Printed from http://tektonics.org/libbible.php
The "Liberated Christians" website offers an article titled, "Nudity is Natural and Wholesome," though we do assume that the webmasters do not think it so natural and wholesome that they walk around in the altogether themselves. We will use it as a template to answer the broader question of whether, Biblically speaking, the titular assertion is correct.
The article begins by telling us that the "sense of shame" we get from nudity "is not inborn: it is learned. Babies have no shame and neither did many early Christians in Biblical times." We'll address that latter assertion in a moment, but for the former it is worth pointing out that babies have no shame or remorse when it comes to soiling their drawers, either; whether Liberated Christians will follow that example as well remains to be seen.
After this we are vaguely assured, at any rate, that "[n]udism promotes a healthy respect and trust with each other." I imagine the inmates at my former venue of work would find that news welcome, and insist that they were perusing pornography out of "healthy respect" for the subjects therein and for a "greater experiential appreciation for the beauty and dignity of the body". Somehow I doubt if the prison disciplinary committee would buy that one.
We then get to the section on Liberated Christians thinks is the Biblical view of the subject. The matter of Adam and Eve covering themselves is waved off as a matter of God "just going along" with the idea of the attempts to hide from sin. From there we are treated to a few Biblical cites, but many more are left out, along with some pertinent social data, so let's expose (sorry!) that to begin.
Our main source here is Pilch and Malina's Handbook of Biblical Social Values [136f]. Liberated Christians seems to have an idea elsewhere that the "sex is dirty" approach was borrowed from the Greeks, but they'd be dead wrong. Nudity in the Biblical era, as Pilch and Malina note, was associated with sin and shame, and the Genesis connection is the start of this. Why? Some would say that it is because the First Couple were originally "covered" by a glory that was lost at the Fall, and this may be supported by that Paul speaks in 2 Cor. 5 of not being found "naked" once we receive our heavenly tent. But whatever the reason, nudity thereafter was considered shameful, and Pilch and Malina reckon with two factors in this respect: honor and shame, and purity and pollution.
Let's start with two verses Liberated Christians seems not to notice:
Exodus 20:26 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
Exodus 28:42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:
If public nudity was "wholesome and natural" then one is constrained to ask why God is telling priests to make sure that they get covered and stay covered. "Party Naked" is not part of the Deuteronomic code. But to the connection, now, with shame, and where Pilch and Malina write:
Cultural attitudes toward women in ancient Judaism directed that they be defensive of their chastity....Such concern for female virtue was also realized in the expectation that women's bodies be clothed as fully as possible, with the result that loss of clothing was synonymous with loss of virtue. Public nudity inevitably meant "shame" for them, for their chastity was compromised; their physical body was no longer exclusively the property of their husbands.
Liberated Christians actually shows some awareness of this last point in other essays, but make no connection here, and abuses it as well, but that will be returned to later. Let's remark at once, lest someone think the Bible a Ferengi charter, that men too were subject to this, as Pilch and Malina note:
Even in regard to men we find a comparable pattern. Just as the woman's sexual organs are occasionally called her "shame" (Jub. 3:21), so also the penis is Adam's "shame," in phrases such as "he covered his shame....to cover his shame." (Jub. 3:27, 30).
The LC folks also seem to miss 1 Cor. 12:23, in which Paul wrote of the "shameful" parts of the body. Needless to say they are also unaware of a few other social points, such as:
- Stripping prisoners of war naked was a way of shaming them (the stele of Sargon, the Megiddo ivory, Is. 20:4; 2 Sam. 10:4).
- The LC folks note that Christ was naked on the cross (possibly -- the Romans may have allowed a brief loincloth so as not to offend Jewish sensibilities) but are practically blasphemous in citing this as a positive in a case for public nudity! Rather, the stripping of the prisoner was considered a shameful thing, causing great loss of public honor.
- Lest it be objected that these were cases of persons being stripped against their will, and therein is what lies the shame, consider both the case of the priests above in Exodus, and the story told by Josephus of a Roman soldier who exposed his rear end to the Temple crowd and so shamed the Jews that he provoked a riot. At Qumran, similarly, a "censure was placed" on any man who inadvertently allowed his sexual organs to protrude from beneath a garment.
A rabbinic comment after the time of Jesus states, "One must not stand nude in the presence of the Divine Name." Jews entering a public toilet were told not to stand facing east or west, for it was the "axis of the Holy of Holies." In the time of Antiochus, pious Jews fought against the attempt to Hellenize the people by introducing the gymnasium where young men exercised nude.
- Clothing is a matter of establishing purity boundaries which are in turn a microcosm of the social system, just like other laws. "...clothing begets clarity, and clarity denotes purity. But when people are naked, all such defining marks vanish, and one's identity, role and status become ambiguous...Nudity erases social clues and so is unclean." What Liberated Christians thinks is Puritanism is actually purity (see Link 1 below for more on the law.)
With that said, what of Liberated Christians' attempt to justify nudity from the Bible, other than what we have already mentioned? It's as bad as you may expect:
- Jesus himself was undressed at some point, according to John 13:4-5: Jesus rose from the table and laid aside his garments briefly. How that "briefly" constitutes any help for nudity as being "wholesome" and "natural" is one of those mysteries we'll have to wonder about, but if it is so, then we have to ask why the condition wasn't made permanent?
Indeed by this logic, Christianity should have been a nudist movement from Day 1, since part of the theology was that the shame of sin was removed, and the sinless Jesus should have got naked and stayed naked. But clearly he didn't, so even if this IS an "altogether" nudism (the word "garments" refers to an outer cloak, not to ALL clothes! Same in Mark 10:50) it only serves to show that it is NOT "normal".
- Christ was not only naked on the cross but he also left "the linen cloths lying there" (Jn. 20:5) in the tomb when he rose. Did He tell Thomas to wait a moment while he took off His robe and then to "put out your hand and place it in my side"? We have addressed the matter of being on the cross above; as for the other, the "linen cloths" were BURIAL linens, not clothes! They would not be worn anyway; they were not clothes, and would also be ritually unclean!
- There was no mistaking the idea when "the word of the Lord" came through Ezekiel in reference to Israel: "I made you grow like a plant of the field, naked and bare. You grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed and your pubic hair had grown" (Ezek 16:7). And as noted, passages like this only emphasize the shamefulness of nudity. This is part of an oracle of judgment on Israel!
- If it is really wrong to be seen nude, why would Jesus be around the naked fisherman who "stripped for work" (Jn. 21:7). At best this might argue for nudity while at work, fishing, on a boat in the middle of the sea! However, if it is really "right" to be seen nude, why then did Peter slap a coat on before he went to see Jesus?
- LC now goes outside the Bible: Did those who were baptized by John have to be dressed? It was the early Church's custom to baptize men, women, and children together nude. The reason why is even quoted: Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (c.350) preached to nude candidates: "You are now stripped and naked, in this also imitating Christ on the Cross. Once again, this is a matter of public shame!
- Back to the OT, and with no knowledge of the Exodus cites (note that they claim "the Ten Commandments" say nothing about nudity -- what about the rest of the OT, and as if that were a serious enough issue to be made one of the Top Ten!) or the social world, we are told:
In Old Testament times being nude was very common and accepted. Touching the testicles of a revered superior was a man's way of testifying to the validity of his statement or vow.
Excuse me, but touching is not the same as exposing! To the contrary, as we show, being nude was NOT common and exposure was categorically rejected! The example of Isaiah was part of an oracle of judgment illustrating Israel's shame. Saul's self-exposure was regarded as shameful (and despite the claim, not related to his prophet-hood!), as was David's "nakedness" (though it is NOT noted that he was gird with a linen ephod; Michal complained of him being underdressed, below his station -- see note on boundaries above -- NOT totally naked!).
Thus, it is patently false for Liberated Christians to connect the dislike for nudity in the Church with an "anti-body philosophy" derived from Plato. This was derived from Judaism, and it was not "anti-body" but "anti-purity." What they call the "puritanical perversion that our body is shameful and should be covered up at all times" is found IN the Bible and in pre-NT Judaism.