In staccato fashion, the closing verses of Gen 3 (vv. 20-24) weave together a number of gracious acts of God before he drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden in judgment. Nestled in this section is a simple verse: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (v. 21, NASB). It is easy to read this verse and not give it much thought. After all, it seems self-explanatory and there is not much elaboration given. Additionally, there is no explicit mention of this act of God anywhere else later in the Bible. But as I will argue in this post, there is a range of theological significance in this simple act of God. While somewhat speculative, I will argue that there are three major theological concepts in Genesis 3:21. First, I will argue Gen 3:21 presents the theme of a divine-initiated covering. Second, I will argue that in Gen 3:21 we have a reminder of sin’s consequences and subsequent mortality. And thirdly, I will argue Gen 3:21 prefigures the tabernacle setting and cultic worship.
(1) Divinely-Initiated Covering
On the heels of their disobedience, the text says Adam and Eve’s eyes “were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7a). Earlier, in a pre-Fall Eden, both of them were naked and were not ashamed (Gen 2:25); but then they experienced great shame and therefore “they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (Gen 3:7b). This was a self-initiated, temporary covering. In response, God “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). This is not, as some have taken, God inspiring Adam and Eve to dress themselves; it is, rather, God unilateral acting to cover their shame. As Gordon Wenham writes, “The first is an attempt to cover oneself, the second is accepting a covering from another. The first is manmade and the second is God made.” This theme of divine initiation and grace prior to judgment pervades the whole of Scripture, and it especially permeates these early chapters in book of Genesis. For example, Cain is given a mark of protection before he is exiled (Gen 4:15) and God announces a covenant before the flood waters (Gen 6:18). Similarly, God clothes Adam and Eve prior to expelling them from Eden, showcasing the inadequacy of man’s self-robing and the need for divine initiation.
(2) Reminder of Sin’s Consequence, Death, and Mortality
The text is not explicit, but it is reasonable to suggest that God killed an animal to provide Adam and Eve with the “garments of skin.” Hence, blood was shed and death was the result. Of course, it is not wrong to see the garments as protection in a harsh, post-Eden environment (cf. vv. 18, 23); but it is myopic to not see a deeper theological significance. A lesson for Adam and Eve was that they were mortal, a reminder that God had said they would surely die if they took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). In seeing the death of animals, Adam and Eve would grasp the nature of their mortality. It is not merely that Adam and Eve would die, but it is also that man now lived on the precipice of death. As Andrius Valevicius explains, “[A] revolution has occurred: life used to be the fundamental principle of human existence but now it has been clothed by mortality. Death has gained the advance, and life which used to unfold unthreatened, has been transformed into a fight for survival.” This struggle for survival and life within the shadow of death is all a result of sin.
(3) Prefiguring of Tabernacle Worship
One cannot be dogmatic in making this point, but it is inescapable to see some connection here to cultic worship. Victor Hamilton at this point cautions against reading too much of the sacrificial system into this verse, noting that the word “garments” is also used to describe the garments Jacob made for Joseph (Gen. 37:3). But what Hamilton fails to observe is that although not definitive, the immediate context does lend itself to drawing a parallel. In the same way that Genesis 3:15 prefigures the redemptive work of Christ (what theologians refer to as the “protoevangelium”), so too Gen 3:21 could prefigure the tabernacle setting and worship. Kenneth Mathews notes the similar language between the two: “garments” and “clothed” are also “reminiscent” of the language used to describe the priestly garments (e.g., for “garments,” Exod 28:4, 39-40; 29:5, 8; for “clothed,” Exod 28:41; 28:8). Moreover, the garden account shares imagery with the tabernacle and it is not surprising to see the allusion to animal sacrifice. “Through an oblique reference to animal sacrifice, the garden narrative paints a theological portrait familiar to the recipients of the Sinai revelation who honored the tabernacle as the meeting place with God.”
If Gen 3:21 prefigures the tabernacle setting and cultic worship, then it is the case that it also points to the redemptive work of Christ. Hebrews 9:22 makes clear that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” If indeed we have the first shedding of blood on earth in Gen 3:21, then we are given a subtle foreshadowing of the cross of Christ. Moreover, it is fitting that from the first moment it was God who initiated that sacrifice on behalf of the first Adam. It was then the second Adam who willingly gave his life and shed his blood to provide a covering for sinners.
As we have seen, Gen 3:21 is replete with theological significance. Admittedly, this is somewhat a speculative quest. But when one goes beyond the surface of the text and connects the theological dots, there immediately arises a certain richness not apparent at first. When God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothing them, I believe he intended to communicate at least three important truths: (1) that it is he who initiates in grace to provide for rebellious creatures; (2) that sin, death, and mortality would be a perpetual reminder for his creatures; and (3) that the death of the animal would pre-figure the later cultic setting and, consequently, the sin-atoning cross work of Christ.
Contra John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis: Chapters 1:1-11:4, trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 329.
Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 207.
So Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 207.
So Roy B. Zuck, ed., A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 22; Franz Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, vol. 1, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 106. Victor P. Hamilton: “Adam and Eve are in need of salvation that comes from without. God needs to do for them what they are unable to do for themselves” (The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], 207).
So Walter Brueggemann, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 364.
So John E. Hartley, Genesis, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 72; John H. Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 266.
So Ephrem the Syrian (Commentary on Genesis 2.33.1), quoted in Andrew Louth, ed., Genesis 1-11 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 98. Origen likewise views it as a “symbol of the mortality that [Adam] received because of his skin and his frailty that came from the corruption of the flesh” (Homilies on Leviticus 6.2.7).
Andrius Valevicius, “The Greek Fathers and the ‘Coats of Skin’,” Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 36, no. 1–4 (1995): 168.
On a related note, R. R. Reno argues from this passage for the doctrine of “concupiscence.” In essence, it is “the condition of disorder within the human soul caused when the lower appetites … push us in directions contrary to our rational desires.” Reno contends that God made these garments of skin to serve as a “governor on the intensity of the human will.” This no doubt is an interesting point, but it is an exegetical overreach and a needless imposition of theology back onto a verse.
Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, 207.
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, New American Commentary 1A (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 254–255.
Lifsa Schachter, “The Garden of Eden as God’s First Sanctuary,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 41, no. 2 (April 2013): 73–77.
Ibid., 255. So also Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 1:84.
Henry Law, The Gospel in Genesis, reprint (1960; The Banner of Truth Trust, 1854).