Sex and Nakedness in Eden by Kelly J. Murphy

Mentioned in Gen 2:4-3:24, the Garden of Eden is frequently considered the beginning of all things sex, sin, and shame. According to popular understanding, the story is as follows: God forms man and woman in Eden and, although the man and woman are originally innocent and unashamedly naked, the woman is tricked by the serpent and leads the man into sin, at which point they realize their nakedness and are ashamed.

However, the story of nakedness, sex, and sexuality in Eden is more complicated. Although many English language Bibles use “man” or the proper name “Adam” to refer to the first human being, the Hebrew literally reads “ha-adam,” “the adam,” from the adamah, the “ground” (Gen 2:7). Proper names for the humans do not appear until Gen 3:20 (Eve) and Gen 4:25 (Adam). These factors have led some scholars to suggest that the first human is better understood as an androgynous “earthling” rather than a biological male. That other places in the Hebrew Bible use “ha-adam” to refer to all humanity, men and women together, seems to support this reading (for example, Exod 9:9; Zeph 1:3; Ps 33:13).

Gen 2:22 changes the earthling’s status as God creates a woman (Hebrew ishah) from the rib of “the adam,” who then calls himself a “man” (Hebrew ish) (Gen 2:23). Now that there are two humans, the ha-adam has become a man, somehow different from the woman, as the etiology for the institution of marriage that follows indicates: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife…” (Gen 2:24).

Next, readers learn that the man and the woman were “both naked (arummim), and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25). Within the Hebrew Bible, nakedness is often portrayed negatively, alongside things like shame or poverty (for example, Gen 9:22-23; 1Sam 20:30; Lam 1:8; Isa 47:3). However, there is initially no such association in Eden. Rather, another wordplay is at work: As the serpent is introduced, it is said to be “more crafty [‘arum] than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made” (Gen 3:1). The wordplay between ‘arum (crafty, clever [see Prov 14:18]) and arummim (nakedness) illustrates the gap between the cunning, astute serpent and the innocent, naïve humans. This crafty serpent will soon change things for the humans, far beyond their state of undress.

When the man and woman eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, immediately “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7). Many interpreters assert that the humans suddenly know their sexual natures. After all, the Hebrew verb yada, “to know,” is sometimes used as a euphemism for sexual activity (for example, Gen 4:1). However, in other places yada refers to non-sexual knowledge, ranging from understanding the divine, other people, the world, or how to do certain things  (for example, Exod 1:8; Deut 29:16; Job 37:16; Jer 1:6). Therefore, some scholars think that the humans come to know what it means to be fully human, and in so doing, to have gained knowledge of more than simply their sexuality.

What is clear is that something significant has changed, and the first humans are kicked out of Eden because, as God asserts, “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen 3:22). Knowledge of sexuality is not mentioned, nor is sin. According to this primeval story, the relationship between God and the humans is not fundamentally irreparable, for before casting them out “the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). As the story of life post-Eden begins in the book of Genesis, the divine-human relationship is marked by loss, but also by the gift of clothing and by care.

Kelly J. Murphy, "Sex and Nakedness in Eden", n.p. [cited 26 Nov 2022]. Online:



Kelly J. Murphy
Assistant Professor, Central Michigan University

Kelly J. Murphy is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Central Michigan University. Her research focuses on the Hebrew Bible, including the construction of gender in the Bible, the functions and use of apocalyptic literature in both the ancient and contemporary worlds, and the afterlives of biblical narratives on wealth and poverty. She is coeditor of a volume entitled Apocalypses in Context: Apocalyptic Currents throughout the Ages (Fortress Press, 2016).

partly male and partly female in appearance; of indeterminate sex.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A story that explains the origins or cause of an object, belief, or event.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

People who study a text from historical, literary, theological and other angles.

Gen 2:4-3:24

4These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Another Account of the Creation
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and ... View more

Gen 2:7

7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Gen 3:20

20The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

Gen 4:25

25Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed hi ... View more

Exod 9:9

9It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt.”

Zeph 1:3

3I will sweep away humans and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble.
I will cut off humanity
f ... View more

Ps 33:13

13The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all humankind.

Gen 2:22

22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Gen 2:23

23Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

Gen 2:24

24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Gen 2:25

25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Gen 9:22-23

22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.23Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both thei ... View more

1Sam 20:30

30Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse ... View more

Lam 1:8

8Jerusalem sinned grievously,
so she has become a mockery;
all who honored her despise her,
for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans,
and turns her ... View more

Isa 47:3

3Your nakedness shall be uncovered,
and your shame shall be seen.
I will take vengeance,
and I will spare no one.

Gen 3:1

The First Sin and Its Punishment
1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘Yo ... View more

Prov 14:18

18The simple are adorned with folly,
but the clever are crowned with knowledge.

Gen 3:7

7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Gen 4:1

Cain Murders Abel
1Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.”

Exod 1:8

The Israelites Are Oppressed
8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

Deut 29:16

16You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed.

Job 37:16

16Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect,

Jer 1:6

6Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

Gen 3:22

22Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of li ... View more

Gen 3:21

21And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

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