Saturday, February 8, 2014

The BEST Blog Comment From a Non-Naturist… EVER!!!

A Pleasant Surprise!

I woke up this morning to a new comment on one of my blog posts. It is by far the best non-naturist response I’ve EVER received to anything that I’ve written! You can see the comment attached to the pivotal article from the Purpose of Clothing series where I address the presumption that clothing is intended by God to “Control Lust.

The comment was wonderfully affirming and encouraging, but it also contained a very significant question that deserves a detailed treatment. That’s the purpose of this blog post.

Here are David’s comments:

  • Hi Matthew, I am not a naturist, nor do I have an intention of becoming one, but I have found some of the concepts taught here and at to be incredibly helpful in thinking rightly about lust and the body. Thanks for being committed to the Bible as your authority.
  • I read the "Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9" article, and found it a compelling translation, but I'm not entirely convinced that "apparel" is an incorrect translation of katastole. One issue that was not addressed: a quick google search of the word brings up lots of christian sites claiming that the word means "long dress". Kata meaning "to let down" and stola being a common female garment in Greek culture. If that is correct, then we have to say that 1 Tim 2:9 commands wearing clothing, specifically long dresses. Could you please address that claim? Thanks in advance.

My Response

First of all, David, to have a non-naturist write and affirm anything that I’ve written is unprecedented! Thank you for your honest evaluation and consideration of my arguments.

I want to respond to much of what you’ve said line by line… so I’ll give a bit of your words and then offer my response.

  • Hi Matthew, I am not a naturist, nor do I have an intention of becoming one, but I have found some of the concepts taught here and at to be incredibly helpful in thinking rightly about lust and the body.

I agree with you about the significance and power of the teaching found at I wish everyone who has any sort of struggle with pornography would read it… then read it again… then again… until its liberating truths really sink in and make them free.

Furthermore, their friends, family, and spouses should also read it to. Frankly, it would be good for anyone to read, because our culture’s (and the church’s!) dysfunctional perspective on the human form has resulted in much more damage than bondage to pornography. Women in particular have been led to believe that their value is based primarily upon their sexual impact on men. The secular world promotes the “hot” looking girls and demeans the “fat,” “flat,” or “saggy” woman’s body, while the church considers a woman to be “loose” or “immoral” if her attire is judged to “cause men to stumble” (see this article in the series, You Can’t Do That!).

But as to your own thoughts about “becoming a naturist,” I say that you are right… that no “ism” is going to change the world or set people free. Furthermore, there is no particular virtue in nudity. It is only in embracing and living by truth that we will benefit from its power to liberate.

However, I urge you to consider how you are going to live out the truth… or even more importantly, how are you going to teach your children to understand and embrace the truth? If you never show them the truth about the human body, you can be sure that the world and pornography (and sadly, the church) will indoctrinate them with the lie. To preempt that, you cannot live in your home the way that the world and the church dictates that you must. There has to be at least some level of openness that has the effect of “naturism” in your home. But if you do that, then you have to mitigate against the implications of the rule that “it’s OK at home, but not with anyone else,” which isn’t true. So, if we really want to live by and teach our children the whole truth, some sort of family naturist activity is actually worth considering (You might want to read my series called, Naturist By Biblical Conviction).

  • I read the "Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9" article, and found it a compelling translation, but I'm not entirely convinced that "apparel" is an incorrect translation of katastole.

You are a thinking man, David. You recognize the compelling nature of the argument in that article, but you also discerned a potential etymological “weakness” in the argument. In truth, I too considered this very issue and was compelled to discover if it really was a solid reason to interpret katastole as a garment. But my further research confirmed that there is still no basis for translating it as “apparel.” I’ll explain as we go on.

  • One issue that was not addressed: a quick Google search of the word brings up lots of Christian sites claiming that the word means “long dress.”

There is no doubt that your Google search will pull up hundreds or perhaps thousands of Christian sites who declare that katastole is a garment, and many will attempt to tell you what kind of garment it is. But this can be considered unreliable for three reasons:

  1. For hundreds of years (probably only since the KJV was translated), Christians have understood 1 Tim. 2:9 to be a command for women to dress in modest clothing, for the KJV translators actually translated katastole as “apparel.” To my knowledge, no one has really ever questioned that translation or the resulting “command” for clothing so the only question they’ve ever asked is “What kind of garment is a katastole?” They’ve tried to use etymology to suggest a type of garment, but that’s literally the only thing to go on! Then they look around to see what other Christian teachers have said and they quote one another… and every last one of the people they quote have assumed the same meaning for katastole.
  2. You will not be able to find a single secular source that will refer to the katastole as a garment used in ancient Greco-Roman culture. The only sources which offer any such description are those who have been influenced by the KJV translation of the word.
  3. The very fact that nowhere in the rest of the Bible nor in all of secular history refers to any piece of clothing as a katastole is impossible to explain if katastole were really a piece of clothing. And It’s very odd to suggest that Paul told women to wear a garment that no one knows what is, and judging from a comprehensive survey the biblical text, no one in the Bible ever wore!

Hopefully, that’s sufficient argument to lay aside the “so-many-Christian-sites-say-so” argument and consider the claim on its textual merits alone—and there certainly are textual merits to consider!

  • Kata meaning "to let down" and stola being a common female garment in Greek culture.

And here are the points that merit our consideration.

First of all, however, I don’t think your representation of kata- is accurate. Kata- is a prefix, but you’ve defined it here as a verb. Actually, I believe “to let down” is a reasonable translation of the word, katastello, which is the verb form of katastole. As the Rightly Dividing article points out, the prefix kata- means “down, against, according to.” As a prefix, it modifies the meaning of the verb or noun that it is connected to. So, the real path to understand a word’s meaning is to be found in the root word first, not its prefix.

So, let’s look at the root of katastole, which—as you pointed out—is stole.

And here’s where the potential of your argument seems to gain some merit, for even in English, stole is a garment that someone can wear. Furthermore, the etymology of the English word “stole” can be traced directly to this Greek word. Additionally, I suspect that the contemporary article of clothing called a “stole” may be traced back to the article of clothing worn in biblical times.

The argument that stole is a biblical garment—so therefore katastole should be considered a garment—finds even more support in the fact that we find the Greek word stole in the biblical text used to describe a garment! Take a look… here are all 9 places it appears in the New Testament:

  • Mark 12:38 - In His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes [stole], and like respectful greetings in the market places,…”
  • Mark 16:5 - Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe [stole]; and they were amazed.
  • Luke 15:22 - But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe [stole] and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;…’
  • Luke 20:46 - Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes [stole], and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 
  • Rev. 6:11 - And there was given to each of them a white robe [stole]; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
  • Rev. 7:9,13-14 - After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes [stole], and palm branches were in their hands; … Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes [stole], who are they, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes [stole] and made them [stole] white in the blood of the Lamb.

So… have I presented a compelling biblical and etymological case for considering stole to be a garment so that katastole may correctly be considered one, too?

To be sure, when I was first considering this question, I was leaning that way on the issue. It seemed pretty convincing that this offered a reasonable basis for translating katastole as “apparel.” And, I would not be surprised at all if that’s exactly the logic followed by the KJV translators when they came upon the word katastole and wondered how they should translate it.

But we’re not done yet… let’s look deeper and ask some more questions about what we see here in the biblical usage of stole.

Stole as a Garment… of Position!

Note first that from a biblical perspective, it is incorrect to say that stole was only a feminine garment. Where we can discern the gender of the wearer, it was always male.

Right away from the texts above, we can see that while some people may have worn a stole, it was certainly not a common garment worn by normal folks. The Scribes and Pharisees loved them. An angel wore one in the empty tomb of our Savior when the disciples dropped in to investigate. The Prodigal Son’s father put the “best” stole on him (“best” is protos in Greek, which signifies “first in rank”). And finally, the host of the saved in heaven will be wearing white stoles.

Based on this survey of its biblical usage, this garment was evidently one that signified position or authority. That explains why the Pharisees loved them. That’s why the father put it on his lost-and-restored son. That’s why an angel proclaiming the resurrection wore one. That’s why we will wear them in heaven… we’ve been made clean and we will be seated with Christ!

Immediately now we can discern a troubling conflict with Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:9, where he is telling the women to DE-emphasize their wealth and position! He’s certainly not telling the ladies to wear something that will call attention their standing in society or the church. And obviously, Paul is telling ALL the women in the church to “adorn” themselves with katastole. Therefore, it cannot be a garment just for the “elite” in society to wear as stole evidently was.

So… What Was a Stole?

Clearly, a stole was something that could be worn. But just as clearly, it was not something worn often or by common people.

  • But what kind of garment was it? Was it really a “robe” as we find it translated?
  • How did it come to have the meaning (signifying high position) when it was worn?
  • And why is the name of it based on the verb stello which means “to arrange, prepare, gather up” (as one might gather up the sails of a ship) come to describe a garment in the first place??

I surely don’t have the final word on the answers to these questions, but I have a theory that fits all the facts.

Perhaps the best way to explain my theory is to give a real example in English… one that—in fact—even is similar in meaning and history as stole must have had in Greek!

Why Do We Wear Ties??

I grew up wearing suits and ties to church. As a kid, my ties were literally the “clip-on” variety, but I eventually learned how to tie a “real” tie. But it was clear to me from the start that a “tie” was completely useless functionally; it’s only purpose was for “dressing up.” Fast forward 40 years, and I almost never wear a tie. If I do, it’s still only for dressing up.

Yet, in formal political, business, and religious contexts, wearing a tie is still the standard for those in positions of influence. Even news anchors wear them. What’s up with that?

And where did “ties” come from to start with? Why do we call that thing a “tie”?

Well, the reality is that when people first started wearing ties, it was completely and only functional. They didn’t have buttons yet, and there were no zippers, so the only way you could hold a garment together was by tying it with a rope or a long strip of cloth. In order to get the collar of a shirt to stay closed around the neck, they used a cloth to “tie” things together. At some point, the cloth itself began to transcend it’s function of “tying” and began to also contribute to the fashion design of the wearer’s attire.

In time, of course, the original and very practical function of the tie became completely overshadowed by its function as an adornment. And today, the higher ranking individuals in our society wear a suit and tie on a daily basis, because they must uphold the position that they have attained and the expectation is that they will always wear a tie… even though it has absolutely no practical function any more!!

So, now we have a garment item which draws its name from the original function that it performed; we literally refer to it by the the noun form of the verb which is was its original function.

Could a Stole Be a Modern Day Tie?

I would not say that a “tie” is the 1st century “stole,” but I do believe that both garments’ usage and names followed the very same functional paths.

The Greek verb, stello, means “to arrange, prepare, gather up” and “to restrain.” It then follows that the noun form of that verb would most likely refer to a device used to accomplish the action of the verb. Based on that assumption, I believe that the stole was a piece of cloth that was named for the practical function that it performed… perhaps a long strip of cloth used to “gather up” a person’s garments to keep them from flapping around or dragging on the ground.

In time, the natural desire of people to “look good” resulted in the application of aesthetics to the cloth, so that it also became an fashionable adornment, even while it continued to perform its function. Eventually, its practical function ceased to be as important as its ornamental function and it came to be used as a symbol of position, often being highly decorated itself. This would explain why the Pharisees “loved” to wear them. After all, just about everyone wore a robe… but only the “important” folks had a stole!

Let me draw the parallel:

Modern Tie

Ancient Stole

Functional Beginning: a piece of cloth used to tie together the collar of a person’s shirt

Functional Beginning: A cloth used to gather up a person’s loose-fitting tunic and/or robe.
Functional Expansion: It began to take on an adorning function, such that people who wanted to appear to be from higher classes wore more ornate cloths to tie their shirts. Functional Expansion: It began to take on an adorning function, such that people of higher position took pride in a fancier stole.
Function in Contemporary Culture: The “tie” is now entirely an adornment used almost exclusively in the realms of power, influence, and formal social events. Function in Biblical Times: Worn by people who were recognized (or wished to be recognized) as a higher class or more important than others.

DISCLAIMER: I do not have any hard empirical evidence to support these claims about the use of the stole aside from what I read of its use in Scripture. I just believe this is a best guess that helps us explain and understand the word stole and how it is used in the NT. 

The Modern Day Stole

Fast forward to today, and I think the modern day heir of the stole is probably the military “sash.” Consider the photos below. The sashes here have absolutely no practical function, and are entirely about the position of their wearers.


Above Left: Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos’ inauguration.
Above Right: Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s inauguration.
Below: United Kingdom Princes William and Harry dressed in military attire for the Royal Wedding.


[As a side note, I find it interesting that in American Sign Language, the signs for “Lord” or King” are made by drawing the hand diagonally across the body tracing the “sash” using the letters “L” or “K” respectively. See the ASL Video Dictionary online for a demonstration]

Another possible heir of the Ancient Greek stole might be the academic graduation stole—which again, conveys the position and accomplishments of its wearer. And the more colorful the stole, the higher the degree earned by the graduate.

But Might Katastole Still Be a Garment?

Perhaps some would still argue that katastole could be a garment, but unless it’s original function AND form was drastically different than I believe the etymology suggests, it’s evident that a garment used as a binding devise is unlikely to become a “modest” long dress-like garment called katastole.

Furthermore, it is probably a mistake to assert that since a stole was a wearable item, katastole must also be a garment. The more likely etymological path to understanding the meaning of the noun katastole is by its relationship with the verb form, katastello. And this is the path used in the article Rightly Dividing 1 Timothy 2:9. Consequently, I don’t think the article’s conclusions should not be considered erroneous on the basis of the usage of stole in the Bible.

Is Every “Tie” a Tie?

The fact that stole is a “garment” does not mean that katastole must also be. We can see the same reality in English with the word “tie,” which does not always signify a different article of clothing when we attach a prefix. Let me give examples:

  • Power-tie – yes, this is wearable, but it is obviously a type of the tie we’ve been talking about, and this term didn’t come into use until long after a “tie” was a recognizable garment item.
  • Bow-tie – yes, this too is wearable, but it also is a distinct form of the tie that probably didn’t even have its distinctive name until after “long” ties came into vogue.
  • Wire-tie – Clearly, this is not a wearable item. Its name is much more clearly associated with the meaning of the verb “tie” than the garment noun “tie.”
  • Twisty-tie – Once again, we all know what this is, and it is not a garment.
  • Hog-tie – OK… this is really a verb rather than a noun, but the mental image was interesting…

The point is this… without any biblical or historical evidence that katastole is an identifiable type of garment, basing the claim that it is a garment on the fact that stole is a type of garment is simply too weak to stand upon.

  • If that is correct, then we have to say that 1 Tim 2:9 commands wearing clothing, specifically long dresses. Could you please address that claim? Thanks in advance.

I think you can see that I still don’t agree with the claim that 1 Tim 2:9 commands clothing because I still do not believe that katastole is a garment at all. I tell you the truth, though, I seriously wrestled with this before I reached the conclusion that I’ve written in this blog post—evidenced by the fact that I wrote this blog post in one day; the research was already done!

I hope that you’re convinced as well, but as always, I welcome a careful review by you or anyone else. Either way, I hope to hear from you again!

Thanks again for writing!

— Matthew Neal

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Reader’s Question — Circumcision…

A while back, I asked my readers to submit their Biggest Scriptural Challenge to Naturism so that I could offer my own take on the issue, honestly and biblically.

One reader from the Fig Leaf Forum submitted this question… not so much a “scriptural challenge” but a request for my view on the matter of circumcision. This past week, another reader posted a comment asking about the same issue. So here’s my response.

I’m No Expert…

I’m quick to admit that I am not any sort of scholarly expert on matters of ancient Hebrew culture or ritual practices. Nor am I a true student of biblical Hebrew or Greek. My only claim is that I make an effort to be thorough, faithful, and honest in my analysis about what the Bible really says and means, making full use of the resources available to me (and any of us!).

Having said that I’m happy to give my thoughts on the requirement of circumcision in Hebrew culture and its implications regarding the exposure of nakedness in the public sphere.

This is ALL Speculative!

The first thing I will say here is that what I’m about to talk about is all speculative. As such, it will do nothing to influence someone holding the nudity-taboo mindset to change his or her mind about what the Bible teaches concerning nudity.

Its practical value is for those of us who have already concluded that God is not offended by human nudity, and that the Scriptures never regulate against socially nude activities. I think that we can find in these speculations some additional affirmation of our beliefs about what the Bible does and does not say.

That said, let’s take a look at the question that was raised. Here’s the question:

What about Circumcision?

When the Israelites prepared to exit Egypt, their instructions were to be ready for when Pharaoh became sufficiently exasperated to order them away, that they could be on the move.
Israelites, hirelings, and aliens could go, but, they had to meet the qualification:  circumcision.
Was circumcision a visible qualification?

The requirement of circumcision for the ancient nation of Israel is well documented. It was to be the mark of the Abrahamic Covenant for Abraham and all of his seed (Genesis 17:9-14) It became such a notable distinction between “God’s Chosen People” and all other people that Jews referred to themselves as “the circumcised” and all Gentiles were called the “UN-circumcised” (Judges 15:18, Ephesians 2:11) 

It is hard for us to imagine the scope of national pride and identity that was wrapped up in a surgical procedure performed on all male members of the nation, yet it was very real at the time.

Add to that the fact that God’s word spoke of the fact that the temple was “profaned” when the Israelites permitted men who were uncircumcised to enter it (Ezek. 44:7).

By the time Jesus was walking the earth, the sect of the Pharisees had become very fastidious about keeping God’s word “to the letter.” Some years later, one of the accusations they brought against the Apostle Paul was that he had brought a “Greek” into the temple and thus “defiled” it (Acts 21:28-29)

So… How did they know?

If the Jewish National identity was wrapped up in being one of the “circumcised’'”—that is, one of “God’s Chosen People”—and no one who was uncircumcised could come into the temple, just how did they know who was and who wasn’t circumcised when they came to the temple?

It’s almost inconceivable for us to imagine today, but it really is possible that temple officials performed a “lift-your-robe” check on everyone coming to the temple… particularly if the worshippers were from “out of town.” Is there any scriptural data to suggest such a thing? None… except the clear evidence that they were such sticklers about ritual details at the temple. Knowing what we know about the Pharisees, it’s hard to imagine that there was any requirement of the Law that they just “trusted” people for… particularly when it had to do with the temple… and those unclean… “Gentiles.”

Funny thing today, though… I know lots of guys, but I don’t know which ones are circumcised and which are not. Do you? You and I have no reason to need to know, so we don’t care that we don’t know. But that would not of been true for the Jews in Bible times.

Bonus: Joseph and His Brothers.

Speaking of circumcision, here’s a rendering of Joseph’s story that you haven’t heard before…

You remember the plot, right? Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him so they sell him into slavery in Egypt. God blesses him there and raises him up to be the second-in-command in all of Egypt. Fast-forward to a few years of famine and those same brothers show up in Egypt asking for food… from Joseph!

There’s a lot more to the story, but eventually, Joseph sends all the Egyptians out of the room so that he can tell his brothers that he’s really their long-forgotten brother. At first, they’re so stunned they simply don’t believe him… so the narrative continues like this:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt (Gen. 45:4).

This part of the story always struck me as odd… Joseph was weeping so loudly that he was heard all over the palace! His surely brothers had no difficulty in hearing him… so why did he want them to “come closer”? He’d already told them that he was their brother… how could he be even more convincing if they were standing closer to him? Well, I can think of a way…

Given the significance of the Abrahamic covenant—to which they all were heirs—I believe it is most likely that he called them close to him so that he could actually show them that he was circumcised, just as they were! It would have been incontrovertible proof to his brothers that he really was who he claimed to be. Think about it…

  • Only the real Joseph would know that circumcision was their grandfather’s special “family” sign (Gen. 17:11-12).
  • The Egyptians likely were not circumcised… so Joseph’s circumcision would show that he was not a native Egyptian (this point might be debatable… I don’t know the Egyptian practices regarding circumcision during that time period).
  • Only by “coming near” could they see that he really was circumcised.
  • And one more thing—since he was their brother—they would have seen him naked many times in years past… it’s likely they would have literally recognized Little Brother’s genitals.

I’ve never heard anyone else suggest this interpretation before, but it sure seems to me that it fits the narrative better. Your thoughts?

And Then There’s the Mikveh…

I don’t want to go into details, but it’s well documented that the mikveh (ritual Baptism) was—and still is—performed nude. Since the pools where this ritual was performed were near the temple and quite public (such as the Pool of Bethesda and the Pool of Siloam), exposure of the unclothed body would not have been an uncommon occurrence as part of religious ritual for the Jews. Certainly, during a man’s mikveh, you’d be able to confirm that he was also circumcised.


Like I said… interesting and instructive discussion, but nothing historically concrete. Ultimately—for me a least—it’s just speculative, but it does underscore the fact that cultural differences between Bible times and the 21st century are pretty significant. Perhaps there are others who have more information than I. If so, I’d love to hear it!

— Matthew Neal