“Who Told You That You Were Naked?”
Last week, Deb talked about the social implications of clothing in the church. This week I am addressing what the Bible says about clothing.
From the moment we are born, our clothing is limited by gender. Baby girls wear pink and baby boys wear blue. Switching these colors is taboo in our culture. Clothing expectations are also limited by age, social status, ethnicity, and of course, religion. But does the Bible say baby boys must not be swaddled in pink blankets? Does the Bible say women must wear skirts? Does the Bible say a man must wear a tie around his neck before preaching? What exactly does the Bible tell us about clothing?
The first time we come across clothing in the Bible is Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were created innocent and placed in a beautiful garden. God gave them one command and they chose to disobey. When this happened, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Genesis 3:7
The first article of clothing in the Bible was designed to cover the shame of nakedness. When God entered the garden Adam and Eve have to tell him about their sin. God dismissed them from the garden and explained the effects of the curse that sin has now brought on the earth. Then in verse 21 “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
Clothing was given as a covering for their shame, a shadow of the covering that God would one day make for sin. As he sacrificed an animal to bring them clothing, he would one day sacrifice his own Son to clothe all of us in righteousness.
But what else do we know about clothing in the culture of the Bible? We know that is was a precious commodity. Think about it. Where did the people in ancient cultures get their clothes? They couldn’t run to Walmart for a new outfit. All clothing was handmade. They cultivated their own thread—wool from their own sheep or goats—wove their own fabric, and sewed their own garments. One robe represented a tremendous amount of work. You think parents are fussy about their children getting dirty now? Imagine what a first century mom said to her child after a dusty, sweaty day in the fields.
When Naaman, the commander of the Aramean army, got leprosy, a servant girl told him of a prophet in Israel who could heal diseases. Naaman asked the king for permission to seek out this prophet. His king agreed and sent him to the king of Israel with a letter, ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of clothing. His complete story, including the unusual healing, is found in 2 Kings 5. Don’t miss the fact that clothing is so precious it is included as a gift from one king to another.
Since clothing is worth so much, due to the work needed to make it, tearing your clothing was considered an act of deep grief. Jacob tore his clothes when he heard that Joseph was dead. Jephthah tore his clothes when he realized he had to sacrifice his own daughter as a result of his rash vow. David tore his clothes when he heard of the death of Saul, the Lord’s anointed. Mordecai tore his clothes when he heard the royal edict announcing the planned annihilation of all Jews. The high priest tore his clothes when he heard Jesus call himself God.
Clothing, in every culture, is a personal expression. The color of your shirt or the name on your label say something about who you are or who you want to be. In the ancient near east, a person’s clothing was considered an extension of the person. A woman in a crowd reached out to touch Jesus in desperation and only caught the hem of his robe. But that was enough, because touching the clothing of Jesus was the same as touching Jesus. She was healed. In 1 Samuel 18:4 Jonathan gave his robe to his friend David, but it was more than a simple act of friendship. It was an acknowledgement that David would one day be king. Jonathan, as son of the king and heir to the throne, willingly handed over his identity to David.
So, in the Bible, clothing is used as a covering for shame, is revered as a precious commodity, and is seen as an extension of the owner. But what does the Bible tell us about our clothing? Does it tell us what to wear? How long our hems should be or how high our necklines should be?
There are very few commands in the Bible regarding clothing. Two laws in Deuteronomy 22 warn against cross-dressing and mixing fabrics. Since Jesus has come to fulfill the law, Christians are no longer expected to obey all the laws in the Old Testament. Besides, both laws apply more to idol worship than to modern clothing choices. There are additional clothing regulations for priests found in Ezekiel 44. But should these regulations be adhered to in our culture? Well, if you kill goats and sheep as a way of atoning for sin, then maybe. Then again, if you’re killing animals for sin, you probably have bigger issues to take care of.
Most of the instructions about clothing are about our actions. Paul instructs the church to “put off” the old man and “put on” the new. He tells the Colossian Christians to “clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). Peter instructs women to be careful that they don’t rely on clothing for their beauty, but instead it should come from the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).
Paul instructs the early Christians to clothe themselves with Christ. Just as clothing covers shame, Christ covers our shame and removes the curse of sin from our lives. Just as clothing is a precious commodity, Christ is precious to all believers. And just as clothing embodies the owner, we receive Christ’s life when we clothe ourselves with him. As long as you are clothed in Christ, the Bible is not concerned with what you use to cover your body from day to day.