Nakedness in Genesis

© adrenalina |

© adrenalina |

Genesis 2:25 made the claim that Adam and Eve were both naked and not ashamed. However it is not trying to cast them as the first nudists. Nor is it suggesting that they were about to have sex for the first time. The sparseness of merely seeing a declaration of nudity doesn’t capture what is happening in this verse of Scripture. So let’s peek under the covers, so to speak, and see what this nakedness is all about.

The verse brings the curtain down on the scene in Genesis 2 where God makes a fitting helper for Adam from his side. Upon seeing the helper God made for him, the man (ʾādām) spoke for the first time in Scripture and said in Genesis 2:23. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ʾiššâ), because she was taken out of Man (ʾîš).” Bruce Waltke pointed out in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament that while the Genesis narrator named Adam by his relationship to the ground (ʾădāmâ) in Genesis 2:7, Adam named himself in 2:23 in relation to his wife.

The word for “woman” here (ʾiššâ) is the most commonly used Hebrew word for woman and wife in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for man (ʾîš) is typically used for an individual male in contrast to ʾādām for mankind. Frequently it is also rendered as husband (Genesis 3:6). While the use here of ʾîš andʾiššâ may be nothing more than a playful literary device, the surrounding context announced the beginning of a close and intimate relationship between the man and the woman.

It reflects God’s desire to provide man with a companion who would be his intellectual and physical counterpart. The permanency intended in the relationship is expressed in the assertion that man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife.

A close relationship between the man and the woman is also suggested in Adam saying: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The phrase ‘flesh and bone’ is used figuratively to denote kinship (Genesis 29:14; Judges 9:2; 2 Samuel 19:12-13). It also can have a covenantal meaning, as in 2 Sam 5:1-3. Genesis 2:24 reinforced a covenantal meaning, when the narrator commented: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Leaving father and mother and clinging to one’s wife signifies the ending of one allegiance and the beginning of another. Victor Hamilton commented in his commentary on Genesis that: “Already Scripture has sounded the note that marriage is a covenant, rather than an ad-hoc, makeshift arrangement.” Paul clearly had this covenantal understanding in mind with his quotation of Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5, where he discussed marriage and how it represented the relationship between Christ and the church.

Frequently in Scripture the nudity indicated by the Hebrew tem for “naked” here, (ʿārôm), has a symbolic sense of exposure and even vulnerability. The explicitly noted lack of embarrassment of Adam and Eve also suggests their innocence. Isaiah walked naked (likely he wasn’t completely naked, but just without his upper garment) to signify Egyptian prisoners being led away by the Assyrians (Isaiah 20:2-4). The nakedness of the poor in Job 24:7 represents oppression. Nakedness in Hebrew thought was also associated with shame, as with the discovery of a drunken and naked Noah by his son Ham (Genesis 9:22-23).

A very similar term, ʿêrōm, is used ten times in the OT to designate spiritual and physical nakedness. In Genesis 3, it refers to Adam and Eve after their sin (Genesis 3:7, 10, 11). More than just an awareness of their physical nakedness, Adam and Eve are also aware of their guilt before God—they had lost their innocence.  Additionally, “Their relationship with God was impaired, upsetting their relationship to each other.” In Ezekiel 16:7, 22, 29; 23:29 and Deuteronomy 12:29, ʿêrōm is used of the personified Jerusalem, suggesting both her material and spiritual poverty. Used in Ezekiel 18:7, 16 it indicates the proper social concern of righteous in providing clothes for needy.

The word for naked (ʿārôm) in Genesis 2:25 also appears to be a subtle play on the word translated “crafty” in the following verse, Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty (ʿā∙rûm) than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” So Genesis 2:25 contrasts the naked innocence and vulnerability of Adam and Eve to the craftiness of the serpent in Genesis 3:1. As a result of the serpent’s craftiness, Adam and Eve sinned. Ironically, their first bit of newfound wisdom was to realize that they were naked (ʿêrōm) before God (3:7, 10, 11).

The innocence and vulnerability of humanity was lost as a result of their decision to disobey God’s command. They disobeyed in part due to the craftiness of the serpent. He promised that they would be like God, knowing good from evil after they ate the forbidden fruit. They did become “like” God in knowing good from evil. And the first bit of knowledge they gained was realizing they were guilty before God for their disobedience. They were now naked (ʿêrōm) and ashamed, when they used to be naked (ʿārôm).

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