Answers to the Objections of Henri Blocher about Nudism / Naturism In the Beginning

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(© Jeffrey S. Bowman, all rights reserved, use by permission only)

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By Dr. Del De Lotta  (Del de Lotta is a pseudonym for a pastor and theologian living in the greater Los Angeles area.  He can be reached at ) 

One of the finest evangelical studies of the early chapters of Genesis remains Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning (French, 1979, English, 1984).  Blocher is an outstanding systematic theologian and Old Testament scholar with a talent for relating the meaning of a doctrine or text to contemporary issues.

In his chapter on “The Wages of Sin,” he comments on the self-clothing of Adam and Eve and has an aside addressing modern naturism, which we reproduce here in full:

If that is indeed the way that shame follows sin, we can certainly see with E.J.Young that the silly attempt by the man and the woman to cover their nakedness is ‘an effort to save themselves’.  They fall to this level, ‘so perverted is their reason, so dark their light, so ignorant their knowledge.’  But that does not justify modern-day nudism or naturism (cf. the contrary teaching implied in 1 Tim. 2:9, for example).  Far from it: its religious significance appears profound.  Nudism is another example of pseudo-salvation.  It is a desperate attempt to recover the lost Eden, with its complete openness, and to overlook the fact of sin and the upheavals it has brought.  It can be detected in a tendency to extol animal life as the true life of mankind, hence the term ‘naturism,’ and to exonerate mankind of his responsibility and privilege that raise him above the other creatures that were made on the Sixth Day.  To deny the distorted state of human relationships and to repress shame is merely an illusory solution.  In a world where sin has entered, clothing has become indispensable.  Only in the state of marriage, by the power of common grace, does God provide for man and woman to know some of the freedom of Eden without shame.

Christian naturists may be tempted to react emotionally to Blocher’s position, but that would fail to grapple with the substantive theological objections he puts forward.  Instead, let us as well examine his position and make a positive response that is as well based on Scripture, theology and reason.

First, let’s restate his case:

1.     Adam and Eve’s desperate self-covering was a “silly attempt” to save themselves from God’s wrath and the consequences of their sin.

2.     Despite the fact that that was a “silly attempt,” the act of covering one’s body is not at all silly.  Naturism/nudism is not justified or proper because we are post-Eden, post-fall. 

3.     Naturism/nudism is further a spiritual dead-end: it is one variety of pseudo-salvation.

4.     Naturism/nudism violates the implication of texts such as 1 Timothy 2:9, which extol modesty.

5.     Naturism over-identifies with mere animal life.  As the Sixth Day crown of creation, human beings are more than mere animals.

6.     Sin necessitates that clothing cannot be dispensed with.  While Dr. Blocher is not explicit, the connection to marriage (the next point) implies that his concern is about the unique nakedness associated with the proper sexual union between a man and woman in marriage.

7.     “Only in the state of marriage, by the power of common grace, does God provide for man and woman to know some of the freedom of Eden without shame.”  That is, only in the context of marriage is “social” nudity acceptable.


Having restated Dr. Blocher’s concerns lets us examine them point-by-point and seek to constructively respond to them.  In the process, let us admit that some Christian naturists have given flippant answers to substantive issues and try to do better.

1.     First, we agree entirely that the First Parents’ attempt to save themselves by bodily covering was indeed a “silly attempt.”  But whom were they hiding from?  This seems to be critical in understanding the passage.  Genesis 3:10 indicates that the man was not hiding from the woman, but from God.  Their covering is not a “myth” to explain why humans wear clothes while animals do not.  It is a profound lesson on human folly.

Consider for a moment what would have happened if they had not sinned.  Humans would have begun to wear clothes anyway.  Exploring cold areas, or as protecting from rain, or as special ornamentation, even sinless people would wear clothes.  However, when weather permitted, or when swimming or sunning, clothes would have been discarded without a thought.  Certain activities such as mountain climbing or baseball are inconceivable without clothing!  As one person put it, the advantage of wearing clothes is that you don’t have to carry a towel with you everywhere!

The real point is that when feeling defenseless against the displeasure of God, Adam and Eve resorted to pathetic fig leaves as defense. How foolish.

2.     Dr. Blocher believes that despite the fact that their attempt was foolish, modern-day nudism/naturism is unjustified.  It is a post-Eden, post-fall, sinful world.

It is indeed a post-Eden world.  This is where many Christian naturists frankly show some naiveté.  The failure to recognize the post-Edenic nature of the world is reflected in the names of many naturist facilities (how many have the words “Eden” or “paradise” in them?)  We must recognize that all human endeavors are tainted with sin and as familiarity with nudist gatherings will confirm.  The best naturist resorts—including family-oriented resorts—are also gathering places for the sexually promiscuous that pervert natural recreation into an opportunity to stir up sexual emotions. 

Any Christian contemplating a nudist holiday (at a beach, resort or camp) must come to grips with this reality.  The human heart is capable of great self-deception.  We can go down the nudist path with veiled lust, exhibitionism or voyeurism in our hearts.  We must have, to the best of our ability, pure motives

The well-informed naturist reader also knows that an all natural environment can have a counter-intuitive effect on the participant: it can act as an antidote to lust and as a profoundly innocent experience.  Social nudity is a sexual demystifier.  It demonstrates the profound evil of sexual exploitation of nudity.  For myself, having been nude among hundreds of other nude people, I find that the pull of exploitative sexually oriented nudity has been decreased in me by a factor of ten. 

But that is very much based on my prior commitment to Christ and my wife.  Jesus said, “’You have it was said, “Do not commit adultery.”  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”  (Matthew 5:27-28).  The key word is lustfully.  Jesus did not regard the mere act of looking as sinful, but the potential response of the heart to what is seen can indeed be sinful.

3.     Dr. Blocher is concerned that some turn to nudism as a “pseudo-salvation.”  A few comments are in order.  Any consuming pursuit without God is by its nature idolatrous.  Blocher would surely agree that golf, travel or music can as well be a “pseudo-salvation.” 

But what he has in mind here is a little different.  Casual nudity was the state of human beings prior to the fall.  With the fall, humans rushed to cover themselves, and have done so, by in large, ever since.  Naturist recreation, with its reversion to casual social nudity, does not take into account the devastating effect of sin.  It minimizes sin, in effect denying that the fall ever took place.  It is a pseudo-salvation it that it puts into effect Edenic conditions naively, and without the benefit of the salvation that can only come from God, via the redemptive death of Christ. 

Some nudists do indeed ask too much of nude recreation.  It is supposed to heal body and soul and provide a sense of wholeness—a humanistic panacea! That quite frankly is a mission more rigorous that it can bear.  This indeed would be a pseudo-salvation.

We Christian naturists must have a sense of modesty about what naturism can do.  It is not a religion—at least not our religion.  Naturism is at most a social philosophy, teaching self-acceptance, acceptance of others, and a sense of communion with nature.  It cannot save.  Only Jesus can do that.

4.     Dr. Blocher states what he sees as the obvious: nudism/naturism violates the call to modesty, as seen in a text like 1 Timothy 2:9.  Let’s look at that text its context.

Paul writes (1 Timothy 2:9-10),  “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

First, it is obvious in context that the primary concern of Paul is that of modesty as opposed to lavishness. 

But his reference is also to the avoidance of clothing that is designed to be sexually provocative.   Victoria’s Secret attire may be appropriate in a married couple’s bedroom, but not in a public setting. 

Much clothing—nearly always women’s clothing—is designed to accentuate sexual attributes.  A woman in a teasingly revealing outfit is often more sexually alluring that a natural, unclothed woman. 

Immodesty is defined by the situation.  Lingerie is not immodest in the bedroom, but is in any other social situation. 

In the controlled environment of a committed naturist setting, nudity is not immodest.  The purpose of nudity in that setting is not (at least should not be) sexual.  It is to enjoy the elements of sun and water and air with a commitment that the setting is to be one of non-sexual social nudity. 

That is why Christian naturists should object and not participate in any activity at a naturist resort that even skirts the edges of sexual provocation.  A major AANR (American Association for Nude Recreation) resort in Florida is currently under scrutiny for having lingerie shows—as well it should be.  To engage in sexual provocation is a betrayal of the ideals of naturism, and certainly the Christian notion of modesty. 

But consider the area of modesty from yet another angle: history.  Imagine that Timothy, receiving this letter from Paul while living in Ephesus (about 62 AD) decides to take a swim in the warm waters of the Aegean Sea.  He also certainly would have swum the way the people of that time typically did: naked.   Down the beach could be a family of believers from the Ephesian church.  They also would most likely be naked.  If they saw each other, it is inconceivable that they would run and hide from one another.  That would be an aberration in that culture.  They would probably greet one another without thought, chatted, and gone back to enjoying the sun and surf.  It this setting, nudity was modest.  However, nudity would not be modest in the central marketplace. 

In another culture, complete nakedness may be the rule.  The Tainos Indians of the island Hispaniola (now the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti) never wore clothes prior to the coming of the Spaniards.  In that setting, even nudity in the marketplace would have been consistent with modesty.

So it social nudity ever immodest?  It can be based on the setting.  To intentionally draw attention to the genitals would be obviously immodest.  To act in an overt sexual manner would certainly be immodest.  But the bottom line of modesty is that it is very situational and to a significant extent culturally determined.

5.  Blocher has an interesting take on the meaning of “naturism”:

      It can be detected in a tendency to extol animal life as the true life of mankind, hence the term ‘naturism,’ and to exonerate mankind of his responsibility and privilege that raise him above the other creatures that were made on the Sixth Day.

First of all, Blocher misidentifies the meaning of the term “naturism.”  He believes that the essence of “naturism” is that human beings are simply a part of nature and hence the wearing of clothes is as unnatural for humans as it is for apes and pigs.  Naturism, seen that way, denies the uniqueness of humans created in God’s image.

There are many ways that the term naturism has been used, and perhaps someone has used it the way Dr. Blocher reads it, but I have never seen that in the naturist literature I have read.  Instead, the term seems to have two parallel origins:

1.    “Naturism” is less “in your face” than “nudism”.  In the United States, the terms “nudist” and “naturist” are almost synonymous, but not so abroad.   I have been told that in the United Kingdom, “nudist” has a distinctly sexual connotation, while “naturist” has a distinctly non-sexual connotation.  Hence the term “naturist Christian” I think is much to be preferred to “nudist Christian.”

2.    “Naturism” asks a simple question: what is the natural way to experience swimming and sunbathing?  Is it not without the encumbrance or barrier of clothing?  Do we put on a garment when we bathe?  That would be unnatural?  When we want to experience the healing rays of the sun, why would we cover 25%-50% of our bodies?  That as well is unnatural.

 A further observation: the term nudist emphasizes what a person is without (clothing), while term naturist emphasizes what a person has: their natural suit of skin.

In all this, the naturist does not lower humans to animal status.  Instead, we come to grips with our real God-created humanity. 

God created us in all our physicality.  God created us with our buttocks and genitals as well as our faces and arms.  Only Christianity asserts that God became a human being.  As C. S. Lewis observed, the doctrine of the incarnation means that Christianity is the mostly “worldly” of all religions. 

And yet the church is so often decried as the fountain of all repression of the body, of sexuality, and of the human spirit.  What is the root of that?  Is it from Biblical faith—or somewhere else?

It really is from somewhere else.  That source is Platonism (that is, as the teaching of Plato as revived in the church era).  Plato taught that all matter we see is but a dim reflection of the ideal.  Platonism was a major contributing factor in the heresies of Gnosticism and Docetism and as well, it is obvious that Platonism was a huge influence in the church starting as early as the late 1st century AD.  In time, Plato was regarded (for all practical purposes) as an authority with equal standing to anything in Scripture.  

The trend arising from Platonic thinking in Christian theology was to deny the validity of the physical.  Many medieval doctrines of the church arose from this source: the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the perpetual virginity of Mary and the life-long celibacy of the clergy being chief among them.

None of these doctrines make a bit of sense when viewed from the practical perspective of Hebrew-thinking theology.  Hebrew Christianity (what we could also call New Testament Christianity) embraces the reality of our physicality.  Jesus became flesh, not a spirit who merely, temporarily, inhabited a body (John 1:14).

But the Platonic impulse in Christian teaching is to suppress the body and to deny our created nature.  Blocher is concerned that naturism makes humans mere animals.  The impulse of Platonism is to make us mere spirits.  That would make us less than human.  Angels are mere spirits (Hebrews 1:14), but they do not bear the image of God.  Only human beings do that (Genesis 1:26-27). 

We have real bodies, and God says they are good (Genesis 1:31). Christian Naturism as well says that non-sexual social nudity is an acceptable behavior because our bodies are good, not vessels of shame.  It recognizes that the amount of clothing we wear is not in essence a moral matter, but a cultural matter.  We are to honor cultural norms (Romans 12:17b) while at the same time realizing that cultures change that that in a free society, there many sub-cultures, including subcultures that dispense with clothing on a regular basis. 

5.    Blocher next objection can be stated thus: Sin necessitates that clothing cannot be dispensed with.  While Dr. Blocher is not explicit, the connection to marriage (the next point) implies that his concern is about the unique nakedness associated with the proper sexual union between a man and woman in marriage. He says, “To deny the distorted state of human relationships and to repress shame is merely an illusory solution.  In a world where sin has entered, clothing has become indispensable.”

This is where Dr. Blocher inadvertently contradicts himself.  He agreed with the great Old Testament scholar E.J. Young that Adam and Eve’s covering of their bodies was “silly” because they thought this would suffice as a covering from God.  But now that same “silly” venture is deemed as “indispensable”!

Let us remind ourselves that they were hiding from God, not one another.  By sin, shame entered our world; no doubt.  Does this mean that body covering is the only or even chief manifestation of that shame?  Does this mean that a culture or sub-culture that does not engage in body covering either has no shame or is in violation of the will of God?

Most cultures cover the body, especially the genitals and often the female breasts, especially in everyday interactions.  This seems as much to do with practicality as with sexuality, but sexual interests (particularly exclusivity).  At the same time, most cultures have also dispensed with clothing (1) in the interactions between man and wife (2) in medical settings and (3) in recreational settings in which clothing is either superfluous or even detrimental. 

Think again of the example of Titus taking a swim in the Aegean.  We are also told that Peter was stripped (gymnos, naked) while fishing (John 21:7).  (Some translations try to soften the meaning of gymnos in this passage, or commentators try to explain that he was still wearing an undergarment, but this is conjecture, while meaning of the word gymnos is quite clear.) 

It is well known that many of the Greek games (Olympian, Isthmian, etc.) were competed in by nude athletes.  Both Paul and the author of Hebrews use the Greek games as positive examples of striving as followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:24-26; Hebrews 12:1-3).  The Hebrews passage is especially relevant, because it mentions the stripping of the athlete (vs. 1b) without any sense that a naked athlete has done anything inappropriate.  It is true that women did not attend these games, but that seems more to do with the low status of women, not that there was anything inappropriate about women seeing naked men compete.  (There is some evidence that in the centuries after the New Testament, the prohibition against women being present was gradually lifted.) 

Dr. Blocher’s objection runs aground when placed in the arena of real historical experience.  Again, we would do well to allow for wide variations in culture as to what is and is not sexually titillating.  In many cultures, situational social nudity is not sexually charged. 

That leads us to the final objection of Dr. Blocher:

7.  “Only in the state of marriage, by the power of common grace, does God provide for man and woman to know some of the freedom of Eden without shame.”  That is, only in the context of marriage is “social” nudity acceptable.

That would be the necessary colliery to what he has said before.  To put it in terms of logic:

1.     Nudity is by nature sexual.

2.     Sexuality is to be confined to the boundaries of marriage.

3.     Therefore, nudity must be confined to the boundaries of marriage.

Dr. Blocher starts with what I think we can now see to be a culture-bound premise.  Nudity is not always by nature, even in a fallen world, sexual.

My wife and I are naturists, but we have decided to keep that private so as not to offend weaker brothers and sisters (see 1 Corinthians 8).  I was once asked (on-line) what I would do if asked by a fellow-believer what I thought about their involvement in naturism—would I “confess” our involvement and “come out”?  No, I wouldn’t do that, at least at this point in our lives.  What I would do is ask, “What are you motives?”  That is what I would ask all believers to ask as well—“What are your motives?”  Make sure that are pure.  And if they are, then enjoy the freedom of natural recreation.


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