The Early Church & Baptism
Did you know that early Christian baptisms were all done in the nude? I didn’t either…I wonder why that practice ever stopped? Why did they baptize in the nude in the first place? I can think of a couple of reasons right off the bat. The first being purely practical, as mentioned earlier, the closet wasn’t full of clothing so in order to keep your clothes dry and clean baptisms were done in the nude as a matter of protecting and preserving one’s clothing. The second being more philosophical, baptism is representative of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it is also representative of new birth. In John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That phrase “born again”, you see we are born the first time of flesh and blood, but when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior we are born again. This time a spiritual birth making us joint heirs with Jesus with all the rights and responsibilities of a child of God. So, the thought process was that since we were born nude the first time…we should be born again nude, a fresh clean start to our new life. Also, as we are born a child, we are now born a child of God’s. I was recently asked the question…what is the New Testament outward sign of the inward decision to accept Jesus Christ as one’s savior? I replied Baptism, of course. Then they asked me, what was the Old Testament outward sign of the inward decision to accept Jesus Christ as one’s savior? This one had me stumped momentarily, then I replied that circumcision was the outward sign of the inward decision because even an outsider, if he had decided to become part of the community after Israel had been established had to become circumcised in the foreskin of his flesh according to Scripture. He then asked me if I realized that in order for someone to know that someone in the Old Testament had converted to Judaism, they would have to be naked. I had never given it a thought until then, but he is correct. In order for society to know that someone had become a member of their society they would have to be able to see the evidence of that decision. So, baptism and circumcision were both done in the nude.
Here are a few quotes from church history regarding how baptisms are supposed to be performed:
Christian historian Latourette wrote “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.”
Cyril of Jerusalem wrote “having stripped yourselves, you were naked; in this also imitating Christ, who was stripped naked on the Cross, and by His nakedness put off from Himself the principalities and powers, and openly triumphed over them on the tree. For since the adverse powers made their lair in your members, you may no longer wear that old garment; I do not at all mean this visible one, but the old man, which waxes corrupt in the lusts of deceit.” And also “Oh, the wondrous thing! You were naked in the sight of all and not ashamed. Truly you bore the image of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden and not ashamed”
Hippolytus wrote “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. 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. 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…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.”
Theodore of Mopsuestia wrote “Adam was naked at the beginning and he was not ashamed of it. This is why your clothing must be taken off, since it is the convincing proof of this sentence which lowers mankind to need”
We also have early artwork of baptismal ceremonies most all of which show the newly converted Christian being baptized in the nude.
What happened to us as a society? Some would say we’d become “enlightened”, but I would say that our image of the body today is that of dirty, sexual and perverted whereas our image of the body used to be that it was of God’s creation and even His very image. Oh, how far we’ve come when we remove ourselves from a Bible standard and place ourselves under a society’s standard. Society I’d say isn’t doing so hot, maybe it’s time we begin looking at things the way God does again, maybe it’s time for a Bible standard, not a popular standard.