Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Names and Garments (Genesis 3:20, 21)

Here in the penultimate scene of this story, we see reflections of the second scene. There, the man named the animals, here he names the woman. At what point do we stop calling the man simply “the man” and start using that designation as a proper name? By chapter five it is going to be clearly a name, but here and in all of the first four chapters it is proceeded by an article. In this particular story, it is perhaps good that we can think of this as either Adam or more generally the man. Because this story of rebellion against God certainly applies to all mankind who will follow Adam and Eve save one.

Adam names his wife Eve, which has been taken to mean life by subsequent translators. Ironic, perhaps that even though she is the mother of all living, death has come to humanity due to he (and Adam’s) actions.

And, just as in the second scene of this story, God is the primary actor. There He made humanity’s perfect home. Here He makes them garments that will cover their shame. It is not directly said here, but this likely involved the killing of an animal. If so it is the first instance of a sacrifice to cover man’s sinfulness. Contrary to what a lot of prudish interpretation might suggest, the goal here is not to hide sexuality or to help mankind avoid temptation. It is a covering for shame, and perhaps a reminder that man is now sinful and God does not want to see him uncovered. (Later texts will show that priests who served in God’s presence must wear special coverings.) Real nudity, unlike the titillating representations in entertainment and pornography, is humiliating and disgraceful. God’s act here is an act of kindness and grace.

(The picture above is "Adam and Eve, Expulsion from the Garden" by Thomas Cole 1828.  More info here)

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