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