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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
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 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
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 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
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 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
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 22:41
  • @fdb Interestingly the gods were not particularly endowed either, another point of potential cultural shame. Gods who are nudists; interesting.
    – user10231
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 22:45
  • @WoundedEgo: John Gill cites the sources here (footnote F3).
    – user862
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 3:23
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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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It is clear that Jesus was crucified naked, both from this passage and from comments in other passages in the New Testament. The original Greek in this passage is 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 ἄρραφος, ἐκ τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑφαντὸς δι᾽ ὅλου

Let's break the verse down into parts:

Οἱ οὖν στρατιῶται ὅτε ἐσταύρωσαν τὸν Ἰησοῦν

Then the soldiers when they crucified Jesus

ἔλαβον τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ

took the garments of him

καὶ ἐποίησαν τέσσαρα μέρη

and made four parts

ἑκάστῳ στρατιώτῃ μέρος

to each soldier a part

καὶ τὸν χιτῶνα

and the tunic.

ἦν δὲ ὁ χιτὼν ἄρραφος,

Was now the tunic seamless,

ἐκ τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑφαντὸς δι᾽ ὅλου

from the top woven throughout all

It is clear here that there is no mention of an undergarment. Others have mentioned it was common to wear a loincloth under their outer garments, and have mentioned Jeremiah 13 in support of this, using a translation that translates the Hebrew word אֵזוֹר as "loincloth." This is a mistranslation of the word, which really means a girdle, belt, or a sash, and not an undergarment.

Lastly, it is clear he was naked on the cross because of the shame. Hebrews 12:2 says:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What might be difficult for modern Western readers to understand is the context for the shame of nudity in the Bible, as well as the use of euphemisms in the Hebrew Old Testament. Going back to Noah, it says he was uncovered in his tent, and that Ham saw his father's nakedness. While it's not entirely clear what was going on in the passage, the term "uncovering nakedness" was used in Hebrew as a euphemism for some form of sexual compromise, so it wasn't simply that Noah was naked and Ham happened to see it. There are numerous other passages throughout the Bible where people were completely naked in public without being condemned.

What was shameful about nakedness then? Isaiah traveled around and preached naked (Isaiah 20), and King Saul (I Samuel 19:24) and the prophet Micah (Micah 1:8) prophesied naked, after all. It all comes down to whether this was voluntary or not. Every passage in the Bible that talks about the shame associated with nakedness is talking about it being forced on a person. In Isaiah, the prophet willingly stripped naked as an object lesson to warn others to repent. If they did not, they would end up as naked as he was, he warned, but it would be shameful because their clothing would be forcibly taken away from them, which happened regularly when one was taken as a slave.

Yes, Jewish people saw nakedness as shameful, but this shame was contextual. It was not the human body seen as shameful in and of itself, but the shame of having one's clothing, the symbol of their status, forcefully taken from them and being put on display. Jesus, though, going back to the passage in Hebrews, rose above that. Paul, in I Corinthians 15, referred to Jesus Christ as a "second Adam." In Genesis 2, there is a passage that reads: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." Just as the first Adam was not ashamed before the fall, so Jesus, as the second Adam, was not ashamed to be put on display, taking the punishment of the world on his shoulders.

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    – agarza
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:45
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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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Four of the biggest errors when reading Scripture are, First, forgetting that our "bibles" are the result of translation. And in any work of translation,the meaning of original language is either lost or changed. Second, culture determines word meaning. This is evident by figures of speech and slang. Each culture has its own unique figures of speech and slang which is not carried over into the translated language. Third, we dont know the proper context and fourth, we forget or are not aware that the Jewish culture of biblical days is very different from our own culture, a culture that existed thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away. Even today, we can easily see that cultures in that part of the world today are very different than our own. When we read anything in Scripture,we must always ask, "What is the Jewish meaning of what we read?" The word "naked" is used to describe different things. In our culture, when we think of the word "naked," our cultural meaning is someone who is nude, without any type of clothing on. In Jewish culture of that day, in the context of clothing, naked meant either someone who was poorly dressed, dressed in rags or someone who was only wearing their undergarment. At no point was Jesus completely nude, he was only wearing a loincloth while on the cross.
One point, nowhere does Scripture ever state that Jesus was naked. This is merely inferred from how John 19:23-24 reads.

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    – agarza
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 18:12
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 18:12
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I would argue that Jesus was crucified with His loincloth on. If He were stark naked, the Jews would be reminded that He was a Jew after all, seeing that like them, Jesus was circumcised. (Luke 2:21) May even be the real "King of Israel," as the people sang on Palm Sunday.(John 12:13) It would be a great embarrassment, not to Jesus Himself, but to the Jews who denied Him (John 19:15) to realize that the inscription Pilate had written might be correct after all, "King of the Jews" (John 19:19-22)

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