Friday, July 16, 2010

Why were Adam and Eve Naked?

In the history of Christian thought, the question of why Adam and Eve were naked has been more significant than one might think. There have been a couple of options. First, Augustine didn't really have a positive explanation for it. Negatively though, he argued in The City of God book 11, that it was possible for them to be naked because of the lack of lust within them. Prior to the Fall, he argued, there would have been a perfect self-mastery and composure. This means that people wouldn't have really been all that interested in sex in and of itself. It would have been a something purely interesting for the sake of procreation. Being the Platonist that he was, he generally thought that erotic desire was best directed towards "the Good" which he of course identified with God. After the Fall, our first parents had to put on clothing to hide the visible manifestations of the lust the felt for one another. The human person became a microcosm of the macrocosm. Just as the universe was in revolt against God, so too our bodies are now in revolt against us.

The second option is that of some recent biblical interpreters who seem to follow an Irenean understanding of the Fall, though from my reading of Ireaneus, this is not a position that he explicitly took. In this understanding, prior to the Fall human beings are like children and therefore, much like children in a lot of the ancient world, do not wear clothing. In this scheme, the Fall leads to us putting on clothing and becoming adults. Hence sin for some of this commentators leads to greater moral maturity and agency.

Both of these position are of course problematic. Augustine is of course correct about the lust of the flesh and the fact that our bodies are fallen, but he is wrong (as Melanchthon notes in the Apology) to think that the desire of man and woman for one another is from the Devil. Similarly, the view that Adam and Eve are like children has all the same problems that both Irenaeus and Hegel have. By making Adam and Eve childlike, Irenaeus did come up with a rationale for the Fall, but he also made us less culpable. Hegel made sin necessary for our self-consciousness and for God's. Hence, it again is not that blame-worthy. It is a felix culpa on steroids.

In order to answer this question in a more satisfactory manner, let us examine the concept of "bodies." When he's not developing strange tritheistic Hegelian heilgegeschicte schemes, Robert Jenson has developed an interesting definition. Many different things can be bodies, of course. Within the human world, in which we are relational beings, who have both a spiritual and physical natures. Since we are inherently relational, our bodies are our personal availability to one another.

In light of this definition (which to me seems to cohere well with the biblical understanding of human ontology), the nudity of Adam and Eve take on a meaning different from earlier ones we encountered. If Adam and Eve have received all things from God as one who gives them life and freedom (Gen. 1:28), then they are nude because of their perfect freedom to be available to one another. As "lords of all," they are capable of being servants to one another. In other words, within the freedom of perfect faith, they are totally free to completely surrender to another and therefore be perfectly available.

Sin is what makes them clothe themselves. The Bible describes them as being ashamed. This coheres with their need for self-justification under sin. They cannot believe themselves to be "very good" any longer. They must conserve themselves and hold themselves back due to their sin. Without the perfect freedom of faith, they cannot be perfectly available to one another or to God. They must be in rivalry with one another and they must self-justify before God. They must in a sense "cover" themselves before his judgment.

Christ reverse this in the nudity of the cross. He first fully exposes the depth of human sin, both by dying at the hands of sinful men. Their need to reject God's judgment and thereby self-justify is so strong that they must go so far as to kill God himself. On the cross, Jesus also reveals God reaction to sin. There is no more covering up before divine judgment as in Genesis 3. There is full exposure before all.

At the same time, he makes himself as a redeemer from sin perfectly available to all by exposing his body to all: "when I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself." He continues this in the sacrament of his body and blood, "this is my body given to you for the remission of sin, etc." He thereby creates a new tree of life on the cross and reverses the Fall.


  1. I agree, although I think you didn't substantiate it quite well enough. It is highly significant that Adam/Eve tried to cover their nakedness, but only God could really do that (by the sacrifice of an animal, no less). Also, consider the situation of Naked Noah. The word cover (kippur) is used there. Also consider the new clothes analogy of salvation, completed in Rev. 7 with the blood-washed robes.

    Oh, and there's a huge clothing theme in the Joseph story, starting with the favored robe and perhaps culminating in the egyptian royal clothes that hide his identity.

    Nakedness = exposure of the whole person. Clothes cover and hide. They can deceive, but they can also be God's gift.

    much more, of course, but for now...


    Consider, for example, the nakedness of Noah, and the actions of Ham vs. Shem.

  2. Well, it was supposed to just be a relatively short post. So, you are correct about me not developing it very much.

    Anyways, I think you are that Joseph is significant because as one might recall he is the last major cycle in Genesis and he is a type of Christ. At the beginning of the book Adam reigns over creation and at the end, Joseph reigns over a symbol of the whole creation, i.e. a kingdom of Jews and Gentiles. Adam is nude, so is Joseph at one point. This is of course connected to Shem, who is promised blessing and to have Japeth (the majority of the Gentiles) live in his tent- which coincides with the covering of nudity.

    The covering of the nakedness of Adam and Eve is good also- Luther mentions in the Genesis commentary. I mention it in the first chapter of my book. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I enjoy anything having to do with Genesis! I don't know if this makes me weird, or a true follower of Luther, but Genesis is truly fascinating.


  4. >>He thereby creates a new tree of life on the cross and reverses the Fall.<<

    Excellent insight, Jack. ;-D

  5. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They were made to reflect God's holiness and love both back to God, to each other and to all creation as they were given 'dominion.' There's nothing less self conscious than a mirror. It lives to bear another's image and pass it to others. We can't even look at our own faces (or see our own sin) except by a mirror (like 10 Commandments). Adam and Eve's shame of nakedness resulted from their now being sinful and caught in an insoluble problem called sin and the expectation of death. No longer reflecting God's glory they now were filled with their own darkness and their own darkness became all they could see, spiritually. They went from placing themselves least in their own eyes, to being purely self absorbed. A sinner's own wheel is the squeakiest and gets all the grease.

    Christ's nakedness on the cross was not his shame, but his bearing our shame. The shame we feel when considering Christ's nakedness is the effect of our own shame for our sin, identical to the self-consciousness that Adam and Eve first felt when they fell into sin. Thus, gazing upon the cross our shame, guilt, rebellion (ie, our sin) is confronted by his innocence and love and the great exchange takes place. He removes our guilt and takes our death and he gives us his righteousness and eternal life! In faith in him we are clothed by his righteousness as sinful Adam and Eve's nakedness was covered by animal skins offered as God's sacrifice for their sin in the garden (Gen. 3.21).

  6. Jason- Thanks, but it's not my insight, though, it's St. Irenaeus'.

  7. Dear Jack,

    A sister in Christ from Papua New Guinea from the Gutnius (Lutheran) Church (studying at a seminary here in Malaysia) is lending me Wingren's Man and the Incarnation. St Irenaeus is one of my favourite patristics. And Luther's the best expositor and developer of the recapitulatio doctrine!

  8. Tell us the truth, Jack. You just wrote this post so you could use the following.

    When he's not developing strange tritheistic Hegelian heilgegeschicte schemes


  9. You know what Philip Niccolai said in Freudenspiegel? He said they were clothed in the divine glory and that it was when their bodies no longer glowed that they knew they were naked. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Even as in the resurrection, bodies will shine (as our Lord did at the Transfiguration).

  10. Pastor Weedon- That's interesting. I didn't know that he held that view.

    I am aware of that view though, in that it's in Rabbinical sources. The idea is that because God is glory and light, (the literal meaning of kavod) then humans, made in God's image also glowed. According to some sources, they were also 20 feet tall. Again, in ancient near eastern literature, when the gods are described, they are described as being massive. That's why their temples were so big. So, also, some of the less Scriptural Jews assumed that God wasn't infinite, he was just really, really big and so therefore so were Adam and Eve.