The Apostolic Tradition was the work of Hippolytus, written somewhere between 215 and 400 AD. Recent scholars seem to take the later date (source). The whole writing can be found here: Apostolic Tradition.

Among the 'oddities' of this Tradition, seems to be that people were baptized 'nude', which I assume means that only deaconesses were overseeing the baptism of woman. Am I reading this correctly, or not?

21 At the hour in which the cock crows, they shall first pray over the water. 2When 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. 3Then they shall take off all their clothes. 4The 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. 5After 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. (Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition)

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    White Tail Chapel in Virginia USA
    – 007
    Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 15:34

7 Answers 7


I think the deaconess assumption is unsound and contradicted:

14He shall then baptize each of them once, laying his hand upon each of their  heads. 15Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was  born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead?" 

16When each has answered, "I believe," he shall baptize a second time. 17Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?" 18Then each being baptized shall answer, "I believe." And thus let him baptize the third time.

Now, it could just be translation (and a lack of a gender-neutral single pronoun), but that is a lot of "he". It continues in the same tone for quite some time. Note that is also seems to describe all the participants present at once, not individually.

There is nothing improper in this nakedness. It is not associated with any indecent act, humiliation, or lack of basic needs.

Also keep in mind: this is ancient Rome. Their views on nudity could be quite different from yours.

  • I see your argument about the language. Are you suspecting that this nude baptism was just the Roman influence on the church in Rome, or were you imagining this to even take place under John the Baptist as well? I have a feeling if we went digging this would be far from what the Hebrews would consider ‘proper’ – they may have viewed nudity even more strictly than western civilization today. You may be right about Rome. I am not sure and have not researched it. I was sort of hoping somebody puts some history to the table to shed some light.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 11:55
  • I have accepted your answer because I could not find definitive proof that there was no naked Baptism by the Hebrews before Christ without equal proof suggesting otherwise. I did find sources that said Hebrews started using some kinds of naked baptism only after Rabbi Akibah changed the Talmud after Christ. Either way with so much obscurity and difficulty in getting a clear answer, it seems that a case for some form of nudity in baptism, at some level, could have existed in both Christian and Hebrews forms so maybe you are right about different view of nudity. Cheers.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 12:31
  • A little later on, however—when baptism was still performed in the nude, but Christians had developed ideas bout chastity and "seemliness" further—I do think deaconesses were used for that purpose. Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 4:26
  • To be honest, I don't find the naked thing particularly shocking, and it is in keeping with the symbolism of death/rebirth - and of leaving old things behind, and even of being shorn of our riches when passing the 'narrow' gate.
    – Benjol
    Commented Nov 11, 2013 at 10:42
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    Actually, Jews, both male and female, still immerse while nude today.
    – user900
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 15:41

This is an old question, but I'll answer anyway. The Orthodox Christian Church baptizes in the nude because most baptisms are performed on very young (less than 1 year old) babies. The children are nude and fully immersed. The service is pretty much exactly as you'd see in Hippolytus. Adults who are baptized are permitted to wear a robe or bathing suit for the sake of modesty.

  • Welcome to C.SE! When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. That said, this is a great answer. It addresses the question directly, provides an example, and sources the denomination. Great job! Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 18:43

Baptism in the early church was modeled after the Mikvah immersions of Judaism. The Mikvahs were done in the nude. I believe that the baptism of John the Baptist was very similar to the Mikvah immersions. The difference was that (1) All people now had to immersed (not just proselytes to Judaism), (2) this immersion was in the nude and was an initiation into the Kingdom of God. (3) The early church carried on nude baptism till about the fourth century AD (4) Public baths were in the major cities, and there was a different idea about nudity than the West has. (5) Luther accepted the nude immersion baptism of the Saxons, The Orthodox church still baptizes in the nude (mostly children. adults generally wear bathing suits). At Epiphany each year, many Russians rededicate their lives and affirm their original baptism. Many of these people are nude, and some do wear bathing suits. Some Christian Naturist churches have nude baptism today. I believe it is a viable option for the modern church, as it reenacts the rebirth of a person to the Kingdom of God in a very powerful way.

(Personal note: I am not a naturist. As an ordained minister with an M.Div. degree, I have studied baptism for many years. These are my conclusions. God bless you.)



[2] Lauren Markoe, "What is the Mikva all about?", WASHINGTON POST.

[3] www.catholic.com, "Did people understand John the Baptist saying "Repent and be baptized"? "

[4] Maimonides, "Three requirements for converts to Judaism: Circumcision, baptism in living water, and sacrifice."

[5] George E.Rice,"Baptism in the Early Church", WWW.MINISTRYMAGAZNE.ORG .

[6] "Baths and bathing as an ancient Roman", depts.Washington.edu ;

[7] Roy Bowen Ward, "Women in Roman Baths", www.justor.org .

[8] John T. Christian, THE BAPTISTS.


[10]Ellen Barry, "Russians Strengthen their Faith and Tradition with an Icy Water Plunge", www.newyorktimes.com.


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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Thanks for offering a substantive answer. However, it suffers from a lack of references to sources or articles that provide support for your answers. Your answer would be greatly improved if you edited it to supply such references. For some tips on writing good answers, please see: What makes a good supported answer? Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 20:46
  • I added references and footnotes today. Thank you. Commented May 2, 2015 at 13:52

I've noticed that the question was published a lot of years ago, but still wanted to share that there are Orthodox Icons that depict Jesus Christ being Baptised naked.

Icon of Theophany or Epiphany.

Also in Greece, among some priests, there is still the Tradition (it was kept Patristicaly) of baptising the adults totally naked. As it was explained by a Theologist, in Ancient Church when women were to receive the Baptism, they had deaconesses which would participate at the Baptism and help. Nowadays there are no Deaconesses, so the Priest provides the Baptism with the help of a Godmother, that will be in charge of spreading oil in the baptised's body, before the thrice-immersion, and also will help cleaning all the body, after the immersion. This was closed to other people, only the priest and deacon/deaconess could be present.


I'm not aware of any mainstream churches that baptize adults while they are nude, though when I lived in Mexico the churches often didn't have facilities to perform baptisms in the church and would have these ceremonies at the river. When this occurred the men and boys often wore only a pair of brief shorts. This, of course, was hardly nude baptism. In the Reformation, on the other hand, one of the complaints against the Anabaptists was that they only baptized adults. At the time all baptisms were done in the nude, but usually these were infant baptisms. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, were baptizing adults, men and women both, and these baptisms were initially done as they had always been done--naked.

Anabaptist River Baptism engraving by James Granger

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    This answer needs references to improve its quality. The claim that Anabaptists "usually" baptized adults in the nude seems questionable without some documentation. The source of that picture would be helpful. I'm sure you can find some that did baptize nude, but how widespread was it?
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 15:00

There is plenty of early Christian Art which clearly displays both Jesus and the early Christians as baptizing people nude.Also, in the history or Christianity, there are scattered instances of nude baptism, among the Adamites and Anabaptist groups. Perhaps this is one reason that the Anabaptists were so severely persecuted for their adoption of adult or believer's baptism? Then there are the histories of Quakers and Doukhober's, two offspring Christian groups who practiced going "naked as a sign". So there are both artifacts and historical evidence that the followers of Jesus practiced nude baptism as the norm, and as a means of genuine spiritual protest.

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    You probably shouldn't add a second answer unless it's completely different from your other one. You can edit your previous answer to include extra information. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 13:56

Well, The Russian Old Believers (Old Rite Orthodox) still practice baptism without bringing anything from this world...including clothing.
I lived with them at their monasteries and villages in Romania and noticed in their churches the icon of the baptism of Christ was without clothes. I thought surely they don't baptize adults this way, but they do.

I know of times that an allowance was made, but in general the ancient practice remains unchanged among them whether infant, child or adult. With an adult it is done with only the priest and Godparent. I realized that they did not have the history and same memory as the West that at some point abandoned this practice perhaps due to shame, but it is the very element of standing in shame before God that one removes all they have from the old man to be baptized.

The Orthodox and especially Old Believers renounce the world, the flesh and the devil and actually spit thrice on the ground upon each. Orthodox Eastern belief would uphold modesty in dress at all times, and even at such baptisms, modesty of the body is considered and the newly baptized is immediately clothed in a white robe, that they do not change for a week. The white robe symbolizes putting on Christ and the new man.

Baptism part of the spiritual rebirth.

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