Question: "What does it mean to uncover nakedness in the Bible?"
Answer: Before the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived without clothing in a perfectly natural state (Genesis 2:25). But after the fall, nakedness became a source of shame (Genesis 3:6–7). In fact, shame at their own nakedness was the first felt consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. Since then, nakedness has been linked with sexuality, privacy, and vulnerability. When the Bible speaks of “uncovering nakedness,” it is usually referring to some type of sexual sin, perversion, or dishonor.
The first reference to uncovering someone’s nakedness is in Genesis 9, which continues the story of Noah after the floodwaters receded. Noah and his sons and their spouses had established a new life as the only human beings left to repopulate the earth. As time went by, Noah planted a vineyard and made wine from the grapes. He then drank the wine, became drunk, and passed out naked in his tent (Genesis 9:20–21). His son Ham entered the tent, saw his father’s nakedness, and went to tell his brothers (Genesis 9:22). Scholars debate what may have transpired in this scene. The sin may have been more than merely mocking his father’s naked body. Ham (or his son Canaan) may have engaged in some kind of sexual activity or dishonor of Noah’s private parts. Whatever he did by uncovering his father’s nakedness was wicked enough to invite Noah’s wrath when he sobered up. Noah then pronounced a strong curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:24).
The phrase uncover nakedness almost always refers to sexual sin. In most newer versions of the Bible, the phrase uncover nakedness is usually reworded as “have sexual relations with” (e.g., Leviticus 18:6, 17, 19). Other passages, such as Deuteronomy 22:30, forbade a man to sleep with his stepmother because doing so would “uncover his father’s nakedness” (ESV). By entering into intimacy with the same woman who had slept with his father, a man disgraced his father (Deuteronomy 27:20; Leviticus 18:8; Ezekiel 22:10). This was one reason the sin of Absalom, David’s son, was so great (2 Samuel 16:22). As the ultimate act of disrespect, Absalom let it be known publicly that he was having sex with his father’s concubines. He not only violated his father’s bedroom, he violated God’s written law: “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed” (Deuteronomy 27:20).
As our world’s morals continue to spiral downward, uncovering nakedness in one way or another has become a favorite pastime. Culture has glorified nakedness and worked to numb our natural modesty by parading nakedness before our eyes. Even children’s clothing is sexualized, and media outlets praise nakedness as “bold,” “brave,” and “liberating.” We watch actors uncovering each other’s nakedness publicly on the big screen. The pornography industry has made a fortune by uncovering nakedness in every possible way, mocking biblical moral standards as archaic and restrictive.
We’ve lost the concept of honor for one’s sexuality, treating the sex drive as just another need to be met the way we treat hunger and thirst. Uncovering nakedness is no longer a source of shame in a culture that has been trained to expect and applaud it. Ironically, in a world that celebrates the uncovering of nakedness, sexual dysfunctions, abuses, and even infertility are skyrocketing. God created the human body, and sexuality is His idea; He therefore knows best how we function. First Corinthians 6:13 says, “You say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’ The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
God intended the uncovering of nakedness to be done only within His prescribed boundaries of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2–5). Christians can help reclaim the sanctity of marital relations and modesty by refusing to deaden our consciences through sexually graphic TV programs, movies, and magazines. We can guard our eyes against pornographic images by installing filters on our internet devices. And we can honor our bodies by refusing to uncover our own nakedness in the way we dress, talk, or behave (1 Corinthians 6:18). Nakedness is no longer innocent as it was in the Garden of Eden, and wise people do not uncover it in dishonoring ways.