Words have meaning. And as such, much of our communication can become an exercise in semantics if we cannot agree on the definitions of the words being used.
Classical languages use different words to communicate nuance where English only uses one word to express a host of different ideas. I think of the word “love.” In Greek there were four words for love:
- Philia – a love found in strong friendships
- Eros – an erotic love of passion and intimacy
- Storge – a love found in family relationships
- Agape – a type of selfless, unconditional love
In English we use the same word to cover the gamut of feelings from “I love my wife” to “I love frozen yogurt.” I sure hope my love for my wife is stronger and different than my love for froyo! Do you begin to see the potential confusion over words that are identical in every way except for context?
So it is with nudity and nakedness. Watch this video to see what I mean. The video text will be printed after.
The word naked is usually used as a descriptive adjective.
One might think of a naked mole rat, which describes a pink, nearly hairless rodent, or the “naked” truth, which is a way of saying that the information shared is unvarnished or without ornamentation. Simply put, we usually think of naked as meaning “without a covering.”
What does the term “nakedness” mean in the Bible?
Most of the passages that speak to nakedness are found in the Old Testament. As such, it is from within the Old Testament 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 from the Bible and their meanings.
There are three individual words for nakedness in the Old Testament: arowm, eyrom and ervah.
In Genesis 2:25, we are first introduced to arowm, which means “simple and innocent nakedness.”
“The man and his wife were arowm, but they were not ashamed.”
Later, in Genesis 3:7, after the Fall, the word eyrom for “vulnerable nakedness, with a sense of being exposed to harm” is used.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were eyrom; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”
And finally, after the global flood, in Genesis 9:22 we are exposed to a new word for “active sexual nakedness,” ervah.
“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the ervah of his father…”
All three of these variants have their basis in the same root Hebrew word, but their biblical usage indicates different shades of meaning. Sadly, in our common language translations, we generally just get one word, “naked,” which, understandably, has led many to develop wrong thoughts on what nakedness is all about!
God never calls arowm or eyrom shameful. There is no Scripture in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt not be naked” or “Nakedness is sinful.” In fact, He used naked circumcision as a visible sign of His Covenant with Abraham and his descendants.
Ervah, on the other hand, is where we see sin joined with nakedness and shame. If what a person was doing in a situation was sinful, or could be the cause of sin, it was ervah.
In the New Testament, the word for naked is gymnos. It means “bare, without clothing” and is the root of the word, “gymnasium.” The gym was a place to exercise in a state of nudity.
Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that in God’s eyes, “No creature is hidden, but all are gymnos…”
Many “grown-up” translations try to “cover up” simple nudity in the Bible, such as when the Apostle Peter was naked and fishing, but interestingly, the International Children’s Bible gets it right!
“…he wrapped his coat around himself. (Peter had taken his clothes off.) Then he jumped into the water.” See John 21:3-7.
What word was used in the Greek for his lack of clothing? Gymnos, of course!
Like ervah above, there are two instances in the New Testament where shame added to nudity produces a negative situation. The greek word aschēmosýnē is used for specific situations when nudity is inappropriately sexual or used to shame.
In Romans 1:27, this word is used to describe unnatural sexual activity, and in Revelation 16:15, it is used to implicate the consequences of laziness.
Ultimately, we look to the teaching of our Rabbi, Y’Shua, who teaches us that sin starts in the heart and grows into action.
Nakedness, like other subjects in the Bible, is actually a neutral state. Most people throughout history have known that simple nudity is not sinful. Yet, if we hold faulty definitions, our thoughts, our actions, and our discipleship journey with other believers in the Body of Christ will be affected.
It is wonderful that, as New Covenant believers, we have the ability to focus our hearts on Jesus and experience the innocent, pure nakedness of the Garden.
What wrongs might be righted if the church rediscovered this truth?
See also the presentation at https://renude.life/what-is-naked/
[H6174] (ex. Gen. 2:25, 1 Sam 19:24, Job 1:21) — arowm
[H5903] (ex. Gen. 3:7 & 10, Deut. 28:48, Eze. 18:7) – eyrom
[H6172] (ex. Gen. 9:22, Exo. 28:42, Lev. 18:6) – ervah
[G1131] (ex. John 21:7, Heb 4:13) — gymnos
[G808] – ashchemosyne
13 thoughts on “What does nakedness mean?”
Very good article guys. I will be sharing this.
Very good…. very clear…. Thanks.
Thanks for reading!
Very good article. My wife and I have had conversations about my nakedness at home and she is a student of the Bible as am I. She translates New Testament Greek to defend the sinfulness of being naked. This will definitely broaden the conversation. Thanks for all your work in this area.
Hope it helps to generate a good and respectful conversation.
A lot of meaning is lost in translation. Particularly when two languages don’t line up.
That’s the truth!
And no two languages “line up” exactly, even when they’re as similar as, say, English and French. Or British and American English. 🙂
I Philia the eyrom of this post!
It is shared from friend to friend with an honest innocence that is vulnerable to misunderstanding, yet necessary for communicating it’s truth. Good work.
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I see what you did there!
And Hebrew is a richly poetic language, with one Hebrew word signifying multiple concepts in English. *Shalom*, for one well-known example, means both “peace” and “well-being;” when Israelis greet each other today, they ask, “*Mah shlomchah*”, or “How is your peace?”
So since in Hebrew there are at least three words that translate to “naked” in English, we’d better pay attention to how they’re used! We’re probably missing even more nuances than we think we are!
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