This is one part of a larger article, which can be found on
Matthew's blog, or as a PDF here: Squeamish
In this series of posts, I have been trying to document how modern
translations seem to shy away from references to nakedness unless it is a
negative context and/or we associate that nakedness with sin or improper
Sometimes it is not the Greek word gymnos ("naked") itself that is
mistranslated, but a different word or phrase describing a context where
nudity might have been present. In such cases, once again, I find that
words or phrases have been chosen to mask or hide that possibility. Rather
than translate the text as it appears in the Greek, we are given a modified
translation that leads us to a mental image that does not include nudity.
If it were just a matter of my lack of knowledge of the Greek language,
then this could be dismissed as only an unlearned man (me) spouting his
linguistic ignorance. But the fact is that the KJV is not squeamish about
the text and translates the Greek exactly as it is in the original text. If
I am mistaken, then the KJV translators must be mistaken, also. [Comment:
this sounds like a very weak claim, but bear with us. The argument is
actually much stronger than this.]
Servants Coming In From The Field
Jesus is giving a variety of instructions for life in Luke 17. I want to
draw our attention to Luke 17.7-8 where Jesus is teaching about faithful
service to our Master. Verse 7 sets up the scenario, but it is verse 8 that
I want to focus upon. Rather than quote verse 7 four times, I'm going to
quote it once from the KJV, then examine the different renderings in the
other translations in verse 8 only.
"But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say
unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to
meat?" (Luke 17.7, KJV).
This rhetorical question is clearly meant to indicate that none would say
this to their servant. Jesus' next words describe how His listeners - in
the role of the master - would respond instead:
not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and
gird thyself, and serve me, till I have
eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and
he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and
[properly] clothe yourself and serve me
while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and
he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get
yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after
that you may eat and drink’?
As you can see from the Greek text above, Luke used the word perizonnymi
for the command a master would give to his servant. As we saw in Part 2 of
this series, this word is best translated
"gird" in English; zonnymi indicates dressing oneself, and peri- means
KJV: The KJV translates the word correctly. But consider
the mental picture created by this rendering.
If the master needed to tell his servant to gird himself, it
implies that a servant has been plowing or tending animals
When his duties now required handling the master's food, he
was expected - and ordered - to get dressed.
NASB: The NASB almost translates the word adequately,
but they actually added a word to change the meaning.
The word "properly" does not appear in the Greek text. To
their credit, the translators acknowledge that fact by rendering
that word in italics in printed or online versions of the text
(I've placed it in brackets for the same reason).
If the word "properly" were removed from this translation,
then the implication would be essentially the same as found in
the KJV, that is, that the servants were not clothed out in the
The addition of the word "properly" specifically denies that
implication and leads us to a mental image that matches our own
cultural experience - we have one set of clothes for working
with dirt and animals, and a different set of clothes for
NIV: The NIV doesn't even come close to an accurate
rendering of the passage.
The Greek word perizonnymi is a word about getting dressed.
This is indisputable. Yet the translators instead rendered the
word in a very general sense of "getting ready."
This leaves us with absolutely no mental image that the
servant might have been unclothed and leads us to think of all
sorts of other ways we might "get ready" for the task of serving
I'm not saying that other preparations would not have been
required in this scenario. I'm just saying that this is not a
faithful rendering of the original text! Isn't that the first
priority of translators?
The KJV translators exhibit no squeamishness at all. The other two,
however, seem to very intentionally render the passage so that we can
imagine the scene as we would experience it today... with no nudity.
Did Servants In The Field Really Work Naked?
Clearly, the Greek text itself - and the KJV's rendering - imply (or at
least allow) that the workers were unclothed while working in the field.
But is that culturally accurate? Does the Bible ever imply that any other
Cultural practice of working nude.
Proving a cultural practice is pretty difficult, especially
when the practice is so common and unremarkable that it never
bears mentioning in historical accounts written at that time. I
believe that is the case here, but I cannot prove it.
Some ancient art displays workers in the nude, but not much
art focused on the common people. Such evidence is weak,
however, and only shows that it is possible or likely.
[I think the case is stronger than he thinks here. What art
we have shows workers and soldiers naked. It backs up the
Those who deny that workers worked nude have only historical
silence to build their case upon, which is weaker yet.
Consequently, I will not try to "make the case" here.
Scriptural evidence of working nude.
I can point to three or four passages in the New Testament that reflect
the likelihood that workers with dirt and animals worked in the nude. The
most logical reason for doing so would have been to keep the few garments
they had from becoming soiled and smelly.
As I already addressed in Part 1 of this series,
John 21.7 strongly suggests that fishermen worked nude. Surely
Peter was not the only naked fisherman in the boat.
"And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up
his garment." Mark 13.16 (KJV) confirms that, in an emergency, one of the
things a person working in the field would wish to return to the house for
would be a garment (the Greek is himation which could refer to a garment -
KJV - or the coat - NASB).
"Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth
his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." Revelation 16.15
This passage is about Jesus' return and our need to be ready for it.
This instruction to be watchful and "keep our garments" makes no sense if
people were never anywhere without their garments. The implication is that
there are tasks performed naked, with no clothing nearby.
This is not a
command to stay clothed while working, it is a warning to keep clothes
close at hand rather than leaving them back at the house (this is in
agreement with the implication of Mark 13.16 made in the point above).
Notably, none of the three English translations I'm reviewing were
"squeamish" about translating gymnos as "naked" in this passage. I submit
to you that this is because the nakedness seems to be associated with shame
(I believe it this not the shame of nakedness, but of un-readiness...
demonstrating that needs to be the topic of another article altogether).
"Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?'
Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, 'Sir, if you have
carried Him away...'" John 20.15 (NASB) is a resurrection appearance of
Jesus to Mary Magdalene. It is a mystery why she mistook Jesus for a
gardener. However, the most reasonable explanation is that Jesus was
"dressed" like a gardener at the moment.
Unless God supernaturally created
garments for Jesus at His resurrection, He came out of the tomb naked. We
know that Jesus' garments were taken from Him at the cross (John 19.23-24).
We know that Jesus left all of the grave clothes in the tomb (John 20.6-7).
If Jesus had been given supernatural clothing by God at His resurrection,
they most assuredly would not have looked like "gardener's" clothing...
worn and soiled. Instead, they would have been fresh and clean!
surprising event - if we really think it through - leads us to conclusion
that gardeners actually did work naked. This is the only explanation which
makes any sense of Mary's failure to identify Jesus.
While not conclusive, there certainly is both cultural and Biblical
evidence that support the idea that servants worked in the fields without
clothing. This means that the rendering of Scripture texts in ways that
obscure that fact - or indicate that it was not the case - is inaccurate.
Why would the NASB and NIV translators be reticent to render Luke 17.8 as
the KJV translators did? Could it be that they were uneasy with the mental
image suggested by the Greek text?
I fear that it is.
There are a variety of passages where non-sexual, practical, or incidental
nudity are evident (or possible) in the inspired Greek text. Yet, in each
case, they are rendered to hide the idea of any nudity that is not
shameful, unwarranted or condemned.
Once again, no one passage is evidence enough of a bias against nakedness
on the part of the translators, but there is a pattern here. Collectively,
they betray that the bias exists.