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John 21:7 reads

SBL GNT

λέγει οὖν ὁ μαθητὴς ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἠγάπα ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ Πέτρῳ· Ὁ κύριός ἐστιν. Σίμων οὖν Πέτρος, ἀκούσας ὅτι ὁ κύριός ἐστιν, τὸν ἐπενδύτην διεζώσατο, ἦν γὰρ γυμνός, καὶ ἔβαλεν ἑαυτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν·

KJV

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

Donning a coat is an odd way to prepare for a swim (even (especially!) in hasty preparation). Working in the nude also seems to defy Jewish sensibilities.

BDAG is clear that γυμνός does not necessarily mean completely naked (and this is variously reflected in more recent translations), excerpted from the second and third entries1 (the first is "naked")

2 pert. to being inadequately clothed, poorly dressed.... 3 pert. to being lightly clad, without an outer garment, without which a decent person did not appear in public....[John 21:7 is mentioned as a likely example here.]

It makes sense to me that he might be working in his undergarments and feel inadequately clad to meet the Lord. However, swimming in a coat just seems like a bad idea.

The NET bible has an interesting take on it, quoting the footnote2 on v. 7, italics original:

The Greek verb used (διαζώννυμι,diazwnnumi) does not necessarily mean putting clothing on, but rather tying the clothing around oneself (the same verb is used in 13:4-5 of Jesus tying the towel around himself). The statement that Peter was “naked” could just as well mean that he was naked underneath the outer garment, and thus could not take it off before jumping into the water. But he did pause to tuck it up and tie it with the girdle before jumping in, to allow himself more freedom of movement. Thus the clause that states Peter was naked is explanatory (note the use of for), explaining why Peter girded up his outer garment rather than taking it off – he had nothing on underneath it and so could not remove it.

However, I don't know if there's any precedent for γυμνός to mean "missing the undergarments." It's also not clear to me why he would be working with an outer garment only. (Normally, wouldn't one expect to strip the outer and leave the inner, which are presumably less cumbersome to work in?)

Are there insights from historical background, further explanation of the words here, or other information in the text that might help us understand:

  • How was he likely dressed (or undressed)?
  • What did he do before diving onto the water?
  • Why?

1. Bauer, Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.)

2. Footnote 19 by their numbering. It mentions that the idea is R.E. Brown's, but I don't have the complete citation.

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2 Answers 2

Since the ancient Mid-east world used loose clothing, a loosely bound "fisherman's coat" would have been sufficient for outerwear in the boat, while allowing the fisherman to remove it, and dive 'naked' into the water to retrieve his drag net. Whether or not the fisherman would have a 'loin cloth' is a matter of speculation; what one must remember is that it is unlawful to uncover any near of kin,

None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.(Lev. 18:6)

Since to be 'exposed' to be seen, or to look at one who is exposed(remember Ham) is to uncover their nakedness. And since Peter and Andrew were brothers, as well as James and John, with Zebedee their father, there would have to have been some remedy for this. Of course, when one is in the water, one is 'covered', if one does not go too close.

On the customs of fishing, I ran across this, which gives the methods and customs of fishing during the biblical times.

If the likelihood of fishing with near of kin, he would have been proscribed by the law to wear some sort of loin cloth to prevent uncovering his nakedness to his near of kin; perhaps a pre-arranged signal before he got into the water was all that was necessary.

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The NIV translates this much differently as do several other translations:

"Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water."

Clark's commentary (also at the link above) points out that "naked" often means missing the outer garment only and gives several examples. It would have been very shameful to be publicly naked in that culture (if Aub Ghraib has taught us anything) and it is doubtful that Peter was.

You have keyed in on a very important point and the one the author was trying to make: Donning a coat IS an odd way to swim. Furthermore, the next verse, the author points out "The other disciples followed in the boat, ... they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards." So only Peter is so exuberant that he can't wait to land the boat which is almost at the shore anyway.

Peter has always been kind of an exuberant goober and it is passages like this that always make me laugh, shake my head, sigh and say "Oh, peter". He's the guy who chops off the ear in the garden, he's they guy who states Christ's deity when asked in Mark 8, Luke 9 and Matt 16, so the author is trying to tell us something about this character. In my opinion it is to contrast his youthful exuberance and devotion with his eventual betrayal.

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Thank you for this. I guess I'm still confused about why he added an extra garment before jumping in, regardless of whether he had any on before (I agree that he almost certainly did). Also with regard to the last sentence - note that this pericope is actually after said betrayal, in the presence of the risen Jesus. Your point about the contrast remains valid, though. –  Susan Aug 16 at 13:54

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