Good Nudity

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


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This theological study is a result of many hours of prayerful and careful research in the Bible.  For many years I was "against" or at the least "suspicious" of  simple, non-sexual nudity.  As Jesus said: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."  The events of life rose up and challenged my views, revealed their inconsistency and pushed me to examine the Bible regarding nudity.  What I found was not what I originally was taught or believed.   

Good nudity.  That’s not exactly a phrase you are accustomed to seeing.  It was back in 1992 that we were forced by life to consider this topic.  This theological study is a result of many hours of prayerful and careful research in the Bible.

The doctor called: “Judy, we found a lump in your breast.  I am referring you to see a surgeon who will explain to you your options.”  Our world, which was going at hyper speed (we were 2 weeks from moving to accept a pastorate), slammed into this major health embankment.  For the weeks and months that followed we were forced into situations that we had never experienced.  Judy had surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy, loss of hair, then 5 more years of taking drugs to prevent the reoccurrence of breast cancer.  She had countless doctors, interns, med students, and nurses examining her nude body.  Then other events of life challenged us.  My father and then her father became seriously ill.  We had to do what we were not prepared to do – take care of them physically, i.e. their personal hygiene.  Neither of us had experience with the nudity of our parents.  We took care of them, we cleaned & washed them, and we saw their bodies in a context that revealed our own inexperience with such nudity.  It was difficult to say the least and so I set about to examine my beliefs on nudity. 

I was driven to re-examine the Bible to find out what God says regarding nudity.  I asked myself questions like: Does God have a viewpoint on the naked body?  Can a person of faith look at nude art?  Can a Christian take an art class and see and draw a live nude model?  Can a Christian be a nude model for an art class?  How come doctors seem to be allowed to view a nude body – does a medical degree give them that ability from God?  Is nudity found in movies right or wrong?  Movies like “Schindler’s List” have nudity, is this OK?  How about nudity in the family, at what age does God say a parent should cover up around their child?  Should they cover up?  Does God have an opinion on siblings bathing together?  What about innocent “skinny dipping?”  On and on the questions flooded my mind.  I had to discover if God’s Word had any guidelines for me.

What I discovered was there is such a thing as good nudity.  An examination of the Bible shows that God created our bodies and that His creation was good.

Genesis 1:31 “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

Then we have the direct statement by God:

Genesis 2:25  “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

There you have it, naked and not ashamed!  Now I know what you are thinking: “Yes, but keep reading, they sinned and realized that they were naked. They put on fig leaves to cover themselves, so nakedness is not good!”  The problem however, is that such a conclusion -- that nakedness is bad -- is not found in the text.  Such a conclusion, while common among religious thought, is simply not found.

For the moment, let’s say that nudity is not good (some would even say “sin”) based on this common mis-understanding.  Where do we find that it is then acceptable to be nude in front of your spouse (since most would say that this is OK)?  What about the passage? Adam and Eve were the only humans at this point and they covered themselves from themselves.  As we read:

Genesis 3:7  “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

So Adam and Eve covered themselves from the sight of the other.  Is this to be the normal conduct between a husband and wife?  No, not at all.[1]  Then we find out more, that Adam and Eve hid themselves in the bushes from God.  This is parallel to hiding their “private parts” from each other.  They attempt to hide their personal/private lives from God.

8And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

Now notice the next statements from Adam to God as God calls out to him:

9And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

Adam was afraid of God because he knew he was naked, so he hid himself.  Now God asks Adam a very powerful question that was meant to open Adam’s heart to what has happened.

11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

Adam was asked WHO told him that he was naked.  The answer is of course found in the next question: “Have you eaten of the tree that I told you not to eat?”  Yes, Adam and Eve did eat of that tree and it was the power of that tree that “opened their eyes” (3:7, cp. 3:22) to their naked state.

Now we come to an important question.  Was their nudity wrong, or bad?  If we let all the prior verses, which show God made the human body and that it was good, and that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed – if we let these verses speak, their nudity was not bad.  They had good nudity!  So what is happening when we read that they put on fig leaves?  To answer this we must think from the texts of what we read.

Why the fig leaves?  I'd suggest it is because they can’t handle the GOOD of their bodies.  Their eyes had been opened and they now know something they didn’t know before.  Thanks to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they discovered that they were naked – they knew the GOOD of their bodies.  Now in a changed relationship to God (spiritual death), they couldn’t handle the good.  The forbidden fruit was said to give the knowledge of good and evil.  Such knowledge is profound and powerful.  Prior to eating the fruit they did not have that knowledge.  Also, Adam responds to God “I was naked…” when in fact he had just covered himself with the fig leaves Their good physical nakedness, even when covered, did not hide their spiritual sense of nakedness before the eyes of God.  This knowledge of good and evil is a very seminal point.  All Bible students know that this affects the rest of humanity.

They could not handle the good so they sought to cover it up.  This is the first instance of many more to come where humanity takes something that is good and becomes ashamed by the goodness of it all and has to cover it up.[2]  In eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they got what the tree would provide.  Their eyes were opened to the reality of good and evil.  We often focus in on the problem of evil, but here we see the problem of good.  And simply put, we often can’t handle it!  A sun rise; a sun set; the emotions of life; the undeserved love from another human; and ultimately the undeserved kindness of God.  We can’t handle it – the GOOD!  And we avoid the beauty; we hide our selves from unconditional love; and we shun any contact with anything that puts us near to seeing the kindness of God.

Adam and Eve covered up themselves from themselves – they couldn’t handle the good.  They now had a sense of shame in their disobedience to God.  They covered themselves from their good, naturally nude bodies and they hid in the bushes from their wonderful Good God.  Such an act of disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit had its effects.  It was in their estranged state from God that the good shamed them and they covered up the wonder of the good.  Later David would cry: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”  (Psalm 139:14)

About now you are thinking: “So, OK, I can see what you are talking about.  Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and their eyes were opened.  The first thing they saw was their nakedness, which was said to be good, and yet they covered it up.  But didn’t God agree with them – that nudity was something to cover up – when He gave them coats of skins!”  To this I answer that He did provide them with coats of skins but for more practical reasons.  I'd suggest at least three possibilites:  First, He needed to atone for Adam and Eve’s transgression so an animal was sacrificed – a shadow of what would come under the law with Moses, and ultimately, the death of His Son Jesus for the world.  They would wear[3] that coat and be reminded that a blameless animal took their place in death.  Second, He had cursed the earth (3:17,18) resulting in thorns, thistles and other plants that are rough on a nude body.  The skins would provide them with protection from the new hostile environment.  Some sort of clothing would be needed as He sent them out from the Garden of Eden.  Lastly, there is a possible aspect of accommodation – God accommodating them by giving them a covering until they could learn to deal with the knowledge of good nudity.[4]

It would be completely inconsistent for God to create Adam and Eve nude and then for that nudity to be bad.  One study Bible said: “Adam’s sin was evidenced by his new knowledge of the evil of nakedness…”[5]  How can this be?  How could nudity be good one second, then evil the next?  We must not read a cultural aversion to nudity into this passage.  Their good nude state didn’t change.  They now had knowledge of good and they could not handle it, so on went the fig leaves.  God doesn’t tell Adam, “Good job Adam, covering up the evil nakedness.”  Rather He asks how Adam knew he was naked with the obvious connection “have you eaten of the tree whereof I commanded you that you should not eat?”

When you read the passage you’ll also discover that God nowhere condemns nudity or their bodies.  He gave many pronouncements (3:16-19) that affect their (and our) lives as they were to live under the “curse,” but nothing about nudity.  In fact, in my study of nudity as discussed in the Bible I find no commands against simple, basic nudity.  I have come to see that nudity is a non-issue and is allowable to humanity as culture, climate and conditions allow.  This last sentence is important – as culture, climate and conditions allow.  In other words, nudity is in itself not evil or bad it is natural and neutral.  Nude is not lewd. 

At this point I must address two common ideas about nakedness.  First, “Doesn’t’ modesty imply that nakedness is wrong?”  Modesty actually deals with what is put on the body, not what is taken off or absent.  We say a person has a modest income we are describing the small amount they make.  The word modest is only found in 1 Tim. 2:9 (KJV).  It is the translation of KOSMIOS from which family of Greek words that we get our word cosmos, and cosmetic.  It means the arraignment of things, their orderliness.  Applied to people it would be clothes or other ‘add ons’ that are not considered excessive by culture.  Such excess can only be culturally defined.  Second, “Doesn’t nakedness cause lust?”  No, lust is caused in the heart of the person by their own sin.  Lust is a strong word denoting an “I’ve got to have it” and “I’ll get it whatever way I have to” mentality.  A new car, house, or job can be an object of lust.  So can a fully clothed person.  Also, those in the health field, who are around good nudity, can attest that a nude patient is simply that, a nude patient. 

There are some notable examples of good nudity in the Bible.  It is not my intention to identify all or document these illustrations in detail.  Also, I am fully aware that the Bible presents examples of “bad” nudity as well as the most common usage – that being a word that describes a poor, destitute or impoverished state.  My point is that we have overlooked the good nudity that is found in the Bible.  Nudity in itself is not bad, an unclothed body is said to be good by God.  May we not say something that God calls good as evil or bad or sinful.  Here are some examples of good nudity:

  • There is Saul who along with the Prophets of his day went nude (1 Sam. 19:24)

  • Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a sign to the people (Isa. 20:2,3)

  • Peter wore only his birthday suit when he was fishing – nudity being the work clothes of choice (John 21:7)

  • David danced before the Lord wearing nothing but a ‘revealing’ linen ephod (2 Sam. 6:14)

  • The Apostle Paul and Barnabas get naked as they show their humanness to the townspeople of Lystra when they thought they were the Greek gods Hermes & Zeus (Acts 14:14).

  • Then there is the all-pervasive element of circumcision. Starting with Abraham, God institutes circumcision for every male. Social nudity was common whereby a man’s circumcision (or lack of it) would be seen. From Abraham to the Apostle Paul such good nudity is the only way this special sign would be seen (cp. Paul’s circumcising Timothy, Acts 16:1-5; yet not Titus, Gal. 2:3). This helps explain why we fail to understand the significance of the identification of circumcision – we don’t have the cultural experience of social (good) nudity.

Good nudity is so foreign to most Americans.  What we typically see is what could be called objectified nudity.  This nudity is on a voyeuristic level, in the pages of sex magazines and sex movies.  Such objectified nudity is meant to sexually entice or allure.  Good nudity acknowledges and celebrates the differences in each human in a non-sexual way.  

Please understand, there is objectified nudity and that the body can be used to sin but the problem isn’t the naked body (anymore than a clothed body).  Nowhere does God say that the body is bad, He can’t; it is His image!  In other countries nude swimming, public bathing and even nude recreation is widely accepted.  In some cultures nudity is a way of life due to very practical climate conditions.  Because of this the body is demystified for people (much like a doctor or nurse who sees nudity in a non-sexual environment) and the curiosity to “look and see” is fulfilled.  Today the same curiosity exists in the hearts of people and it is typically met by viewing sexual nudity.  It is my suggestion that if we had more exposure to non-sexual nudity the “lust” factor would decline in our hearts.  We would see the creation of God as good and we would view the body not as an object of voyeuristic sexuality but as the wonderful creation it is.

Good nudity is found in our art museums and art books.  Life is seen and the body is viewed naturally.  Michelangelo, commissioned by the church, painted the Sistine Chapel and created larger than life sculptures with good nudity.

Hebrews 4:12,13 provides an insightful ending to this study.  Here we read how God sees everything by His penetrating viewpoint.  Note the use of the word naked:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

Like Adam and Eve, we may try to cover ourselves (after all we are told that the “clothes make the man”).  But, the fact is, He sees us as we really are – our hearts, our souls, our minds, our spirits, and our bodies “warts and all” and loves us anyway!

One day you might be called upon to help a family or loved one in their closing days.  You might even be the one receiving the help.  It is inevitable that nudity will be present.  How will you deal with it?

This article hopefully will cause you consider simple, non-sexual nudity in a new way.  

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[1] The entire Song of Solomon in the Old Testament is dedicated to sexual intimacy.  There we find both the man and woman describing each other physically naked.  It is obvious that nudity between a couple is a given, both in the Bible and society.

[2] From this point onward humanity takes what God gives as good and either flat out denies the good or changes it from good to bad.  Notable examples: The land of Cannan which God gave to Israel, yet they said it was evil (Num. 13:32; cp. Deut. 1:35,39; Josh. 23:15); The Law which God gave to Israel yet it has been abused by humanity (1 Tim. 1:8-11; cp. Rom. 1:25; 7:7-25); and then there is the ultimate denial of good – God and His creation which is either denied or changed by humanity to fit their purposes (Rom. 1:20-25).

[3] It has also been suggested that their wearing or ‘receiving’ of the coats demonstrates that they accepted God’s atonement for them thus placing them back into fellowship with God.

[4] There are several places where mankind needs help or requests something that God didn’t think they needed but He granted it anyway.  Examples: Israel’s request for a king to rule over them.  God would have rather they had Him rule over them but He granted their request anyway (1 Sam. 8); Israel desired food and “tested” the Lord and he granted their request but sent “leanness into their soul.” (Ps. 106:15)

[5] The MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur.  Word Publishing, Nashville, 1997, p.20 (Comment on Genesis 3:11).