If you’re not familiar with my term “CRAS” go here for an explanation.
Clothing demonstrates to others our character. What we do or do not wear projects our character to the world. As Christians we should strive to project Godly character with what we wear. We do not want to give a false impression of God’s people to the world. We should be humble but also project joy. We should dress according to occasion. Somber times (and corporate worship) call for somber dress and somber face. Joyful times, such as weddings, call for more joyous dress.
But what about nudity? In my quest to become more Biblical in my thinking and less influenced by culture, this topic has come to mind any time a discussion of “modesty” comes across my newsfeed.
What we wear can demonstrate to others our openness or reservedness. Nudity is to be fully open and exposed. Which is why people generally do not like it. People do not like to be vulnerable. Sins and scars can be hidden with clothing.
While nudity equalizes us and removes classes, every habit is demonstrated on the body. Abuse from self and from others is displayed. Such things are shameful and the desire to cover them is great.
Is simple nudity sinful? Some say lust and sexuality make nudity sinful. Some say the dress requirements given to the Old Testament temple priests prove nudity is sinful. However, I conclude that simple nudity is not a sinful state. Would God have created Adam and Eve in a sinful state? In spite of the unclothed state of man, God declared Creation “Very Good”.
Some say that certain passages in Leviticus 18 and 20 define nudity as sinful. However, it is clear from the context that “Uncovering the nakedness” is a condemnation of sexual immorality. Literal readings would mean we cannot change our children or bathe an elderly parent. We could not care for others in any way that might require exposing their bodies.
These passages do not condemn simple nudity, they condemn sexual acts among relatives or between non-married people. There is also a condemnation of rape found in these passages. “Exposing the nakedness” in this case is an aggressive act of embarrassment and objectification. In the story of Ham, the bible does not condemn Noah’s nudity, just Ham’s exposure of it. Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan for drawing attention to his compromised situation.
Some say we should always wear clothing because it is symbolic of Christ’s covering of our sins. This was certainly true of the clothing God created for Adam and Eve. Is there reason to believe God’s clothing of Adam and Eve to be prescriptive to us? When He provided their skin coverings God could have outright declared nakedness to be sinful. However, He simply provided coverings to them as an act of mercy and as a protection to the new harshness of the fallen world. Nudity seems therefore to be acceptable morally in some if not many and most situations.
Some say that the command to “clothe the naked” implies that nudity is sinful. However, if we take this approach to other commands to care for others we would have to assume the state of poverty is sinful, being hungry is sinful, being imprisoned is sinful, being a stranger is sinful, being thirsty is sinful, and being sick is sinful. All of these states of being would be preposterous to declare sin, so why declare nudity sinful?
We clothe the naked as a protection against the elements and to make the person socially acceptable to the culture they reside in. We do not clothe them because we are making a statement that the body is inherently sinful. Because of this I do not think it’s a requirement that we should clothe cultures where nudity is normal. Indigenous people getting dressed after being converted show us less that nudity is sinful than that the culture that brought them the gospel is “superior” and they are showing respect and admiration for it. Many missionaries did not concern themselves with forcing clothing on the natives, even where they noted the nudity in their journals. The gospel was first and foremost on their minds. We should be more concerned with spreading the Gospel than in making sure people are clothed according to our cultural standards.
Some say that nudity is only appropriate in certain circumstances. They argue that nudity in the garden was only between spouses. I have a few problems with this position. The proponents of this must be reading into scripture an assumption that Adam and Eve would realize the sinfulness of exposing themselves to others outside of their marriage once they started procreation. This is patently absurd. God gave one rule in the Garden and it wasn’t “cover up when you start having kids.”
I suppose I cannot say they are accusing God of creating Adam and Eve in a state of sin, since these folks say nudity in marriage is not sinful, but the command to take dominion and procreate was given before clothing. This to me demonstrates that nudity would have been the state of man even after procreation. Had man not fallen, he would still be naked to this day. The only reason he might have gotten dressed was for protection from the elements outside the Garden. But that is speculation as well, and I’ve already condemned the speculations of others so I’ll move on.
While it may sound special and spiritual to claim that the sight of one’s body should be reserved for one’s spouse (and I do not condemn those who feel this way), I do not believe it is a Biblical mandate. If it was inherently sinful to expose ourselves to others besides our spouse, one would be sinning by showering and changing in a public locker room or by exposing ourself to the nurses and doctors at the hospital. There are no exceptions for sin. If we cannot find Scriptural support that says seeing or exposing our nudity is sin outside of marriage, there are certainly no verses excepting doctors, nurses, or old men at the gym.
We should reserve sex for our spouse, but the body is not itself sex. The body is a sin-scarred image of God, not inherently sinful in itself, but marred by one’s spiritual condition.
Does this mean we should all strip off and preach the Gospel in the nude (as Isiah did)? No. We should be offending others with the Gospel itself, not in our appearance. We should adhere to the dress norms of the culture we are reaching.
Does this mean we should have naked church services? One place perhaps that we could be safely naked would be church. But, clothing is symbolic, it does demonstrate a level of humility before our God that we should cover ourselves in His presence. Unless Scripture tells us to remove our clothing (like God telling Moses to remove his shoes) we should wear clothes to church. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 demonstrate that what one wears in church is important to demonstrate our holiness to the world around us. Again, we should be offending the pagans around us with the Gospel, not with our dress, if certain parts of the body offend the culture around us, we would be right to cover them up for the sake of our witness.
So when should we be naked? I do not think that’s the right question, it is not a matter of “should” it is simply a matter of “is it wrong, can I condemn someone as a sinner for doing it?” We cannot Biblically condemn nudity as a sin, but we should be careful in how we approach it. We should not violate our conscience or the conscience of those around us. We should not offend our culture with our bodies, but with the Gospel alone. We should be careful not to project a false image of ourselves, clothed or naked.
Can we go naked here, there, and everywhere? I don’t see why not. “Should” we? It depends.
Be careful what you wear or do not wear, it says a lot about you to the world around you.