Friday, December 27, 2013

“Biggest Scriptural Challenge” — The “Shame” of Egypt

In a recent blog post, I requested my readers to submit their Biggest Scriptural Challenge to Naturism to me so that I could address it from my own studies on the topic in the Scriptures.

This Scriptural challenge was sent to me by the editor of the Fig Leaf Forum (FLF) who had reprinted my post in the FLF newsletter. One of the FLF readers wrote to raise this issue:

The scripture is from Isaiah 20:

(NASB)  In the year that the commander came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him and he fought against Ashdod and captured it, 2 at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loosen the sackcloth from your hips and take your shoes off your feet.” And he did so, going naked and barefoot. 3 And the Lord said, “Even as My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot three years as a sign and token against Egypt and Cush, 4 so the king of Assyria will lead away the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. 5 Then they will be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and Egypt their boast. 6 So the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, such is our hope, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria; and we, how shall we escape?"

Verse 4 has always bothered me when it says "naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt."  suggesting it is shameful to be naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered.  I know what my response to this would be but  I am curious as to what Mathew says about this.

The “Shame” of Egypt

There are several important observations to make on this passage to help us understand what it is and is not saying about shamefulness and nudity.

  • First of all, God commanded the prophet Isaiah to go completely naked for three full years.
    • There was no shame for Isaiah in his obedience to God’s personal directive to him.
    • And God would never command one of His prophets to sin.

We can all draw more conclusions about God’s perspective on nudity from this observation, but this one is not really the focus of the question that was raised… which referred to the “shame of Egypt” when all their conquered inhabitants were forced to march out of town completely naked.

  • Secondly, the text does not attribute this “shame” to individuals, but to a nation!
    • In the prophetic narrative, Egypt had just been so utterly defeated that all of its citizens lost every last thing they possessed. They literally lost the shirts off their backs… and their own homeland. They marched away without a stitch or a cent to their names.
    • If a nation so utterly fails to protect its people that they are conquered and marched away destitute, that nation has been deeply shamed.
  • Finally—and perhaps most astonishingly—the word here translated “shame” is not the OT word for shame at all!
    • The Hebrew word is ervah (H6172), about which I have written extensively. The word that is most frequently translated “nakedness.”
    • This means that the text should more correctly be translated, “the nakedness of Egypt.”

It is this final point that I believe helps us to best understand this passage of Scripture. So my remaining comments will focus on its implications.

The “Nakedness” of Egypt

At first glance, it seems very odd to describe Assyria’s conquest as being “to the nakedness of Egypt.” Consequently, it’s easy to understand why the translators rejected the natural translation of ervah and replaced it with a word that actually means something different, but seems to help the passage make more sense.

I believe that rather than helping us understand Isaiah’s meaning, this “adjusted” translation actually does two things: 1. It betrays the hint of a bias against nudity that considers it shameful, presuming that “shame” and “naked” have enough in common as to be treated synonymously in this passage. 2. It obscures a much more colorful and descriptive meaning that might be evident if we were forced to struggle for the true meaning of the “nakedness of Egypt.”

I’ll lay the evident bias about nakedness aside for this article (read this series for more) and focus on the interpretation that I believe is best for this passage.

The Meaning of Ervah

I’ve posted a blog entry on this topic, and also written a full blown word study on the Hebrew word ervah that explains what I believe the best biblical definition of the word is. If you wonder how I reached that conclusion, I recommend that you read the word study. But for now, let me summarize the word’s definition and apply it to the passage in question here.

Ervah, as used throughout the Old Testament, does indeed refer to nakedness, that is, the state of being unclothed. But it very consistently also implies the active expression of that nakedness, and almost always, that active expression is sexual. So, we can safely interpret the Scriptures understanding that ervah is not just nakedness, but sexually active nakedness.

So… does that help our understanding of Isaiah 20:4? “… to the [sexually active nakedness] of Egypt.”

Not yet, right? But hang in there… I’m not done yet.

The “Rape” of Egypt

Remember that Egypt was conquered. This ervah, or “sexual nakedness” was not voluntary; it was forced! We have a word in English for forced sexual activity… we call it rape.

This suggests a bolder (albeit somewhat startling) translation of the text: “.. to the rape of Egypt.”

In other words, if my reasoning is correct, Isaiah is prophesying that Assyria would rape Egypt. Clearly, this is figurative language, but since there’s no OT Hebrew word for “rape,” it makes complete sense that if Isaiah wanted to invoke that mental image, he would use the word ervah to communicate it. And I believe it does so quite powerfully… and much more potently than “… to the shame of Egypt.”

This is the conclusion that I presented in my word study on ervah, where Isaiah 20 was one of the more significant passages that I addressed.

To me, this is one of those cases where a more accurate definition of the original language word helps us arrive at a much richer interpretation of the biblical text than if we depend on the English translation alone.

Is Nakedness Shameful?

Given the enriched interpretation that I’ve offered here, was does it mean in reference to the notion that simple non-sexual nakedness (“… naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered”) is shameful?

To my thinking, this passage says nothing at all to that question. Or perhaps more to the point, this passage cannot be invoked to say that any and all public nakedness is shameful. It starts with a prophet obeying God by going publicly nude for three years. It continues with a figurative prophecy about a nation being so utterly defeated that Isaiah could figuratively declare that the nation would be “raped.”

This is one of many passages that have been put forth by Christians who claim that social nudity is wrong. And like all the others, this passage fails to support that claim when it is carefully and thoroughly studied and interpreted with sound hermeneutics.

— Matthew Neal

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Reader’s “Biggest Scriptural Challenge”–Part 1

Jasen’s “Biggest Scriptural Challenge
In my previous post, I invited readers to submit their “Biggest Biblical Challenge” with reference to the practice of naturism by a Christian who genuinely wants to live a godly life.
One reader named Jasen responded with the following:
My problem is not with the concept of social nudity. I believe the Bible makes it clear God intended for us to be naked, and that culturally within Biblical times there was plenty of public nudity that God could have condemned if He'd wanted to but did not, and all the other things your blog so richly explores.
However... Romans 13 tells us to submit to authority, and Romans 14:19 "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."
I believe (and I can't put my hand on a nice collection of verses to back it up at the moment) that we are instructed to live at peace within our culture in so far as that culture does not directly contradict God's Word. If I lived in India, I would wear pajamas. If I lived in the Middle East, I would wear a beard. If I lived with a tribe in the Amazon, I'd most likely wear next to nothing (I'd at least give it a try and see how my soft body would handle such exposure).
I currently find myself in the USA. And the USA has a deep cultural aversion to social nudity. The roots of such aversion are incidental; it is the custom of where I live. Therefore I restrict my participation in social nudity, and limit my public advocacy for social nudity. Yes, I believe I have freedom to visit the local nudist resort, or to vacation to a nudity accepting place (like St. Martin or Mallorca or Germany). However, I recognize that if word of my being socially nude got back to people in the USA it would most likely damage my testimony. That is challenging.
Is it worth participating in an activity that I have personal freedom and comfort with Scripturally, knowing that the culture I live in condemns such activity?
A Thoughtful Response to Thoughtful Questions
Well, Jasen, thanks for writing! I suppose it all boils down to that last question, doesn’t it? But to satisfactorily answer that one question, we need sound answers to your other questions.
Let me address your questions just a few at a time.

My problem is not with the concept of social nudity. I believe the Bible makes it clear God intended for us to be naked, and that culturally within Biblical times there was plenty of public nudity that God could have condemned if He'd wanted to but did not, and all the other things your blog so richly explores.

This is a good place to start. Sadly, however, this simple and honest conclusion from an unbiased evaluation of biblical and extra-biblical history is quite rare. Most people approach the entire issue of nudity with such a bias against it that the only conclusion they will even entertain is one that supports their bias. More often than not, they are completely unaware that their bias is the true driver of their conclusion.

However... Romans 13 tells us to submit to authority, and Romans 14:19 "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

Yes, we are commanded to obey our civil authorities… and that would extend to those laws with govern nudity in public. And yes, we should not be looking for opportunities to “stir the pot" just for the sake of being cantankerous.

But… there is a caveat… What if the beliefs that undergird the “law” are false? What if there really is a lie to be opposed? We can’t take this passage to mean that we must pursue peace instead of truth. And the reality is that when a lie has a firm foothold in a culture or in a life, opposing that lie will not result in peace. And the “edification” that comes from promoting truth may not be well received if the lie holds sway in someone’s life.

But I have not actually given you an answer here that you can run with regarding the practice of social nudity or “letting people know” that you practice it. The real question is: “Is this lie worth opposing and exposing?” … or… “Is the lie doing damage to the lives of people, so that opposing the lie is actually a compassionate investment in people’s lives that will potentially result in the promotion of true righteousness?”
Keep those questions in mind… I’ll come back to them.
Live at Peace With All Men…
I believe (and I can't put my hand on a nice collection of verses to back it up at the moment) that we are instructed to live at peace within our culture in so far as that culture does not directly contradict God's Word. If I lived in India, I would wear pajamas. If I lived in the Middle East, I would wear a beard. If I lived with a tribe in the Amazon, I'd most likely wear next to nothing (I'd at least give it a try and see how my soft body would handle such exposure).

I think the verse you’re thinking of is from Rom. 12:17-18…

Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Rom 12:17-18)

It definitely is a good thing to be sensitive to the norms of a culture when we’re walking among people of that culture. Adopting the clothing styles and eating the same food as the “locals” will always be a good thing because it minimizes differences between people and expresses respect for the people and customs of those around you.

BUT… if I’m visiting among Indian friends, and when they enter their own house, they take off their shoes and then do homage to their house deity, I’m happy to take off my shoes, but I will not bow down to their god… If my refusal to bow to their god results in a disruption of the “peace,” so be it.

So again… is there an identifiable lie that I must not submit to? Can I follow customs without affirming falsehoods? Do I need to find a way to proclaim truth in order to break the power of the lie in someone’s heart? These are the defining questions that have to drive our decision on how to live in light of the truth we understand about the meaning of the human form.
The Symptom, Not the Disease…
I currently find myself in the USA. And the USA has a deep cultural aversion to social nudity. The roots of such aversion are incidental;…

Ok… gotta stop you there… I would argue that the roots of such an aversion is NOT incidental! Maybe you need to research that a bit more. If that aversion is based upon and continues to promote a lie, doesn’t that matter?

… it is the custom of where I live. Therefore I restrict my participation in social nudity, and limit my public advocacy for social nudity. Yes, I believe I have freedom to visit the local nudist resort, or to vacation to a nudity accepting place (like St. Martin or Mallorca or Germany). However, I recognize that if word of my being socially nude got back to people in the USA it would most likely damage my testimony. That is challenging.

Yes, that is challenging. But I think your focus is off just a bit. It might sound weird for me to say this—I do call myself The Biblical Naturist, after all—but I don’t think that promoting the freedom to practice social nudity should be what we are about!

You see, the rejection of social nudity is the symptom, not the disease. The real theological “disease” is the perception of the human form as only sexual. It is the assumption that our one and only “automatic” response to its sight is sexual arousal and desire. The real issue is that we—the people of God—have utterly rejected the Glory of God as revealed by the unadorned human form, made in God’s Image.

Defining the visible human form only in terms of its impact on the libido is an insult to the One whose image is seen there. But it is ONLY by such a redefinition that anyone can reject social nudity! We correctly discern that God commands sexual purity, but then we assume that since the sight of the naked human form is a sexual experience, we must also reject nudity because it “obviously” promotes impurity.

So, at its core, the rejection of social nudity is evidence that someone has rejected the visible image of God and replaced it with what I would call a pornographic view of the body.

The nudity taboo that springs from that pornographic view of the body is therefore, a false rule; it is man-made. And Col. 2:20-23 tells us that such man-made rules for righteousness are of “no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Why I Do This…
I don’t promote “social nudity.” I promote a biblical understanding of the meaning of the human form.
And I do that for two reasons:
  • For the glory of God. We must recover the truth of the Imago Dei…
    • God’s self-revelation in the human form has been rejected by the church today. The prevailing sexualized understanding of the human form is an Insult to God.
    • Only by embracing the full meaning of the Imago Dei and rejecting that pornographic understanding of the natural human form can we see the Glory of God revealed in our bodies as He intended.
  • For the pursuit of true Purity. We must reject false, man-made rules that have “the appearance of wisdom… but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Col. 2:20-23)
    • The man-made “nudity taboo” has been the central teaching of the church regarding the pursuit of moral purity for a long time. By any measure, it isn’t working. The church today is less sexually pure than perhaps any time in its history (the secret addiction to online pornography is epidemic).
    • Only by teaching the correct perception of—and response to—the visible human form can we have any hope of seeing real and lasting moral purity in the people of God.
This is my real purpose. This is my real message.
How Then Should We Live?
But as you may have read in my 3-part series, Naturist by Biblical Conviction, It is not credible to reject the falsehood, but then still submit to it in every aspect of my life. If I am truly going to reject a lie, I must live as if the lie is not true.

And this gets back to your issue… if you really reject the lies that undergird others’ adherence to the nudity taboo, should you never even let on that you live by a different understanding of the human form?

What do I recommend for you or anyone else? I’ll put it this way:
  • If you only practice naturism because it’s a freedom you have before the Lord which you personally enjoy, then keep it to yourself.
  • If you practice naturism as a conviction about living by the truth and opposing the lie in our culture and within the church, then be prepared to proclaim the truth and to be persecuted for it.
    • But don’t promote “naturism”… that will not get you anywhere. Proclaim the truth about what our bodies really mean. That’s the real issue.
    • And don’t be stupid about it… pray for, look for, prepare for, and anticipate those opportunities where God is at work in someone’s heart, preparing them to embrace a life-transforming truth.
      • I have learned that unless God is doing that work in someone, no amount of logical or persuasive words will break the grip of the lie in their heart. Spouting off your beliefs when there is no readiness to receive truth will usually only result in needless conflict.
What About “My Testimony”?
You mentioned the issue of your “testimony.” This is probably a good spot to talk about that a little bit.
First of all, I think that’s often a euphemism for “reputation” or perhaps “credibility.” Here’s why I mention this… often we make decisions in our life with a view to maintain our “testimony” when what’s really happening is that we are making our decisions based on how they are perceived by others. In other words, we are submitting to the moral judgment of others instead of standing before God alone with regard to what is morally right. This is called “the fear of man” in the Bible, and it is also called “a snare” (Prov. 29:25)… a trap.

What really matters is whether or not we are living in the truth before the Lord… not the “truth” as perceived by others. Many prophets in the Old Testament had an awful “testimony”… if you judge by how poorly they were received by the people around them. So long as you are following God and living faithfully according to the truth, your “testimony” is exactly what it should be. Ultimately, people will see that you live consistently with your beliefs, even if they think you’re wrong.

Truly, our real "testimony" is never enhanced by submitting to lies. In fact, when we refuse to embrace, promote, or abide by rules or beliefs that are NOT biblical and NOT part of the gospel and NOT measures of true righteousness, I submit that our credibility goes UP—not down—especially before unbelievers.
Think about it this way: I proclaim an assortment of "truths" to an unbeliever—either by word or by my life. Those truths include the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But they also include "truths" that are really culturally adopted lies. In that unbeliever's heart, however, the Holy Spirit is working to draw them to the truth. Unfortunately, however, the Spirit can only confirm some of those "truths" that I'm proclaiming. So that person is left wondering why only some of what we've communicated really rings true (confirmed by the Holy Spirit) in their heart. In other words, our real "testimony"—our impact for God—is damaged by our adherence to the cultural falsehoods. It is not damaged by the criticism of other believers.
If You Have to Hide It, It Must Be Wrong… Right?
Let me change gears here and talk about a related issue. It has been very difficult for my wife to accept the practice of naturism “in secret.” For her, just knowing that people would reject us “if they only knew makes the whole thing seem “wrong” to her. It feels like if we have to hide something, then it must be wrong, because why would we need to hide something we’re doing that is right?

But that’s not really the measure of right and wrong, is it? God’s character and His Word are the measures of right and wrong. Standing firm on what God has revealed to you when it seems like every Christian around you thinks you’re wrong, though, now that can be pretty difficult.
A Very Strange Predicament…
So… do you tell them about your beliefs, or do you not? (that question again…)

It is interesting to me that we can find ourselves facing the rather odd reality on this matter… such that greater openness actually promotes falsehood rather than truth. Here’s why…

Right now, people perceive of my wife and me as a godly couple who serve the Lord faithfully and are raising a family to love and serve God. This, I trust, is genuinely true. It is not diminished in the least by the fact that we have visited naturist resorts and have no requirement for clothing in our home.

But if those facts were known, the same people who view us as godly now might begin to perceive of us as perverse and ungodly people who are damaging our own children and leading them astray—ideas which are patently false.
  • So by withholding some information, people continue to believe the truth.
  • By revealing information they are not prepared to comprehend, people would believe a lie.
I genuinely wish I could tell everyone about my beliefs about the body and my practice of naturism. I don’t think there has been any other decision in my life (besides my faith in Christ and my marriage) that have had a more profoundly positive impact on my life. And while I’m constantly alert to opportunities to invest related truth in others’ lives, I’ve determined that—at this point in time—full disclosure would be more of a hindrance to truth than a help to it.
And So… Your Question Still Remains…
Is it worth participating in an activity that I have personal freedom and comfort with Scripturally, knowing that the culture I live in condemns such activity?

Ultimately, I think everyone has to answer that for themselves…

But before you answer that question, you might consider framing the question this way:
  • Is it worth restricting my freedom just to avoid the condemnation of others?
And there’s another even more important way to think about that question:
  • Is there a truth to proclaim that’s worth facing unjust criticism and mistreatment for?
For me, the answer to the first of these two questions is “no,” and the answer to the second is “yes.”

But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to be indiscriminate in the practice of my beliefs, nor am I going to needlessly subject myself and my family to the attacks of others. So, that’s where I stand at the moment.
Sorry… I Can’t Answer For You.
No, I can’t answer the question for you or for anyone else.

I can only urge you to seek the Lord and follow His leading for your life a faithfully as you can.

But, honestly, I hope that you’ll be one of those that He calls to proclaim and live the truth about the real meaning of the human body. The task before us is great, and we are few…

— Matthew Neal

Part 2 (still to come…)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I haven’t forgotten…

Welcome, Everyone!

… Especially those who saw this week’s mention in the Fig Leaf Forum newsletter.

I have a standing promise to post a reply to the 2-part question that one of my readers, Jasen, posted in response to my request for people to pose their Biggest Scriptural Challenge to Naturism.

Jasen, I have NOT forgotten to respond… I have most of the first response written, but the busy-ness of life (and how much football there is to watch!) has prevented me from completing it.

Meanwhile, I encourage everyone to read some of the other material I have posted on this blog. Unlike most blogs, the articles here are NOT time-sensitive… meaning that the content is just as meaningful now as when I wrote it (you yourself can decide exactly how meaningful it is!). Look around… hopefully you’ll find something useful or instructive.

To hear what I have to say to Jasen, plan to stop back by in the next few days or weeks. Or, just subscribe to this blog and you’ll get an notifications when there’s a new post (may not be by email… test it to see).

My Favorites!

Here are a few of the more significant blog posts that I’ve written… at least in my opinion:

And a bonus for this time of year!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

— Matthew Neal

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Your Biggest Scriptural Challenge to Naturism…

I’m a Christian Naturist

If you’ve been following this blog over the years, you know that I’ve not only claimed to be a Christian Naturist, but also a Naturist By Biblical Conviction.

Of course, having been raised like just about every other Christian in the United States, I was taught from childhood that social nudity was forbidden by God and that only in the context of marriage (or the doctor’s office) was it permitted to allow our unclothed bodies to be seen by anyone of the opposite gender.

When I first considered the claims of so-called “Christian Naturists” (which seemed an oxymoron at first), I had to evaluate them in light of the teachings of Scripture. And there were a bunch of Scriptures that I “knew” taught against social nudity.

The Scripture Test

Because I believe the Scriptures are inspired by God, I believe that they are true and authoritative. Consequently, my evaluation of naturism began by seeking to discern what God had revealed about His perspective on nudity. Whatever God revealed about the issue, that’s what I wanted my position to be.

And let me be very clear… My approach to Scripture on this matter was never to defend naturism, but rather to know what the Bible really teaches. And if that ever means my long-held views must be laid aside, then that’s what I’m committed to do.

So… when I began my study, I purposed to look at every passage that mentioned or implied nudity. I especially focused on those passages which had always been put forth to “prove” that God forbade social or casual nudity. I reexamined them to discern if we had been correct in our interpretation of them as it applies to the nudity issue.

I Was Quite Surprised…

To my surprise, not just one or two of the “anti-nudity” Scriptures turned out to be misinterpreted or misapplied, but every last one of them had been!

In other words, when I examined each and every passage that has been used to support a claim that social nudity is wrong, not a single one of them—when correctly and honestly interpreted—could satisfactorily justify a moral absolute that forbids social or casual nudity.

Some Passages Are More Challenging Than Others

As I pursued this study of God’s perspective on nudity, there certainly were some passages that seemed to be more antagonistic towards nudity than others, and as such, they presented more of a challenge to work through and discern if that’s really what they were teaching us.

I suspect that I’m not alone here in this observation… So, I’m asking you as my readers…

What’s been the most troubling or difficult passage of Scripture for you in reference to the practice of naturism by a Christian who wants to live in harmony with God’s Word?

  • Maybe you’re an naturist already, but there’s one passage that’s still bugging you… Let me know and I’ll tell you what I have concluded on it.
  • Maybe you’re just considering naturism, but you still can’t reconcile the practice with one or two verses in the Bible… Let me know what they are and I’ll share with you my perspective on them.
  • Maybe you’re still pretty sure I’m dead wrong on my interpretation of the Scriptures in regards to nudity… tell me which passage or passages you believe most clearly and conclusively prove me wrong, and I’ll show you why I believe they have been misinterpreted and misapplied. If you still disagree, you are then invited to answer back. I always welcome honest dialog!

Everyone Points to a Different Scripture…

One of the interesting things I’ve observed over the past 7 or so years since I became a naturist is that those who oppose it “on Scriptural grounds” never seem to be in agreement on which Scripture most most clearly demonstrates that nudity is wrong. One person will stand immovably on one passage, while the next person is absolutely convinced that some other passage is “all the proof they need.”

To me, this underscores the fact that there simply IS no scripture passage that clearly teaches against social nudity… else everyone would automatically present the same passage. Consider these questions on morality and where we turn to declare God’s mind on the issue:

See what I mean? We’ve been sold on the idea that nudity MUST BE forbidden in the Bible. And Everyone knows it, so we don’t need a specific passage that actually SAYS SO! If you need one to give to someone, just pick the one you like best. One is as good as the next… provided you don’t evaluate it very carefully.

Nonetheless, I welcome anyone who wishes to hear where I stand on the passage they find most difficult for naturists to “dodge.” And I promise… I won’t dodge!

It’s Been a Dry Spell for The Biblical Naturist.

I haven’t written on this blog recently… and it’s pretty much because I’ve addressed all the topics I set out to cover when I began the blog. So, I need some direction from you—the readers—to tell me what you’d like for me to cover next.

I look forward to hearing from you!

— Matthew Neal

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Responding to a Reader

A Thoughtful Comment

An anonymous reader posted a thoughtful response to my Conclusion post on The Biblical Purpose of Clothing. It deserves to be highlighted. It also deserves a more complete response than just another comment on that post would afford.

What follows are the comments written by the reader in blue, with my replies in black:

Clothed in Light?

‘Where are you?’ The Lord questions man after he and his wife ‘hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden’ (3:8-10): Fear has entered the world as Adam and Eve realize they are naked. They had been naked before they sinned, but now they are aware of a change in their appearance.

‘The shekinah glory of God had covered them while they were in fellowship with God their creator. A shroud of glory surrounded them. How else do we account for this sudden surprise at their nakedness? Now sin had entered into the garden through man, the new creation of God, and the shekinah glory of God departed, not from the garden, but from our first parents. They had sinned and ‘fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).

The shining brightness that covered them –perhaps reflected from being in God’s radiant presence– is now lifted from them. Their appearance has altered, the shekinah glory had departed. No longer clothed with immortality they have become subject to death (2:17). The imperishable body has put on the perishable.

I have heard this interpretation before, but I have not found its claims to be convincing. It strikes me ultimately as an attempt to explain why Adam and Eve—while not actually wearing any clothes—weren’t really “naked” at all until after they sinned. Rather, it suggests that they were clothed with light. The idea is that (like Moses’ face after he had been in the presence of God) their skin radiated light. When they sinned, the light “went out” and all of a sudden, they saw that they were now really naked.

There are several problems with this interpretation, though…

First of all, the Bible does not describe the unfallen state of the first couple as “clothed in light.” Instead, the inspired text describes them as “naked” (Gen. 2:25). The meaning of that term in the Hebrew is not disputed. They were not only naked after the fall when their glow faded away… they were naked before the fall. If we are to take the text at face value, we cannot accept some sort of external explanation which adds to the text something which God did not tell us. If we are uncomfortable with the simple nudity of Adam and Eve at the creation, we need to reassess our perspective on nudity… not explain it out of the biblical text.

Secondly, the Hebrew word used of Adam and Eve before the fall is not unique to this context either. The word is `arowm (H6174) and it describes a simple and innocent nudity. Never in all the Old Testament is it used to describe a shameful condition. Job used it when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). It was used to describe King Saul when he was overcome by the Spirit of God and “prophesied before Samuel and lay down naked all that day and all that night” (1 Sam 19:24).

Finally, you ask, “How else do we account for this sudden surprise at their nakedness?” I would suggest that a better explanation is implied by God’s question to Adam in Gen. 3:11… “Who told you that you were naked?…” (emphasis mine). God—who is omniscient—evidently expected Adam to know that it was a “who” that had revealed to him that he was naked. Considering the other players in the narrative, the only possible “who” would have been Satan. God’s purpose in asking the question cannot have been to learn the answer, therefore it must have been in order to remind Adam how he came to recognize his nakedness.

So, rather than assuming something we are not told to explain how Adam knew he was naked, shouldn’t we rather find the hints within the text itself to explain it?

The Wrong Solution…

The not-ashamed-nakedness, Adam and Eve had previously enjoyed (2:25) changes to their being clothed in fig-leaf aprons, and finally being clothed in ‘coats of skins. Innocence, mutual trust and respect give way to a sense of ‘letting God down’ or ‘being disappointed’ They attempt to compensate for their loss of God’s glory by covering themselves as best they can.

To be sure, Adam and Eve attempted to compensate for their loss of fellowship with God by hiding and covering their bodies, but would anyone suggest that they did the correct thing? Was hiding from God a good idea? Was addressing their sin by dressing their bodies the correct solution? In both cases, the answer has to be “No.” Instead of hiding from God, they should have run TO Him. Instead of concealing their sin by covering their bodies, they should have exposed their sin by open acknowledgement and repentance!

It would be very difficult to defend a claim that Adam and Eve did anything right or righteous immediately after they sinned, yet most people seem to think that covering their bodies was the most natural and right thing they could have done.

A Prototype Sacrifice?

But it is totally inadequate so the Lord uses the attempt to teach them something of the cost to deal with their rebellion.

Although not explicitly stated the account provides us with a lens through which to see God’s motivation in creating Adam and Eve. It is solely one of love. God so loved them that he caused his Son to appear in human form and to accommodate himself to the limitations of their humanity. As the account of the events in Eden draw to a close we read: ‘And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them’ (3:21). Blood has been shed, an animal killed and skinned to provide for their needs. God provided a covering by slaying an innocent animal: the first prototype of the innocent one slain to act as a ‘covering’ for sinners.

I’m afraid that the “first sacrifice” interpretation—popular as it may be—is not defensible from the biblical text. This is an interpretation that has been read into the account for so long that we have failed to carefully examine the claim or to see the rather weighty evidence against it.

To start with, the account itself makes no reference to the shedding of blood. The underlined text above is the entire account of the clothing of Adam and Eve. There is no mention of sacrifice, or blood, or death. If this was to be understood by us to be a very significant meaning behind this event, it’s very difficult to fathom that God would fail to even hint at it. Furthermore, in all of the Scriptures, this event is never even mentioned again… let alone being identified as a sacrifice for their sin.

Secondly, a sacrifice for sin requires repentance on the part of the one for whom the sacrifice is being performed. Not even this detail can we find any evidence for in the Genesis 3 account. Without being told, we must assume that it really was a sacrifice, and since it was, we must also assume that they repented. This is a lot to assume based on nothing more than what we are told.

Finally, where in all the rest of the Scriptures do we ever find a sacrifice performed by God Himself? The biblical pattern is that it is always the hand of the sinner that must be raised to take the life of the innocent sacrificial animal. In any true “prototype,” we should see the establishment of the ongoing pattern, not a departure from it.

So… Why DID God Make Coats for Adam and Eve?

Aside from the assumption that an animal or two must have died to provide the skins, there’s no evidence at all in the Bible that God performed the first “sacrifice for sin” in order to clothe Adam and Eve. Nor is there any evidence in the narrative to suggest that God approved of their efforts to clothe themselves (it was actually a rebuke when He asked Adam about it – Gen. 3:11).

Even though we are not told why God clothed them, it doesn’t stop us from being curious about the answer to that question and suggesting possible answers. That, of course, is the whole point of my blog article series called The Biblical Purpose of Clothing. I can’t claim that I know dogmatically any more than anyone else, but at least I have searched the Scriptures to find a biblically validated purpose that fits the context of the fall.

Thanks again for writing! I hope you chime in again!

— Matthew Neal