Nakedness as a Metaphor in Scripture: An introduction

Nakedness in Scripture is actually a fascinating study that very few undertake these days, because it may sound to many like something that appeals to some sort of prurient interest. I can recall vividly the way undergrads reacted when I mentioned it in class; first they start to squirm, and then the giggling begins, followed by the wisecracks, and finally the defensive accusations: “So then you’re telling us that we should all…”

To be sure, most undergrads are simply too immature to deal with this subject. Over many years, I have also taught Bible classes in churches, and sooner or later, we would come across a passage where nakedness is either mentioned or avoided by translators in a text, and if the discussion of the text lasts for more than a minute or two, they start to squirm…leading me to the conclusion that most modern day Americans are too immature to deal with this subject.

Yet, here we are by popular demand!

I think the real reason for undertaking this study is that it follows so naturally from our recently completed study of the image of God, for it is in that image that the metaphor is to be found. It is a rich and amazing study for those who can avoid the giggling and squirming, because it goes to the very essence of our relationship with God, and even more interesting, it goes to the essence of the influence the world around us has in obstructing or corrupting that relationship.

The real question at this moment is how best to proceed; I have some editorial decisions to make at the outset. We will be doing a word study of the word “naked” first in the Old and then in the New Testament. That sounds easy enough, for if you search the word “naked” on Bible Gateway, you will find that in the NIV it appears 48 times in all, 40 in the OT and 8 in the new; all we need to do is look them up…

Only there’s a problem, for if you do your word search in the King James, you’ll find the word appears 87 times, 69 times in the OT and 18 in the NT; why the discrepancy? So then, you might check the New American Standard, since it is very literal, and you will discover that “naked” appears 77 times, 64 in the OT, 13 in the NT. When the discrepancy of such a simple term is this wide, you should be on alert as you go forward; something is going on here.

Since the Old Testament comes first, it is natural to begin there, and when a metaphor is under examination, they are almost always rooted in the Old Testament, so we will begin there, with the first use of the word “naked” in Genesis 2:25; this should be easy, since we covered this verse in the image of God posts. Checking with the Blue Letter Bible, we find that the Hebrew word is arowm (H6174)… and that it only appears in Scripture 16 times! Shortly after that, we find two other Hebrew words that mean “naked”, at least in a literal understanding; do they carry different connotations?

If so, this study is going to be very interesting indeed.

At this point, you should see two things: First, this study is a little involved in a scholarly way, and second, that it has the potential to shine light not only on the metaphor, but on how culture and translating Scripture come together to either enlighten or to obscure. My plan of attack is simple: We will begin at the beginning, and examine all of the Hebrew words involved; there are three. Then we will look at selected examples of each to see how they are used and what is going on. Next, we’ll compare the three English translations I mentioned to see if we can figure out why there is such a discrepancy. Then we’ll move on to the New Testament to see what, if anything has changed, and look at the discrepancies in translations again to see if we can figure out what the translators were thinking, and then we will draw some conclusions about all of this As you can see, there really won’t be much time for giggling and squirming!

Finally, these posts will be periodic, one or two per week. I’ll set up a tab at the top of the screen under which you can find these posts more easily, and with that, I’ll see you next time!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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11 Responses to Nakedness as a Metaphor in Scripture: An introduction

  1. paulfg says:

    “As you can see, there really won’t be much time for giggling and squirming!” Great intro Don, thank you. A thought provoking piece. Thank you.

  2. DGHDelgado says:

    Thanks for being willing to be forthright about “nakedness.” I’ve always been curious about the youth who fled naked on the night Jesus was betrayed. The incident makes me think of Joseph fleeing Potipher’s wife.
    Looking forward to your thoughts.

  3. kathyayers1 says:

    Very interesting although I have never studied the subject of nakedness in the Bible. I do remember last year taking a Biblical Counseling course and the instructor mentioning that nakedness is never portrayed in a positive way in Scripture. Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

  4. Oh this sounds great! I’ve been wondering what to use to find the Greek or Hebrew translations of particular words. What do you recommend. As you note, so much is lost in translation.

  5. thebenedictineoblate says:

    I can’t wait to read more. I love the connection that you made that, just in speaking about nakedness, our reaction to nakedness through giggles and immaturity already begins to mirror how we may feel before God: uncomfortable, embarrassed, etc.

    I think such a study may also be important because I think often the traditions of marriage and rules of chastity imposed by God may be misunderstood in concluding that the human body is “bad” or nakedness is “bad.” When in fact it is the very opposite. We forget, in Genesis, He made them “good”–and that goodness was naked. It is original sin hat desecrates the body…

    Perhaps by recovering and studying nakedness as metaphor through the Bible we may be given insight into the sacredness of the body and sexuality.

    • Don Merritt says:

      I’ve consistently said that following Jesus is counter-intuitive, and it is so for many reasons; cultural, traditional, and sometimes in the sense that it just runs counter to human nature. I think that the whole “nakedness” metaphor brings all three to light, for it is when all three of these are stripped away that we find ourselves in an intimate relationship with God, the relationship for which we were intended in the first place.

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