Monday, March 27, 2017

Wasn’t Clothing the “Norm” in the Bible?

An Unaddressed Issue.
One of my non-naturist readers submitted an important question a while back. I thought the answer deserved its own new entry into The Biblical Naturist blog.
Here’s the email in full:
Matthew,
I've been reading and enjoying reading your thebiblicalnaturist blog. Your arguments are compelling and convincing. I'm a Christian, but not a naturist/nudist. Your blog has convinced me that the Bible doesn't condemn nakedness. However, I DO have a question that I haven't seen addressed.
From your descriptions, and analysis of Bible passages, and from my readings of Scripture, it appears that, while nudity was not really promoted or condemned in biblical times, most people wore clothes most of the time. They often went naked for: various jobs, prophesying, bathing in public communal baths, and exercising, but from my readings, the default was still clothed. Except for Adam and Eve, most accounts of nakedness were either related to a job, or some unusual situation.
I like the idea of making my home clothing optional, but I don't see bible passages stating that this was the norm.
I once asked a Sunday school teacher of mine (who had been an archaeologist in Israel) about footwear in NT biblical times, and specifically, during corporate worship. He indicated that wearing sandals (usually that person's best pair) was the norm. So... wearing your "Sunday best" seemed to be practiced even in Jesus' time.

While nakedness was much more common and much more accepted back then, I still get the impression that:
- Nudity still wasn't the norm. If it were, I would expect little to no mention of someone's nakedness. But nakedness seemed to be a condition to be mentioned as significant.
- The common man (or woman) walking down the street or living in his home was clothed.
- It was nothing like a naturist or nudist resort, even in people's homes or yards.
- Being naked in town would be like a homeless person is now. An indicator of extreme poverty, and to be avoided.
- Corporate worship (in a synagogue) was a clothed affair as well.
I would welcome your comments and views on this matter.
Thank You
Bill
Thanks for writing, Bill. Let me see if I can address your question in a satisfactory way.
First of all, I’m grateful that the blog has opened your eyes to the fact that the Bible neither promotes nor condemns nakedness. That acknowledgement all by itself sets you apart from the vast majority of Christians. And I really appreciate your words of affirmation about my work.
Now let me dive in on your questions.

The Question In a Nutshell…
Rather than comment point by point on what you’ve written, I’m going to see if I can summarize your question—hopefully accurately and fairly enough that I will not be guilty of creating a “straw man.” How does this sound?
  • In the Bible, isn’t it the norm that people were clothed most of the time?
And the answer to that is a simple “Yes, it is.”
But I’m pretty confident that that’s not the answer you were really looking for, because that answer is nothing more than the acknowledgement of a historical fact. It doesn’t mean much… or at least we haven’t yet discussed what that fact means.
The reality is that there are probably other questions—unstated, but implied (or presumed)—behind that question. There likely are assumptions about what the answer must mean, therefore answering in the affirmative to the question as stated is taken as assent to the veracity of the unspoken assumptions behind the question. But that is not the case. So, let’s uncover the assumptions and THEN answer what I suspect is your question’s real intent.

Assumptions, Assumptions…
Let me take an educated (and experienced) guess at the assumptions that you—or others—might be holding behind your question:
  1. You’re The Biblical Naturist; you’re obviously teaching that the Bible promotes naturism.
  2. Whatever we see as common practice in the bible should be adopted as normative (i.e. morally required) for us today.
  3. The descriptions of public life we read about in the Bible fully describes life for the common folks in biblical times.
Ok… so now I’m treading very close to “straw man,” right? I’m putting words in your mouth that you didn’t say so that I can shoot them down. That’s almost the case, but let me give the reasoning behind why I’ve articulated these assumptions as being hidden within your question (if not for you, then perhaps for others who have pondered the same question). Then I’ll give my response to each.

1. You’re The Biblical Naturist; you’re obviously teaching that the Bible promotes naturism.
  • The subtext of your question is, “How can you promote naturism when it’s obvious that the bible does not promote living life naked as a ‘naturist’?” If this subtext that were not in play, then the question would not really be a question, but simply a historical observation.
REPLY:
I do not promote naturism, nor do I teach that the Bible teaches that we should live naked. I don’t teach those ideas because those assertions would be false! The bible simply does not command or promote nakedness as a way of life. I’ve never stated or suggested otherwise.
What I teach is that fact that the bible does not command or promote clothing either! Clothing is not a moral requirement for righteous living. Clothing does not commend us to God. Our bodies are not visual impediments to moral purity. To teach any of these notions is to assert a falsehood.
Many times I’ve been asked, “Why is nakedness such a big deal to you??” … to which I answer, “Nakedness is not a big deal to me. Nakedness is only a big deal to those who believe it is morally wrong.”
No, I don’t promote naturism, I just confront the lies that claim that the Bible teaches against social nudity. (I wrote a blog article about that, too).

2. Whatever we see as common practice in the bible should be adopted as normative (i.e. morally required) for us today.
  • Clearly, the question you asked can only have bearing on whether or not people today can live life as naturists if we also assume that the very description of the biblical lifestyle should be considered a moral mandate on how we also should live. Otherwise, the question is as inconsequential as “Didn’t people walk just about everywhere they went?”
REPLY:
When people are looking for reasons to oppose social nudity, they are often tempted to make the very same observation you made, but with the presumption of moral mandate: “Social nudity was NOT the norm in the Bible, therefore to practice it is NOT normal and not biblically acceptable.”
But the problem is that when we pull out the assumption behind such a declaration and say it straight out as I just did as point #2 above, the absurdity of that assumption is so evident as to be laughable.
Nobody would argue that since people in the Bible never rode bikes, drove cars, or took buses or planes to travel that we shouldn’t either. Didn’t people just walk? Well, of course they did. So?
Yet if the very same logic were applied to travel as is sometimes made about clothes, then we’d have to ban all travel that was not by foot or by the power of a beast of burden!
So, as to the question of whether people generally wore clothing, the answer is, “Well, of course they did. So?”
Common practices of a culture long past are not morally binding on us today. Your question is fine for discussing the way of life in biblical times, but it is irrelevant to the question of the morality or practice of social nudity today.

3. The descriptions of public life we read about in the Bible fully describes life for the common folks in biblical times.
  • If we are looking to biblical times as our basis for biblical behavior today, then it must also be assumed that we know all that we need to know about those cultures we are supposed to emulate.
REPLY:
I shouldn’t need to spend much time on this one, because the absurdity of this claim is also self-evident, even though it too is inherently assumed in the question if we hold to Assumption #2.
Some might claim that we know everything that we need to know because God inspired the inclusion of only those things that we need to emulate… but the hypocrisy of that claim becomes immediately evident when you just compare how Christians live today against what we DO know about life in bible times (like walking everywhere, or wearing only tunics and robes). There’s really no other assertion besides the “nudity-taboo” that anyone ever tries to use “biblical life” to support.
The fact is we know very little about life in bible times as it relates to common nudity. What’s more, we read the biblical text through 21st century eyes. We consider the Bible’s teaching on clothing through the lens of wealthy modern individuals with enough clothes to go for weeks changing clothes every day without ever wearing the same outfit twice.
What did people in biblical times really think about nudity? How common was it really? When we read the bible in English, it’s hard to tell, because a careful examination of modern translations reveals that whenever nudity was mentioned or implied when not shameful or embarrassing, the text has been rendered in such a way as to obscure the nudity that was present. I’ve carefully documented this translational obscuration in the blog series, Squeamish Translating. Those articles focus only on New Testament texts, but perhaps I need to write a version from the Old Testament as well.

In Summary…
I suspect that you’re thinking, “I wasn’t thinking those things at all!” and I would believe you. But I would encourage you to answer the question, “Why would common practices of attire in biblical times matter at all to this discussion of the morality of Social Nudity and its recreational practice?” Perhaps there are other good reasons you could offer, but the only one I’ve ever been able to discern is the presumption of biblical practices being normative for us today. That particular reason is invalid, so that’s why I have addressed it.
The correct answer to that question is that if we can discern that nudity truly was more common in biblical times (for work, public bathing, in individual homes, ritual mikvehs, exercising, etc.), then we can draw a very strong conclusion that since the biblical writers did NOT forbid such public nudity, we cannot and must not have the audacity to claim that the bible does forbid it at all. This purpose for asking the question doesn’t support the nudity-taboo teaching, so you just don’t hear anyone offer it.
On that score, allow me to address a few points in your email that warrant specific commentary.

Additional Comments
Except for Adam and Eve, most accounts of nakedness were either related to a job, or some unusual situation.
I’m surprised that you say “unusual”… I dare say that naked prophets were not unusual. Naked girls milling grain were not unusual. Naked servants were not unusual. Naked fishermen were not unusual. Even naked poor people were not unusual. They might seem unusual to us today, but we cannot assert that it was unusual at the time. To describe them as “unusual” affords you the opportunity to categorize public nudity as “unusual,” when in fact it may not have been at all! That’s 21st century lenses at work.
I like the idea of making my home clothing optional, but I don't see bible passages stating that this was the norm.
The bible doesn’t comment on the incidence of nudity in the home at all, but certainly it must have been common if only wealthy folks had more than one garment in their possession and the garments worn during the day were repurposed as blankets at night (Exodus 22:26-27, Deut. 24:12-13). Family bath time, bed time, and laundry day all would have resulted in plenty of family nudity. Again, if we read these sorts of passages without the discoloration of our modern experiences, we’ll miss the implications of what it must have been like when whole families lived together in a single tent, as it was when the OT laws were given.
- Nudity still wasn't the norm. If it were, I would expect little to no mention of someone's nakedness. But nakedness seemed to be a condition to be mentioned as significant.
We must be careful what we declare “If… then” for. Quite frankly, my impression is that nakedness IS mentioned very little in the Scriptures. Nakedness IS mentioned from time to time in the bible, but it is again the modern-day mindset that notes the “significance” of the mention—assuming that the “naked” part is really the point of the mention! The way I see it, the poor’s nakedness was a sign of the poverty which God’s people were commanded to minister to. The mention of Isaiah’s nakedness was notable only because it went for 3 years non-stop. King’s Saul’s nakedness was notable because he had “changed professions,” since evidently nudity among prophets was so common as to not merit a mention. Peter’s nakedness fishing was mentioned only to tell why he grabbed his garment before jumping out of the boat (and he probably wasn’t the only naked fisherman on the boat!).
My point is that it is our modern mindset that says, “Oh… he was NAKED… that’s notable!” when that may not be the emphasis of the passage at all.
- The common man (or woman) walking down the street or living in his home was clothed.
We can guess that this was pretty much the case, but it may not be nearly as universal as we imagine today, 2000 years removed. Have you ever seen a naked person walking around in public? Yet in bible times, Jesus and others made a special point of telling people to pay attention to the naked poor people; it must have been common enough to warrant repeated instructions on that precise point! If people really did often work naked, then seeing a naked workman in the middle of the day would not have been noteworthy; when Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for the gardener, the most natural explanation for her mistake is that He—having left the grave-clothes behind in the tomb—must have been “dressed” like an actively working gardener!
- Being naked in town would be like a homeless person is now. An indicator of extreme poverty, and to be avoided.
Yes, extreme poverty was to be ministered to by God’s people, and if they did so, then those needs would be addressed. But bear in mind that the “naked” that this is talking about is the same as the “hungry” the bible tells us to feed. Being hungry was not a moral need, it was a physical need. Being naked was not a moral need, it was a physical need (they probably sold the shirt on their back for food, so they no longer had a way to stay warm at night—See James 2:15-16 for a clear description of what the hunger and nakedness meant).
Furthermore, the instructions to feed “the hungry” and clothe “the naked” were not commands to feed any person we meet who happens to be hungry at the moment or clothe every person who happens to be naked at the moment; they were commands to feed the hungry people who truly had no food to eat and no way to get any food, and to clothe the naked people who truly had no clothes to wear and no way to get any clothes.
- It was nothing like a naturist or nudist resort, even in people's homes or yards.
Again, you might be right in the main, but you have no way of knowing this for sure. First of all, I know of no mention in the bible at all of any sort of “recreational” activity… either at home or “on vacation.” We’re really only guessing on this point.
However, it might be worth considering that if a carpenter worked in his own backyard woodworking shop, we could expect that he would strip off his clothes to preserve his one clean garment from getting sweaty and covered with sawdust. The same would be true for a gardener or any other physically demanding home-based job.
Beyond that, however, I can say definitively that there was a place in public life where nudity was precisely like a nudist resort… and that’s the local city’s “gymnasium” (from the Greek word gumnazo meaning “naked”) and any of the Roman Baths common throughout the Roman Empire. Even Jerusalem had a local gymnasium in Jesus’ day (Check out this article). Paul’s writing reveal his own knowledge of the gymnasiums’ existence and the activities practiced on their grounds (he mentions wrestling, running, boxing, and “exercise” a word translated from the Greek word gumnazo in the NT). These mental/physical training sites also served as Universities in their day, and yes, nudity was required for all genders while on the grounds. NOTE: These gymnasiums—or “Palaestras” as they were called—were a part of public life throughout the Roman empire while Jesus was on the earth and while the New Testament was being written!!

The Fine Print…
This is the part where I admit that almost everything I’ve suggested regarding commonplace nudity in biblical times is speculative. I can point to hints of these things here and there throughout the scriptures, but I have no concrete proof (except the point about the local Gymnasiums in Jerusalem… I can prove that).
But… we also have no concrete proof that any of the speculations I have offered are not accurate. My point is not to prove that my descriptions are accurate, but to point out that within the things you wrote, there are assumptions about how things were in bible times which themselves may not be accurate. Drawing final conclusions on my speculations would be indefensible. Drawing final conclusions on your representation of biblical life would also be indefensible. THAT is my point.

Thanks!
Again, Bill, thanks so much for writing… and for giving me this opportunity to put into a blog post some things I’ve pondered for a long time, but never directly addressed. I hope my comments have met your expectations. Please feel free to follow up with a reply here or directly by email.
— Matthew Neal

See also:
I Don't Promote Naturism
Obviously! – a post about Assumptions.
Squeamish Translating, and in particular, the article about Naked Disciples.
A Day at the Baths (this shows the layout details of a bath and Paleastra combined)
Hellenism: Center of the Universe (This one is startling in its implications…)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Biggest Enemy of Christian Naturism

…Is NOT Bible-believing Christians

There are a LOT of Christians who are absolutely sure that the very idea of social nudity is totally immoral and contrary to God’s will… 

But they are NOT the biggest enemy of Christian Naturism.

I’d better define what I mean by “Christian Naturism” first…

Christian Naturism Is…

Christian Naturism: The belief held by followers of Jesus Christ that social nudity can be practiced in a chaste and righteous manner; it is also the belief that the practice of naturism is spiritually and physically healthy, and is in fact, a help to personal moral purity.

I believe that statement with all my heart. I also believe that the church at large would be greatly benefitted by this belief gaining widespread acceptance. I know that I’m not alone in that belief, for I have had the privilege of making the acquaintance of many followers of Christ with whom I have enjoyed fellowship in a socially nude context.

An Enemy of Christian Naturism is therefore anything that would impede the wider acceptance of Christian Naturism among non-naturist followers of Christ.

 

What Committed Christians Care About

My identity as “Christian” is MUCH more important to me than my identity as a naturist. For me, that means that God’s moral truth is of paramount importance, and living a life that pleases God and is in harmony with God’s Word is what really matters… not the practice of naturism.

A committed Christian cares about:

  • God’s Truth as revealed in the Bible.
  • God’s standards of moral conduct.
  • Living life to please God rather than self or others.

I will never suggest to any Christian who loves God to abandon or degrade even one of those core values in order to embrace any practice or lifestyle.

the_enemy_thumb[1]

The Biggest Enemy of Christian Naturism

I hold therefore that greatest threat to the acceptance of naturism among Christians is when that acceptance is married to the acceptance of unbiblical positions on other moral issues.

I’m fully aware that I may incur the ire of many fellow naturists who have appreciated my other works on this blog, but I’m going to name the issues that I believe must be separated from the issue of naturism:

  • Sexual Immorality… in any of its forms:
    • Fornication (pre-marital sex)
    • Adultery 
    • Homosexuality
  • Unbiblical Social Stands:
    • Same Sex Marriage
    • Transgenderism
    • Abortion rights
  • Any rejection of the authority of the Scriptures as God’s truth for His people

I would never ask a Christian to abandon any of those convictions in order to embrace naturism. In fact, I will openly and vigorously oppose any naturist (Christian or not) who suggests or declares that the practice of naturism presupposes the alteration of their beliefs on any of the points I’ve just listed. Why?

Because doing so is the biggest enemy of Christian Naturism.

I Want Committed Christians to be Even MORE Committed To God’s Word!

I’ve written this blog principally for one purpose… to demonstrate that social nudity is NOT contrary to the moral teachings of God’s Word. I’ve written to demonstrate that the nudity-taboo taught in the church today is a man-made cultural doctrine that is actually unbiblical, offensive to God, and an impediment to moral purity.

I want Christians to study social nudity with a deeper commitment to the authority of God’s word, God’s truth, and God’s standards of morality than they’ve ever had before. I want them to have more confidence that their beliefs and practices are based on careful, honest, and accurate interpretation of the Scriptures than before they sought to discern a biblical stance on naturism.

I will never ask someone to embrace naturism at the expense of God’s revealed truth. Period.

— Matthew Neal —

See also:
Naturist By Biblical Conviction
I Don’t Promote Naturism
I Would NOT Be A Naturist If…

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Connect with me on Facebook!

Hey, everyone.

If you appreciate this blog, feel free to follow me at The Biblical Naturist page on Facebook!

Thanks for your support!

— Matt

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

God Doesn’t Like RED! (the Failure of “Guilty-By-Association”)

Weird post title?

I agree.

No, I don’t really believe that God doesn’t like red. Quite the opposite, actually.

But… if I am careless (and biased) in my approach to biblical interpretation, I can make a pretty strong case from the Bible that God doesn’t like red. He might even hate it!
“Guilty-By-Association”?
Ask a preacher about what God thinks about nakedness, and you’ll almost always hear, “Throughout the Bible, you’ll find nakedness associated with shame. Therefore, nakedness is shameful and wrong.” In other words, Nakedness is Guilty-by-Association.

To start with, it’s worth observing that they will not point you to any Scripture passage which simply and clearly condemns nudity. In fact we can make quite a list of “rules” about nudity that are not found in the bible.

There is…
  • No verse that forbids you to see others naked.
  • No verse that warns you against allowing anyone to see you naked.
The “exceptions” are missing, too.
  • No verse that says you can see your spouse naked.
  • No verse that says doctors are permitted to see their patients naked.
  • No verse that says how young your child may be and still see you naked.
Why don’t they just point to such a verse that forbids public nudity? Simply because there isn’t one.
So, they have to utilize the next best thing… the Guilty-by-Association argument.
“Guilty-by-Association” on Trial
OK… let me say up front that I don’t believe “guilty by association” is any proof of “guilt” at all. Scripture interpretations based on “Guilty-by-Association” are false. I know of no teaching about moral standards—accepted among biblical Christians as doctrinally sound—which is based solely on the “guilty by association” argument.

Wait… I know of one… the argument against social nudity. That’s the only one.

But if “Guilty-by-Association” is not accepted for any other moral teaching, why is it accepted for this one issue? Is “Guilty-by-Association” actually is a sound interpretational means to discern God’s moral perspective on a matter?

If “Guilty-by-Association” is a valid way to interpret the Bible, then God hates RED. And I can prove it!

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

God Hates RED!

A survey of the Bible shows how the color red is associated with sin or sinfulness.
In the Old Testament:
  • Isa. 1:18 - “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.
    • Obviously, God wants us to know that sin is associated with the color red, for He repeats Himself, comparing sin to scarlet AND crimson.
  • Numbers 19:1-10 – This law calls for the slaughter of a Red Heifer for the sin of the Israelites. The entire animal was to be burned (no eating any part of it) along with some red cloth.
    • The priest who performed the sacrifice was to be considered unclean. Being unclean is obviously not a good thing.
    • Likewise, the one who gathered up the ashes after it was burned was to be considered unclean.
  • Proverbs 23:31 – “Do not look on the wine when it is red…”
    • God’s disdain for the color even extends to what we drink.
  • Genesis 25:25  - “Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau.”
    • Later in his life, Esau sold his birthright for some red stuff.” (Genesis 25:30)
    • No wonder God says in Malachi 1:3, “I have hated Esau.”
In the New Testament:
  • Matthew 6:13 – Jesus said, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’
    • Bad weather is associated with the color red.
  • Rev. 6:4 – “And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”
    • The Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, sitting on a red horse, bringing war, and death.
  • Rev. 12:3“Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.”
    • This perhaps the most damning verse of all, for red is the color of the Dragon… Satan himself!
So, in the scriptures, we see a consistent pattern of the color red being associated with sin, sinfulness, Satan, or other bad things. This is how we can know that God hates RED.
It’s Innate!
This is something that God has built into every person, too. Think of these facts about how we respond to the color red in our lives:
  • We naturally recoil at the sight of blood, which is red.
  • When someone gets very angry, we describe them as “seeing red.”
  • If our financial ledgers have a negative balance, we are “in the red.”
  • We use red to tell people to STOP!! And no one likes to be told to stop.
  • Red is the sign for danger.
  • Red is color of destructive fire.
  • Women painted with red lipstick are a source of temptation to lust for men.
It’s easy to see why red has a negative meaning in human society; this is directly the result of the fact that God hates RED!

The Christian who wishes to live a life pleasing to God will judiciously eliminate red from his or her life.

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

STOP!!

Everything I’ve just written about how God hates the color red is utter poppycock.

Pure rubbish.

Terrible, terrible interpretation.

And it’s because I’ve invoked the “Guilty-by-Association” argument.
“Guilty-By-Association” Fails the Test
Let’s look at how bad it is and why it’s so wrong.
  1. I was prooftexting. I searched for and cherry-picked verses that I could somehow twist into supporting my pre-determined conclusion. If it didn’t support my point, I skipped it.
  2. And that brings me to my next error… there were many references to red in the Bible that are NOT associated with sin or anything bad. So if red is not always associated with sin or bad things, the color itself cannot be the issue!
  3. I lifted the passages completely out of context. I quoted only that portion which I deemed to support my conclusion. Esau was not rejected by God because he had red hair. The red sky at night (as opposed to the morning) indicated good weather to come. There were four horsemen, each on a different color horse.
  4. I focused on the color to the exclusion of any other part of each passage, making it sound like the color was THE reason the text indicated anything sinful or bad.
  5. I paid no attention at all to the fact that there are multiple words that are translated as “red” in the Bible. They are not all used the same way.
  6. I completely ignored the fact that red is a natural color found abundantly in creation… utilized to great beauty in the natural (and very good!) world!
  7. Finally, NONE of the passage were in ANY way given to us to communicate God’s attitude towards the color red!
This is how you make a point using the “Guilty-by-Association” argument. And it is all wrong.
God knows how to declare His standards of conduct. His clear words of moral absolutes are found throughout the Bible. When God doesn’t clearly call something sin or forbid it, then we must not presume to “add it in” using a spurious or false argument to support it.

Nakedness is not a new thing among humans. It is simply inconceivable that God would have failed to clearly state his will regarding nakedness if He really did wish to forbid it (see Inconceivable Omission).

Let’s review how those who use “Guilty-by-Association” make the same sort of errors that I made trying to prove that God hates red…
  1. They use prooftexting. I have seen many people simply list Scripture references rather than present clear interpretation of those verses based on the context. If they do quote a verse, they never present it in its context. When I respond to such folks, I take the scripture reference they’ve given me and quote it back to them in its full context (with an explanation of what it really means), I simply get no reply back! Prooftexting always fails the test of careful and honest exegesis.
  2. There ARE verses in the Bible that present nakedness without any shame or sin associated! Sadly, many of them have been translated out of the English language Bible (See Squeamish Translating) so that the references to nudity that remain in the English translations are mostly negative (Seriously...see Squeamish Translating)! Studying the matter by consulting the original languages reveals this bias against nudity and deals a blow to the “Guilty-by-Association” effort. The fact is, unless all occasions of nudity are equally “shameful,” we cannot conclude that the nakedness is the de facto source of the shame.
  3. Passages about nudity are often lifted out of context. Most notably is the teaching against incest in Leviticus 18… which uses the euphemism “uncover the nakedness of…” for incest (since there is no Hebrew word for “incest”). The phrase absolutely and unequivocally refers to having sexual relations with a close (“blood”) relative (reiterated 4 times in the passage… see Lev. 18:6, 12-13, 17) . Yet those who have pre-determined that the Bible forbids social nudity do not hesitate to rip that phrase in Leviticus 18 right out of its context in their attempt to declare social nudity to be immoral (see also The Meaning of Nakedness).
  4. Opponents of social nudity regularly quote passages of Scripture that deal with nakedness and shame and they invariably assign the shame to the nakedness rather than the behavior of the “shamed” person. The truth is this… every time there’s shame associated with nakedness, there is ALSO a description of the person’s shameful and sinful behavior! It is indefensible to focus on one aspect of an account and presume that it alone is the source for the shame related in the text.
  5. There are a number of words in the Old Testament that refer to a person being without clothes. Here’s another very significant FACT about nakedness in the Bible… of all the Hebrew words that reference nudity, only ONE (ervah) is ever associated with sin and shame! That observation by itself should tell us that simple nudity is not the moral problem Bible people seem to want it to be (see The Meaning of Nakedness).
  6. Opponents of social nudity conveniently ignore the fact that God created Adam and Eve (and all of the other creatures in the world) to live naked and unashamed. It was so significant to His “very good” creation that it merited a special mention in Genesis 2:25. This very positive attitude about His naked creation—expressed by the One who cannot change—is completely ignored and/or discounted. God didn’t change His attitude about the naked human form… people did! (see Who Hates Nudity… God or Satan?)
  7. Finally, there’s not ONE passage in all the Bible expressly given to us in order to inform us of God’s moral view of nakedness (with the possible exception of Genesis 2:25, which affirms the goodness of nakedness). Therefore, each and every passage cherry-picked to make a guilty-by-association argument against nakedness is a passage that was not given to us for that purpose! Again, if God wanted to tell us what His moral opinion is about simple nudity, He could have, and He would have. But He didn’t.
We Must Not Be Hermeneutically Lazy
Yes, we can all see that there are passages where nakedness and shame are closely associated. But nothing is “Guilty-by-Association” when we study the Bible to determine moral truth. Not even for nakedness. It is simply irresponsible and lazy if someone is willing to accept superficial conclusions about nudity based solely on the Guilty-by-Association argument.

As it turns out, “Guilty-by-Association” is the only argument that’s ever been available for use against social nudity, so it’s the only one that anyone has ever heard. It’s been repeated so frequently that no one ever pays attention to the fact that very foundation of the argument is false. Nor do they bother to examine its conclusions and put them under honest hermeneutical scrutiny.

“Guilty-by-Association” is false. It is always false. And it’s high time that solid and trustworthy teachers of the Bible be honest enough about it to lay it aside… even if it means giving up their opposition to nudity.


— Matthew Neal

Friday, May 15, 2015

But We’ll Wear ROBES in Heaven!!

It goes something like this:
“The Bible describes God and Jesus and the saints and everyone else in heaven as wearing clothes! So, obviously, God intends for us to wear clothes here and now!”
It’s an argument against naturism that I haven’t yet addressed on this blog. This was pointed out this some time ago by a reader who commented on my previous post. Thankfully, he was much more articulate and less dogmatic than my characterization above, but he did correctly identify that this was an issue I had not yet covered. Here’s what he wrote:
I have appreciated getting your perspectives as they have challenged assumptions in how I understand Scripture. I have a question that I don't think has been addressed on your blog so far.
Scripture uses a robe as a symbol for our righteous standing before God. Christ's perfect righteousness had been imputed to us to cover our sin, and this is symbolized as a robe of righteousness from God. Also, based on the Book of Revelation, it seems that there will still be clothes in eternity as it mentions people wearing white robes. Even though we will no longer have sin, our clothes may help remind us that we were once sinful and that Christ came to clothe us with his righteousness. Given the symbolic significance of clothing in our salvation, does this undermine the idealizing of nudity?
Thanks so much!
To this reader I say, Thanks for writing! And thanks for your kind words about how the blog has challenged you!
There are more than one thing that I need to say in response to your questions, so let me now address them.
Symbolism Has Its Limits…
The first point is that while the Bible does use physical items symbolically, it is a mistake to treat that item as if it cannot have any other meaning, or that we must be reminded of that spiritual meaning every time we are physically exposed to that item.
For example, Christ used the bread and wine as symbols to remind of His suffering for us on the cross. They are powerful symbols reminding us of His death and shed blood. Yet bread and wine are not without any other meaning and we are under no obligation to remember Christ every time we have a bite of bread or take a drink of grape juice or wine. Bread is used symbolically in other ways in the Bible, and so is wine. And sometime, bread and wine are just food and drink.
In like manner, the fact that we see clothing used symbolically to represent honor and glory—or a “righteous standing before God”—does not mean that that’s the only meaning or purpose of clothing, nor do we have an obligation to intentionally remember or portray that symbolism every time we put on some clothing. The fact is that clothing has many purposes (I did an entire series on that point). Sometimes it shows the greatness of a person, but sometime it tells all that the person is in mourning.
Symbolism is Culturally interpreted!
In perhaps a surprising observation, we see in the Bible that much—if not all—of the symbolism invoked in the Bible actually has to be interpreted within a cultural context in order to understand what God is intending to communicate. In other words, God saw fit to portray human cultural patterns and conventions to communicate to mankind through symbols. Let me give some examples:
  • “… I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.”  (Isa. 6:1)
    • Exactly why does God need to wear a robe? And why a robe with a train? God has no body… right? He needs no robe to keep warm, nor to cover for “modesty’s sake.” And the “train” of any robe has absolutely NO functional use at all… except to draw admiring attention to its wearer. The train comes from a time and culture far removed from ours, and would be completely lost on western culture if not for the fact that brides often wear dresses with a long train at their weddings (for the same purpose).
    • Note, if human culture hadn’t developed kingdoms with royalty wearing extravagantly ornate and decorated clothing to portray their greatness (including robes with long trains), there would be nothing of meaning in God’s “robe” and it’s “train.”
  • “Behold, I stand at the door and knock;” (Rev. 3:20)
    • What is a door but a human invention? What is knocking to seek entry but a human convention?
    • While God has always been eager to fellowship with men and women, the statement found in Rev. 3:20 could not have been spoken with any real meaning by Jesus before doors and knocking became a part of human cultural experience. Doors—we can probably assume—are not a reality in the spirit realm, given the very fact that they are a physical,material device.
So… clothing is used to convey as spiritual meaning… but I don’t believe it will be helpful to explore the various valid meanings for clothing here. The point that is important to make here is that symbolism picturing spiritual truth does not translate into moral requirements about the physical elements utilized for the symbolism.
Symbolism Utilizes Human Constructs.
Undoubtedly, there is some symbolic language in the bible which refers to completely natural events (the sunrise) or entities (animals) to make a symbolic application, but in the main—and certainly with reference to clothing—symbolism representing spiritual truth is based upon some sort of human invention or pattern. In other words, God is using human things to communicate with humans.
This truth explains why we must consider culture when interpreting the meaning of a symbol. Since mankind created the physical picture, (doors, bread, wine, clothing, mansions), God can then use those objects to illustrate heavenly truths.
Here’s the point… the spiritual “pictures” do not define the physical meaning of things—nor do they prescribe their usage—but the physical gives its meaning of the spiritual picture. This is why we can’t use the “clothing of heaven” to conclude any sort of moral obligation for clothing in the here-and-now.
But Obviously, There IS Clothing in Heaven!
Ok… so descriptions of Heaven include descriptions of clothing… shouldn’t we ask what the clothing in heaven for?
Clothing on earth has a variety of purposes (see this series regarding The Biblical Purposes of Clothing), but could the purpose for heavenly clothing be the same as on earth?
  • Is it for warmth? For protection of the body?
    • I highly doubt it.
  • What about for moral purposes… might God be offended by “unclothed” spirits? Will He be offended by an unclothed glorified human body?
    • Just pondering that for a moment reveals how silly that suggestion is.
  • Will it be to constrain sexual lust??
    • That’s not even a biblically valid purpose for clothing in the physical realm, but the suggestion that it would still apply in heaven—after we have been glorified and delivered from the presence of sin in our lives—is also inconceivable.
    • Notwithstanding the ludicrousness of this notion, people still will put forth the apparent presence of clothing on the inhabitants of heaven as evidence that we must also wear clothing to live a righteous life here on earth.
  • Does the clothing of heaven communicate something about the wearers?
    • Ah, now here we have a clear match in the probable purpose of clothing in heaven. The human inhabitants of heaven have been washed by the blood of Christ, and as the bride of Christ, they will wear “white linen” garments… pictures of how their lives have been “clothed” with the righteousness of Christ (the robes are said in that verse to actually be “the righteous acts of the saints,” clearly non-physical in nature.).
Beyond just its “purpose,” exactly what do we imagine that the clothing of heaven is even made of? As I just mentioned, in Rev. 19:8 we’re told that they were white “linen” (reiterated in Rev. 19:14) Linen is made from plants… physical plants. But does that mean that there’s an earthly textile industry with a contract for millions of white linen garments for the hosts of heaven? Isn’t that a question worth asking? Are we really supposed to conclude that this imagery speaks of literal organic linen garments? I don’t think so! That’s not at all the point of the picture. Again, the descriptions of clothing of heaven are given to communicate something about heaven, not to prescribe them for earth.
Actually Naked In Heaven?
Will we morally object to nudity in heaven as we seem to here on earth? There’s no basis to claim so… and I certainly hope that we no longer have hang-ups about the God’s beautiful design of the human form in heaven.
C.S. Lewis effectively communicated the uncertainty of the meaning and purpose—and the substance—of heavenly clothing in his book, The Great Divorce, where he writes of a “bright spirit” seen by his protagonist, who describers her this way:
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye. (The Great Divorce, chapter 12)
While Lewis’ imaginations about what heaven will be like are no more “inspired” than anyone else’s, it’s clear the he realized that clothing in heaven must have a completely different meaning and essence than clothing as we know it today.
Again, this acknowledgement underscores the futility of attempting to derive moral absolutes about clothing in the here and now based upon the descriptions of clothing from biblical scenes of heaven.
Are We Supposed to “Remember our Sin”??
You suggested in your comments that clothing in heaven “may help remind us” of our sin… but do you really think that’s something God wants for us to do for all eternity? Don’t you think he would rather we persist for eternity in the righteousness of Christ, restored to sinless fellowship as God intended right from the beginning in Eden? Sin should be nothing more than a distant memory… if a memory at all! Doesn’t even God say that he will “remember” our sins no more?
Finally, you implied that I “idealize” nudity. I’m not sure I would concur with that characterization of my position. I think the problem is that people “idealize” (or is it “idolize”?) clothing… giving it an importance and a moral significance that it simply does not deserve.
The refusal to reject nudity (by idealizing clothing) is not by itself the idealization of nudity.
What I would idealize is the ability—even in a fallen world—to be “naked and not ashamed.” (honestly, that sounds like the Bible “idealizes” nudity at least in some measure!). To be free from shame is God’s ideal for us. To be free from man-made rules of righteousness (such as a moral requirement for clothing) is also a biblical ideal.
So, do I idealize nudity? No. I idealize the casting off of false constraints and beliefs about our unclothed bodies. It only follows then that if we cast off the false, we must choose to live contrary to the false, or else we’re still submitting to the lie (and that is the foundation of my assertion that I am a Naturist By Biblical Conviction).
Thanks again for writing! I welcome your feedback!
— Matt

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More on “Stumbling”

One of the comments on my post asking your “Biggest Scriptural Challenge,” a fellow using the name “Puddlejumper” offered this pair of questions:

Hello Matthew, I really appreciate your blog, it has been a big part in God freeing me from pornography addiction. One comment my wife often replies with when I talk about getting involved in social naturism is "I do not want to make another stumble". You have already addressed some of this in your comments on Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 but not (as far as I recall) the Matthew 18 vv6-7 and parallel passages. My own feeling is that these gospel passages are talking about non-believers who deliberately cause believers to sin rather than Paul's writings addressed to believers' freedom. I would appreciate your thoughts on these verses from the gospels and also what you understand from Paul's comment in 1 Cor. 8 v.13 where he says "..he will never eat meat again..." rather than qualifying his argument with something like "...I will not eat meat in a weak brother's presence...".

Thanks again for all your blog posts.
Puddlejumper.

Puddlejumber (There has to be a story behind that handle… can I call you “PJ”?),
Thanks for writing. I am thrilled to hear that God is renewing your understanding of the human body with truth and it has liberated you from the bondage to pornography!
You’ve asked for comments on two different passages of Scripture, so I’m going to tackle them separately.
Causing a Child to Stumble
To be very honest with you, I never considered this passage with reference to the kind of “stumbling” that most Christians talk about when they say we’re not to “cause a brother to stumble.” Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8 are much more central to those ideas. And as we’ve seen in my treatment of those passages, we cannot be held responsible for the sinful responses people have when they see us living our lives in righteousness, else we would have to conclude that Jesus was responsible for the Pharisees’ wicked response to Him.
But let’s look at what this passage says… in context:
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 
Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (Matthew 18:3-9 NASB)
You can see first of all that Jesus is talking about how we need to come to Him… with the faith of a child. He’s talking about faith for salvation. A child easily and simply believes in Christ’s love and forgiveness. But then Jesus transitions to talk about “Stumbling Blocks,” but remember that the context is still salvation. Unlike Paul, Jesus is not referring to the “stumbling block” of a questionable activity.
Let me show why I say that in this case, “stumbling” means “keeping someone from making it to heaven.” Jesus’ next paragraph states that you should not allow your eye or hand to cause you to “stumble.” The consequence if you do not guard against that? “Eternal fire.” Jesus said it would be better to have only one eye or hand than go to hell.
This is not about “I just committed a sin with my eye or my hand.” This is about the importance of entering heaven and avoiding hell… and if you “stumble,” you’re on your way to hell.
Causing someone to “stumble,”—according to Jesus’ use of the word—is to cause them to “be cast into fiery hell.”
Doesn’t that fit the context of Jesus’ warning about causing a child to stumble? One who causes one of these “little ones”—children, or anyone prepared to response with childlike faith—to “stumble” is one “bad dude.”
This makes perfect sense… if someone interferes with a child’s opportunity to express saving faith, or who dissuades that child from expressing saving faith, that person has just put a “stumbling block” between that child (or any person) and their salvation. This explains why Jesus metes out such a severe curse on that person.
Misguided Definitions
Paul used “stumbling” one way. Jesus used it another. It might be tempting to assume that they were using it the same way, but the context makes it clear that they were not. Sadly, however, many people hear the word “stumble” in the Bible and they assume a meaning that does not match how Paul used it OR how Jesus used it. Instead, they assume a definition that is foreign to both texts but they use it to interpret both texts. Their interpretation in both cases is wrong, and so their application is also wrong. Instead of submitting to God’s Truth, they find themselves laboring to submit themselves to a lie… to a man-made rule.
It is critically important that we understand the actual meaning of the words we read in Scripture. When we don’t, we risk missing something that God intended for us to know, or—worse—believing that God has said something that he really hasn’t.
I’ll Never Eat Meat Again.
Let’s look at your second question… the passage is 1 Cor 8:13.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13 – NASB)
The context is about being careful for brothers with “weak consciences” so that—even though the meat offered to idols neither hurts nor helps the one who eats it—if they were to eat it, they would be drawn in their hearts back into idol worship, or at least they might feel like they were. In that case—when we can discern that weakness in a brother—we should abstain from eating the meat, harmless though it may be in itself.
So is Paul saying that he simply will never eat meat no matter what because someone might have a problem? I don’t think that’s the force of his words. I believe that he’s saying two things:
  • I don’t mind giving up the meat for a brother with a weak conscience.
  • If that were to mean that I’d never ever get to enjoy a steak on the grill again, I’m still ok with that!
Note the word “IF” in Paul’s words. His decision to not eat meat is—and always will be—conditional. It is not a once-and-done decision to go vegan.
I Hope This Helps…
Thanks for writing, PJ. I hope you’ll write again if you have any more questions.
— Matthew Neal

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 MyChainsAreGone.org 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 MyChainsAreGone.org 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 MyChainsAreGone.org. 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.

Columbian_President_SashHonduras-Presidential_Sash

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.

UK-Princely_Military_Sash

[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