What’s Wrong with John 21:7?

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There seems to be a problem with John 21:7. The text states that Peter was naked. Did good Jews in that time ever go out fully naked?

Comment from Mary R. Carse (Hinesburg, Vermont, U.S.A.) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 48 (Jul.-Sept. 1995): 6.

There seems to be a problem with John 21:7, “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his cloak around him (for he was naked) and cast himself into the sea.” Firstly, the text states that Peter was naked. Our pastor says that good Jews in that time never went fully naked. That was one objection they had to the Greek games. (I always assumed that John 21:7 meant that Peter had stripped for work down to a loincloth of some sort.) Secondly, if you are going to jump out of a boat into the water, to swim or even wade ashore, you don’t put on clothes, you take them off!

Mendel Nun responds:

Thank you for your letter and your questions about apparent problems in the text of John 21. I think you are right. There do seem to be unresolvable inconsistencies in John’s version of the Miraculous Draught. On pages 41-44 of my The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament (Kibbutz Ein-Gev: Kinnereth Sailing Co., 1989), I pointed out these and other inconsistencies. One should note the Roman mosaic found in North Africa (shown on p. 42) that depicts a naked fisherman standing in a boat with a cast-net draped over his arm. However, in ancient times a Jewish fisherman on the Sea of Galilee usually went naked only at night when fishing with a cast-net. The cast-net fisherman repeatedly had to dive under the water to retrieve his net and the fish in it. Out of modesty a Jewish fisherman wouldn’t likely appear naked on the shore during the day. Since Peter was going ashore, he probably put on his clothes out of modesty.

It appears that many of the textual difficulties in John’s gospel are the result of his emphasis on the philosophical-religious message rather than on historical and technical details.

This article originally appeared in issue 48 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • Mendel Nun [1918-2010]

    Mendel Nun [1918-2010]

    Galilean fisherman, kibbutz member, author and foremost expert on the Sea of Galilee, Mendel Nun was born into a Zionist family in Latvia in 1918. In 1939 he immigrated to Palestine where he became a member of Ein Gev, which today is a thriving, modern…
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