “stumble” is a euphemism for participating in an activity in violation of one’s own conscience.
“Stumbling block”
  • in Rom. 14:13,20-21 and in 1 Cor. 8:9-10, the “stumbling block” is the action of the “stronger” brother who has freedom before God to participate in an activity, but when it is seen by the “weaker” brother, that brother decides to go ahead and participate, violating his conscience.
  • In Rom. 14:10, we can see that it is an “offense” to cause a weaker brother to stumble. It is literally a sin against him.

What the words DON’T mean!

The definitions above are easily discernable from the passage itself (please check my conclusions). These are the only things that these words mean in these passages, but just to be clear, let’s point out some things that these words don’t mean… although there are a lot of people that seem to think they do:

  • “Weak” does not mean that someone simply believes an activity is wrong. The person who strongly renounces you for doing something is not “weak,” he’s actually strong! That individual would steadfastly refuse to participate with you in the activity he’s condemning! As Paul said in Rom. 14:5… he’s “fully convinced in his own mind.”
  • “Stumble” does not mean that a person is startled, surprised, bothered, uncomfortable, or affronted by your participation in a “gray” activity. Nor is it a sinful response to what you did (more on that in Part 2)
  • “Stumbling block” is not the “drama” that can arise when one person does something that another person thinks is wrong.
  • “Offense” is not a person “taking offense” that you would “dare do such a thing.” It is not when a person feels insulted by your actions or words (compare Luke 11:37-54 and Matt 15:11-12).

What Paul Really Means:

When we really understand the definitions of the terms as Paul uses them, it’s easy to see what Paul is trying to communicate. Let me summarize:

If you have freedom to do something but your brother does not, if you can discern that he just might go ahead and participate in the activity if he sees you doing it, defer to your brother and don’t do the activity in his presence so that he won’t be tempted to violate his conscience.

The “weaker” brother will not be the one spouting off about how wrong an activity is. In fact, he may say nothing at all. It will take alertness, discernment, and understanding of that brother’s spiritual maturity to detect when an activity should be avoided.

What Paul DIDN’T Mean:

One time, I had a brother who confronted me about my involvement in a “gray area” activity. At one point, he actually told me that I should refrain from it because I should consider HIM to be the “weaker brother.” In other words, he was attempting to use this passage to place restrictions on my behavior in my own home (he lived in a different state!). This is an egregious abuse of Paul’s teaching. The “weaker brother” can never presume to attempt control of others’ behavior based upon this passage.

It also doesn’t mean that whenever people look at us and condemn our actions because they are “offended” by them, that we must stop. We might choose to stop out of politeness or deference, but that’s very different than someone demanding that we abide by their moral convictions.

Making the “Weak” Strong.

Finally, Paul didn’t intend that the stronger brother should never talk about, defend, promote, or even mention the activity in question.

If Paul describes someone as “weak,” what would be his expectation of the “strong” person?

Well, certainly, he does expect the strong brother to voluntarily restrict his own activities while a weak brother cannot yet participate with a clear conscience.

But at the same time, it would be ludicrous to suggest that the “weak” brother has the “right” to remain weak… that he must never be challenged to become stronger regarding what is truly right or wrong.

The strong brother should be prepared to walk a weak brother through the process of reexamining his convictions to ensure that they are based upon truth rather than impressions, misconceptions, or cultural norms.

As the writer of Hebrews indicates in Heb. 5:14, mature (strong) believers will train their consciences to correctly discern what is truly right and what is truly wrong. As a “weak” brother gains strength and matures, this should be happening in his life.

As Biblical Christians, we must be alert to the spiritual maturity of those who look to us for guidance… careful to avoid moving beyond their readiness, but discontent to leave them weak.

— Matthew Neal


In this Series:

You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)

Causing a Brother to “Stumble”

As we saw in The Weaker Brother” – Part 1, Paul’s instructions to us in Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8 both tell us to be alert to someone who does not have freedom in their spirit to engage in an activity even the we ourselves do have the freedom from God to do.

To “stumble” means that a brother (or sister) decides to do something in violation of his own conscience because he saw someone else (probably another Christian he respects) doing that thing.

That’s all it means.

But that’s not how a lot of people invoke this teaching. In fact, you almost never hear Bible teachers or preachers explain Paul’s words that way… you almost always hear it applied a very different way.

Does “Causing a Sinful Response” equal “Causing a Brother to Stumble”?

The way we usually hear the admonition to “not cause a brother to stumble” is that we are told to avoid doing something because someone else may exhibit a sinful response to seeing us doing it.

Perhaps the most common case has to do with the false standards of “modesty” that are taught in the church today. It goes like this:

  • Women are told that they need to “dress ‘modestly’ so you don’t cause a brother to stumble.”

Right away, it is easy to see that this does not fit what what Paul was trying to teach!

  • Women are not being told that if they dress immodestly, all those “weak” men will start dressing the same way… in violation of their own consciences!

But that’s the biblical meaning of “causing a brother to stumble”!!

No, what they are trying to say is that if women dress a certain way, and men see them, those men will not be able to control themselves. Instead, they’ll find themselves fighting mental battles against lust in their hearts. They will simply be unable to avoid thinking (and perhaps acting) in impure ways.

But Isn’t That a Valid Biblical Reason to Not Do Something?

One might suggest that since all those men with raging hormones will go bonkers if they see too much female flesh, that asking the ladies to keep covered will help the men control themselves and avoid fits of lust. Wow! How can anyone argue with that?

Well… I can. Here’s why.

  • First of all, man-made rules for righteousness are totally useless for restraining sensual indulgence. Paul’s words in Col. 2:20-23 are so powerfully on point that I don’t need to spell it out here. Just read that scripture passage. To even suggest that the modesty rule helps curb lust at all is to fly directly in the face of God’s revealed truth.
  • God never established clothing to abate lust in men or women. If He intended that we use clothing for that purpose, He would have said so… and told us exactly which body parts needed to be covered to get the job done (See The Biblical Purpose of Clothing, particularly Part 7).
    • It doesn’t work, anyhow… a man can lust after a fully dressed woman, too.
  • God never puts the blame for a man’s lust on a woman’s shoulders! Why do we?
    • Lust, on the man’s part, is ALWAYS his own sinful choice!
    • Male Medical doctors are expected (!!) to treat their female patients with the utmost respect, dignity, and professional decorum. Not a one is ever permitted the excuse of “I saw her naked, so I couldn’t help myself.”
  • Nothing outside of us going into us can ever cause a sinful responses. Ever!! (See Mark 7:14-22). So when anyone has a sinful response to someone else… it’s always a revelation of the impurity that’s already in their heart. It is never something that the other person caused.
    • Did any of the hateful mistreatment to which Jesus was subjected cause Him to have a sinful response? Why not? Simply because there was no impurity in Him!
  • “Self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit inside us (Gal. 5:22-24), not the fruit of others’ “modesty.”

So, are “hormones” or “sex drive” adequate “excuses” for a man to look lustfully upon a woman? No.

Does the amount of “skin” showing provide an acceptable “excuse” for a man to look lustfully at a woman? No.

Is the woman ever responsible at all for a sinful response in a man? Think for a moment here… Jesus is our measure of righteousness; Could Jesus could look upon her without lust (regardless of what she’s wearing or her motives)? That must the measure of expectation and responsibility that we hold every man to. So… again, the answer is No.

(This is not to excuse a woman for dressing provocatively. That too is wrong, but she can still only reveal the impurity in a man, never cause it.)

Jesus Did Not Live That Rule.

We have so thoroughly (though incorrectly) applied the “stumble” principle to how women dress, that we’ve redefined what “stumble” even means. Satisfied with that application, we have not bothered to look into Jesus’ life to see if He applied the “stumble” principle the same way in His own life.

We have plenty of occasions where Jesus’ actions “caused” sinful responses in those who observed Him.

The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus (most didn’t, anyway). The more they heard Him, the more they hated Him. The more they watched Him, the more angry they became. The more he openly defied them, their authority, and their teaching, the more they wanted to murder Him. Finally, they did.

Didn’t Jesus have it in his power to act differently? Couldn’t he have chosen His words so as not to  anger the Pharisees? What if He had avoiding locations where the Pharisees exerted their own authority and influence? He could have completely avoided causing all those Pharisees to “stumble” into hatred and murder.

But He didn’t.

Was Jesus responsible for the Pharisees’ sinful responses to Him? No, not at all.

All of that pride, envy, and lust for position and power was already in their hearts; Jesus’ words and actions only exposed it. He could have acted in such a way that they wouldn’t have had that response, but the truth is, God wanted it to be exposed!! Jesus was obeying God; Jesus did not base His actions on whether or not someone would respond sinfully to Him.

What This Means for Us

  • If someone’s words, actions, or attire incite a sinful response from or in me, I alone are responsible for that sin.
  • If my words, actions, or attire incite a sinful response from or in someone else, they alone are responsible for that sin. (Even if what I did was sin, they are responsible for their own sin… I did not cause it).

Here’s the summary:

If I am doing something in righteousness, I have absolutely no obligation to stop doing it simply because someone else observes me and responds sinfully!

It is an abuse of Scripture to use the “stumbling brother” argument to tell anyone that they must stop what they’re doing simply because someone else responds sinfully.

— Matthew Neal


In this Series:

You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

For Conscience’ Sake??

This phrase comes from 1 Cor. 10:23-30

It’s similar to the passages about “stumbling,” but in this case, the other person is not a follower of Christ.

Here’s the Context:

Often, animals that had been offered as sacrifices to pagan idols would then be taken and the meat sold in the market. You could very likely wind up purchasing some meat that been “offered to idols” without actually knowing it.

Paul says that’s no problem… just don’t ask (v25)… for conscience’ sake.

The next point Paul makes is that if you’re having dinner at the home of another person, who is not a believer, then here again, don’t ask… just eat what you’re served. BUT… if the guy tells you that it was offered to an idol, then don’t eat it… for conscience’ sake (v28).

But here’s the key point… Paul is not talking about our own consciences here, he’s talking about the other guy’s conscience (v29a)!!

Paul is telling us here that refraining from eating “meat offered to idols” was not a moral absolute, but a contextual decision… and a voluntary one, at that! Act in deference towards others, he seems to be teaching.

A Principle to Grab Hold Of!

And then comes a most surprising yet very relevant statement by Paul… a clear principle that we can apply to a LOT of different situations

for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? (v29b)

Just in case someone might want to say, “You can’t do that, other people believe that it is wrong,” Paul states it pretty plainly… My freedom before God to to do something is NOT determined by other peoples’ faulty consciences about it.

A Good Place to Close

Whether it’s “The appearance of evil,” “causing to ‘stumble,’” or a matter of “conscience,” acting in deference towards others is a good thing, but allowing other peoples’ moral standards to dictate what we do and do not have freedom before the Lord to do… that is something else.

If anyone attempts to twist Paul’s words in order to make them say, You can’t do that!… we need to respond with Paul’s very clear and un-twisted rhetorical question:

Why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?

Rest assured… it isn’t.

Back to My Opening Question

In the Introduction to this series, I asked this question:

At what point must a Biblical Christian modify his own behavior because someone else thinks that what he is doing is wrong?

I mentioned that there were three different options in response:

  1. Refrain completely, at all times.
  2. Refrain while that person’s presence.
  3. No obligation to refrain at all.

The answer, according to Paul, is actually #3. At the same time, he encourages us to be alert to contexts where deference towards others would be better than simply expressing our freedom, but that only applies to those who are not believers or who are weak in their faith… never the ones who do nothing more than condemn us.

— Matthew Neal


In this Series:

You Can’t Do That! - Introduction
You Can’t Do That! - The “Appearance of Evil”
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 1)
You Can’t Do That! – the “Weaker Brother” (Part 2)
You Can’t Do That! – “For Conscience’ Sake”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Modesty, the Early Church, & Sexual Immorality

A few days ago, I received a comment on my article, The Objectification of Women – Part 1.

The man who posted the comment did so respectfully and thoughtfully. His answered deserved more of a response than just another comment on the blog, so I told him that I would address his questions in a new post altogether. Here are his comments in full:



My name is Kwame and I read over your blog posts on Biblical naturalists and nudity. I had a few questions. Firstly, I didn't do a thorough in-depth review of your site and beliefs so forgive me if I misquote, misrepresent or don't accurately capture where you stand:

1. Since we are in a fallen world, do you advocate that women should not pursue dressing modestly and covering the areas that cultures, churches and certain ethnicities, religions objectify?

2. Yes, God created us naked and we were to live in paradise as such but when Christ came and rose the early church still had clothes and they still warned women to adorn themselves in modesty. So how does that factor in to your call of men to lead the way in explaining this naturist path?

3. I agree with you, men ought to clean up their minds more and succumb their passions and desires to the greater good who is God. However, we know not all are in the same place in this Christian race and should we not care and be on best behavior towards our brothers who are weakest in Christ?

4. When Paul says that our body's are not our own and to flee from sexual immorality. Aren't these safe practices (dress code) the church has taken to make this possible?

In Christ,

Now allow me to respond one paragraph at a time…


My name is Kwame and I read over your blog posts on Biblical naturalists and nudity. I had a few questions. Firstly, I didn't do a thorough in-depth review of your site and beliefs so forgive me if I misquote, misrepresent or don't accurately capture where you stand:

Thanks for mentioning that. I hope you will take the time to read more of the articles on the site. You might consider starting from the beginning, since the articles are not time-related, so the older posts are still as “current” as the latest ones.


1. Since we are in a fallen world, do you advocate that women should not pursue dressing modestly and covering the areas that cultures, churches and certain ethnicities, religions objectify?

Let me point out two assumptions in your question which I believe are in error:

  1. You assume that God gives us instructions about clothing to address the fact that we’re “fallen.” Look again… you will not find in the Bible. Some take Gen. 3:21 and interpret it that way, but the biblical text does not support it (see The Biblical Purpose of Clothing where I address God’s purpose for clothing Adam and Eve in a multi-part series).
  2. You also assume that our standards of conduct should be based on cultural, ecclesiastical, ethnic, or religious standards. The truth is that if any of those contexts teach something that is contrary to God’s Word, we have no obligation to abide by it. The fact that we are pretty much forced (legally) to abide by those false standards in our culture does not make those standards right or healthy.

2. Yes, God created us naked and we were to live in paradise as such but when Christ came and rose the early church still had clothes and they still warned women to adorn themselves in modesty. So how does that factor in to your call of men to lead the way in explaining this naturist path?

Clothing has been used throughout human history… including the time of Christ on the earth. However, the assumption that nudity is indecent and forbidden is historically quite recent. In Christ’s day, Jewish and (later) Christian baptisms were performed nude (read this). Fishermen fished nude (read this). In the OT, prophets evidently were regularly nude (read this). No, the Bible never tells us that we must be nude, but neither does it tell us that we must be clothed.

It is also important to note that simply because something was practiced in bible times does not mean that it is a requirement for our practices today (should we still have arranged marriages or slavery?)

Regarding “modesty,” there’s only one verse in all the Bible that talks about modesty (1 Tim. 2:9-10) and Paul wasn’t talking at all about making sure the body is covered… he was talking about wearing things to show off one’s wealth (Read this and C. S. Lewis on Modesty/Chastity). Furthermore, even the translation of that passage as “modest clothing” is difficult to defend when you really examine the underlying Greek text (Rightly Dividing 1 Tim. 2:9).


3. I agree with you, men ought to clean up their minds more and succumb their passions and desires to the greater good who is God. However, we know not all are in the same place in this Christian race and should we not care and be on best behavior towards our brothers who are weakest in Christ?

If a brother is “weaker,” we are supposed to be sensitive to that, but should we not make the effort to turn a “weak” brother into a “strong” one? Often, I fear this passage is misused to tell someone that they cannot do something that someone else thinks is wrong! That’s not what Paul was trying to communicate in Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 10. But I have another blog post in the works that addresses those passages specifically.

How do we help men “clean up their minds”? Men think that whenever they see a woman’s body that they will automatically have a sexual/lustful response. So… we never let them see a woman’s body. Does that help them clean up their minds? No… it only confirms and strengthens their sexualized view of a woman’s body. They never ever see a woman’s body except when they are having sex with their own wife, or using pornography to sexually gratify themselves. Does that help them clean up their minds? No, it only reinforces their view that nudity is all about sex.

The fastest way a man can get to the point of treating the sight of a woman’s body with respect—remembering that she is a person and not an object—is if he actually has the opportunity to see a woman’s body in a non-sexual context where he is compelled by simple courtesy to treat her with the dignity she deserves.

You know how they train young doctors to treat the nudity of their patients with respect, avoiding a sexual response? They don’t.They simply let them serve their patients. They discover immediately that the “automatic” response isn’t automatic at all (read My View of Nakedness by a male obstetric nurse who’s also a pastor.


4. When Paul says that our body's are not our own and to flee from sexual immorality. Aren't these safe practices (dress code) the church has taken to make this possible?

You’re assuming that a “dress code” actually works… but does it? Does the sight of unclothed human flesh “automatically” result in sexual arousal? Or is that a conditioned response? Is that a biblically valid purpose for clothing? Does God ever command clothing to abate or prevent lust? (Read this)

The truth is that that notion is completely man-made. Paul told us in Colossians 2:20-23 that man-made rules will never help us to suppress fleshly indulgence… no matter how “wise” the rules appear.

Quite frankly, I believe the exact opposite is true… when we treat the unclothed human form as if it is lust-inducing and only sexual, we actually ensure that people will struggle with sexual sin. Simple curiosity about the human form is interpreted as “sexual” interest, yet that curiosity is actually God-given and quite normal! Why shouldn’t be be drawn to the beauty of God’s highest creation?

But you tell me that it’s wrong to see it… you tell me that observing it is a sexual event… I now expect to experience sexual responses, so I do. Now I have no recourse but to assume that I have a disordered sexual interests that I can’t shake free of.

You asked me your questions because you read The Objectification of Women – Part 1. But did you read Part 2? It speaks to the fact that if there are certain parts of a woman’s body that must be covered in order for me to avoid lust, then those parts of a woman’s body are what I am objectifying.

Jesus wouldn’t have lusted after a woman even if he saw her completely naked. Instead, He would treat her with respect and dignity. If we aim to be Christ-like, then we must make that same response our standard of behavior… nothing less.

Why I am a Naturist…

Some might wonder why I am a naturist. It is not because I have an unhealthy or sinful interest in nudity. Rather it is for two primary reasons:

  1. The Glory of God

    God is insulted by the fact that we have so redefined His image as found in the unclothed human form that we only see a temptation to sexual misconduct, rather than seeing His glory on display
  2. Moral Purity

    You have assumed that clothing is needed is to promote sexual purity, but I believe that frank, respectful exposure has the very best chance of achieving that goal… in my life, the life of my children, and anyone who is willing to let go of their pornographic view of the body.

These reasons and others are developed in much more detail in my three part work called Naturist by Biblical Conviction???. I also talk about the various reasons that would NOT motivate me to be a naturist in I would NOT Be a Naturist If… 

— Matthew Neal

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.
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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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).

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 one 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.
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
Squeamish Translating
Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals
Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)