Was Jesus actually Naked on the Cross?

 

 

Was Jesus actually Naked on the Cross?

Richard Hollerman

Again and again we have heard and read that Jesus was naked when He hung on the cross for our sins.  Have you read this yourself?  Why then do artists’ renderings of the crucifixion always have Him wearing a loincloth? Have they portrayed Jesus in this way to preserve His modesty—or for some other reason?

Scriptural Evidence

We want to comment on this question briefly but, before we do this, let’s notice an incident that may have included Christ’s being stripped of His clothes—or much of his clothes.

Recently, a preacher said that Jesus was naked when the solders took His garment off and placed the “scarlet robe” on Him. The text states that the “stripped” Jesus to do this (Matthew 27:27-28).  This “stripping” also must have occurred before Jesus was scourged by the Roman soldiers (cf. Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1). As Lenski says, “Stripped of clothes, the body was bent forward across a low pillar and the back was stretched and exposed to the blows” (Matthew, p. 1098). However, “stripped” does not necessarily mean every bit of His clothes. Peter was also “stripped” for work in John 21:7 (forums.catholic.com/ showthread.php?t=21625). “It is unlikely that Simon Peter was working completely in the nude. After all, there’s a lot of sharp stuff on a fishing boat (ouch!). But a man wearing only a loincloth was until very recently considered to be naked” (Ibid.).

The Crucifixion

But let’s discuss the crucifixion itself.  Some say that our Lord was naked while others suggest that He was covered.  “It is not clear if Jesus was left totally naked or allowed some kind of covering over his private parts” (Craig L. Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew, p. 416). MacArthur thinks that Jesus was  “stripped naked” (Study Bible on John 19:18; Albert Barnes, comment on Matthew 27:35; Barnes Notes). The ESV Study Bible also takes this view: “Crucifixion, performed naked and in public, and inflicting prolonged pain on the victim, was intended to cause shame as well as death” (comment on Hebrews 12:2). Lenski, however, believes that the “shame” in Hebrews 12:2 refers to the cross itself—“the shame of dying the death of a criminal who was accounted as accursed by God by his executioners” (Hebrews, comment on Hebrews 12:2).

Most of the sources we’ve read do point out that the common and expected form of crucifixion by the Romans involved total nakedness.  Contemporary writings that describe crucifixion state that the victim was naked as he was hanging on the cross. Thus, it seems clear that generally a Roman crucifixion involved total nakedness.

A Jewish Concession?

But this is not the only consideration here.  There is some indication that the situation may have been different for our Lord. For example, the writers Edwards, Gabel, and Hosmer have written: “He [the crucified person] was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs.” (“On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 255. No. 11. 21 March 1986. 1459.). Although Roman crucifixion involved total nakedness, some (perhaps the minority) scholars suggest that in consideration for the Jews, Roman executioners would allow a loin cloth. Consider this quotation:

There is little question that the standard procedure under Roman rule in the 1st century was to crucify persons completely nude. The Roman historian Siculus (1 century BC) gave a graphic account that describes this aspect of the overall crucifixion process (Histories, 33.15). Seneca, who lived during the 1st century, described some unspeakably horrific things that some executioners did to their victims that could only occur by exploiting one’s nakedness (Dialogue, 6).

The Mishnah indicates that opinions among Jewish authorities were divided as to whether or not people should be stoned and “hung” naked (which often went together), or with just enough of a covering to provide a minimal amount of modesty (Sanhedrin, 6.4, 5). (puritanboard.com/f44/ were-those-crucified-1st -cent-naked-69863/).

Broadus points out that “the person of one stripped when about to be stoned should not be left wholly exposed; and though the Roman custom for crucifixion was otherwise, we may perhaps suppose that Jewish feeling was in this case regarded” (Commentary on Matthew, comment on Matthew 27:35). Another source tells us: The crucified man was tortured and demeaned in every possible way. Throughout the Roman world, men were crucified naked – though this may not have been the case when Jesus died. Jewish laws stipulated that if a man was stoned to death he must be allowed to wear a loincloth. Did the Romans respect Jewish law when Jesus was crucified, and allow him to wear a loincloth? There is no way of knowing” (jesus-story.net/crucifixion.htm).

William Lane also thinks that Jewish custom allowed for a loincloth on the condemned Jesus: “Men were ordinarily crucified naked (Artemidorus II. 61). Jewish sensitivities, however, dictated that men ought not to be publicly executed completely naked, and men condemned to stoning were permitted a loin-cloth (M. Sanhedrin VI. 3). Whether the Romans were considerate of Jewish feelings in this matter is unknown.” (The Gospel According to Mark, comment at Mark 15:24).

Eidersheim, the historian, is of the opinion that the Romans would have allowed a concession on the part of the Jews to allow some covering for the crucified:

At a distance of six feet from the place of execution the criminal was undressed, only the covering absolutely necessary for decency being left. In the case of Jesus we have reason to think that, while the mode of punishment to which He was subjected was un-Jewish, every concession would be made to Jewish custom, and hence we thankfully believe that on the Cross He was spared the indignity of exposure. Such would have been truly un-Jewish. (levendwater.org/ books/life_times_ edersheim_book5.pdf).

Some object to such a concession for Jesus by saying that the Jews wanted Jesus shamed as much as possible so even their general sense of modesty that would require a loin cloth was dismissed in light of their hatred of Jesus. We also must realize that Jesus was not the only Jew killed that day; apparently the two criminals who were also crucified must have also been Jewish. Were they also permitted a different form of crucifixion?

Other Evidence

However, in spite of this, I think that there may have been other evidence in favor of Jesus not being fully naked.  The Gospel writers say that Jesus’ mother and other women were at the cross and viewing this horrible scene. Matthew says that “many women were there looking on from a distance” and this included “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (27:55-56; see also Mark 15:40-41; John 19:25). Even though this speaks of the women being at a “distance,” John 19:26-27 adds to the description. Here we find Jesus speaking directly to Mary, His mother, and also speaking to John about His mother. They must have been in Jesus’ immediate presence. We think that this suggests that Christ wore a modicum of garments on the cross.

Because of the Jewish sense of modesty and probably especially Christ’s own emphasis on modesty, we suggest that God may have providentially provided at least a minimum of clothing such a loin cloth to cover our Savior’s bleeding body. We do know that the soldiers divided four parts of Jesus’ clothes and gambled for His tunic (John 19:23-24), but presumably His loin cloth would have still been available for His own use.

We realize that we must be careful that we don’t practice eisegesis, a reading into the text because of a preconceived desire to preserve Jesus’ modesty. Thus, the answer is not totally sure. However, we suggest that some evidence does point to the allowance of Jesus and other Jews in wearing something like a loin cloth at the cross.

Because of this, we don’t think that most (all?) artists are wrong in portraying Jesus partially clothed as He hung on the cross. Although we don’t approve of pictures of our Lord at all (see articles discussing this under “Jesus Christ” in the Biblical Subjects section), we do think that it is better to portray the Lord as partially covered rather than naked.

What do you think?

 

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