Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 4 - Communicate About the Person

In the Introduction to this series, I looked at Gen. 1-2 and observed that while living in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had no need at all for clothing. However, after the Fall and banishment from Eden, God clothed Adam and Eve with no fanfare, no explanation, and no mandate.

God did not tell us why He clothed our first parents, so we’re surveying the Bible to see if we can find a purpose for clothing that fits the account in Gen. 1-3.

In Review…

Up to this point, we have observed that:

  • While Adam and Eve wore “clothes” to address fear and shame, God did not approve of that purpose for clothing, so it cannot be why He clothed them.
  • Clothing can be used as collateral or currency, but this cannot be why they were clothed.
  • Clothing was sometimes used to denote a person’s exalted position, but again, this does not explain why God clothed Adam and Eve.

So, we continue our survey of the Bible to see if any other valid reason for clothing matches the context of the Fall and would give us a clue as to why God gave Adam and Eve their coats of skin.

Clothing to Communicate Something about a Person

A survey of the Scriptures also shows that there are times that clothing was used to communicate something about its wearer. This is related to the purpose described in Part 3 (a sign of position), but it allows for other—perhaps more mundane—messages. Let me highlight some and briefly comment on each one.

  • Clothing to show that the wearer is in mourning.

Genesis 37:34  - “So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.” (NASB)

The wearing of sackcloth is recorded some 44 times in the Old and New Testaments. 42 of those 44 times, the wearing of sackcloth is associated with mourning as it is in the passage above. Interestingly, the rending of clothing often precedes the donning of sackcloth and is part of the expression of mourning.

  • Clothing to show that the wearer is rich.

Luke 16:19 - “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (NASB)

James 2:2-3 “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,…” (NASB)

We can see from these passages that God is not impressed with fine clothing—nor should we give special treatment to those with such clothes—but we can also see here that clothing and jewelry have the power to tell us that their wearer is wealthy.

  • Clothing to show that the wearer is a harlot.

Proverbs 7:10 - ”And behold, a woman comes to meet him, Dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart” (NASB)

In this case, the woman is dressed in such a way as to alert others that she was sexually available. Of course, the Scriptures would not condone such activity nor the message, but we do see that the clothing communicates something very specific to the observer about the person wearing the clothes.

  • Clothing to show that the wearer is a favored.

Genesis 37:3 - ”Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.” (NASB)

I don’t think the Bible condones our having “favorites” among our children, but Joseph’s father Israel did show such favoritism. The way he expressed it was by giving Joseph a unique tunic that was very different from all his brothers’ clothing. Every time his brothers saw it, they would be reminded of the favored status that Joseph held in their father’s heart. This special and unique garment communicated the favored status of the one wearing it.

  • Clothing to show that the wearer is holy.

Revelation 19:7“It was given to her [the bride of Christ] to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (NASB)

Revelation 19:14“And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.” (NASB)

The clothing worn by the bride of Christ and the armies which return with Christ at His second coming may not be literal clothing, since they are actually defined here as “righteous acts.” However, we can still see that the purpose of the white garments— as described in John’s vision—was to reflect the righteousness of the wearers.

A Point of Note…

It is important to note here that the precise message of that which is worn is not absolute, but rather, it is culturally determined. In the examples I have given, we are told the meaning of the garment without being told much (if anything) about the garment itself. 

  • Today, no one girds their loins with sackcloth to show that they are in mourning. This was only a convention in ancient times.
  • The exact style or nature of the ornate clothing of the rich is not recorded and is different for every culture.
  • There is nothing recorded about exactly what the harlot wore. Every culture has harlots, and within every culture, it is defined how they dress to communicate it, but no two cultures are the same.
  • In John’s vision, God inspired him to actually record the precise meaning of the white linen garments, lest the reader define a meaning according to his or her own cultural understanding.

Observation #4
Clothing is used in the Bible to communicate something about the person wearing the garment.

Biblically speaking, we can see that clothing is sometimes used to communicate something about the wearer of the clothes. Notably, the specific content of the message is dependent on the cultural norms in which it is used. Furthermore, the morality of what is worn will depend upon what is intended to be communicated. Even God utilized this method of communication about a person, therefore, it must be considered Scripturally valid.

Does it Fit “Before and After” the Fall?

What about the clothing of Adam and Eve? Was there something that God was intending to communicate about them that He used the leather garments to say?

At first consideration, this is plausible. Could it be that their new clothes were to signify that they were now sinners? Was their clothing intended to be a constant reminder of their sin?

While this idea does seem like it could have some merit, there is no corroboration for it anywhere in the Bible. We do not find that message assigned to the garments in the immediate context, nor is there any other time where clothing is ever used for that particular message. Furthermore, that meaning is never mentioned regarding Adam and Eve anywhere in the Bible.

Consequently, I conclude that this purpose for the clothing of Adam and Eve—while plausible—is not satisfactory. We simply have to read too much meaning into the text to have any confidence that we are understanding the correct “meaning” that their clothes were intended to communicate.

For those who may disagree with my conclusion on this possible purpose for God clothing Adam and Eve, I’ve addressed further implications of the idea in my Epilogue to this series.

— Matthew Neal

This article Series:

The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Introduction
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 1 – Shame and Fear??
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 2 – Clothing as Currency
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 3 – Sign of Position
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 4 – Communicate About the Person
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 5 – Gender Distinction?
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 6 – Warmth and Protection
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Part 7 – Controlling Lust??
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Conclusion
The Biblical Purpose for Clothing – Epilogue

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