Seeing naked family members is a sin.
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him… Noah pronounced his judgment: ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’Genesis 9:22, 25
The response to the nakedness of Noah in Genesis 9 has long befuddled interpreters. One of Noah’s sons, Ham, commits some heinous crime against his father.
Oddly, though, Ham is not the one cursed by his father. Instead, Ham’s son Canaan bears the wrath of Noah.
In more modern times, Europeans and Americans have historically (and wrongly) used this verse to justify racism and slavery. In the 1870s, Charles Darwin’s second book, “The Descent of Man” hawked the view that Europeans were more evolved and more human, while Africans were more like apes.
Ideas Have Consequences
European Christians bought into this tainted idea and read it into the Bible – accepting the notion that Africans were somehow cursed through Ham!
Further, genteel society suggested that naked Africans were more primitive like animals, unlike their view of “cultured,” clothes-wearing humans who also happened to have lighter skin tones.
This verse, however, has nothing to do with skin color, ethnicity or common nudity. It comes down to Hebrew euphemisms.
In the Journal of Biblical Literature, Hebrew scholars John Bergsma and Scott Hahn postulated that the terrible crime Ham committed was not about simple nudity at all.
Ham was after the rulership of the family. He wanted to take over the family dynasty.
While his father was drunk, Ham sneaked into the tent and assaulted his mother.
Ultimately, their relations resulted in a child whose name was Canaan.* Noah’s curse was on the illegitimate heir to his throne.
According to multiple verses, including Leviticus 18:7 and 8, to “see the nakedness” of your father means to have sexual relations with your mother or another of your father’s wives.
It was common in the ancient world for an incoming king or one who wanted to usurp a ruling king to demonstrate his virility and dominance by having sex with the current or former king’s wives. This is documented in multiple instances in the Biblical texts including the Books of Genesis and First and Second Samuel.
Mixups of this nature are why good biblical interpretation is so very important.
Rather than come to the text with our own fallen plans and ideas, we should always let Scripture interpret Scripture. With something unusual like the nakedness of Noah, we should allow even hard words to shape us, instead of the other way around.
Simple nudity is just that: simple, not criminal.