Did Real Christians Practice Nude Baptism?

By COGwriter

Because of my article on baptism (please see Baptism and the Early Church), I was challenged on the subject of Christians baptizing people naked. The challenger claimed that the "early Fathers" wrote about it, hence my contention that it was not a practice of true Christians was in error.

Do the writings of actual early Christians support nude baptism? Or is this simply a compromise that some Greco-Roman groups temporarily adopted?

What I Wrote Originally

In my Baptism and the Early Church article, here is basically what I wrote on the subject:

Another bizarre practice that some claim used to be involved with compromised"Christianity" was nude baptism. Notice the following:

In at least some churches...the candidate was baptized naked, the children first, then the men, and finally the women. No one was to take into the water anything except his body (Latourette KS. A History of Christianity, Volume 1: to A.D. 1500. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1975, p. 194).

As the Bible in no way endorses (nor records) nude baptism, the above demonstrates that pagan practices were used for people who professed, but apparently did not understand, Christ.

While, I thought that was enough, apparently more information might be helpful.

Because here is the question I was challenged with:

You claimed that early church baptism was performed clothed. Yet this is contrary to the uniform testimony of the early church fathers who wrote of their practices.

If false Christians are considered to be "early church fathers" then the answer is yes, but if we are talking about real Christian leaders, there simply is no historical evidence of this.

Second Century Christian Writings Do Not Support Nude Baptism

The records of true second century Church leaders are scarce, and many (like most of the writings of Melito and Theophilus) were apparently destroyed (or somehow "lost') by Greco-Romans. Partially because of this, in the 21st century, we simply do not have writings of every pagan practice that they condemned.

The earliest non-biblical writings (second century) that may have been Christian that mention baptism state:

6:2... Let your baptism abide with you as you shield (Ignatius's Letter to Polycarp. J.B. Lightfoot translation).

1:2...truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him...8:2 It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast (Ignatius's Letter to the Smyrnaeans. J.B. Lightfoot translation).

18:2 For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost; and He was born and was baptized that by His passion He might cleanse water (Ignatius's Letter to the Ephesians. J.B. Lightfoot translation).

6:9 But if even such righteous men as these cannot by their righteous deeds deliver their children, with what confidence will we, if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, enter into the kingdom of God? Or who will be our advocate, unless we be found having holy and righteous works? (Ancient "Christian" Sermon, sometimes improperly titled 2 Clement)

Publicly nudity would seem to be inconsistent with the idea of baptism being a shield, pure, and undefiled.

Perhaps I should add that Melito of Sardis mentions Christ's baptism (On the Nature of Christ) and the heretic Irenaeus in his writings does as well, but they are consistent with the previously listed passages. Again, there is nothing in what appears to be Christian writings that endorse nude baptism in the second century.

Now in the third century, the Roman Bishop Hippolytus apparently did write of nude baptism:

21 1 At the hour in which the cock crows, they shall first pray over the water. 2 When  they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring  or a flowing body of water. 3 Then they shall take off all their clothes.The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or  someone else from their family. 5 After this, the men will be baptized. Finally, the women, after they have unbound their hair, and removed their jewelry. No one shall take any  foreign object with themselves down into the water.

6 At the time determined for baptism, the bishop shall give thanks over some oil, which he puts in a vessel. It is called the Oil of Thanksgiving. 7 He shall take some more oil and exorcise it. It is called the Oil of Exorcism. 8 A deacon shall hold the Oil of Exorcism and  stand on the left. Another deacon shall hold the Oil of Thanksgiving and stand on the right.

9 When the elder takes hold of each of them who are to receive baptism, he shall tell each  of them to renounce, saying, "I renounce you Satan, all your service, and all your works."  10 After he has said this, he shall anoint each with the Oil of Exorcism, saying, "Let every  evil spirit depart from you." 11 Then, after these things, the bishop passes each of them on  nude to the elder who stands at the water. They shall stand in the water naked. A deacon,  likewise, will go down with them into the water. (Hippolytus. "Apostolic Traditions" of Hippolytus, 21:1-11. Translated by Edgecomb, Kevin P. Derived from Bernard Botte (La Tradition Apostolique. Sources Chretiennes, 11 bis. Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1984) and of Gregory Dix (The Treatise on the  Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr. London: Alban Press, 1992). http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html viewed 09/22/09)

Of course, I do not believe that Hippolytus was an actual Christian (and reports suggest that what is being described were practiced in Alexandria as opposed to Rome, though maybe some in Rome did as well). Nor do I believe that there is any evidence that any original apostle prayed over the water prior to baptizing, nor is there any biblical evidence that anyone was ever properly baptized nude.

Interestingly, the passage above suggests that the elder and/or deacon may have been nude (I say hints because this is a translation from the Greek and as I do not have the original Greek I can not be totally sure of the translation). This would seem to be contrary to the practice of John the Baptist (cf. Mark 1:6).

The Greek Orthodox leader Cyril of Jerusalem, who I also do not consider to have been a faithful Christian, as he amongst other things falsified a document (What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?) and taught against the millennium, unclean meats, and the Sabbath. He also caused difficulties for the real Christians in Jerusalem. Like Hippolytus, Cyril also writes approvingly about the practice in the fourth century:

Having stripped yourselves, ye were naked...Then, when ye were stripped, ye were anointed with exorcised oil...After these things, ye were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism (Cyril of Jerusalem. Lecture XX. (On the Mysteries. II., verse 2).

The idea of being annointed with oil prior to baptism seems to be in conflict with scripture. The Bible mentions water and the laying on of hands only (Acts 8:36; 19:5-6).

But although various of the Greco-Romans apparently practiced nude baptism in certain areas in the third and fourth centuries, the practice was discontinued. But there is NO evidence that the true Christian leaders ever practiced it.

The Bible Does Not Teach Naked Baptism

While the Bible does discuss baptism, it never gives any indication that those being baptized were to become naked.

In the only practices that we have recorded are in the Bible, starting with John the Baptist, including his baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3), there is no indication that He removed His clothes, nor is there any biblical indication that anyone ever did. There is simply NO biblical indication that Jesus and others were nude when baptized.

But the Bible indicates that John the Baptist was clothed when he worked:

5 And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:5-6)

Notice a record of baptism in the New Testament:

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:35-39)

The idea of clothes being removed for baptism is completely foreign to scripture.

Also notice the following two accounts:

31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (Acts 16:30-34)

16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other (1 Corinthians 1:16).

The Old Testament clearly condemns viewing the nakedness of various close relatives (Leviticus 18:6-18), hence it makes no sense that new converts to Christianity violated those admonitions in regards to baptism. The figurative baptism that Paul refers to about the children of Israel being baptized under a cloud at the time of Moses (I Corinthians 10:1-2) literally did not involve the removal of clothes--the only time massive clothing removal was mentioned in the Bible it was to shame those who had improper practices (Exodus 25:32) .

Furthermore, the context related to the "baptism by the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-4) suggests that the Apostles were clothed when this occurred. I would also suggest that when thousands were baptized shortly thereafter (Acts 2:41), that there would have been a massive backlash and outcry if all were baptized nude.

Public Modesty is Endorsed in the New Testament

Public modesty is the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:9 and1 Peter 3:3. Also notice:

23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need (1 Corinthians 12:22-24).

Notice that there are parts of the body that are not publicly presentable. Hence, I contend that those who decided to adopt nude baptism were doing so in violation of scripture.

Furthermore, nearly all the comments about nakedness in the Old and New Testament are in a negative light (e.g..Genesis 9:22-23; 2 Corinthians 5:3; Revelation 3:18; 16:15). Additionally, there is a passage in the New Testament that would have likely been written differently if nude baptism was acceptable:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35)

If God wanted people baptized naked, He would not have the Apostle Paul suggest that being naked would be in the category of things that could separate believers from the love of Christ. To the contrary, He would have had Paul leave the word naked out.

If God wanted Christians to be baptized nude, He would have left some instruction in the Bible. Notice part of why He gave the Bible:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Additionally, Jesus also taught:

28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28)

Public nudity by females, which can incite lust, is prohibited by Jesus.

Furthermore, notice what the Apostles Paul and John wrote:

13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy (Romans 13:13).

16 For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:16).

Thus, no real Christian leader would have expected believers to violate these principles.

Summary of Naked Baptism for Believers

The FACT that the BIBLE NEVER indicates that people were baptized nude, nor did anyone we in the genuine Church of God actually consider to have been a faithful Christian endorse it, combined with New Testament concepts of modesty, should be sufficient for God's called people to realize that real Christian leaders did not participate in nude baptismal ceremonies.

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Thiel Bob. Did Real Christians Practice Nude Baptism? www.cogwriter.com/christians-practice-naked-baptism.htm (c) 2009/2012 All rights reserved.