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John 19:23

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (NIV)

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (NLT)

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, (ESV)

It is not clear from these translations whether Jesus was naked on the cross or not.

Was Jesus naked on the cross?

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In the spirit of this forum I shall not be addressing the question of whether the “historic” Jesus was historically crucified historically naked, but shall limit myself to the question of whether the author of John implied such a situation.

The text of John 19:23 reads as follows:

Οἱ οὖν στρατιῶται, ὅτε ἐσταύρωσαν τὸν Ἰησοῦν, ἔλαβον τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐποίησαν τέσσαρα μέρη, ἑκάστῳ στρατιώτῃ μέρος, καὶ τὸν χιτῶνα. ἦν δὲ ὁ χιτὼν ἄραφος, ἐκ τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑφαντὸς δι’ ὅλου.

There are no significant textual variants in the Greek manuscripts, though there are a couple of bad spellings in a few manuscripts. From the point of view of Greek grammar this is perfectly transparent. The verb ἔλαβον (they took) is followed by two direct objects in the accusative case: τὰ ἱμάτια (the outer garments) and τὸν χιτῶνα (the undergarment). There is no way that καὶ τὸν χιτῶνα could mean “with the undergarment remaining”. This is not a translation, but a paraphrase of what the authors of the NIV think the verse ought to mean.

It might, however, interest you that the Syriac translation (Pshitta) actually omits the words “and the undergarment”. The verse reads (with Western Syriac vocalisation):

ܐܶܣܛܪܰܛܺܝܽܘܛܶܐ ܕ݁ܶܝܢ ܟ݁ܰܕ݂ ܙܰܩܦ݁ܽܘܗ݈ܝ ܠܝܶܫܽܘܥ ܫܩܰܠܘ ܢܰܚܬ݁ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܘܰܥܒ݂ܰܕ݂ܘ ܠܰܐܪܒ݁ܰܥ ܡܢܰܘܳܢ ܡܢܳܬ݂ܳܐ ܠܚܰܕ݂ ܡܶܢ ܐܶܣܛܪܰܛܺܝܽܘܛܶܐ ܟ݁ܽܘܬ݁ܺܝܢܶܗ ܕ݁ܶܝܢ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܶܝܗ ܗ݈ܘܳܬ݂ ܕ݁ܠܳܐ ܚܺܝܛܳܐ ܡܶܢ ܠܥܶܠ ܙܩܺܝܪܬ݁ܳܐ ܟ݁ܽܠܳܗ ܀

Literally: But the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four parcels of them, a parcel for each of the soldiers. But his tunic was without seam from the top, woven throughout.

This is probably the result of a haplography (the archetype had the word kuttīneh ‘his undergarment’ twice and a scribe inadvertently jumped from the first to the second). Even with this reading, the continuation of the text states that the soldiers did remove the undergarment and cast lots for it. Of course, the text says nothing about a loin cloth.

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    Thank you and +1. I think the NIV translators didn’t intend to convey that the garment remained on his person but rather that it remained after the others were distributed. See, for example, the Expositor’s Greek Testament which also uses this language: "the usual dress...consisted of five parts...The χιτών remained after the other four parts were distributed." While attempting to avoid the awkwardness of an object so far detached from its verb in English (a la ESV), the NIV introduced an ambiguity not present in Greek. – Susan Feb 10 '15 at 2:37
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It was customary for Jews in ancient times to wear a loincloth under their outer garments. We see this, for example, in Jeremiah Chapter 13. So, even if the soldiers removed Jesus' outer garment, he could still have been wearing his loincloth (or 'girdle' - KJV).

Having said that, part of the suffering of crucifixion was humiliation, and that humiliation was enhanced by public nakedness. From what we know about first-century Roman crucifixion, Jesus would have been crucified naked in order to maximise his humiliation.

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    In Greek and Roman culture nakedness is not humiliating. The gods, even the Roman emperors, are frequently depicted naked in Classical sculpture. But with the Jews it is a different matter. – fdb Feb 9 '15 at 23:45
  • @fdb- The "temple police" would check on the person who was keeping watch at the temple and if they found him asleep,they would strip him of all his clothing and send him home naked.In other words, he was "shamefully exposed" for not keeping watch.Very humiliating !! This scripture explains- Revelation 16:15(NIV) “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” – Bagpipes Feb 10 '15 at 9:03
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    @Bagpipes Do you have a primary source for the interesting matter of temple police using such a humiliation? It could just be "preacher history" that is made up to suit the text. – user10231 Oct 21 '15 at 22:41
  • @fdb Interestingly the gods were not particularly endowed either, another point of potential cultural shame. Gods who are nudists; interesting. – user10231 Oct 21 '15 at 22:45
  • @WoundedEgo: John Gill cites the sources here (footnote F3). – user862 Oct 22 '15 at 3:23
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A possible insight is that I was told at a seminar on the second temple Judiasm that the high priest wore a garment woven in one piece. When he died the garment was preserved.

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All 4 gospels mention that his garments were taken and divided, with both Matthew and John pointing out that this was a fulfilment of prophecy, and John explicitly including the undergarment in this. It certainly sounds like he was naked.

Furthermore:

  • Crucifixion could take days for the victim to die
  • It wouldn't be possible to pop down for a toilet break when nature called. This would happen in front of everyone, to the entertainment of the onlookers, and humiliation of the victim.
  • And according to John 19:29 there didn't appear to be a problem with providing fluids...
  • (not that we have anything explicitly mentioned on this with Jesus, but it appears to be part of the general humiliation involved in crucifixion)

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