Weekly Bible Study Notes: February 23, 2022

You might have thought after our last time 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, we move on 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.

You might have thought after our last time 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, we move on 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.

By this time, you should be clear that in Scripture, if not in some church circles, that nakedness is not necessarily a bad thing; it is neutral. To be certain, bad or improper behaviors can take place when nakedness is present, but nakedness has nothing to do with causing bad or improper behavior and we only need to take notice of the fact that the overwhelming majority of “badness” in this world is done by people who are not naked.

We should also realize by now that Mankind was intended to relate to God in a state in which they are “naked and unashamed” as opposed to covering themselves and that such coverings came only after people had rebelled against God and attempted to hide from Him. With these things understood, we can proceed.

What does it mean to be “naked”? It means that we take off all of our covering and bare ourselves, the good, the bad and the ugly, hiding nothing at all. If a person is seen naked, they have no little secrets, no costume or pretense; there it is…

Is it any wonder that most people aren’t usually entirely comfortable when others see them naked? When we speak of our relationships with God, we are always naked before Him, whether we realize it or not, for God sees all and we have no secrets from Him. For most of us, that should be a much more uncomfortable thought than to be seen by another person while we are unclothed. Yet it is true whether we want to think about it or not; we can hide certain little secrets from other people, we can pretend to be holy and righteous with other people, but God knows not only the reality, but our innermost thoughts and motivations, all of the time. Thus, we are always naked before Him.

Now comes the full impact of the metaphor:

When we become aware of this reality and when we agree to bare all before Him, to let down our guards, to admit all, to stop attempting to impress Him or deceive Him, when we give everything we have and everything we are to Him… that is when amazing things start to happen.

The funny thing about this is that I have met hundreds, if not thousands of Christians who would jump in right about now and say that why yes, they do this all the time, and then they would go on and on about how Jesus is the very center of their lives, and that their prayer time (several times each day) and their frequent fasting and selflessness should be a model for everyone to follow… and who would be lying through their teeth in the process of impressing family and friends with their piety; they might even be fooling themselves. Yet like the Pharisees of old, their fruit betrays them every time.

Sadly, most Christians never get to this point, while the rest don’t come to this point as often as we might.

Naked before God is much more than a state of dress, in fact it can take place fully clothed, for what it really comes down to is a state of complete and humble submission to Him, to His majesty and to His will in all things, and this is one thing to simply say, and quite another to do on a consistent basis, yet the awesome news is that we don’t need to do it on our own.

There is a very fundamental reason for this; actually it is a theological reason that is elegant in its simplicity: we were created for the purpose of intimate relationship with our Creator. What is all the more amazing is the fact that this is true of us both individually and collectively, and it is why marriage between a man and woman is used in Scripture to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Church: It is the most intimate of all relationships.

Many times over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with Christian leaders in academia, in well-known ministries and in local churches, and I have often been surprised that these leaders, as amazing as many of them are, focus on all of the wrong things. They focus on doctrinal points, which may or may not be important, or they may focus on traditions of corporate worship or worship style or preaching style… or they may debate the best kind of microphone to use in preaching.

Yet none of these things bring about an intimate relationship.

To be naked before God means that these kinds of things fall into their proper places, that we gain better perspective on what our priorities should be, for the highest priority of any Christian should be their relationship with our Lord, their intimate, bare-all-in-humility relationship with our Lord.

I’ve worked with a fair number of married couples who have marital difficulties, and almost without exception the ones who couldn’t resolve their issues failed for one of two reasons: Either they did not trust one another, or one or both of them lacked humility in some way. Of course, this should surprise no one, for marriage is the most intimate of human relationships; it is physically intimate, emotionally intimate and it is mentally intimate. Intimacy of this kind requires complete trust, and complete trust requires a fair degree of humility, for one does not gain the trust of another by setting him or herself above the other. God created humanity for an intimate relationship, and when things went south, He was willing to go to extreme measures to redeem us; there He stands, arms wide open. Do we trust Him enough to run to Him and have a “naked and unashamed” relationship?

When all is said and done in this life, and we are on our deathbeds, the only thing that really counts is our answer to that last question.

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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