Subscribe

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

It’s not what you think…

To correctly understand what the Bible really means when it associates shame with nakedness, we need to first take off the cultural glasses we’ve been wearing… and read the biblical text with a clearer understanding of the ancient context from which the scriptures sprung. To do that, we must first recognize—and reject—a false “marriage” of concepts that was foreign to the writers of the Scriptures.

The False “Marriage” of Nudity and Sex

Whenever a society is trained to interpret the sight of the unclothed body as a sexual event, it produces a “pornographic view of the body.” This sex-focused perception targets the nude body for sexploitation. Pornography thrives on this wedding of sexual stimulation to nakedness.[1] When churches blindly “tie the knot”—teaching that God ordained this conceptual marriage—they unwittingly foster a “pornified” culture. Such blindness is self-perpetuating, for it keeps Christians from seeing that most occasions of nudity in Scripture are nonsexual.

My term porno-prudery effectively describes the widespread religious thinking that sanctions this unholy matrimony of sex and nudity. Prudery and pornography are fraternal twins, born from the same false, Creator-dishonoring concept of the body. Porno-prudery promotes endless debates between those who see “modesty” as hiding skin and those who see its correct biblical meaning: dressing up with internal virtues rather than external adornments.

Porno-prudery, by its very nature, sabotages an accurate understanding of the biblical shame of nakedness. By supposing that visible nakedness always has a sexual meaning, it treats the public sight of nudity as always shameful. Scripture does not support such an assumption.

Correcting Culturally Colored Vision

We moderns need to remove our culture-colored eyeglasses and stop reading back into Bible times the existence of swimsuits and private bathrooms. Archaeology helps us with this by showing how ordinary the sight of nonsexual nudity was in ancient civilizations. Not only were there public latrines and baths designed for group use, but in the Roman Empire, during the time of Christ, separate constructions to segregate males and females were deemed unnecessary. It is clear that our biblical ancestors did not share our present-day preoccupation with body shame.

In all ancient cultures, patterns of outdoor bathing and excretory hygiene reflected this same healthy body acceptance. The many examples of manual laborers working without the encumbrance of clothing also speak of a healthier attitude toward bare human anatomy than we now have. So, neither in Bible lands nor elsewhere was a condition of visible nudity exclusively interpreted as sexual or shameful in nature.

In view of this ancient way of perceiving nudity, we can begin to comprehend what the biblical shame of nakedness actually meant. But a full appreciation of that shame also depends on understanding the significance of clothing.

The Nakedness of the Poor

In the first place, the purpose of clothing in Scripture was not to hide the body, but to protect it from the elements and to adorn it either officially or aesthetically. Second, clothing was handmade and expensive. A single garment might be all that a working-class person owned. For the poor, literal nakedness and the coldness it brought were realistic possibilities that called for practical compassion.[2] An outfit’s combined financial and practical value often made it the logical possession to take as a pledge to insure debt repayment, leaving its owner naked during the day while working off what he owed.[3] Again, this is not new information, but missed information, which becomes misinformation in the mouths of teachers who read porno-prudish assumptions from the present back into the past.

Once we realize the extreme value of clothing—not for hiding anatomy, but for protecting the body—we can begin to understand the Bible’s most frequent references to shame in relationship to nakedness. Naked shame is almost always related to clothing being lost or taken away in the contexts of coercion, military defeat, or poverty (both physical and spiritual). Less frequently it’s associated with sexual violations or with personal and religious disrespect. Exploring these biblical examples of the shame about nakedness would require another article. But in contrast to these, the sight of the body’s exposure in work (John 21:7 [lit.]), in a prophetic role (Isaiah 20:2‑4; Micah 1:8; 1 Samuel 19:23‑24), or in outdoor bathing (Exodus 2:5‑7; 2 Samuel 12:1‑9) are never depicted by the writers of Scripture as shameful. Yet all these very public activities made the naked body commonly visible to friends, family, and neighbors.

Read It Again… Without the Cultural Filter

Again, a preconceived idea that weds nudity with sexual involvement can bring a blindness to the study of Scripture. This culturally performed wedding veils the eyes of Bible readers, so that modern culture dictates what they see in various passages where publicly visible nudity is either mentioned or implied. Even I—who reread God’s Word with that veil removed—failed for a while to see what was really taking place in the following passage, 2 Chronicles 28:8‑11, 14-15:

The men of Israel took captive 200,000 of their relatives, women, sons, and daughters. They also took much spoil from them and brought the spoil to Samaria. But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria and said to them, “Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God? Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.” . . . . So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the assembly. And the men who have been mentioned by name rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria. (ESV)

What about this open nudity of 200,000 women and children prisoners during their long march from Judah to Samaria? It receives no comment of moral shock or reprimand. In those days, stripping clothes as spoil from defeated enemies was too commonly practiced and anticipated to be of special concern. In fact, this nakedness might not have been mentioned at all, if Oded’s prophetic words had gone unheeded. But in that inspired warning, not even God’s prophet drew any attention to the naked state of the captives. Instead, he decried Israel’s intention to enslave these unclad women, girls and boys.

Plundering hostages of their garments was a normal demonstration of military success. Because clothing was such a valuable commodity, it was part of the economic spoils seized from the defeated. Yet this was not a perverted stripping to gawk at the kind of nudity these soldiers had grown up seeing all their lives. If it had been, God would surely have spoken against it in the mouth of His prophet.

Was it shameful? Yes! Their naked condition displayed the shame of an impoverishing defeat, which always meant losing one of their most expensive possessions: clothing. The prophet Isaiah went nude for three years to preach this same kind naked “shame” that would befall Egypt and Cush.[4] It was no more shameful for Isaiah’s unclad body to be seen by his neighbors than for these naked women and children to be under the gaze of their captors. Their shame consisted of more than just being stripped of clothing. They had lost everything. It was the naked shame of utter poverty.

Always remember that Scripture was written in a cultural context. It recorded only information that God deemed worthy of inclusion. What was too ordinary for comment was left out. Yet, in this passage, it’s the very absence of a moral concern about the sight of a naked multitude that makes it noteworthy to us. Its lack of concern shows how, in those days, the commonness of nonsexual, openly visible nudity was not so scandalous or inappropriate that it warranted explanation. We are hard put to imagine the shame felt by this poor crowd of naked captives, because it was not the visibility of their external anatomy. Their concerns were the shame of defeat publicized by their naked poverty and the painful cold of wind and weather to which such nudity exposed them during this long outdoor march.

Attitudes: Gained From… or Imposed Upon… the Scriptures?

An allegiance to cultural upbringing is difficult to overcome. However, when the Bible clashes against pet doctrines or inherited hermeneutics, the seriously committed believer will side with the authority of Scripture, no matter how large a mental paradigm shift is demanded. This biblical incident provides one of those opportunities.

This passage, and many more like it, confront the popular, widespread idea among many believers that nudity itself is intrinsically sexual in nature and its visibility a source of shame. From the perspective of the human author of 2 Chronicles, the context of captivity and potential slavery made this extremely large multitude of naked females marching before the eyes of male soldiers a culturally understood or even expected situation. It held no apparent sexual significance. God Himself drew no moral attention to the public nudity involved—not even to please a prudish group of future Bible readers.

God does not condone nor confirm conceptual “marriages” that humans sanction against His will… such as this one between nudity and sex. Our society and churches are suffering the sexual havoc that springs directly from this pornographic view of the body. By marrying nudity and sex, Christian porno-prudery has made a huge contribution to that perverted, pornographic view.

Any successful attack on porn addiction by the Christian church must start with a careful and thoughtful review of Scripture passages like the one just explored. In the process, we might even regain the wholesome body acceptance of our biblical ancestors.

— Pastor David Hatton

See also:
The Pornographic View of the Body
The Biblical Purpose of Clothing


Endnotes:

[1] Missionaries discovered this the hard way by creating fertile ground for pornography through spreading prudery as a part of their Gospel to “naked people” groups. Modern cross-culturally savvy mission agencies warn their interns against this damaging practice of “clothing the naked” to morally cover the body. Wherever nudity is considered normal, an unnatural hiding of the body produces an unwholesome preoccupation with what’s hidden. The Western church is shamefully late in figuring this out.

[2] Obviously, with nothing to wear, the body’s need is warmth, as James 2:15‑16 clearly points out: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (NKJV). Just so, John the Baptist’s exhortation in Luke 3:11 implies that the compassionate duty of a person owning two outfits is to clothe a naked person with one of them: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (Luke 3:11, ESV).

[3] “If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.” (Exodus 22:26‑27, NKJV).

[4] Isaiah 20:2‑4 (ESV), . . . at that time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the LORD said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.”

13 Responses to The Biblical Shame of Nakedness

  • I have a question. What about Leviticus chapters 18 and 20? They seem to speak of it being wicked to see other’s nakedness. I will look forward to your response.

    Thanks!

    Daniel

    • Hey, Daniel. Thanks for writing!

      The short answer to your question is this… Leviticus 18 & 20 are given to us to define and prohibit incest. The entire passage doesn’t make sense unless we take it that way. There was no word in Hebrew for “incest” so Moses used the phrase “uncover the nakedness of” to represent the concept. Consequently, the passage is not at all about any general or natural nakedness in the course of life or any sort of “wickedness” in simply observing it.

      For example, you have to ask why the passages are limited to uncovering the nakedness of close relatives… a limitation that is reiterated at least four times in Lev. 18. If the passage were really just talking about simply observing someone’s naked body, wouldn’t this mean that it’s NOT forbidden to “uncover the nakedness” of someone who was NOT a close relative?

      For the “Long answer,” I think you might find it helpful to read this article about the Hebrew word ervah which is the word here translated “nakedness.” It surveys its use throughout the Old testament and deals pretty extensively with the Lev. 18 passage. Nakedness In the OT

      I hope this answers your question. Please feel free to write back.

      Pastor David Martin

      • Hi David,

        Thank you so much for responding. I really appreciate it. I guess part of what confused me is that after Chapter 18 verse 20 it begins to say “lie carnally with” or “lie down with” instead of “uncover the nakedness of,” so I saw both examples and thought there may be a difference. Leviticus 20:11 does clarify this a little: “And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Here it recognized that both are the same in that verse. But then it says the following in 20:17 “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he hath uncovered his sister’s nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity.” There it just says “see” and adds to the confusion.

        I just have one more question for you at this time, and it comes from Genesis 9:20-25, “20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

        It seems that I am missing something. What did Canaan do to Noah, and why would Shem and Japheth be worried about covering their naked father so much that they had to walk backwards?

        I realize that the Old Testament is very complicated, and honestly I struggle to understand a lot of it, so I appreciate your insight. I want you to know that I appreciate the understanding that I have gained from this site. I just try to be honest with myself about the things I don’t understand and seek more understanding. I will look forward to your response.

        Thanks!

        Daniel

        • Daniel,

          Did you read the article I linked, Nakedness in the OT? I believe that if you reread the passages you’re looking at with the understanding that when the Bible uses the word “ervah” (“nakedness” in Hebrew), it infers a sexually active nakedness, you’ll get a different flavor of understanding of those passages. To me, it clears up the difficulties.

          For example, in Lev. 20:17, the man who marries (that’w what “takes” means here) his sister, he will indeed “see” her nakedness. But that’s to be expected when you marry someone, right? It is not in the “seeing” that the problem is to be found, but in the fact that she is his sister, and that means she still falls under the prohibition of incest found in Lev. 18. He is “seeing”–and participating in–her sexual activity. The verse itself equates the “seeing” with the “uncovering” of her sexually active “nakedness.”

          The Noah story also changes its meaning when we understand that it wasn’t just Ham’s happening upon his drunken and naked father, but that Noah was evidently being sexually active in that moment… either alone or with Mrs. Noah (no way to tell). I can imagine that perhaps he thought the sight was funny for some reason… but he obviously dishonored that private activity of his father, while Shem and Japheth chose to honor their father instead. They walked in backwards to preserve the dignity and sexual privacy of their father. Perhaps they walked in backwards to communicate with their father that they did NOT come into his tent to gawk at him as he my have heard Ham tell his brothers to do.

          Now… I acknowledge that I have applied some “imagination” to my response in the last paragraph… hopefully in harmony with the text. But let me point out something very important. We simply don’t know what all happened or why. We have the narrative, but many significant details are missing. It leaves us with more questions than answers. God inspired the record of the event, but declined to add any divine commentary about it. There’s certainly no command, nor any declaration of how “sinful” seeing anyone naked is. We don’t even know for absolutely sure that God commanded Noah to curse his grandson… we just know that he did! The only conclusive thing this story tells us is when and why the people of Canaan were cursed. Since the account is so incomplete, we have to conclude that it is complete enough to tell us what God wanted us to know, and we should not try to force it to say anything that it is too incomplete to support… such as any particular wickedness in simple nudity.

          • I David,

            Thank you very much for the response. That does help me to understand better. I have read the article that you linked above, and it is also very helpful. Being honest, I didn’t read it until after my second post, but I did read it before I saw your reply, and I was still confused about the Noah story. I didn’t see how they were implying something sexual, but I guess that would make a lot of sense. Thanks for all of your insight, and I hope that you have a great day.

            Thanks!

            Daniel

          • That’s good to hear, Daniel.

  • My thoughts on “the marriage of nudity and sex”:

    The reason nudity is associated with sexuality is because a person has to be naked — or unclothed from the waist down — in order to have sex.

    When a person is naked, their sexual organs/orifices — their penis/vagina — are exposed. And when a person sees another person who is naked, that person’s sexual organs/orifices are exposed, too. Our brain reacts to the sight of sexuality by saying “Prepare to have sex.” That’s why it’s natural if you feel aroused when you’re naked by yourself: Your brain, through feeling the wind and sun on your skin, knows your penis/vagina is exposed — knows there is now no barrier (i.e., clothing) preventing your penis/vagina from doing what God created it to do — so your brain tells your body “Prepare to have sex.”

    It is possible to appreciate nudity in a non-sexual way: To say to yourself “I’m not going to think about ___ while I’m naked or I see a naked person.” Why is it possible? Because human beings aren’t animals: We can choose to ignore the thoughts that go through our head and the reactions our body has.

    Why is it so hard for people to separate nudity from sexuality?

    The reason why, I think, is because of the environment a person is raised in.

    For example: In some places in Africa, no one bats an eyelash at a woman’s exposed breast. In contrast: In the US, a woman exposing her breast can be arrested for indecent exposure. Africa and the US are two different environments, so their attitudes about, for example, exposing breasts, will be different and, thus, the people living in Africa and the US will grow up with different views about women showing their breasts in public.

    If a person lived their whole life in a village where everyone was naked, it’s understandable that they would think that people who lived their lives clothed were strange, and the opposite would be true, too — the people who lived their lives clothed would think the people who lived their lives naked were strange.

    It’s not possible to have sex without nudity, so even if a person where to live their whole life naked, around other people who were naked too, the naked body would still be associated, in a way, with sex, since one can’t happen without the other. But, I think it’s safe to say that people who lived their whole life naked wouldn’t associate nudity with sex to the extent that a person who lived their whole life clothed would.

    • Hello, Timothy!

      Excuse me for being late to respond to your commenting thoughts on “the marriage of nudity and sex.”

      I tried in my article to expound a truly biblical view of ‘the shame of nakedness’ that is not distorted by the prevailing religious idea that God meant nudity to be wedded to sexual stimulation or erotic activity. Attempts to dismantle the modern church’s confidence in such a marriage are found in some of the core MCAG articles and in several of the Blog articles. We see “the marriage of nudity and sex” as a cultural construct, not a God-ordained one.

      First, I must disagree with your conclusion that “a person has to be naked — or unclothed from the waist down — in order to have sex.” This may be your own personal experience, but that statement is simply not true. Unfortunately, religious prudery has a shameful history, which unbelievers mockingly advertise. Part of that history is recorded instances of Christian wives insisting on fully dressed intercourse, for supposedly ‘spiritual’ reasons. In the late 1900s, it was happening on such a large scale in Uganda that the president engaged a pastor to preach nation-wide that married couples needed to be naked when having sex. Adultery and venereal disease were becoming rampant in the country as men were going outside marriage to have naked sex. The blame was traced back to former Western missionaries who preached that ‘nudity was sinful’ as part of their Gospel message. Of course, we never heard about this in our missionary news, but my niece heard it from the pastor himself who was commissioned to try to reverse this ‘Christian’ catastrophe. The latest instances of clothed marital sex I’ve read about were British stories. One man had not seen his wife’s naked body for years. She thought nudity shameful. No, Timothy, even if generally true, reality doesn’t support a ‘has-to-be-naked’ rule.

      You also stated that “Our brain reacts to the sight” and sensation of genitals with “no barrier (i.e., clothing)” and “tells your body ‘Prepare to have sex.’ Again, this may be your experience, but you need to back up a bit and think this one through more carefully. Consider the millions of people in hospital work like myself. As an L&D nurse for 24 years, I not only saw but had my hands on the breasts and inside the vaginas of thousands of lovely young women. I never lost any of my male libido during those years, but not once did I get sexually stimulated by those girls’ naked body parts that my culture (and church) had trained me to perceive as erotically enticing and sexually arousing. No extra-special ‘Christian’ grace was upon me, because my unsaved coworkers had the same experience. No… the naked truth was trumping the teaching of our cultural and religious upbringings. Healthcare workers, as well as artists working from nude models, modern missionaries ministering to naked cultures, and visitors to European beaches, would all stand up denying the validity of your conclusion.

      What surprises me is that the rest of your comment does allow for the possibility that nudity might be treated or appreciated “in a non-sexual way” for mental or cultural reasons. Your reasoning for this includes “because of the environment a person is raised in.” Now if you had taken that principle as your general rule, you might not have come up with the prior two conclusions. As it is, you seem at first to be stating a “marriage of nudity and sex” based on the nature of us as human beings—which many Christians have done in the past—but then you wisely reverse this idea, treating the association of nudity with sex as a learned behavior.

      I authorized your comment to post and labored to point out all the above issues, so that Christians will see the need to be clear on what are merely assumptions about human nature and what are biblical, cultural, and historical realities. The reason so many believers in the West are caught up in porn is that they think they can’t help it. Trying harder to break free doesn’t help, because they are taught that the very sight of the gender-distinctive body parts of the opposite sex will by nature cause them to fall into lust. That’s a lie from the pit, because it camouflages lust as an ‘eye-problem’ rather than a ‘heart problem.’ But it’s a lie that many pulpits have preached, and those who sit under such preaching seem never to get permanently free of porn.

      However, when a porn addict realizes that it’s a learned behavior to sexually salivate at the sight of nudity, he realizes that NO—we are “human beings” not just “animals”—we have a choice to abandon our culturally learned view of nudity and to adopt the true view God has. To see the body the way God does is the only way out of porn, because God sees truly and the truth sets people free. This is what MCAG tries to help porn-addicted people to grasp, and given our religious culture’s zeal in porno-prudery, it is not an easy task. But many have found freedom from believing God’s truth about the body and its gender-distinctive anatomy. So we are keeping on, faithful to the truth we have seen work.

  • Just live in a region where people go about in thong “bathing suits” (some of which are not really intended for dunking in water). The novelty of seeing hundreds, thousands, of people almost totally naked wears off pretty fast! Sure, men look at women, but by my impression no more than where people are much more clothed.
    The unwritten code requires everyone who has naked buttocks and thighs to have an “apron,” usually a T-shirt or beach shirt, tied around the waist, hanging down behind, to sit on. They don’t want their skin touching seating where someone else’s sweat, etc. is still wet, and others don’t want to sit in their sweat.
    Everyone needs a shirt because stores and restaurants require “no shirt, no shoes, no service.”

  • A very good article. One thing you didn’t mention that comes to my mind is the fact the the House of Abraham was required to circumcise all the males within their household including servents as a visible sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. The way it is discussed would make one believe that seeing a man’s penis was a common thing or else how would one known if a man was circumcised or not.

  • In the first footnote at the end, you speak about missionaries basically teaching a pornographic view of the body to naked people groups and how this has changed. I have seen this before, but I cannot find any examples of this or mention of this on the Internet. Can you point me to any examples of this on the web or otherwise? Thank you.

    • The trouble in finding statements about this problem is, I believe, embarrassment. Just as modern Christian scholars avoid mentioning the early church’s practice of nude baptism, so modern churches are hush-hush about prudery’s disastrous results on the mission field. Why silent? Because the Western church still treats nudity as sinful and clothing as a moral protection from it, even though modern cross-cultural missionary policy declares “dress” habits as “matters indifferent” to the Gospel (“Willowbank Report,” Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1978).

      So, you won’t find many Christians, online or otherwise, confessing this past mistake. Cases like what happened in Uganda, mentioned above in my 10/2/2016 reply to a comment, are rarely publicized. But Ruth A. Tucker, on p. 206 of her more honest report of missionary history, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1983), wrote this: “The missionaries had believed they were aiding the cause of morality when they insisted converts wear clothes, ‘only to discover,’ according to Smith, ‘that the clothes the girls put on became a source of allurement to men who all their lives had taken nudity for granted!’”

      More often, you hear about this past cross-cultural error from secular bashers of Christianity. They need no specific examples to substantiate their contentions. They just point to the totality of once-naked tribes we evangelized with clothing, which are now as pornified as the religiously ‘clothed’ West. At the same, the very existence of a strategic change in modern mission policy is irrefutable evidence for both the dysfunctionality and the universality of the former missionary practices.

      A study of journals by past missionaries might further document their perceived ‘successes’ in ‘clothing the naked’ for Christ (when such nude people were warm enough without clothing). But the real proof is in the pudding…. Where are these evangelized cultures? They’re lost in the same sex-focused porno-prudery as we who brought it to them, when we taught them the Gospel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *