What Was Simon Peter Wearing When He Plunged into the Sea?

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Was Peter actually fishing naked, or was he merely "stripped to the waist," as the Living Bible says? And what did he put on before swimming to Jesus?

Renaissance paintings, translation problems, and most of all, insufficient knowledge of fishing techniques before our modern age—all these have led to considerable confusion as to how fishermen were once clothed (or unclothed!).

Naked Fishermen

A first-century marble statue of a fisherman selling his wares. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Depictions of early fishermen in Egypt, Rome, and elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, show them in their boats entirely nude, or else working on the shore wearing only brief loincloths.

An intriguing and famous example is the vignette we read about in the Gospel of John (John 21:7). Simon Peter, after hearing from his fellow fishermen in the boat that Jesus was standing on the beach, “girded himself, for he was naked, and threw himself into the sea” (literal translation). Different versions of the New Testament vary widely in their translation of the phrase that suggests nudity: King James Version—“he was naked”; Revised Standard VersionNew American Standard Bible and New English Bible—“he was (NEB: ‘had’) stripped”; Living Bible—“he was stripped to the waist”; New International Version—“he had taken it [his outer garment] off”; Jerusalem Bible—“[he] had practically nothing on.”

"The Miraculous Catch of Fish" by painted by Conrad Witz in 1444, depicts Jesus and his disciples against the backdrop of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc, Jesus stands on the shore and Peter, in full robe, attempts to swim to him. (Photo by Bettina Jacot-Descombes)

“The Miraculous Catch of Fish” by painted by Conrad Witz in 1444, depicts Jesus and his disciples against the backdrop of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc, Jesus stands on the shore and Peter, in full robe, attempts to swim to him. (Photo by Bettina Jacot-Descombes)

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Issue52

For a free PDF download of the Jerusalem Perspective issue in which this article originally appeared, click here.

 

 


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