Marriage, Human Sexuality, and the Body: The Meaning of our Original Nakedness (Part IV)

Monday, October 12th, 2015

This is part of a series of articles on marriage, human sexuality and the body. Read Part I here. Read Part II here. Read Part III here. Read Part V here.

I am using as the basis for these homilies the wonderful theological work done by the late Pope, John Paul II which he delivered in his weekly homilies between 1979-1984 which remains, in my estimation, one of the most comprehensive theological explorations of a theology of the body, marriage and human sexuality I have read.  The purpose of this blog series is to underscore how utterly inadequate it is for us to be merely against something like homosexual behavior without being able to articulate what we are joyfully for.  I am concerned mainly about our own conversation in the church, because we have to recover that before we have anything to say to the wider culture.  In my view, we have at least 20 years of homework to do before we can regain any form of public witness on these issues.  It is far too tiny of a strategy to try to come up with 5 clever objections to this or that practice, without recognizing the deeper void of theological work which addresses the very foundation which will enable us to speak to the whole spectrum of brokenness in our society ranging from divorce to digital pornography to homosexual practice to adultery to fornication to gender reassignment, and so forth.  It is your generation which must regain your theological composure.  To put it bluntly, we cannot twitter our way out of this!

During the last three blog entries, we have seen how our creation as “male” and “female” are not solely biological, functional categories, but steeped in deep mysteries and theological realities which reflect God’s own nature and His original design for His creation.  Even in a post-Fallen world, we saw how in Matthew 19, Jesus reminds his questioners that despite the rise of human sin and brokenness, despite our hardness of heart and the cultural fog we are in, the original design remains joyfully intact.  The phrase which Jesus uses twice in that text should be our reminder today:  “From the beginning it was not so.”   We began to realize that we actually lost the struggle decades ago when we accepted the world’s definition of marriage as a shifting cultural arrangement designed to deliver happiness, companionship, sexual fulfillment and economic efficiency.  In contrast, the Scriptures summon us to remember how families are intended to reflect the Trinity, the sacramental nature of the body, what it means to be image bearers in our very physicality, the power of self-donation, and the mystery of actually becoming co-creators with God in the reproducibility of children, not to mention how our very bodies prepare the world to receive the incarnation of Jesus Christ. There is a mighty chasm between these two visions and we had better recapture the original vision and design.  The former is a utilitarian vision which sees marriage as a commodity; the latter is a biblical vision which sees marriage as covenant.

The utilitarian vision sees the body of a  man or woman as an object which can be assessed like a car. Is it bright, new, shiny and full of power, or not?  Is your body thin or fat; does it conform to the shapes we admire or not; is your hair the right texture and color or not; are your teeth shiny and straight or not?  In the covenantal vision, the mystery and glory is that we have bodies, and those bodies are beautiful to God because they are living sacraments in the world, an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, since all of the means of grace come through the physicality of the body.

In Genesis 2, we have the joyous creation of “male” and “female” which culminates in their awakening and the remarkable passage in Genesis 2:25 which says, “the man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.”

First, John Paul asks us to consider the meaning of our original nakedness.  Remember, last week we had to go back (as Jesus did in Matthew 19) and look at the pre-Fallen Adam.  Our theologies have focused primarily on fallen Adam and Christ as the second Adam (as in Romans 5 and I Cor. 15:45), but we needed to remember the pre-fallen Adam and the original design. In the same way, we must also go back to the pre-fall Adam and Eve and remember our original nakedness.  We know nakedness today only through the lens of the Fall.  Therefore, nakedness for us is a sign of our shame.  In the Western theological traditions, we have mostly viewed the Fall as the portal through which we have been cast into guilt as transgressors of God’s law.  That testimony is true.  But, the actual account in Genesis names two other, perhaps even deeper, realities of the Fall; namely fear and shame.  It is fear, shame and guilt which has destroyed the original communion of persons in the primordial design, whether between man and woman, or between ourselves and the communion of the Triune God.  In a post-fig leaf world which clothes our shame, it is difficult for us to even conceptualize what it means to stand naked without shame.  But it is here that we discover the true nature of our original design.  The reason the man felt no shame before Eve, and Eve before Adam is because they were one flesh.  They were in the state of original unity.  And that was the design: “a man shall leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”  Sin pushes us back into our autonomous solitude, destroys the communion of persons, and heaps shame upon ourselves and our bodies.  It is sin which brings this new self-consciousness, or shall I say, self-orientation.  Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness and felt shame and fear.  All of this is revealed through two questions God himself asks us after the Fall.  The first question is  “Where are you?” (loss of communion).  Adam answers that he and Eve had hidden themselves because  “I was afraid (fear) and I was naked (self-consciousness).

The second question is, “Who told you that you were naked?”  Adam’s response reveals a profound loss of communion and the newly emerging self-orientation.  Eve, who was before the Fall one flesh with Adam, now becomes an object – an object upon which Adam heaps blame and guilt.  “The woman you gave me…”  You see, shame robs us of the self-donation which is integral to God’s own nature where we fully give ourselves to the other such that we are one flesh.   All the ways we shame the body of another and heap shame upon our own body is because of the loss of original nakedness.  We, of course, joyfully recapture a glimmer of the original design through the covenant of marriage when a man and woman can stand before one another naked and without shame, and say, “this is my body, given for you.”  Remember those words in Ephesians 5:28, “husbands have a duty to love their wives as their own bodies.”  To shame your wife’s body is to shame yourself, and to shame the Triune God from whom all bodies come as gifts.  Outside of covenant, we can only know shame.    Inside the covenant, we have the summons to be free from all shame and enter into joyful communion with the Triune God.


  • Karen says:

    Thank you so much for these articles. I do plan to read the popes articles. I believe this is so important! I have a question. What if your body is sick, what if you are in constant pain? Obviously these things come because of the fall, but how do we respond to continuous sickness of the body?

  • Mary Page says:

    To shame your wife’s body is to shame yourself, and to shame the Triune God from whom all bodies come as gifts. Outside of covenant, we can only know shame. Inside the covenant, we have the summons to be free from all shame and enter into joyful communion with the Triune God

    Wonder if this should be part of marriage vows as a reminder…

    Visible sign for an inward practice reinforced by New Testament

    1John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made
    perfect in love.

    Millennials divorce less than baby boomers and admit living together which baby boomers did but hid. Hmmmm sounds like marriage will become more precious again.

    • Rod says:

      The whole article is good, especially Ephesians 5:28 and the true definition of marriage from the beginning, which has not changed according to Jesus.

  • Luke Kuepfer says:

    Love these posts Dr. Tennent. This last one confirmed what I’ve learned recently about “why nakedness” (I had to teach my kids shame at an early age…they weren’t naturally ashamed of their nakedness) in the garden after humanity chose to devalue God’s preeminence (sin). I have the privilege of meeting almost weekly with 94-year old Dr. Dennis Kinlaw who has been teaching me much this past year about the Trinity, especially the “others-orientedness” of each Person. Dr. Kinlaw helped me understand that nakedness in the garden is the first time “we” became self-aware, self-oriented, self-protecting, etc. Prior to this, man and woman–made in God’s image–were completely focused “outside” of themselves. Sin is wrapped up in self-orientation…not attributing worth-ship where it belongs.

  • […] on marriage, human sexuality and the body. Read Part I here. Read Part II here. Read Part III here. Read Part IV here. Read Part VI […]

  • With all due respect, since it’s been 45 years since unilateral divorce was enacted in the first of all U.S. states, and we’ve been hiding what amounts to serial polygamy behind the fig-leaf of civil paper, we are not likely to be afforded 20 years to catch up on our homework. Unilateral divorce was imposed in the 5th century Eastern Roman empire capping a society already in decline. Within 2 generations, they were no more. It was next enacted in Bolshevik Russia where social decay became so bad that Stalin curtailed it. Within 2 generations of the U.S. social experiment, we seem to be on the cusp of seeing concurrent polygamy legalized to accompany the sort already enabled by unilateral divorce laws and solemnized (rather than resisted) in many churches for the last 20 years. A reading of the book of Ezra is instructive of what is required when church leadership becomes complicit in immorality. These are good conversations and much needed, but they may not have the luxury of a long germination period to produce meaningful change. We have, after all, trampled on what is perhaps God’s most sacred of symbols and characterizations, which weaves through each of His five major covenants with men.

    Another biblical studies graduate brought to our attention an interesting comparison of Matt. 19:5-6 / Mark 10:8-9 / Eph. 5:31 versus 1 Cor. 6:16, in some of the key words and phrases. We believe this has scriptural implications for all violations of Luke 16:18, and it renders non-widowed remarriage neither the spiritual nor moral equivalent of the covenant with the spouse of our youth, as the Lord Himself asserts in Malachi 2:14. Our blog, “God’s Character and His Covenants” deals with this in detail, but here’s a brief excerpt:

    “Paul bluntly points out in 1 Cor. 6:15, that any man can join himself (and Christ along with him) to a prostitute or adultery partner. However this only makes him one body with him or her in a non-transcendant way, Greek “soma” σῶμά.

    “Yet this can be contrasted with quite a different Greek word “sarka” σάρκα found in Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8 and Ephesians 5:31, accompanied by another Greek word synezeuxen συνέζευξεν for “joined together” (Matthew 19:6 and 9; Mark 10:9), something supernatural that only God accomplishes during the Kingdom-lawful wedding, where there is not a prior undissolved marriage covenant, (that is, an estranged living spouse) as Jesus Himself described. We see a third Greek word, proskollēthēsetai προσκολληθήσεται meaning “to cleave together” (Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31)
    which may be more of a process beyond the ceremony in its future indicative passive usage. By way of further contrast with the illicit “joining” of 1 Cor. 6, the counterpart word for “join with” used there is κολλώμενος (kollōmenos) with a present participle tense, middle or passive voice. Lacking our holy God’s approval or participation, this joining is transitory and gratuitous, it is defiling of mind, body and soul even if a civil or ecclesiastical piece of paper comes to endorse it. Unlike holy matrimony where God’s hand makes them sarx σὰρξ mia μία (one flesh) and they are no longer two but one, nor can they be unjoined except by death, the illicit joining or the unlawful marriage of serial adulterers characterized by κολλώμενος (kollōmenos) and hen ἓν sōma σῶμά , though these will create an evil soul-tie, they not only can be separated, they must be terminated to avoid falling away from the Lord due to idolatry and a hardened heart against God (Ezra, chapters 9 and 10; John 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:10-11; Gal. 4:30; Gal. 5:21; Gal. 6:7-8; Heb. 13:4) .”

    It appears that the marriage bond resulting from covenant with God was to be distinctive in every way from the illicit joining that results from attempts to deny or dissolve, even with civil / ecclesiastical paper, that which God has irrevocably joined. This surely accounts for the strong position Jesus took in repeatedly saying that whoever marries a divorced person commits adultery. Further, what evangelicals like to call a “design” is actually far more than that. It is a supernatural law, and was so from the beginning.