Is Public Nakedness Always Wrong?

The sophistry and “cunning craftiness” of humankind never ceases to amaze (Eph. 4.14). We seem to have a knack for developing ingenious—albeit deceptive—arguments designed to justify carnal behavior.


Take the matter of public nudity, for example.

Some—even some who profess to be Christians—contend that since God made us to be naked, public exposure surely cannot be wrong. Nakedness is natural, after all!

I'm aware of one brother who contends that there is nothing wrong with appreciating beauty. Thus, so long as one does not lust for a woman, he may view photos of naked women merely for his aesthetic pleasure. It is just art, after all!

These desperate arguments (and there are many more) do not come from minds that are spiritually focused.

Still, it is true that not all nakedness is a transgression of God’s law.

Lawful Nakedness

Private nakedness (e.g., bathing, etc.), of course, cannot be denounced. Too, nakedness restricted to the marriage bed is certainly honorable (cf. Heb. 13.4). Thus, nakedness, as such, is not necessarily prohibited. There are times and places for it.


Furthermore, there may also be moments of severe distress in which public nakedness simply cannot be avoided (cf. Rom. 8.35; 2 Cor. 11.27). The Lord himself was publicly exposed while hanging upon the cross (cf. Mk. 15.24; Jn. 19.23ff). And who can forget the horrors of the Jewish holocaust, in which men, women, and children were deplorably treated, and forced to endure the cold winters of Germany without any clothing whatsoever?


Doctors and nurses are often obliged to operate on exposed bodies, in an effort to heal them of their various ailments.

Thus, while the Christian should always attempt to clothe himself properly (and avoid situations in which nudity will be present), there are, nonetheless, times of hardship or necessity when this simply may not be feasible.


Unlawful Nakedness

That said, pornography and willful public nudity are definitely transgressions of sacred law. Consider these points:


(1) The Bible repeatedly condemns it.


The Old Testament contains 57 references to public nakedness. It is frequently prohibited in that law (cf. Ex. 20.26; Lev. 18.6-19; 20.11-21), and was regarded as a shameful thing (cf. Isa. 47.3; Nahum 3.5f; Ex. 32.25), especially in contexts with distinctly sexual overtones (cf. Eze. 16.36f; 22.10f; 23.18, 29).


Likewise, those who exposed the nakedness of others were subject to a severe indictment from the Lord (cf. Habakkuk 2.15-16).


After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were given adequate coverings once they felt the shame of their public nakedness (cf. Gen. 3.7, 10, 21). Hence, even in a marital relationship, there are times when decency demands that nudity be esteemed as inappropriate!

Under the Christian era, public nakedness is also regarded as a shameful and reprehensible thing (cf. Rev. 3.17-18; 16.15; 17.16).


Conversely, it is honorable to cover the nakedness of others (cf. Isa. 58.7; Mt. 25.36f; Jms. 2.15f).

(2) Our Lord also condemns any activity which entices others to sin (cf. 1 Cor. 8.9; Mt. 5.27-30).

If a brother should argue that his naked photos (of himself or others) aren’t intended to be lustful, he should at least be conscious of the fact that those photos are a cause of lustful stumbling for many others. For that reason alone, contributing to another's lust should always be avoided, for while righteousness always entices people to avoid sinful lusts, distributing naked photos, on the other hand, entices people to satisfy them.

Jesus delivered a blistering indictment against anyone who influences others to sin (cf. Mt. 18.6-9). The man who distributes nude photos may appease his conscience by telling himself that he is not lusting after them, but still

it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea

than to cause those who use his naked photos to fulfill their lust, for he, ultimately is the one responsible for setting the trap into which they have become sinfully ensnared.

(3) The Bible frequently prohibits lasciviousness and/or lewdness (cf. Mk. 7.22; 2 Cor. 12.21; Gal. 5.19; Eph. 4.19; 1 Pet. 4.3; Jude 1.4; Rom. 13.13; 2 Pt. 2.7, 18). The term applies to shameless conduct, and especially embraces sexual immorality.


J.H. Thayer defines the term as: "unchaste handling of males and females" (Greek-English Lexicon, 79-80). This includes the visual promotion of sexually explicit media materials.

(4) Finally, there is the Greek term porneia, from which we partially derive our English word, pornography. The word has to do with illicit (i.e., out of wedlock) sexual intercourse (and is often rendered, fornication, in the Bible). It is summarily condemned as a work of the flesh (cf. Rm. 1.29; 1 Cor. 5.1; 6.13, 18; 7.2; 2 Cor. 12.21; Eph. 5.3; Col. 3.5; 1 Thess. 4.3; Rev. 9.21, etc.).


The verb form, porneuo, has to do with "prostituting one's body to the lust of another" (Thayer, 532). And the woman who exposes her body, thereby eliciting a lustful response in others, is a porne (a harlot, cf. Jms. 2.25).

Pornography, though not a sex act of itself (unlike fornication; cf. Jn. 8.4; Ezek. 16.25-32), is nonetheless the graphic display of sexual organs or situations. Hence, the woman who stands on the corner, exposing herself to entice patrons with sex (i.e., the porne—harlot), is just as wrong as those who expose themselves on internet websites. Porn in person is just as wrong as porn online. No brother or sister should ever be connected with it.


It should also be observed that “nakedness” in the Bible occasionally alludes to the wearing of undergarments in public (as distinct from total nudity) — cf. 1 Sam. 19.24; 2 Sam. 6.14; 1 Chron. 15.27; Isa. 20.2-4; John 21.7. In other words, being "naked" in the Bible did not necessarily mean the subject was totally nude. Yet, even the exposing of undergarments is connected with shame and embarrassment. How much more shameful, then, is the exposing of the whole body?

Conclusion

Paul warned: “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3.13). Man’s imagination is a wild and fertile field, for sure.


But all carnal “reasonings” aside (and I use that term loosely here), spiritual people will not seek ways to normalize or anesthetize the shamefulness of nakedness, no matter the situation.


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