Nakedness as a Metaphor in Scripture: The New Testament

You might have thought after our last post on this subject that it’s all well and good to discuss nakedness in the Old Testament, but we live under the New Testament, and many things changed because of what Jesus has taught and accomplished between the two Testaments. So even though the metaphor, as most Scriptural metaphors do, comes out of the Old Testament, a look at nakedness in the New Testament is in order to see if we need to adjust our thinking.

The primary word that is translated “naked” in the New Testament is the Greek word gymnos (G1131) which means “naked”. It is morally neutral; neither good nor bad, just a state of being undressed. Gymnos (from which we get our word “gymnasium”) appears 15 times in the New Testament (Matt. 25:36, 38 43, 44;  Mark 14:51, 52; John 21:7; Acts 19:16; 1 Cor. 15:37; 2 Cor. 5:3; Heb. 4:13; James 2:15; Rev. 3:17; 16:15; 17:16). King James translates the word “naked” 14 times and “bare” once, while the NASB translates it as “naked “ 11 times, “bare” two times, and “stripped” and “without clothing” once each. There isn’t a case where it means anything other than not wearing clothes; it isn’t nuanced, nor is it used in an imperative sense i.e. as a command, other than to see to the needs of those who are destitute.

The main point of all of this is really quite simple: The New Testament in no way negates the metaphor we discovered in the Old. Actually we can also discern that in both Old and New Testament times, clothing itself was worn for two primary purposes: First and foremost as a protection against the elements, and second as part of a social convention (or contract). The significance of clothing as part of a social contract is hard to overestimate, for it results in the simple reality that there are times and places where a society, any society, may determine that wearing clothing is the proper and correct thing to do. For example, while in the ancient near east not wearing clothing in certain situations would have been considered “normal”, there were other situations when it would have been considered very odd indeed. For example, a workman would often work without clothing in good weather, but if he were to venture into town, say to the marketplace, he would not go without clothing to buy food from a vendor on the street, for it would have been considered improper and inappropriate. Certainly, if you were invited to the palace of the king, you would wear your best outfit, for not doing so would be disrespectful to the king. This was not a matter of morality versus immorality; it was a matter of social expectation.

For the purpose of this study, it is important for us to recognize the distinction between immorality (sin) as opposed to social convention, for if we do not see the distinction, we are likely to miss the Scriptural metaphor of nakedness before God, which is actually an important spiritual concept., because we will assume there is something sinful going on in the metaphor. In our time, our social conventions are much stricter with regard to the human form than they were in Biblical times, and many of us, myself included, have missed this entirely because of our cultural and social bias.

With this distinction in place, I plan to move on in the next post in this series to a brief discussion of the concept of “naked before God” so that we might begin to see how truly amazing this metaphor is in Scripture.

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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4 Responses to Nakedness as a Metaphor in Scripture: The New Testament

  1. pipermac5 says:

    Very interesting… Another word which says what it means and means what it says without any nuance or moral-judgement. It would seem that if God was “offended” by nakedness or thought that it was wrong, He had plenty of opportunities to regulate it or even squash is, but He didn’t. God didn’t even tell Gentile believers through the Apostle Paul to quit going to the Roman baths or quit exercising at the Greek gymnasiums, rather Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete stripped for competition for how we should lay aside that which holds us back from fully-serving God.



  2. Maybe you should have added a disclaimer, “Donn Merritt does not support public nudity.” Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

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