by Jeff Rockel
All material copyright 1996, 1998, 2007 by Jeff Rockel
Before looking at secular works, it is important that we start with Bible references to nudity and nakedness. There are 104 references to the word naked and its derivative in 87 verses in the King James Bible. There are 49 references to the word naked and its derivative in 47 verses in the New International Version of the Bible. There are many other references to being "unclothed", "uncovered", "casting off garments", "tearing garments", etc. By looking at these stories we can look for what God is trying to teach us. It is important to look at the context of each story in light of God's character of love and justice. It is important to look at each story in light of the commandment, "love God and love others." From this we can draw conclusions about the significance of the references to nudity and nakedness. We must also try to understand what God wishes us to learn about ourselves and our relationship to Him.
To aid in understanding the verses discussing nakedness, I have looked at the Hebrew (for Old Testament) and Greek (for New Testament) words as listed in Strong's Concordance. This reference ties the Hebrew and Greek to the Authorized King James Version of the Bible. As with any translation, the translators must cope with the problem of grammar, word order, and cultural usage. As a result, the same English word may have been translated from several Hebrew words throughout scripture. Conversely, the same Hebrew word may be translated into several English words throughout scripture.
References to the Hebrew will be interspersed with the following stories and explanations where appropriate. The hope is that by seeing where the Hebrew words are the same, we can derive similar meaning from the associate texts. If different Hebrew words are used in associated texts, we may infer that the writer intended some difference in meaning, although we may not fully understand what that distinction is.
The Hebrew words will be referenced by their Strong's number, their transliterated spelling, and their pronunciation. For example: from Gen. 2:25, "naked" is from H6174 'arowm (aw-rome'). The Strong's number is H for Hebrew (G for Greek) 6174, the transliterated spelling is 'arowm, and the pronunciation is aw-rome'. A complete listing of the Hebrew definitions is included in Appendix A.
Before the Fall
(Gen 2:25 KJV) And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect environment. He created them naked and did not clothe them in any way. They communed face to face with the Holy God and one would expect they communed with each other blissfully.
The man and woman were both naked before each other. They knew no other state of existence. They knew no shame before each other even though they were completely exposed. We find ourselves ashamed of our bodies even when they are covered. We are too heavy. We are too thin. We are too tall or too short. The nose is too long, or too short. Breasts are too large or too small. Hips, legs, hair, eyes, thighs. Nothing is quite the way we want them to be.
But Adam and Eve accepted who they were. They accepted the way God created them. Some suggest they were created as perfectly formed people and so had nothing to be ashamed of. But what would a perfectly formed person look like? Your design would surely be different than mine. How do you know you aren't the one perfectly proportioned human and everyone else deviates?
The man and woman were both naked before God. They knew no other state of existence. They knew no shame before the Holy God. Without a history of sin, they could not know shame, nor guilt. Often we seem to have no existence apart from shame and guilt. Our shame goes much deeper than our appearance. Our guilt seems to go back to the beginning of time.
Adam and Eve were naked before God in every way possible. There was no reason not to be. God knew everything about them and they freely shared their thoughts with Him. They were physically naked, spiritually naked, emotionally naked, ethnically naked, culturally naked, socially naked. In other words, they could hide nothing about themselves and felt no need to hide.
The Hebrew word translated "naked" is H6174 'arowm (aw-rome') meaning nude, either partially or totally. It comes from the root word H6191 'aram (aw-ram') meaning to be (or make) bare.
After the Fall
(Gen 3:7 NIV) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
The man and the woman disobeyed God. They ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. They ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They became like God in that they understood the difference between good and evil.
God never intended for His earthly creation to judge between good and evil. That was reserved for God alone to do. God did not design into man the capacity to judge justly. Man's capacity to understand is inherently limited. He is incapable of judging without prejudice or error. God alone has the capacity to rightly judge.
But with the newly acquired knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve could not help but judge. They judged their actions. They judged their motives. They judged their appearance. They judged the reaction of their spouse. They judged their new found fear of God.
A keen sense of guilt immediately followed the act of sinning.1 They realized they were naked, so they covered themselves. Their sin had nothing to do with their physical nakedness, yet they realized they were exposed. Each was ashamed of what had been done to hurt the other. Eve presented the temptation before Adam. Adam failed to uphold God's teaching and by his eating, condoned Eve's sin. How could they hide their shame from each other? They realized they let each other down. Their sin was exposed to each other.
So they tried to hide from each other. The only way they could hide is by covering their bodies. They also realized they let God down. How could they hide from God? They couldn't hide their will. They couldn't hide their new knowledge. They couldn't hide the consequences of their sin. All they could cover was their bodies.
Some suggest that their new understanding of good and evil compelled them to cover their bodies because nudity is evil. Their physical nakedness was not itself evil, for God said of His creation of a naked man, "It is very good." (Gen. 1:31) The text indicates that they made aprons, covering their genitals, buttocks and perhaps extending down their thighs.
The Hebrew word translated "naked" here and in the next few verses is different than the one used in Gen. 2:25. The word used here is H5903 'eyrom (ay-rome'). 'Aram is used throughout scripture to denote simple nudity. In other words it is a simple observation of being without covering. It is a state of being without other implication. 'eyrom is used in conjunction with a state of being that is empty, oppressed, ungodly, without self worth, or destitute.
(Gen 3:8-10 KJV) And 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. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
Of course God knew what happened. He knew it would happen before the beginning of time. But He created mankind and allowed the disobedience, having already planned the means of restoration. God must have been sad for what had happened. Being a Holy God, He must have been angry at the disobedience of His people.
But God did not reveal Himself in an overwhelming display of Holy wrath. Instead He came walking through the garden as He had before. When they heard God coming, they tried to blend into the background of the garden and hide so that God could not find them. He called to Adam saying, "Where are you?" God came to the disobedient couple just as He comes to us today. He comes and calls, "Where are you?" We hear Him coming. We hear Him calling. We hide from Him. We are afraid because we are naked.
Adam and Eve now knew good from evil and they saw the real and potential evil in themselves. They knew they disobeyed God and feared for what else might be revealed by their nakedness. Their nakedness was their emptiness apart from God. Seeing that they were incomplete apart from God, and now fearing the presence of God, they lost all self worth. This came from their disobedience and their new knowledge of good and evil. But because of their inability to use it properly, they saw everything imperfectly.
They could not deal with this new knowledge. They were afraid and ashamed and they hid. God must have been sad that His children hid from Him. We still can not deal with this knowledge, and like the first couple, we are afraid and ashamed and we hide. Like the first couple we are naked before God. We know God can see into every aspect of our lives. But we are afraid and we try to hide from Him.
(Gen 3:11-13 NIV) And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
God does not leave us alone to be fearful and hide. He confronts us with the truth just as He did in the garden. "Who told you that you were naked ('eyrom)?", God asks. "Did you disobey me?"
"It wasn't my fault," Adam replies. "It was her fault, and yours. You put her here with me and she gave me the some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
"Woman, what have you done?" God asked of Eve.
"It wasn't my fault," the woman replied. "The serpent tricked me into disobeying, and I ate"
They admitted having eaten the forbidden fruit. But they didn't admit guilt. They pointed the finger, passed the buck, they tried to hide the truth from God. The truth was that each one was individually guilty before God and needed to admit it.
We use the word repent often in Christian circles. We often misunderstand what it means, however. Repenting does not mean to change your actions, although that may result. Repenting does not mean feeling really sorry for what happened. Nor does it mean doing some penance in compensation for the sin. Repenting means to agree with God that He is right and you are wrong. To agree with God requires a change in mind-set. Our human nature (our sin nature) encourages us to believe that we can get along acceptably on our own. We believe that we can make good decisions of what is right and what is wrong. But that thinking is incorrect. Only God has the capacity to justly decide what is right and what is wrong. Unless we change our thinking and agree with God on this issue, we are naked as Adam and Eve were naked before God after the fall.
Like Adam and Eve, God confronts us with our sin and we reply, "Yes, I sinned, but I'm not really to blame. There must be some other excuse. Someone else must be to blame. Perhaps its my circumstances. Yes, the environment in which I was raised caused me to be this way."
Well, that is sort of true. We have been born into a sinful world and the consequences of sin are all around us. But the sin problem still lies squarely upon each of us. When God confronts us, the correct response is, "Yes, I disobeyed You AND I am guilty. I stand before You naked, and You have seen me as I am. You are God and I am not. I accept myself as I am and request Your forgiveness and help to change."
But neither Adam nor Eve admitted their guilt before God. Neither one admitted their individual responsibility. They passed the buck. The made up excuses. They lied, hence going deeper into sin. But God did not leave them naked. He wanted complete reconciliation, but that would have to wait. He needed to teach His children more. A temporary covering would be needed to hide the shame. A sacrifice would be needed to uphold His holiness.
(Gen 3:21 KJV) Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
The scarlet thread weaves its way throughout scripture. God requires a blood sacrifice as an atonement for sin. I do not intend to explain the theology behind the blood sacrifice here; many men more learned than I have done their best to explain it. To many, it seems like an unnecessarily gruesome requirement. But God has required it, to the extent that He sent His own Son as the final blood sacrifice, and so it is justified.
When Adam and Eve covered themselves in Gen. 3:7, they made for themselves "aprons". The word translated aprons is H2290, chagowr (khag-ore') meaning a belt (for the waist), and comes from a root (H2296) meaning to surround. The best we can understand from this is that they attempted to cover their genitals and perhaps buttocks. Another good translation is loin cloth. When God clothed Adam and Eve in Gen. 3:21, He made for them coats. Coats is translated from H3801, kethoneth (keth-o'-neth) or kuttoneth (koot-to'-neth) meaning to cover from the shoulders down, by implication a shirt, coat, garment, or robe.
I have no idea what the significance was to Adam and Eve's covering of their loins. There is no indication that Eve covered her breasts. Perhaps the genitals were simply the most obvious and distinctive difference between the two of them. It indicated they were different from each other and perhaps this brought them shame. We know God teaches that a husband and wife are to consider themselves as one entity. Each one complements the other. With their new, imperfect knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve may have interpreted their differences as being bad. In covering themselves, perhaps they attempted to minimize those differences.
God sacrificed animals from the Garden to cover the sins of disobedience of Adam and Eve. Whether for symbolic or practical reasons, God used the skins from these animals to clothe His children. Symbolically, God says, "Your shame is covered. Serve Me and worship Me freely." Practically, God says, "You will need protection as this perfect environment will change. The weather will change and your labors will become difficult."
Throughout the Old Testament, we see this connection between nakedness and shame. As we continue this study, we will see that nakedness and shame are often synonymous. We see the shame and denial that Adam and Eve displayed repeated over and over again by God's people. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the continual requirement of blood sacrifices because the sacrifice of animals is an imperfect retribution for the sin of man. We see an incomplete reconciliation between God and man because the sacrifice was not sufficient. However, once Jesus Christ sacrificed His own perfect life for the sin of all mankind, the restoration could be complete. God could then live in men, not just with men. Our spiritual relationship with God can now be face to face as it was in the Garden. We can be naked before God without shame. Our nakedness has changed from 'eyrom back to 'arowm.
(John 8:16 NIV) But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
By the way, Jesus is the only human who had the right to judge on earth. This is because Jesus is fully God and therefore has the innate character to do so.
(1 Cor 6:2-3 NIV) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
Believers will one day be placed in a position to judge. When we are made complete by Jesus we will be appointed by Him to judge in matters on earth. Because of our union with Christ, we will be associated with Him in this judgment (during the Millennium; see Matt. 19:28).(see also 2 Peter 2:4, 9; Jude 6).
"Hey, guys! Guess what I found!"
After Adam and Eve, the next family of prominence in the Bible is Noah's. As you recall, Noah and his family were the last remnant of God followers on earth. Remember that Noah came on the scene only a few generations after Adam and Eve. It didn't take long for sin to totally deprave the earth. But other than a few references to sexual relationships, there is no mention of nudity until after the great flood.
Noah was found to be the only righteous man on earth when God decided to destroy all the wickedness that had developed. Noah was instructed to build a huge boat to preserve his family and a remnant of all the animals. Noah obeyed God and when the time was at hand, God selected and gathered the animals to join Noah in the ark. The rains came, life on earth was destroyed and in due time, Noah set foot on a new land.
(Gen 9:20 NIV) Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.
We aren't told what Noah did as a livelihood before the flood, but he certainly found a different lifestyle awaiting him afterwards. Of the many things he and his sons must have done to begin a new life, Noah began to grow grapes. Whether he was good or not, we are not told. But he was good enough to make wine.
(Gen 9:21 NIV) When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
He may have learned how to make wine, but he apparently did not understand the full ramifications of drinking the beverage. Then again, maybe he did. After all, with all the sin in the world before the flood, it is unlikely that Noah had not seen a drunken brawl. But Noah's response to alcohol seems to be one of repose. He likely became warm from the wine and made himself comfortable. For we see that he fell asleep, and that he was uncovered. He was drunk, he was asleep, he was naked, but, he was in the privacy of his own tent.
(Gen 9:22 NIV) Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside.
"Dad. DAD! Where are you?"
Ham was looking for Noah, his father. And in the process he stumbled upon his drunken, naked father in his tent. Well, probably. We aren't told exactly how Ham found his father, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume the discovery was more or less accidental. Once he found his father, Ham did not leave right away. The word "saw" in the original text (H7200 ra'ah (raw-aw')) literally means "gazed upon with satisfaction." Ham did more than just see his father and leave. The word translated nakedness is H6172 'ervah (er-vaw') which emphasizes the visibility of the genitals and implies a shameful display.
We find a similar situation where gazing resulted in sin. (2 Sam 11) When David saw Bathsheba bathing in her courtyard, the lusted after her and this ultimately resulted in adultery. Bathsheba was not in any way immodest while bathing. The homes of the day had an enclosed courtyard that was considered part of the house. She was bathing behind closed walls by lamplight or moonlight in the evening. However, from the roof of David's house, situated higher on Mount Zion, he was able to see the interior of the courtyard.
David's sin was a progression of actions: (1) he saw; (2) he pondered what to do and inquired as to who she was; (3) he yielded to temptation and had sex with her. I see Ham's sin as a similar progression of actions: (1) he saw; (2) he pondered what to do next; (3) he yielded to temptation and told his brothers. In both cases, the pondering led to the yielding. Pondering sin often yields sinful results.
In contrast, consider Joseph. He was put in charge of Potiphar's household, which pleased Potiphar's wife very much. She found him attractive and wanted to have sex with him. Joseph resisted time and time again until finally, "She caught him by his cloak and said, 'Come to bed with me!' But Joseph left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house."2 Joseph saw Potiphar's wife many times. Joseph pondered the consequences of disobedience to God. Joseph fled the temptation when confronted. Joseph made the right decision by pondering the right things. (See also 2 Tim 2:22 and 1 Cor 6:18)
Ham did see his father, drunk and naked in the privacy of his tent. He pondered what to do next and this is the focus of this story. If Ham had fled the tent, or covered his father against the cool of the night and left him with respect, this story may never have been written. But instead, he yielded to his improper pondering and went to find his brothers.
We can only speculate what this improper pondering was. Below I provide a possibility involving degradation and lack of respect. But the world that Noah's family had just come out of was very bad morally. "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."3 We see in scripture that when wickedness is allowed to grow unchecked, it inevitably leads to sexual immorality including homosexuality. It is conceivable that Ham's pondering was sexual in nature toward his father.
"Shem, Japheth! Guess what I found! You've never seen dad in this condition before." We really don't know what Ham had in mind when he told his brothers. But Ham did not respect the position of his father within the family. He did not respect his elders. Instead, he disgraced his father in front of his brothers. God has never justified the degradation of others. Each of us is uniquely special to God. You matter to God! Everyone else better understand that. Likewise, you had better understand that when you ridicule someone, you are laughing in the face of God.
(Gen 9:23 NIV) But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father's nakedness.
The two brothers understood this matter of respect. They took a garment and went to cover their father out of respect. There was no need to do this other than out of love and respect. Remember that Noah was in the privacy of his tent. But they chose to show him respect. Out of respect, they entered the tent backwards. They did not want to see their father's nakedness ('ervah), again, out of respect. They covered their father and they left so that he might recover from the wine in peace. (If, as I speculated, Ham's pondering was sexual, as was mentioned previously, the walking in backwards and covering of Noah may have been done to prevent the temptation of Shem and Japheth and the further temptation of Ham.)
When it comes to nakedness, or drunkenness, or emotional breakdown, or loss of control for any reason, we must respect the affected individual. We must never force nakedness upon someone. We must never invade another's privacy to take advantage of their nakedness, or drunkenness, or tears, or loss of control. If we find ourselves in the presence of a naked or drunken or distraught person, we are not commanded to leave immediately. We must recognize that individual as a person, uniquely created by God, possibly in need of help. We must determine what the appropriate course of action is based on the needs and desires of that individual.
Noah's sin was not his nakedness; his sin was his drunkenness. He lost control and so was unusable by God. Ham's sin was not in seeing his father in this condition, it was responding improperly, perhaps by not respecting his father as God's unique creation and God's authority figure over him. Shem and Japheth acted respectfully, fled temptation, and were ultimately rewarded. Ham's actions were ultimately renounced.
While not strictly dealing with nudity, the subject of circumcision is certainly personal and intrusive on one's privacy. A study of God's requirement of circumcision will shed light on God's view of personal and private matters.
As a Covenant
God Makes a Promise
(Gen 17:8 NIV) The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God."
Abraham never looked for God. God sought Abraham and revealed Himself in the land of Babylon. God told Abraham (who was then called Abram) to leave his country and kinsmen and journey to where God would lead him. Abraham and his family and Lot, Abraham's nephew, and his family left to follow God. Abraham was 75 years old when he left his father's country. God led them to the land of the Canaanites, the land that is now Syria and Israel. By the way, Canaan was the son of Ham, Noah's disrespectful son.
God promised Abraham this land. As far as the eye could see, Abraham would have possession of the land. And not only that, God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. They would inhabit this land for all time. In the course of the journey, and because of a famine in the land, Abraham made it all the way down to Egypt.
Abraham and his nephew Lot were very wealthy people. They had many riches in cattle, silver and gold. When they left Egypt and returned to Canaan, a dispute arose between Lot's herdsmen and Abraham's herdsmen. The herds of cattle and flocks of sheep were so large, they could not coexist without strife. So Abraham gave Lot the choice of where to settle his family. Lot chose the plain of Jordan which was well watered and plentiful. It also happened to be toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were dens of iniquity. Lot found that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the Jordan.
Once Lot had left the group, God reiterated His promise to Abraham, "For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants for ever." When Abraham was 86, he fathered his first child, Ishmael. But Ishmael was not to be the child through whom God's promise would be fulfilled. For you see, Ishmael was born as the result of trying to help God fulfill His promise.
Sarah, Abraham's wife, was well aware of God's promise to Abraham. She was also aware of the fact that she was barren: she could not conceive. They rightly recognized this as a problem in fulfilling God's promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations of descendants. So Sarah decided that God's promise could be fulfilled through the services of her handmaiden. Abraham agreed that this seemed to be a reasonable solution to the problem of Sarah's barrenness. So, Abraham and Hagar had sexual relations and Hagar conceived. Nine months later, Ishmael was born.
Four years later, when Abraham was 90 years old, God reiterated His promise, or covenant, with Abraham. But this time He added a reminder so Abraham would not be so quick to forget that God does not need help in keeping His promises. God chose to make a permanent mark on Abraham so that he would be reminded every day, several times a day, that he need not help God keep the promise.
"You want me to do what?!?"
(Gen 17:9-11 NIV) Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
To put it bluntly, God said cut off the flesh that covers the tip of your penis. Talk about up front and personal! First and foremost, God wanted Abraham to understand that control of descendants was under God's dominion. God demands ultimate authority on who is conceived and when. I believe God expects us to ask Him, "Should I have sex?," before each and every time we want to. This should not be a surprise, however. God expects us to consult Him in every aspect of our lives. Day by day; moment by moment; no exceptions. If we are walking in His will, what we ask will probably be answered in the affirmative. This is not simply because God is willing to please us. But rather, if we are walking in His will, we will not ask for things that are contrary to His will.
Abraham and Sarah were not walking in God's will when Hagar conceived. They decided that God needed help. Well, God decided that Abraham and Sarah would be reminded of this mistake from now on. Through circumcision, Abraham would be reminded on a daily basis that God wants to be in control of keeping His promises. Sarah would be reminded of the promise every time they had sex. If not by sight, then by touch.
God chose that the man would bear the sign of the covenant. It is the man's responsibility to keep sexual activity pure. It is the man's responsibility to lead his wife and family in following and obeying God. It is the man's responsibility to remind his wife and family of God's promises. It is the man's responsibility to say no when confronted by activities contrary to God's will. Yes, the woman is responsible before God. But just as a pastor is held responsible before God for the actions of his church, the man is held responsible before God for the actions of his family.
Does it strike you as odd that God chose such a personal and private place to mark His covenant? Of all the parts of the body, the genitals are considered the most private. Society allows most anything to be revealed in public, other than the genitals. The genitals can be the focus of the most intense pain or pleasure. The genitals contain the most sensitive concentration of nerves in the body. The body's involuntary reactions that accompany the pleasure of sexual relations go far beyond the simple needs for pro-creation.
God chose to place the mark of His covenant on this most sensitive and most private of parts. God chose to say there is nothing hidden from Me. Nor should any part of your body be considered off limits to Me. Just as the genitals are the most private and personal part of our bodies, our self control is the most personal part of our soul. There are areas in our lives where we don't want people to tread. Don't control, don't meddle, don't even look! These are the private areas of our lives. These are the areas where we don't even want God looking. We are afraid to let Him see the guilt. We are afraid to let Him see the self control. We are afraid to let Him see the pain.
But God says He must have access to the private places. He must have access to the sensitive places. He must place the mark of His covenant in our lives to expose what we want to hide the most. He wants to expose what society wants to keep under cover. He wants us to be vulnerable. He wants us to remember His covenant on a daily basis.
(Gen 17:13, 14 NIV) Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
It wasn't enough that Abraham alone bear this mark. God required that every male who was to be part of the covenant be circumcised. Every male child born to the family. Every male slave that was purchased into the family. Every male foreigner that married into the family. Every male who wanted to be part of Abraham's nation, had to be circumcised. No exceptions! God intended that everyone be vulnerable and exposed.
Circumcise Your Hearts
(Deu 30:6 KJV) And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
(Acts 7:51 KJV) Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
Throughout scripture, God uses visible symbols to represent conditions of the spirit. God used the very personal and private symbol of male circumcision to represent how our spirits should be open before God and each other. As with male circumcision, certain people very close to us, are witnesses to the most private areas of our lives. Besides God, our spouse should have access to these very private areas. We should be willing to be exposed before our spouse. We should be willing to show our spouse the most sensitive areas of our spirit.
As male circumcision is an outward symbol of commitment, so there must be an outward, visible symbol of commitment in our spirit. We must be exposed enough that others can see that we are marked by God's covenant in our spirit.
See also: Josh 5:2-5
Physical Circumcision Secondary to Spiritual Circumcision
(Gal 6:15 KJV, NIV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
God required that every male who wanted to be part of Abraham's nation be circumcised. Please understand that in the culture of those days, women were not factored into the social equation. They were considered property at best and the bearers of children. If a man followed the dictates of God, all the women of his family fell under the spiritual umbrella. When Jesus fulfilled the eternal requirements for salvation, He taught that women stood on equal ground with men before God. Moreover, men who were not physically circumcised, but had committed themselves to God were equal to men who were physically circumcised.
(Gal 5:2-6 NIV) Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Col 2:11 NIV) In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,
God used physical circumcision as a symbol of what He expects from us spiritually. Circumcision continues today (in Western cultures) simply as a matter of medical hygiene. God requires a circumcision that is much simpler yet more difficult. God requires a circumcision of the heart. Our spirit must be made bare before Him. We are circumcised by God when we accept His gift of salvation through Jesus. This is the simple part. We bear the symbol of circumcision by living a life that is obedient to God. This is the difficult part. Like Abraham, we are simply directed to believe God's promise and let Him fulfill it. We are to be patient and wait for things that only God can do. Man or woman, God expects each one of us to bear the mark of commitment to Him.
Jesus Christ: The Great Equalizer
(Gal 3:28,29 KJV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Col 3:11 KJV) Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
When Abraham and his descendants were chosen to be God's select group of people, the nation of Israel was born. In order to be right with God, a person had to become part of the nation. The Jews saw no exceptions to this way of becoming right with God. And being born into the nation, being "Abraham's seed", was better than being adopted into the family. But as we have already seen, God was more concerned with the attitude of the heart than the deeds of the flesh.
When Jesus taught that all people were equal in God's eyes, the religious leaders challenged the teaching. But the truth is, Jesus is an equal opportunity savior. God desires that all people come into a relationship with Him. The apostle Paul argues that it does not matter if you are Jew (part of Israel) or Greek (outside of Israel), bond (a slave) or free, male or female. Paul says all are of equal position when in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, he says that anyone who has accepted Jesus as savior is then part of Abraham's seed and entitled to claim the promise given to Abraham.
This realization has grave consequences. We can no longer look down on anyone because in Christ we are of equal position. No one has the right to expect favors from others. No one has the right to exalt themselves over their fellows. No one is better because of race. No one is better because of economic position. No one is better because of their sex. This was especially hard for that day's society where women were at best property, slaves were subject to the master's every whim and gentiles (Greeks) were at best dogs.
Consider the opposite as well. You are no less a person than anyone else. You are equally valued in God's eyes. You are as special to God as any one else. You can do anything God asks of you because you are on equal footing with anyone else. Accept who God made you to be. Respect who God made you to be. Enjoy who God made you to be. You have value! You have worth! You are prized by God!
(Rom 2:25-29 NIV) Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.
(Rom 3:30 KJV) Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
(Acts 10:45 KJV) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
God does not care what you do externally if you are not serving Him internally. Paul taught that anyone who met the requirements of the law through circumcision to enter into a right relationship with God, did so as an act of faith. This he said is good. Similarly, anyone who is uncircumcised who comes to God by faith in order to enter into a right relationship is seen by God as circumcised. In other words, God cares about our attitudes toward Him. What we do is secondary to who we are. It is the faith in God's promise that makes us right before Him.
The proof of this was in the giving of the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised (non Jewish) believers. The Jews were astonished that God would put His seal of approval on anyone who had not conformed to the deeds of the law. But God said all along that the circumcision of the heart was more important to Him than the circumcision of the flesh. This was true before Abraham and it is true today.
See also: Acts 11:2-18, Acts 15:1-32, Rom 4:9-11, 1 Cor 7:18-20, Eph 2:11-13, Deu 10:16, Deu 30:6, Acts 7:51, Lev 26:41, Jer 4:4, Jer 4:4
Other References to Circumcision
Uncircumcised = Separated
(Jer 6:10 KJV) To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
(Ezek 44:9 KJV) Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.
(Col 2:13 KJV) And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Circumcision has been used to represent an acceptance of God's promise by faith. God divides people into two classes: those who trust Him and those who don't. Those who do not trust God are described as being dead. And if dead, they can not hear the voice of God. Neither can they do anything to please God. A dead man can do little more than rot!
Hence, uncircumcised is used in the verses above to represent separation from God. And he who is separated from God can not serve God. In fact, because God sees these people as dead, they can do nothing to serve themselves either. Since any thing that is good comes from God, a person separated from God can do nothing that is good for himself.
See also: 1 Sam 17:26, 36, Isa 52:1, Ezek 32:21, Ezek 44:7
As a Symbol
(Lev 19:23-25 KJV) And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal. And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God.
The Jews were taught to avoid anyone who was uncircumcised. The uncircumcised were considered to be unclean. God used this symbol as a way to explain that newly planted fruit trees should be off limits for three years. Then in the fourth year, all fruit from the tree would be offered to the Lord. Finally in the fifth year, the fruit may be freely eaten.
(Exo 6:12 KJV) And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?
(Exo 6:30 KJV) And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
When confronted by God to go speak to Pharaoh on behalf of God and His people, Moses argued that he was unworthy (and unqualified) to speak for God. Moses used the symbol of uncircumcised lips in his argument. He argued that he was not capable to represent a Holy God. In reality he was scared. God chose to use him, and Moses could not argue his way out of it.
Requirement for Passover Celebration
(Exo 12:48 KJV) And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.
As we saw before, in order for a Jew to be right before God, he had to be circumcised. To assure that the most important memorial celebration be kept Holy, God emphasized that only circumcised people be allowed to partake. Anyone who wanted to remember what God did in Egypt through this celebration, must first be circumcised.
This required real resolve. There was no idle decision involved in partaking of the Passover meal. Likewise today we are instructed to remember the Lord's death through communion. But Paul warns us not to enter into this celebration lightly. We must examine ourselves and be sure that we are circumcised before God. Only then can be rightly partake of the communion elements.
Used to Deceive
(Gen 34:15 KJV) But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised;
Read Genesis 34 to see how a requirement to be circumcised was used by two of Jacob's sons to take revenge.
Jacob's daughter Dinah is defiled by Shechem. Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, tricked Shechem and Hamor to be circumcised so that they could marry Dinah. They convinced the entire city to be circumcised so Jacob's people could dwell and inter-marry with them. While the men of the city were sore, after being circumcised, Simeon and Levi went in a slew them all.
Click on footnote number to return to text.
1 (Ryrie study notes)
2 Gen 39:12 NIV
3 Gen 6:5 NIV
Last revised July 27, 1997 and April 17, 2007 by Jeff Rockel