Concerning Ham's Sin

The year was 1997, and the action on the #bible BBS had been hot and heavy. A visitor had asked whether the Bible records Ham's having had homosexual relations with Noah, his father. He said tht his pastor had made that assertion in his homily earlier in that day, but our visitor did not think that was so. He asked the board to help him to know the truth that he might share with his pastor. I responded with the following post.


In their excellent hermeneutical text, How To Study The Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart warn of the theological danger of approaching Scripture searching for support for a pre-existing interpretation.

If one is convinced in his mind, for example, that Ham's sin (Genesis 9:22) was one of homosexual abuse of his drunken father and searches Scripture looking to "support" that position, his prejudice will likely color his interpretation of what he finds. Result? He will have "proven" that Ham sexually abused his father. It does not matter whether Scripture actually says is what he WANTED it to say.

I had not given much thought to the activities of Noah, Ham, Canaan, Shem and Japheth as recounted in Genesis 9:20-29 prior to your asking about them. When I read those verses again, I at first thought Ham's offense must have been one of homosexual abuse of his drunken father. After all, "uncover nakedness" is used in Leviticus 18 and elsewhere in Scripture in reference to a sexual act. Further study, using several translations of Scripture, soon revealed my error.

For illustration, the KJV provides this translation of Leviticus 18:8

The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it [is] thy father's nakedness.

The NIV reads Leviticus 18:8 in this way:

Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.

In this instance, Scripture clearly is addressing incestual relations between a son and his mother. "Nakedness" is in reference to the sexual act.

Now, let us compare the readings the same translations provide for Genesis 9:22:


And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.


Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside.

Neither translation treats "nakedness" as a sexual act. Therefore, there is no reason to read a homosexual, or any other type, activity into what clearly was a son's coming upon his drunken father, who was lying in a position which revealed his private parts. Then, the son went out to tell his older brothers what he had seen.

The Geneva Bible Notes agree Ham's sin was that he saw his father naked and failed in his obligation to honor and respect his father.

:22 And Ham, the father of {p} Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and {q} told his two brethren without.

(p) Of whom came the Canaanites that wicked nation, who were also cursed by God.

(q) In derision and contempt of his father.

The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge refers one to these verses in the Old and New Testaments, as well as a few others which address genealogy and land boundaries:

1 Chronicles 1:8,13-16
Psalms 35:20-21; 40:15; and 70:3
Proverbs 25:9; 30:17
Obediah 1:12-13
Matthew 18:15
1 Corinthians 13:6
Galatians 6:1

A reading of these verses will reveal they address respect for privacy, gossip and related topics. Not one of them so much as hints at sexual or homosexual sin.

What do Reformed commentators have to say about Ham's sin?

The verse in question is to be taken in context, Gen 9:20-29. In verse 21, we read that Noah, who now has a vineyard, has taken to consuming at least some of the wine he produces:

21: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

Matthew Poole, a 17th Century Bible scholar and commentator, makes these comments on 21b:

"He was uncovered," either to relieve himself of the climate and season, or from his negligence and carelessness; which might easily happen, because men's garments at that time were loose, as they were in the following ages, when breeches were not in common use, and therefore were peculiarly prescribed to the priests, Exod. 28:42; Ezek. 44:18,19.

In the following verse, we read that Ham, the youngest son, entered into his father's quarters and saw his father's nakedness. Ham then told his brothers, who were outside, what he had seen.

22: And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.

Poole tells us:

The grown age of Ham was a great aggravation of this sin. "The father of Canaan:" this is here added as a reason of Canaan's curse, ver. 25. "The nakedness," i.e., the secret parts, oft so-called, as Lev. 18., and elsewhere, "and told his two brethren without," who were then without the house or room where their father lay in that posture, whom he invited to that prospect.

Matthew Henry, another Reformation theologian, had this to say about Ham's sin:

Ham's impudence and impiety: He saw "the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren," ver.22. 1. He pleased himself with the sight. Perhaps Ham had sometimes been himself drunk. It is common for those who walk in false ways themselves to rejoice at the false steps which they sometimes see others make. But charity rejoices not in iniquity. 2. "He told his brothers" in a scornful deriding manner, that his father might seem vile unto them. It is very wrong (1) To make a jest of sin (Prov. 14:9). And (2) To publish the faults of any, especially of parents, whom it is our duty to honour.

The pious care of Shem and Japheth to cover their poor father's shame, v.23. 1. There is a mantle of love to be thrown over the faults of all, 1 Pet. 4:8. 2. Besides this, there is a robe of reverence to be thrown over the faults of parents.

Adam Clarke wrote:

22-24. "And Ham, the father of Canaan." There is no occasion to enter into any detail here; the sacred text is circumstancial enough. Ham, and very probably his son Canaan, had treated their father on this occasion with contempt or reprehensible levity. Had Noah not been innocent, as my supposition supposes him, God would not have endued him with the spirit of prophecy on this occasion, and testified with such marked disapprobation of their conduct.

Okay, those were some thoughts from old guys. What do more modern theologians have to say about Genesis 9:22?

In my previous letter to you on this issue, I quoted from a letter a friend of mine, who holds graduate degrees in Theology and Divinity from a highly respected conservative Protestant seminary. This scholar, who studies Scripture in the original languages, wrote:

Because of the Hebrew construction in Genesis 9 it is clearly not a sexual encounter. The word used in verse 22 could either mean that Noah was naked - without clothes - or that he was transparent - his faults laid bare. But because a particular Hebrew word in verse 21 is used of Noah taking his own clothes off, the word used in verse 22 clearly means without clothes. From a cultural point of view, a man's dignity was scoffed when he was in a position of being viewd naked. Ham not only viewed his father, but proclaimed the event to his brothers -- which would have be an ulitmate show of disrespect/dishonor. This was definitely not a homosexual encounter. Ham's moral character was but a seed of the fruit the Canaanites bore.

I recall some excellence advice from one of my professors in Bible college:

If, in reading Scripture., you "discover" something which no Bible scholar, in the nearly 2000 years of Christianity, has heretofore noted.....or which has been noted, evaluated and likely need to check your hermeneutics and go into the Scriptures again.

Now, to your other questions:

Don't be deceived! I really am not much of a Bible scholar. What little I do know and understand was acquired through study of the Bible, private tutoring over an extended time by my pastor, formal instruction in Bible college, participation in assemblies of Bible believing brethren, and still more study of Scriptures. We learn what we are exposed to. Spend a lot of time prayerfully reading Scripture..not to prove or disprove a point of discussion, but to learn of our Lord and His ways. You'll pick it up.

I agree that the Body of Christ will not be present on earth during the Tribulation. Scripture seems quite clear on that.

I do hope you have found a way to talk with your pastor on this issue. May I suggest you call him? Or, write him a letter stating your question and suggesting he talk with you after services the following Sunday. That will give him and you time to prepave for the discussion. I wish you grace and peace from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ lazyboy

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