Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When is Nudity OK for a Christian?

Where he is, I once was…
One of my readers pointed me to an article by Ted Slater addressing the question in the title of this blog post. I don’t remember seeing it before, but I thought it worth a response. I understand his position, for where he is, I once was.
Like most good Christian young men, I’d heard all the Scriptures Mr. Slater used and knew exactly why nudity was “forbidden” in the Bible. One day, however, before I became a naturist, I was challenged to reexamining my understanding about nudity. So I looked at every one of the passages referenced. Under close investigation, I found that every last one of those passages failed to uphold the anti-nudity doctrine it had been invoked to support.
Let me assert my final analysis right from the start:
God does NOT tell us in the Bible when nudity is “OK” for a Christian and when it is not. However, the anti-nudity bias behind the “nudity taboo” taught by the church today misuses the Scriptures to create the impression that God objects to nudity in spite of the Bible’s silence on the matter.
Mr. Slater has really done nothing more than present the Biblical “support” from the anti-nudity bias. My task in this blog post is to show how each point is in error, since not one of them stands up under honest scrutiny.
No, this passage doesn’t really mean that.
My pattern for this post will be to quote a portion of Mr. Slater’s the article and then respond. I apologize that my responses are so much longer than the statements that I respond to. It often takes a lot of words to demonstrate how the assumptions behind a few words are invalid. This is especially true when simple Scripture references are used without quoting the verse or examining its context. In such cases, it requires a full explanation of the verse within its actual context to demonstrate how the verse has been misinterpreted.
Comments on several blog posts tell me that this is a hot topic: When and how is it appropriate to include nudity and portrayals of sexual intercourse in various forms of art, specifically film?
The content of Mr. Slater’s article is much more about nudity among people than it is about nudity or sexual intercourse portrayed in art or film. That is likewise where I will focus my responses.
In regards to viewing nudity, it’s clear that there’s a spectrum of appropriateness. On one hand, it may be appropriate for a man to view his wife’s or baby’s unclothed body; at certain times a male physician may be within his right to view a woman’s unclothed body.
The task of proving my opening assertion (in red above) really need go no further, for Mr. Slater has granted my point in his very first paragraph. He says, “There’s a spectrum of appropriateness.” If God has spoken on the matter, there can be no “spectrum.” Interestingly enough, he does not quote scripture to prove this point, but rather he cites culturally accepted “exceptions” in real life (see You Can’t Have it Both Ways for a more thorough treatment of this point).
Furthermore, it is worth noting biblical standards of morality cannot be based on subjective ideas like “appropriateness.” The best approach to this topic should be to start with what the Bible actually says. Mr. Slater has instead started by expressing a cultural assumption… that it really is OK for parents to see their children or doctors to see their patients. Those ideas have to be considered “cultural” because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible.
On the other hand, it’s never appropriate for a man to view a woman other than his wife with lustful desire in his heart, whether she is clothed or unclothed.
Here, Mr. Slater speaks the absolute truth. Lust is forbidden, and the amount of clothing worn by the object of that lust is of no consequence at all. In my opinion, Mr. Slater could have written this sentence (with no “other hand”) and nothing else for the entire article, and it would have been profoundly true.
As soon as we start trying to define some additional “rule” for righteousness which God has not clearly declared in the Bible, we step into legalism. Rather than welcoming that legalism (which is based on human reasoning), we should actively reject it (see Col. 2:20-23).
Perhaps the rightness or wrongness of viewing nude forms has to do with vocation: a husband’s vocation to please his wife, for example, or a physician’s vocation to care for his patients.
There is no evidence for this assertion in the Scriptures. Mr. Slater has invoked another culturally developed notion and suggested that it is (or might be) God’s perspective on nudity for the Christian. There is no concept of “vocation” in the Bible that has any bearing on much of a person’s skin someone is permitted to see.
And perhaps the rightness or wrongness of viewing nude forms also has to do with the heart: viewing a woman lustfully is clearly wrong.
There is no “perhaps” about this statement. this is biblically true… based on the words of Christ Himself (Matthew 5:28). However, like the statement Mr. Slater made in ¶2a above, the nudity or non-nudity of the person being seen makes no difference at all. Jesus did not include any such caveat in His statement to us about lust.
Perhaps Scripture can provide some clarity, some insights into this issue.
Scripture does provide insight, but unfortunately, I believe that the scriptures that follow in Mr. Slater’s article are presumed by him to mean something that they do not. The “insight” drawn from them has actually been infused into them by an anti-nudity bias.
Let me say here that I certainly do not wish to pick on Mr. Slater alone. I fear that what he writes here is very commonly believed. I believed the same once myself. But when I subjected those Scriptures to honest examination, I found that every last one of the Scriptures had been misinterpreted in reference to how the nude form was to be understood.
I know that may seem to be a very haughty claim to make… but I wouldn’t make it if I wasn’t convinced that it is true. Personally, I was astounded as I worked through all these passages, only to find that each one could not support the conclusions they are frequently invoked to support. In every case, my previous understanding turned out to be unsupportable, or simply wrong.
Consequently, I’m not going to hold back. My perspective is that Mr. Slater has listed his Scripture references, offering only a summary of what they mean, and expecting us to take his word for it. However, I find that his summaries are misleading or just plain false.
I’ve made some very strong statements here, and I don’t intend to ask you to just take my word for it. I’ll give you the evidence, you double-check it for yourself, then see if you don’t agree.

Job made a covenant with his eyes not to “gaze at a virgin.” Habakkuk associates “gazing” at someone’s unclothed body as shameful. There’s something about “gazing” at someone you’re not married to that Scripture considers wrong.
Connecting the word “gaze” in these two passages is an interpretational error. Though the words match in English, they are translated from two different Hebrew words, and the two words do not mean the same thing.
The Hebrew word used in Job 31:1 for “gaze” is better translated in the KJV: “…why then should I think upon a maid?” Job’s covenant may be with the eyes, but the commitment is all about his mind. The word “maid” here actually refers to a virgin. Therefore, we can see that Job is committing to not allow his mind to dwell on a sexually inexperienced woman. He’s not promising to never look at a woman. He’s promising to never look with lust. This is precisely in harmony with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28.
In Habakkuk, The prophet is talking about a person who purposely gets his neighbors (plural) drunk in order to take voyeuristic advantage of them (sounds like watching porn!). Without any doubt, that act IS shameful! But simply seeing someone’s naked body? Is that what this passage is talking about? No, I do not believe it is.
I am troubled that this verse would be referenced without acknowledging the aspect of intentionally getting someone drunk in order to look at them. That detail is critically important to a correct understanding of the passage. Leaving it out gives the incorrect impression that it is shameful anytime one person sees another naked. I trust that its omission was only an oversight or mistake, because leaving it out on purpose would amount to deception.
To directly challenge a comment on another blog post: Scripture does indicate that a woman’s breasts are sexual for men, and not merely for men in “civilized cultures.” Consider Proverbs 5:19 and Song of Solomon 7:6-12 and Ezekiel 23:3,21, for example.
By the same token, we should consider lips sexual, because the bible also acknowledges that kissing is a part of sexual activity.
As Mr. Slater suggests, I have considered these passages. I have found that they do not support what amounts to the sexual objectification of women’s breasts (see for a great culturally relevant site about this topic). I will address each one.
Proverbs 5:19 – Yes, this passage is about sexually enjoying your wife for all your life. But it is also poetry; it uses poetic language. The verse could just as easily read, “let her face/kisses/embrace fill you at all times with delight” and the verse would lose little of its meaning. It just so happens that the breasts are one of the clear gender-identifying attributes of a woman. The term “breasts” works wonderfully as a euphemistic reference to a man’s wife. Add to that the fact that “let her breasts satisfy you…” (NASB) is a clear allusion to the real purpose of breasts to “satisfy” babies, and it is very effectively constructed poetry. Would anyone suggest that the poet’s point that a man should go gaga for his own wife’s breasts instead of her person? I don’t think so. I believe the account is really just saying “Enjoy your own wife!”
Can Proverbs 5:19 be used to support a sexualized view of women’s breasts as being how God wants us to view them? No, it cannot.
Song of Solomon. Granted, the entire book is essentially about sex, so it might be assumed that every time breasts are mentioned, it must be considered a “sexual context.” But is that correct? I don’t think so. Solomon is often simply extolling the beauty of his bride. Yes, among the various parts of her anatomy, he mentions the breasts… but does that mean that breasts are (or should be) primarily sexual to a man? If so, then what about the navel? Or the ears? or her nose or legs (they are all mentioned in the text with essentially equal emphasis)? No, Solomon was extolling every facet of his bride’s beauty… and that included the undeniable and notable beauty of her breasts.
(Incidentally… shouldn’t we take note of the fact that God’s Word includes a rather detailed description of the beauty of a naked woman’s body? Isn’t that instructive? Solomon was inspired by God to help all of us imagine and ponder the naked beauty of his OWN wife!)
Ezekiel 23:3,21 – Obviously here, the breasts are mentioned of as a part of the sexual misconduct of “Oholah” and “Oholibah” who were “sisters” spoken of metaphorically in reference to the unfaithfulness of the sister nations, Israel and Judah.
I think we can all agree that during sex, a woman’s breasts are handled by the man. I believe this passage of Scripture acknowledges that. However, I think we can also agree that there’s probably no part of a woman’s body that is exempt from the same sort of attention. Therefore, I see these two rare verses as simply descriptive of that reality… nothing more. I do not believe they have the power to call out women’s breasts and declare them to be more sexual than any other body part. These passages acknowledge that breasts play a role in sexual interaction, but they do not mean God wants us to view them or treat them that way at all times.
I can’t help but wonder if, before Mr. Slater posted his opinion about these verses supposedly “proving” the “sexual” nature of breasts, he had examined the whole counsel of God’s Word to see how breasts are referenced throughout the Bible. When I was pondering the biblical perspective on breasts, that’s exactly what I did, for I wanted to really understand how the Bible views them. I found that overwhelmingly, the Bible refers to breasts in their God-given design to feed babies. The second most common usage of the term is to simply refer to the front of a person’s chest… male or female! Only in the rare occasions that Mr. Slater quoted can they be construed as “sexual.”
Like the other passages, I find that we have no real biblical basis to consider breasts as primarily sexual, nor any support that God intends for us to view them or respond to them as if they were. Such a conclusion simply is not in harmony with the whole of Scripture, which—incidentally—mentions breasts a lot (I would recommend that same investigation to all my readers).
To further illustrate, let me ask our female readers a couple of questions: If a man not your husband touched your shoulder, that’d probably be all right, right? But if he touched you elsewhere, it would not be all right. If he looks you in the eye, that’s probably all right, right? But if he gazes elsewhere, would you not feel uncomfortable? Of course, because you would feel sexually violated.
Unfortunately, Mr. Slater here invokes the subjective experience of his readers to affirm what is really a culturally understood idea. What’s more, all of his expected readers are members of the very culture that has embraced the sexualized view of breasts that he has articulated. If the very same question were asked in a very different culture—one that does NOT sexualize breasts—he would receive very different answers.
This point is really no proof at all. I fear that it only betrays the fact that genuine biblical proof is actually lacking.
Nakedness is associated with disgrace and shame (Isaiah 47:3, Micah 1:11, Nahum 3:5, Revelation 3:18)
Isa. 47:1-3. This passage is misinterpreted for the simply reason that the verse is lifted out if its context, both culturally and textually. The real meaning is this:
A curse is pronounced against the nation of Babylon using the metaphor of a woman who is a princess (“virgin daughter of Babylon”). From her lofty position, she is literally dethroned, stripped of all her glory, and made to work as a slave girl for others. Because clothing was tremendously expensive in those days, and the poor often had none at all, slaves and other manual laborers worked nude as a matter of course to avoid soiling the one article of clothing they may have owned. There was no real “shame” or “disgrace” for such a person to be seen naked, The “shame” or “disgrace” came from being demoted from the rank of “princess” in a kingdom (with many servants of her own) to that of a lowly slave girl, forced to do manual labor in the nude like all the other peasant/slave girls… that disgrace was huge.
Is this shame and disgrace at simple nudity? No, it is not. The context demonstrates otherwise.
Micah 1:11 – Here again, Nations are being judged. Samaria and Jerusalem will be judged and destroyed for their idolatry and spiritual prostitution. All the buildings will be destroyed down to their foundations. All of the idols will be smashed. This is the prophecy of the coming judgment. But then Micah shifts gears…
Micah himself declares that he himself will go naked… in expression of his own mourning (Micah 1:8 – evidently no sin in that). Furthermore, verse 11 is not a description of judgment by God… instead, Micah is giving a command… telling the people of Shafir to go naked! If the prophet is telling them to do it just as he is doing it, how can anyone conclude that the nakedness itself is wrong? Shouldn’t we rather conclude that the prostitution and idolatry are the real causes of their shame? Micah himself chose to go naked as a public expression of grief and repentance. He called the people to do the same. This is not a shame that can be attributed to nakedness. Their shame is entirely about their sin.
Nahum 3:4-7 – This too is the metaphorical description of the judgment on a nation… this time it’s Nineveh. God describes the nation as having acted as a whore “countless” times to other nations. God then declares that He is against her, promising to pull her skirt over her head (and face, of course) to put her whoring body on public display. He also promised to throw filth on her exposed body in the sight of everyone to make her a “spectacle.” Being publicly punished in such a manner would indeed be very shameful situation. Furthermore, acting as a whore—the sin which prompted this judgment—is also very shameful. There is no basis to read this passage and conclude that for the simple reason that her body was exposed, nakedness was the actual source of the shame.
In all three of these passages, there was nakedness and there was shame. But was the nakedness the source of that shame? In every case, it was not. We must not accept the idea that the unclothed human body is shameful to be seen simply because “shame” and “nakedness” appear in the same Scriptural context.
Rev. 3:17-18 – This passage is admittedly more difficult to grasp. At the very outset, however, we should ask this question: Is this passage intended to teach us the nature of physical nakedness? I think the answer is “no.” Consequently, we should be very careful not to place upon this passage—as seemingly “clear” as it appears to be in associating nakedness with shame—the responsibility of declaring God’s attitude about simple nudity. A careful examination of the passages reveals that the “shameful nakedness” that is being spoken of is spiritual, not physical.
Looking at the text, we see that the Exalted Christ is speaking to the Church of Laodicea. He has nothing good to say about them. They think they’re healthy, proud, rich, sighted, and clothed. Jesus describes them as wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. Note… none of these conditions that Jesus is describing are physical; they are all spiritual.
Is it a sin to be poor or blind? No, of course not. Is it a sin to be spiritually poor and blind when you think you’re “just fine”? Yes it is. By the same token, is it any sin to be physically naked? Some may think so, but that cannot be demonstrated from this passage. Spiritual nakedness is sin, to be sure, but this passage is not teaching that physical nakedness is sinful or shameful any more than it’s teaching the physical blindness is shameful.
The real shame of their spiritual nakedness is in the fact that they were not clothed in the righteousness of Christ… According to Jesus’ words, they needed to “buy” their gold and salve and white garments from Him! To be in His presence without such spiritual garments is indeed a very shameful nakedness.
No, not even Rev. 3:17-18 can bear the weight of proving that simple nakedness is intrinsically associated with shame.
I have talked extensively about each passage because in so doing, I believe it is very evident that Mr. Slater’s usage of these passages is not accurate. The only way to make them appear to support an anti-nudity postulate is to pull them out of context and make quick summaries of their meanings that, in truth, cannot be validated by careful and honest study.
Sadly, not only Mr. Slater, but many other well-meaning servants of God have fallen unwittingly into the same error. Because the lie of the nudity-taboo is so deeply entrenched within our cultural fiber, its deceptive presence even within the church’s theology has gone unrecognized. 
…When we see someone who is without clothing, we are not to admire their form, but to cover them (Isaiah 58:7, Ezekiel 18:7, Genesis 9:22-27).
Isa 58:7 & Ezek. 18:7 – Hunger is evidence of a physical need; it is not a moral need. Nakedness is evidence of a physical need; it is not a moral need. In both of these passages, we are told that true righteousness includes meeting the physical needs of the poor and destitute.
An examination of the multiple references to “clothing the naked” in the Scriptures reveals that it’s always about providing them with warmth for their bodies, not protecting them from the embarrassment of being “seen” naked. The fact is that the many iterations of that command demonstrate that in the Biblical culture, seeing naked poor people was relatively common.
We must also understand that at that time, clothing was such a valuable commodity that it could legally be used as collateral for a loan (and it was regulated; see Exo. 22:25-27). As such, it would also be an asset that could be used to barter for food. This would explain why the poor were often naked.
Simply because someone was naked was not reason enough to clothe them… people had to bathe in public throughout the biblical history (imagine the 40 years the Israelites were living in tents in the desert!). Seeing others naked in the normal course of life was probably as ordinary as seeing someone who was hungry.
When we were commanded to feed the hungry, it’s not talking about anyone whom we meet who happens to be hungry at a given moment, but those who are perpetually hungry, with no means to find food. By the same token, clothing the naked is not a matter of clothing any person who happens to be naked at a given moment, but those who are perpetually naked, with no means to get clothing to keep warm.
I’ve already dealt with the story of Noah in-depth in a previous blog post, but I’ll add some additional comments here…
The account of Noah’s drunkenness, nakedness, his son’s actions towards him, and the subsequent curse are one of the mysteries of Scripture. We are told so little about what happened, and we are left with many unanswered questions. There really is very little we can learn about it, and we learn nothing about God’s will on nakedness. Because that passage is narrative, we cannot derive biblical principle from the tale unless God interjects a statement of His will into the account (for example, Gen. 2:18-23 tells a story; it is followed by a command in v24).
Unfortunately, in Gen. 9:20-27, God never speaks. We are not told to imitate or reject anyone’s behavior. Aside from getting drunk and naked, we don’t know what Noah was doing in the tent. We don’t know what Ham really did when he saw his father. We don’t know why Ham’s two brothers responded as they did. We don’t know the cultural mores of the time or the family dynamics or even how many of Noah’s grandchildren were around. We don’t know even why Noah cursed only Ham’s fourth son, Canaan, instead of Ham, the one who had actually wronged him.
  • Can we guess that Shem and Japheth’s actions were more noble than Ham’s? Yes.
  • Are we commanded in this passage to cover nakedness like they did? No.
  • Are we commanded to honor our father as they did? Yes…but not in THIS passage! This story does not even give us a command to honor our father! It only illustrates the command given later in Exodus 20:12!
As to the “admiration” of physical human form, it IS biblical to do so. We’re told straight up that Bathsheba was very beautiful to look at… while she was naked (1 Sam. 11:2 - for the record, there is no condemnation in the Bible for her bathing in view of the palace in the Bible). That’s not David’s take on it, that’s the divine commentary found in the inspired narrative. Rachel was also described in the Bible as beautiful of “form” and face (Gen. 29:17 - she had a nice figure). For that matter, Joseph was described the same way (Gen. 39:6)! And I believe we’ve already discussed Song of Solomon…
God modeled this by clothing Adam and Eve. God did this because He deemed such a gift to be good; not giving such a gift would not be good; therefore it would be bad not to give such a gift; because this gift’s purpose was to cover their unclothed bodies, it follows that it was bad for Adam and Eve to go around with unclothed bodies.
Mr. Slater’s assumption here is that God’s purpose was actually to “cover.” or to “hide” their bodies. This assumption is without any biblical support, and in fact, contradicts the meaning of the immediate context.
God had just rebuked Adam for being concerned about his nakedness… (“covering” it and hiding) in Gen. 3:11. Why then would anyone conclude that God changed His tune and decided that “covering” and hiding the body was a good thing after all… only ten verses later? God’s reason for clothing them (completely missing in the text) cannot be contrary to His reprimand of Adam just a moment before. And there is absolutely no reason to conclude that God’s motivation for the clothing were the same as Adam’s when he sewed together the fig leaves.
A much more realistic explanation (drawn from the immediate context) of why God clothed them is that it was for protection! Why? The ground had been cursed with thorns. The living accommodations (outside the Garden) had just gotten a lot more difficult. When something beautiful and valuable is in danger of being damaged, you cover it for protection, not to hide it from view. When there is no immediate danger, there is no longer a need for the covering.
Would a gift of “protection” be a good gift? Of course it would be. Does it follow that our bodies must wear protection at all times? No, it doesn’t.
Like Mr. Slater, many people jump to the conclusion that because God clothed Adam and Eve, that we must stay clothed, too. But this perspective ignores the obvious implication that, if this account really does amount to a mandate to stay clothed, it must also apply to contexts where it’s just a husband and his wife, for that’s all that there were when this “good” gift (and the implied command) was given.
God again covers nakedness in Ezekiel 16:8. Jesus affirms clothing the unclothed in Matthew 25.
Here again, to understand this reference correctly, one must observe the context in Ezek. 16:1-8. In this metaphorical story, God describes the birth and growth of the nation of Israel… she was cast out at birth, but God cleaned her up and made her grow an prosper, all the way into maturity (breasts and pubic hair have grown). God “passes by” again and determines that it’s time for her to get married, and he’s the one who's going to marry her!
And all this time, she’s been naked with God’s full knowledge and oversight. Probably 16 years old, and never having worn a stitch of clothing. There is not even a hint of shame in the entire account (that comes later… after she was clothed). These years of God-permitted and shame-free nudity are a significant part of the story. Should we just ignore it?
Meanwhile, in an act of love and marriage, God “covers” her nakedness… much like Boaz was asked to put his “covering” over Ruth (Ruth 3:9 -  it was a formal request that he care for her and take her as His wife). The picture In Ezekiel is of God’s love and commitment to Israel. It’s not the “correction” of her “shameful” condition. If that were the issue, God could have and should have done it a lot sooner in her life!
Matthew 25:36. This is, again, about clothing those who have no means to clothe themselves, and doing it as unto the Lord. Isn’t it also worth noting that in this passage, Jesus describes Himself as “naked”? If it was a sinful or shameful condition, would he have described Himself that way?
I need to make it clear that the human body is not shameful. It is glorious. But in most cases, uncovering it before others is condemned. Just as, perhaps, interacting inappropriately with the sacred Ark of the Covenant was condemned.
I find this an interesting disclaimer. We have just read 10 paragraphs declaring that nudity is shameful, then we read a contradictory statement saying the the body is actually not shameful. I feel as if we’re being told that the body is NOT shameful, but we should act as if it really IS (or more aptly, “Gnosticism is heresy, but we must live as if it is true”).
Mr. Slater says that “in most cases, uncovering it is condemned.” Yet I have not seen one verse at all that “condemns” the simple uncovering of the body. Sexual misconduct, yes… but never simple non-sexual nudity. The only thing we have been offered as evidence of condemnation is a shaky association of nakedness with shame. Even if that association were valid, association does not equate to condemnation.
I find the connection between unclothed human bodies and the Ark of the Covenant to be a very dubious one, and I do not see that lends any support to Mr. Slater’s claims. Is the Ark ever in all the Scriptures used as a analogy for the body or the body for the Ark? Not to my knowledge.
Scripture is clear that it is wrong to “lie sexually” with someone to whom you’re not married (Leviticus 18:20). The marriage bed is to remain undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Actors who portray sexual intercourse with someone to whom they’re not married are rejecting both of these principles. By paying money to view these actors, we are facilitating and affirming their ungodly behavior.
Unfortunately, this summary of Leviticus 18 is egregiously in error. The passage defines and prohibits incest (See my blog or article on The Meaning of Nakedness). It’s not about people you’re “not married to,” it’s about “blood relatives.” That specific context is stated four times in this one chapter (Lev. 18:6,12,13,17). Furthermore, Lev. 20:17 says that it’s also wrong to “lie sexually” with someone that you ARE married to… if that “someone” is your sister (compare translations or do a word study, “takes” in this context means “marries”).
I agree with Mr. Slater’s use of Heb. 13:4 and it’s application to sex in film. 
I see plenty of instances in Scripture where viewing unclothed bodies is wrong. Does Scripture ever portray unclothed bodies as right? Hm. Well, maybe. Isaiah “walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign … against Egypt and Cush.” The Lord Himself directly commanded Isaiah to do so in order to indicate the shame these peoples would experience.
I have not yet seen ONE instance in the Bible where the simple sight of unclothed bodies is “wrong.”
Regarding Isaiah, once again, I perceive an intentional avoidance of some obvious implications in this story, Furthermore, I see only a surface treatment of the content of the prophetic message proclaimed by Isaiah’s nakedness.
First of all, God commanded Isaiah to go naked for thee whole years. It was not a shame to Isaiah… he was obeying the Lord. There can be no shame in that. In fact, the Hebrew word used to describe Isaiah as “naked” in Isa. 20:2 is the very same one used to describe Adam and Eve before the fall in Gen. 2:25; this was simple, innocent, shame-free nudity. Would God command Isaiah to sin? Of course not. Therefore, going around naked full-time cannot be considered a sin by itself. This conclusion is impossible to avoid from this account.
Was Isaiah not to be seen? What’s the purpose of a “sign” if it is not seen?
Isaiah’s prophetic message was that the nations of Ethiopia and Egypt would be so totally conquered militarily that their people would be led away just as naked as he himself was.
…to the SHAME of Egypt.” It is instructive to look up the Hebrew word here translated “shame.” It’s not the word for shame at all! Oddly enough, it’s the word for “nakedness”! Evidently, the translators struggled with knowing what “the nakedness of Egypt” meant so that they used the word “shame” instead. This is the only place in ALL the bible which translates the Hebrew word, ervah, as “shame.” I suspect that it is in error (see this word study on The Meaning of Nakedness). Even if the word does signify some sort of shame, it’s not the naked captives to whom that “shame” was applied… it was the nation of Egypt itself. That makes sense, after all; Egypt had just been dealt a crushing military defeat. The people did feel shame, we are told, but not at their own nudity, rather they were ashamed of their home nations (Isa 20:5).
Should passers-by have averted their gaze, like the men of Coventry who refused to look at the Lady Godiva as she rode horseback through their town, naked and humbled, sacrificing her honor for their sake? Yeah, probably.
There are no instructions in all the Bible that tells us to avert our gaze from any naked human we happen to see. “Probably” is not biblical mandate… it is cultural convention.
It’s also likely that Jesus was without clothing as he was hanging on the cross. His garments were divided among those who carried out the crucifixion. This nakedness may have contributed to the shame He experienced on the cross.
Did Jesus ever for one moment on earth have any reason to feel real shame? Jesus was perfect and without sin. Only HE—of all people in the history of the world—could claim to be “naked and unashamed” as purely as the first Adam had been. Shame is always the result of sin. It always indicates that something is wrong in a person’s relationship with God, others, or him/herself. Jesus never sinned and there was never any fault in His relationship to His father. He was never ashamed!
To be sure, those who crucified Him made many efforts to shame Him. THIS is the shame that Jesus “despised,” refusing to allow it to infect his life. He endured it, yes, but it did not touch him.
When considering our naked Savior on the cross and the nature of nakedness, we must not ignore a fact found in the immediate context which has significant bearing on the topic… there were LADIES at the foot of the Cross where He hung naked (John 19:25)! Did these women turn their faces away from Him so as not to see his circumcised penis? Did they lift a hand to block the sight of His genitals so they could look up in His face without viewing that “shameful” part of His body? Was Jesus any less their Lord because his fully naked body was visible for all to see? No, no, no.
There was no sin in Jesus hanging naked exposed to the whole world. There was no sin in those women who stood by Him weeping in His holy and naked presence. They honored Him to His last breath while He died naked for their sins.
It is we today who find Jesus’ naked form on the Cross too “offensive” to view. It is we who dishonor Him by turning our eyes away lest we see His “maleness” exposed on the cross. Jesus hung there without shame for you and for me. Do we dare we deny His work by looking away?
As with Isaiah, Jesus’ humiliation was a display of God’s holy judgment against sin. Like Lady Godiva, He sacrificed His honor for our sake. It had no entertainment value.
Jesus never sacrificed His honor. He was indeed dishonored by men, but men are not the source of true honor. God highly exalted (honored) Him precisely because He endured death on a cross (Phil 2:8-9). Jesus never acted with more true “honor” than the day He “honored His Father” by obedience, even to death on the cross.
Let me make this next statement as graciously as I can, yet without holding back the truth at all…
If we hold fast to a perspective of shame regarding the unclad human form, that perspective will distort our understanding of human embodiment to such a degree that we will mistakenly assign that same shame to the sinless body of our God-incarnate, Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This would be a grievous—if not blasphemous—error.
(Note, of course, that the nakedness of neither Isaiah nor Jesus was in any way sexual, but was heartbreakingly shameful and humiliating.)
I reiterate, there was nothing shameful about Isaiah’s obedience, and especially none for Jesus’ obedience. Isaiah was not “humiliated.” Nor was Christ. Though His enemies tried desperately to humiliate Him, they failed to do so.
Remember… Satan lost that day!
The Appearance of Wisdom…
The Bible does NOT tell us when nudity is OK and when it is not. In my view, Mr. Slater’s efforts here in his article fall far short of demonstrating anything to the contrary.
Using man’s wisdom in a culture that sexually objectifies both the male and female bodies, it’s not difficult at all reach the conclusion that the best way to suppress sexual impurity is to hide the “temptations” (our bodies) from view. We have impure thoughts when we see nude bodies; we have pure thoughts when we do not (or so we deceive ourselves into believing). So we make up the rule—the “Nudity-Taboo”—we try to find Scriptures that seem to support the rule, then we declare that “This is God’s will for you!”
Yet, despite the lofty label, it remains a man-made rule.
No matter how firmly we believe that hiding the human form will help us overcome sexual sin, Paul’s words in Col. 2:20-23 cut right through our deception and reveal the folly…

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Allow me to comment on the portions of this passage I have highlighted in red:
  • “Why… do you submit to decrees… commands and teachings of men?”
    • It is vitally important that we make no mistake in identifying which decrees, commands, and teachings are truly of God, and which are actually of men.
    • We must strongly oppose and actively reject the teachings of men.
    • The “nudity-taboo” is one such false rule and it must be rejected.
    • We must only submit to the teachings of God, no matter the cost.
  • Even though they have the “appearance of wisdom”
    • The “nudity-taboo” may make a lot of sense… according to man’s wisdom…
    • But it is still false, because it is not found in God’s Word.
  • These false teachings are most surely a “severe treatment of the body”
    • We recognized psychological abuse as “real” abuse when it’s perpetrated on a person.
    • We have been blind to the reality of the psychological abuse towards the naked human body perpetrated by the nudity-taboo.
    • Such “severe treatment of the body” is a clear confirmation that this “rule” is not of God.
  • The “nudity-taboo” is of “no value against fleshly indulgence.”
    • We have a sure and unfailing guarantee from God that the very goal that we profess as our motivation for the “nudity-taboo” will never be reached. It won’t even help a little bit.
    • If the “nudity-taboo” were of any real and lasting help towards sexual purity, then God’s Word in this passage is not true…
What more is there to say?
— Matthew Neal


Mark said...

It's a commandment....thow shall not covet (lust) after another mans wife.Says nothing about seeing people naked.If one is lusting their in carnal flesh state of mind and fail to see the spirit.their worshiping the created....not the creator.

God bless

Tim Bliss said...

As a Christian I have always wondered about what God's stance is on nudity.

I myself have always been of the belief that nudity cannot be wrong because God created us to live nude when he created Adam and then Eve. It says right in Genesis 2:25 'Adam and his wife were naked, and they felt no shame.'

That is really all that needs to be addressed on why I think there is nothing wrong with non-sexually nudity.

I wish that America could truly see the truth here.

Thanks for your blog!

Matthew Neal said...

Hey, Tim. Thanks for writing!

The logic of your comment is quite irrefutable... if someone is willing to look at it honestly.

Unfortunately, honesty regarding the discussion of nudity from a biblical standpoint is hard to find.

Thanks for the encouragement.


Anonymous said...

For me there are Biblical vlues to be respected :

Dignity : Does it offend anybodies dignity, when I meet a bnch of my girl students- teens - on the nude beach ? (it did not matter in any way) Does it offend the dignity of the lady sitting besides me in the Sauna ? Does it affect my dignity ? - the last typical incident : Because of some delays I came a little late to the ongress Hotel.. Immediately going down to the Hotel sauna I was greeted by the Lady in charge of me : "We have missed you already. May I introduce - - "Three women between fourty and fifty, one ederly Gentleman - all stark nude. It did not matter at all nor in any case.

(Enforced) undressing was since Bible times a method to humilate a person - so French Girls after WW II, who have had an affair with a German soldier, them as nudes being chased through their town.

Is it seductive ? Stimulating "ungodly" phantasies can be by the look, the smile, the bodily movement - Independent from what one wears.

And what is the message : A woman nude or one that deliberately lets her Bikini top slide down a little ? See, modesty is a matter .

The dancers and strippers and peep Show objects sell their dignity.

The stumblig block ? Please, Gentlemen, consider your education a little critically. We - as one wrote - were trained like Pavlovian Dogs : Female nipples (for instance) ate simply a dangerous taboo - nevernevernever (let) see it No wonder you get excited when Janet Jckson Displays her right breast !

Anonymous said...

Some say that de-sexuallizing nudity decreases the enjoyment in sex. Does that we shouldn't have public nudity. Part of me says there should be nothing weong with walking nude publically when its 110 degrees out, or swimming, or maybe just wanting to relax. However could de-sexualling nudity be a issue? Can that lead to having sex just being a ordinary thing? Or could it be good by removig the lust boundry. In my opinion bikins are more sexual and inappropiate then nude. Why? Because they bring attention to certain parts of your body, They make you lust wanting to see whats underneath. So would it be better to be nude or weae a bikini? I just feel like some clothes are engineered to bring attention to private parts. I guess what I'm wonderibg is whilw public nudity ruin sex? It almost seems like de-sexuallizing nudity would decrease lust. Or am I wrong? I'm really confused and torn by this nuditu thing. I see both sides an they both make sense. Please make a article about this. I appreciate your time for reading this.

Matthew Neal said...

Hi, "Unknown." Thanks for writing.

Let me say unequivocally that desexualizing nudity has NO detrimental effect on the enjoyment of sex. I'll also say that it has absolutely no detrimental effect on one's appreciation of the beauty of the nude form!

In fact, I would assert that desexualizing nudity in my life has made my enjoyment of sex BETTER... and my appreciation for nude beauty DEEPER! Here's why...

A sexual relationship between a husband and wife is first and foremost a relationship... it's not about a guy seeing breasts, getting turned on, and letting go. When we separate the "visual stimulus" myth from relating sexually, then we find that "relationship" is at the core of the sex act... and trust me, that is a MUCH richer way to enjoy sex than simply ogling my wife's "bits."

And when we separate the beauty in nudity from sexual allure, all of a sudden, I can assess beauty without including the idea of how "turned on" I get looking at it! A flower is beautiful because it simply is an astounding creation of our God. So is a person... any person... every person... and how "sexually appealing" they are has nothing to do with their beauty, any more than it does for a flower!

I've recently has a young man and his wife tell me that once they tried naturism, they found that they could see the beauty in everyone much more clearly!

No, I can guarantee you that those who say that desexualizing nudity will inhibit sexual response or diminish sexual experience have never tried social nudity. They're only looking for some basis to scare people away from even considering it.

With reference to you other questions and comments, I'll say that you are right on target. Your mind and reasoning are telling you the truth, but you're feeling the cognitive dissonance between those reason-based conclusions and all the things our culture and the church have told you.

Follow the truth where it leads you... even if it leads you away from what you've been told.

— Matthew Neal

Matthew Neal said...

Also, "Unknown,"

Make sure you read through the articles at ... that will help you understand the nature of "lust" as it relates to the human form and nudity.

— Matt