Friday, November 12, 2010

The Meaning of “Nakedness” – Part 1

What does nakedness mean?

That by itself might be a worthwhile question for discussion, but it would likely be very difficult to nail down. Doctors would respond very differently than pornographers. Indigenous jungle tribes would respond very differently than Western Christians. However, this post is not about that topic. I’ll restate the question above this way:

What does the term “nakedness” mean in the Old Testament?

Most of the passages speaking to nakedness of any sort are found in the Old Testament, and it is within its pages that most Bible teachers today draw their conclusions about what God thinks about nakedness.

If we really want to know what God’s perspective is towards nudity, it stands to reason that we must correctly understand the words He chose to use when He inspired the biblical authors to write the Scriptural texts. 

OT Words Describing Nakedness

Here’s a very brief overview of the three primary terms referencing nakedness in the Old Testament:

Those that know more than tell me that all three of these words have their basis in the same root Hebrew Word, but their biblical usage seems to indicate slightly different shades of meaning.

Without going into an exhaustive demonstration of their usage, I can state very definitively that the first two terms are never described by God as shameful. For personal examination of these words, you can see a listing of everywhere these words appear in the Hebrew text by clicking the links after each word above.

Essentially every passage where nakedness is considered “shameful” by God in the OT text, the Hebrew word used is ervah. Consequently, this is the word we most need to ensure that is correctly understood; if we hold a faulty definition of this word, then interpretations drawn from passages containing the word will very likely be faulty as well. And since we need to correctly understand God’s view of nakedness, it is of central importance that we understand the biblical definition of ervah.

A Full Word Study on ervah — A Summary of My Findings

There is not room in this blog post to present such a study, but I have researched it and prepared a full document of the word study that I will link you to at the conclusion of this post. Here, I will only summarize my findings. If anyone disagrees with my conclusions, I would strongly urge you to carefully examine the full document to discern if and where I may have erred. If you find something, I welcome discussion and/or correction.

Part 1 - The Natural Meaning

The natural etymological meaning of ervah is exactly that to which it is generally translated in English—“nakedness”—which simply is the state of being unclothed. Therefore, my starting point for my study was to assume this definition.

The word ervah appears 54 times in the OT. I examined every instance to see if the natural meaning of the word made sense in every case. My assumption was that if the natural meaning made sense, there would be no need to look any further for a clearer definition.

In some instances, the natural meaning did make sense in the passage. For example:

“Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness [ervah] of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” (Gen. 9:22)

In this and a few other verses, the word “nakedness” communicates a very understandable and straightforward meaning.

However, the majority passages seemed a little unclear with the natural meaning. The words themselves made enough sense, but God’s intended meaning leaves us puzzled. For example:

“Then Saul’s anger burned against Jonathan and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness [ervah]?’” (1 Sam. 20:30)

The words make sense, but what could Jonathan’s kindness towards David possibly have to do with the nakedness of his mother?

Finally, some passages using ervah made little or no sense at all when using the natural meaning of the word. In several such cases, the translators didn’t even bother using “nakedness” to translate ervah; instead, they used a different word that made more sense in the context. This by itself is evidence that the natural meaning of the Hebrew word was not what the original author had in mind. Here’s an example (using “nakedness” where ervah appears rather than the word “indecency” which the NASB translators used):

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some nakedness [ervah] in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce… (Deut. 24:1)

When a man marries a woman, it is to be expected that he would see her naked thereafter. Yet this law deals with a case when a man finds “nakedness” in his new wife and decides to divorce her as a result. Clearly, in this passage, the natural meaning of ervah cannot be an accurate definition of the word. There must be something else that he’s finding there.

Conclusion to Part 1

The purpose of Part 1 was to examine the natural meaning of the word ervah to discern if it adequately satisfies the various passages where the word is used. In my opinion, the natural meaning of ervah (meaning “nakedness” or simply being “without clothes”) does not sufficiently satisfy the usage of the word in many of the passages where it appears in the Hebrew text.

Therefore the word must have connotations beyond the natural meaning, or else it must have two or more distinct definitions.

In my next blog post, Part 2 – the Connotations, I will examine the possibility that there are consistent connotations in the Scriptural usage of ervah in order to craft a more clear and biblical definition of the word. If such connotations can be discerned, then it can and should inform our interpretation of any Scripture where it appears.

To reiterate… until we know for sure what ervah means, we cannot be confident that we know God’s perspective on nakedness.

— Matthew Neal


This blog post is a summary of part 1 of the full word study on ervah. The complete document may be downloaded here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Stuff of Fantasies…

Why is it that most Christian men assume that if a man goes to a naturist resort, he’s doing it to look at all the naked women?

Of course, I don’t know the answer empirically since I’ve never asked anyone else, but I have my own theory…

Been there, done that…

Before I became a naturist, I struggled like so many others with fantasies about naked women.

Having been raised in a very conservative Christian home, I never ever saw my mother unclothed. And since I had no sisters, I never even saw any female unclothed as a small child. Once puberty hit and I began to have interest in the fairer gender, I still had essentially no idea what the nude female body really looked like.

I used to look at Mark Eden ads (a bust line enhancement product) in my grandmother’s magazines, or look through the lingerie pictures in that big ol’ J. C. Penney catalog. As I looked at them, sometimes I would just wish and wish that they would take off what little they were wearing so I could see their bodies completely unclothed. Of course, they never did.

The ultimate opportunity!

Everyone’s heard about “nudist colonies” where people (including women!!) go completely naked all the time! Imagine that!! You can bet I fantasized about finding a knot-hole in the fence around such a place so that I could look in and see this marvelous yet forbidden sight!

But as a maturing Christian young man, this was not an acceptable fantasy for me to dwell on. Nudity was about sex, and I was saving myself for my future wife. To even imagine seeing other women naked was mental adultery (Matthew 5:27-28) because I could not have a sexual relationship with them. Seeing someone naked was equivalent to experiencing them sexually. To desire to see them naked was nothing less than sinful lust. Right?

The Obvious “Conclusion.”

So… any thoughts about ever seeing the naked people at a “nudist colony” are forever and always associated with lust. That was sure clear to me. Only the lustful and ungodly would even think about such a place. Certainly no godly Christian man would ever contemplate going to a place where everyone was unclothed.


Am I alone in thinking this way?

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ever thought about a nudist venue this way. I think just about every young man has been intrigued by the very idea that there might be places where all the women are naked. Whether he’s indulged it or rejected it, the notion captured his attention. And those who have become committed Christians and have purposely determined that they wanted to be sexually pure before God have dutifully repented of their lustful desires to see it.

Whether he indulged in fantasies about seeing nudists as a young man or not, he now guards against fantasies about any sort of social nudity. And since he knows what seeing naked women would mean in his own heart, he’s quite sure that every other man responds the same way… and every other Christian man should reject social nudity for the same reasons that he himself has. Righteousness demands it!

The “Conclusion” is not in question…

Nobody ever bothers to question that conclusion according to Scripture. Consequently, if any man claiming to be a Christian attends a naturist resort (they’re not called “nudist colonies”), most other Christian men would dismiss that man as one who is in obvious sin rather than take into account the rest of his life, conduct, and character.

They “know” that man is in sin because the only time they themselves have ever imagined looking on naked women at a “nudist colony” was when they themselves were indulging in lustful fantasies!

It’s easier to condemn another man’s actions than to question one’s own assumptions.


Morality is not based on Fantasies.

Yes, going to a place where all the women are naked is the stuff of fantasies. Probably every young man has had such fantasies…

But morality is not based on fantasy, it’s based upon TRUTH!

The truth is this:

  • A naturist resort is not a sexual context (or it’s not truly naturist!).
  • Seeing someone naked is not equivalent to experiencing that person sexually.
  • Even if you expected it to be a sexual turn-on, after a very short time watching a mixed bag of people doing very non-sexual thing unclothed, you’d find it very sexually boring.

And then there’s the Biblical truth about it:

  • The Bible never tells us that we can never be around or see other people naked.
  • Jesus didn’t say that to look at a woman was mental adultery, He said that it was looking at her “with lust.” (Matthew 5:27-28) There’s a huge difference… Ask any doctor.
  • Social nudity was originally God’s idea… and ideal. In the beginning, Adam and Eve “were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)
  • God never rescinded that ideal. There’s no command in Genesis 3:21 or anywhere else in all the Bible that requires us to be clothed in order to be pleasing to Him.


I dare you…

If you’re reading this and are still convinced that I’m wrong, then I know for sure that you’ve never personally been to a naturist resort. So… I dare you to go. Take your clothes off and participate (don’t go as a voyeur). Only then do you have any basis upon which to tell me how “sinful” and “sexual” social nudity is.

But you won’t… because there’s nothing like a dose of reality to dispel the fantasies.

— Matthew Neal

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Objectification of Women – Part 2

So, gentlemen… how much of a woman’s body has to be covered before you can look at her without lust?

How you answer will tell us how much—and what parts—of a woman’s body you objectify.

Is it her breasts? Her legs? Her butt? Her belly? All of the above?

Let Me Be Very Honest with You…

For many years, I objectified women’s breasts as a sexual turn-on. So long as they were covered, I did not have a problem with lustful thoughts when I saw and/or interacted with a woman. But if I ever saw them exposed (even if only partially), it was “automatic” sexual thoughts and arousal.

Even in my sexual relationship with my wife, I tended to focus on her breasts as a trigger for my arousal and fulfillment. In other words, I was objectifying my own wife. When we entered into the sex act, I ceased interacting with the person who is my wife (with whom I share a deep relationship), and started using her as a sex object for my own sexual satisfaction.

Dare I look upon any woman as if the sight of her breasts trumps her personhood? No woman deserves that… not even my wife!

Sex is, at its core, about relationship. God established this in Gen. 2:24 when He said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” The “one flesh” sexual union is divinely decreed as a physical expression of the newly established marriage relationship.

To be sure, a woman’s body is visually attractive, but her body is an expression of her person. To define any part of a woman’s body according to its sexual impact upon us is to objectify her body and demean her personhood!

Wouldn’t every woman rather know that it was her real self that attracted and aroused her husband, not just her body parts? Wouldn’t that be more honoring and fulfilling relationally… for husband and wife?

Men, if there is any part of a woman’s body to which you only have a sexual response, then you are objectifying that part of the woman. If you objectify any part of a woman, you objectify the woman, for she is a whole person… spirit, soul, and body.

In Part 1 of this series, I addressed the societal objectification of women and their bodies. Here in Part 2, I am asking you to ponder the personal objectification of women’s bodies in your own heart.

There may be little or no hope for a wholesale transformation of society in this matter. However, if we are willing to take a hard look within our own hearts and minds—and endeavor to address what we discern there—we will find that the truth really does have the power to transform us. A woman’s body parts are not about sex. They are beautiful expressions of the person that God created her to be. We must appreciate the beauty without divorcing it from the complete person she is. When we do, we will finally be innocent of the objectification of women.

So… What Does This Have to Do with Naturism?

First of all, as I pointed out in Part 1, naturists—probably more consistently than any other definable group—do not objectify women’s bodies. They simply do not consider a sexual response to the sight of a woman’s body to be appropriate in a social context, let alone “automatic.” They treat every woman—no matter the size or shape of her body—with acceptance, dignity, and respect. To become a naturist, you must lay aside the objectification in your own heart.

Secondly, if a man never sees any nudity except in a sexual context, it may prove very difficult for him to really break free from the body-part/sexual-response association in his mind. However, the very experience of social nudity (which is not a sexual context) will very quickly cast out the false expectations of a sexual response to the mere sight of a woman’s unclothed body. There is probably no quicker cure.

If, for whatever reason, real social nudity is not possible for you to experience, then at very least spend as much time as possible with your own wife—both of you naked—when sex is not on the agenda. Grow accustomed to relating to her as a person non-sexually even while you can see every inch of her body. You’ll find that it’s really not that difficult. And have no fear that you will not be able to “perform” if you get “too accustomed” to seeing her naked… when you’re both in the mood for sex, relational arousal beats visual arousal any day!

A Higher Calling

Of all people in the world, we as Christian men should be leading the way… treating women with their true God-given dignity. Let us repent of our sin and conquer it in our own hearts. Let us train our sons (and daughters) to honor all women… refusing to be swayed or infected by our culture’s objectifying pattern of thoughts and responses. And let us demonstrate to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ that there is a more godly and biblical understanding of our bodies than that which our church tradition has taught us.

— Matthew Neal

P.S. Don’t ever refer to any woman as “hot.” It’s a term of objectification. It has no place in the vocabulary of a godly man.


See also:

The Objectification of Women - Part 1

Naturist by Biblical Conviction