Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Biblical Purpose of Clothing – Epilogue

During the course of this study, we’ve looked at all of the biblical purposes for clothing in order to attempt to discern why God clothed Adam and Eve after the Fall. In the end, it was concluded that the best explanation was that God provided clothing for warmth and protection.
Along the way, we looked at other potential reasons for the clothing, but rejected them for a variety of reasons. I suspect, however, that two of those reasons that I rejected may still be held as viable by some. Specifically…
  • Some believe that we really do need clothing to address our sense of shame.
  • Others may still maintain that God did give clothing as a sign that mankind needs a covering for his sin.
Yet both of these positions overlook a very important implication of holding to such a view. I want to address those implications here in the Epilogue.
What if Clothing IS Supposed to Address Our Fear and Shame?
I’ve heard people talk of Adam and Eve’s scramble for fig leaves as if it were the most natural and normal thing in the world… they were NAKED, after all! And we all know how ashamed we would feel to be seen naked. We would just die if someone saw us without our clothes! Adam and Eve were just doing what any of us would do, right? We’re supposed to feel shame like that… isn’t that why they got dressed?
And (it is believed)… God “agreed” with their solution to fear and shame, so He provided them coverings that would last longer and cover them better than the leaves ever could. Now that they were fallen, God knew that shame would simply be a human reality, so he provides clothing to deal with that shame and the fear of being seen naked.
As I said in Part 1 of this series, Gen. 3:11 cannot at all be understood as anything other than a reprimand. It is not reasonable to just ignore that fact and conclude that God later affirmed that which He had just rebuked.
But for the sake of discussion… let’s assume for a moment that God did give Adam and Eve clothing because He knew they needed a covering for their bodies to address their fear and shame.
What then?
Well, what impact does the work of Christ have on that purpose for clothing?
The Bible teaches that when a person is in Christ, old things are passed away and all things are made new (2 Cor 5:17). It tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). We know that perfect love—God’s love for us—casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We know that Jesus took our guilt and our shame (1 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 12:2). We no longer have any reason to fear or be ashamed!!
If God provided clothing for Adam and Eve to address their fear and shame, Christians should be the first to shed their clothes! In fact, continuing to wear clothes would amount to telling a lie about the power of Christ’s love in my heart. Let’s live the truth without fear… we do not need clothes to cover our shame… shame has no place in the heart of a redeemed child of God! As the worship song says, “I know He rescued my soul, His blood has covered my sins,… My shame He’s taken away, My pain is healed in His name, I believe! My Redeemer lives!!” (My Redeemer Lives - © 1999 Hillsong)
What if Clothing IS Supposed to Remind Us That We’re Sinners?
In Part 4 of this series of articles, we saw that sometimes clothing was used to communicate something about a person… perhaps their state of mind (sackcloth = mourning), their social status (distinguishing the rich from the poor), or to symbolize their righteousness (white linen garments).
This suggests the possibility that God may have intended that the coats of skin with which He clothed Adam and Eve were to be perpetual reminders that they were now sinners in need of covering for their sin. This meaning, or course, is never stated in the Bible, but many Bible teachers have offered this idea as the true meaning of the clothing.
But there’s a very important implication that those who promote the idea evidently overlook or simply ignore…
Let’s suppose for a moment that this is true—that clothing is intended to be a “sign” that people are sinful and in need of salvation.
What then?
Well, what impact does the work of Christ have on that purpose for clothing?
The Bible teaches that when a person is in Christ, old things are passed away and all things are made new (2 Cor. 5:17). It tells us that Jesus took our sin away from us… as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Because Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), we know that God will not remember our sins (Isaiah 43:25)!! And the Bible never ever refers to a follower of Christ as a “sinner” once they’ve chosen to enter into Christ’s work on the Cross… instead, they are called “saints”(Eph. 2:19)!
So, if I am in Christ and my sin is taken away, do I still need to wear clothes that shout, “sinner”? No! Instead of wearing clothes to remind myself and everyone else that I am a sinner in need of redemption, shouldn’t I go without clothes to remind myself and everyone else that I am redeemed? Jesus has cleansed me from every sin (1 John 1:9); though my sins were like crimson, now I am as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18)! While the unredeemed continue to cower under clothing that ever condemns them, I walk free of all such condemnation, for I am in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
If God clothed Adam and Eve to proclaim that they were sinners, then Christians should be the first to shed their clothes! In fact, continuing to wear clothes would amount to telling a lie about the efficacy of the work of Christ. Let’s tell the truth about our redemption… we do not need clothes for that purpose any more! As the hymn says, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” (The Solid Rock – PD)
But, That’s Not What They Mean…
In both cases above, the ideas are not really being presented to teach credible and biblical purposes for clothing. Rather, they are put forth in the attempt to create a requirement for clothing where the Bible simply does not give one. They are presented and taught as evidence that clothing is required for us today.
But the reasons given for clothing are fully and completely addressed by the work of Christ! Naturally, If the reason for the clothing has been otherwise addressed in a person’s life, then the need for the clothing is gone. To continue requiring clothing for these reasons is to deny the the power of the cross.
In other words, these reasons actually argue for the abandonment of clothing rather than the requirement of clothing…
… but that’s not what they mean.
Why is it So Hard to Accept?
The idea that God clothed Adam and Eve to protect them from the post-Fall environment outside of the garden makes good sense. It has biblical corroboration as a valid purpose for clothing, and there were harmful factors (thorns) mentioned right in the same Scriptural context (Genesis 3:18). Furthermore, the explanation actually reveals the loving character of God, who expresses grace and mercy, even as He issues judgment.
So… why would anyone object to such a simple and fitting explanation for God’s actions?
I can think of only one reason why the explanation of “warmth and protection” would be rejected: because it does not support the idea that clothing is a moral requirement.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, I’ve had a Bible teacher tell me, “if it was good enough for Adam and Eve, it’s good enough for me!” There’s no other passage in the Bible that is quoted more frequently as “proof” that God wants us to be clothed.
But if God’s purpose really was only to protect Adam and Eve from thorns and from the cold, is there any moral requirement to wear clothes at all times “around other people”? Of course not. When the weather is warm and the thorns have been cleared away, there is literally no need for clothing.
But that notion is utterly untenable to the modern Christian’s mind. Their belief before even examining the Scriptures is that clothing must be required by God. And since God’s clothing of Adam and Eve is the best proof-text available for that belief, explaining God’s purpose for the coats of skin some other way—one that would not mandate clothing today—is unacceptable.
From my point of view, that path to arriving at moral truth is what is “unacceptable.” We should all be more interested in being biblically accurate and intellectually honest than protecting a culturally contrived moral standard.
— 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


Rienie said...

One point You missed Was to teach Adam and Eve and in turn us was a lesson. Adams act of clothing himself was an act of rebellion. He was now deciding what was right and wrong for himself. Our heavenly father's providing clothing (from the waist down) was to show the futility of mans decision, as we've clearly seen from all the problems. (much like the decision to allow man to eat meat to our determent)

Matthew Neal said...


Thanks for writing!

I believe I would categorize the purpose that you've suggested with Part 4 in the series, that is, to "Communicate About the Person."

I agree that Adam was in rebellion.

Your suggested purpose/meaning was that God provided clothing "to show the futility of man's decision."

That certainly is a meaning that I've heard before from the pulpit. However, that purpose is not stated in Gen. 3, nor can it be found stated anywhere else in the Scriptures in reference to the clothing of Adam and Eve. In point of fact, that meaning is not ever assigned to the clothing of anyone in the Bible.

My stated premise for this series was that since God did not give us his purpose (or meaning) for clothing Adam and Eve, whatever his purpose actually was, we should see some sort of evidence for the same purpose elsewhere in the Bible. In other words, it shouldn't be a purpose or meaning that we have to guess at or just make up.

While your suggested meaning is slightly different than the meaning I suggested, it fails the parameters of my investigation for the same reasons.

Your suggestion is not unreasonable because your observation about the futility of man's decisions is actually true (as were my observations about the fact that man is now a sinner). However, we simply are not told that that's the reason why God clothed them. It still boils down to a purpose that we have to guess at.

If I have missed some Scriptural evidence that supports the purpose/meaning that you've suggested, please post it for our review.

About the eating of meat... I'm not sure it has any real relevance to this question, since it was not until after the flood (Gen. 9) that God gave permission to mankind to eat meat, so it's not directly associated with the Fall.

-- Matt