A Biblical Theology of Clothing

A Scene of Shame

A crucifixion was a scene of shame. The humiliation was public and excruciating. The crucified person was typically stripped naked to increase embarrassment. Roman soldiers had removed Jesus’s garments. They “divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take” (Mark 15:24). While the first Adam was clothed with garments of skin from the Lord, the last Adam suffered unclothed.

Let’s think about clothing and shame. When Adam and Eve realized their nakedness, they sewed loincloths to cover themselves (Gen. 3:7), even though earlier they were “both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). After the fall, shame and nakedness are paired together. The provision of clothing makes the theological point that sin needs to be covered. And the language about uncovering nakedness is typically connected to a wicked act.

Short of Glory

Mitchell L. Chase

In this accessible book, Mitchell Chase identifies biblical themes found in Genesis 3, explaining why they are essential to understanding the biblical narrative and identifying why these themes are crucial for believers today. 

For example, in Genesis 9, Noah became drunk and lay naked in his tent (Gen. 9:21). Ham, Noah’s son, “saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (Gen. 9:22–23). The nakedness needed to be covered by a garment, and Noah’s sons Shem and Japheth didn’t exploit their father’s shame like Ham did.

Clothing was important for Israel’s priests. The high priest wore quite lavish garments, complete with beautifully threaded materials and jewels (Ex. 28, 39). God told Israel’s mediators, “And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it” (Ex. 20:26). Canaanite worship consisted of sexual elements, including nakedness, which is why the Israelites were explicitly told to preserve modesty and propriety. The priests would wear linen undergarments, lest their flowing robes expose their nakedness.

Modesty is fitting for life outside the garden. An immodest situation is provocative in a negative sense. Think of the possessed man in Luke 8. “For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs” (Luke 8:27). Now notice the situation after Jesus delivered the man: “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid” (Luke 8:35). No longer naked, the delivered man was clothed with garments and a sound mind. There is a correspondence between his inner and outer conditions. The clothing was a visible signal that a change had occurred. This new clothing showed there was a new man.

The Christian life is sometimes described as putting on new garments.1 Paul exhorted the Ephesians to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). He wrote similar things to the Colossians: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9–10). The disciple lives in the new garments of new life in Christ.

In this world of spiritual warfare, the believer needs protective garments. We need the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:14–17). We need garments that fit the realm in which we live. And we ultimately wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and forces of evil (Eph. 6:12).

Paul uses clothing as a metaphor for the human body. This earthly body will die, and that disembodied condition is what Paul calls being “naked” or “unclothed” (2 Cor. 5:3). But believers have a resurrection hope. Though our bodies will return to the dust, we will not be disembodied forever. We were made for embodied immortality in Christ. We long to be “further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). Rising from the dead means getting dressed in everlasting bodily life. In Genesis 3, God provided garments of skins. At the future resurrection, God will provide garments of glory.

In the book of Revelation, the image of washed garments depicts the vindicated and victorious state of God’s people. John saw an uncountable multitude from tribes and peoples “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9). The identity of these people is also given: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).

Have you considered how the language about our future life with Christ is never depicted with the nakedness in Eden before the fall? There remains mystery about the appearance of our bodies in the age to come, but language of clothing is applied to our vindicated and resurrected state.

Now, through faith in Christ Jesus, God has clothed us in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

This Christian Life

The events in the garden of Eden aimed forward. When God clothed Adam and Eve with garments of skins, this action communicated both compassion and provision. With nakedness and shame connected, God provided an appropriate covering through animal death.

Fig leaves from the tree would not do. Something better, something long-lasting, was needed. In Matthew Harmon’s words, “By providing the sacrifice to cover the sins of Adam and Eve, God establishes a pattern that not only continues throughout the Bible but also anticipates the definitive sacrifice that God will provide—his Son, Jesus Christ.”2

The many animals across the many years of the sacrificial system could not take away sins. But the truth remained that if sin was ever to be covered, God would have to do it. The work of atonement would have to be a divine work. The trajectory from the animal skins in Genesis 3:21 to the cross in the Gospels is one of pattern and fulfillment. The finished work of Christ has brought an end to burnt offerings.

Now, through faith in Christ Jesus, God has clothed us in the perfect righteousness of Christ. The disciple’s life is to keep in step with the truth. We are to become who we already are in Christ. Like getting dressed each day, we have put on the new man—the Lord Jesus. The headship of Adam no longer defines us. The perfect covering of Christ is ours through faith. God sees us as those united to Christ.

Mercy and compassion are what God continually shows sinners. There is a care and tenderness with the language that “God made . . . and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). He was no debtor to Adam and Eve. But he loved them. He was their Creator and now their coverer. God’s heart toward his people is full of steadfast love and mercy. John described the tender action of God wiping away tears as pain and mourning and death pass away in the coming consummation (see Rev. 21:4).

We remember the covering that Christ provided. It is the gospel we preach to our weary souls. While the trees of the garden could not shield Adam and Eve from the shame and consequences of their sin, a tree outside Jerusalem gives covering for an uncountable multitude from the nations who seek refuge and pardon. The image of Christ upon the tree is a graphic reminder that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And the warning of death is rooted in God’s own words to Adam early in Genesis: “You shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

While God did pronounce consequences for disobedience, his image bearers did not die physically there in the garden. The only death in Genesis 3 was of an animal whose skins clothed the couple with garments of grace awaiting glory.


  1. Greg Beale notes: “The removing of old clothes and the putting on of new clothes in the OT represents forgiveness of sin (Zech. 3:4–5) or the new eschatological relationship that the people of Yahweh were to have with him after their restoration from Babylon (Isa. 52:1–2; 61:3, 10). Also, new clothes were donned by people when they were installed into positions of rule in the OT (e.g., Joseph in Gen. 41:41–44; Eliakim in Isa. 22:21; Daniel in Dan. 5:29), as well as in the ancient Near East in general. . . . Even in the ancient Near East or in the OT, to receive a robe from a parent or to be disrobed by a parent indicated respectively inheritance and disinheritance.” A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 454n61.
  2. Matthew S. Harmon, Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration, Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 16–17.

This article is adapted from Short of Glory: A Biblical and Theological Exploration of the Fall by Mitchell L. Chase.

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