There is a pervasive assumption I’ve noticed in conversations with many fellow believers regarding clothing: that the main purpose of clothes is to prevent sexual temptation. Which is all well and good, except for the fact that it’s just wrong. The assumption probably comes from the connection between modesty and the Christian philosophy of clothing, as seen here, here, and more comprehensively here. In modern American culture, where so much of fashion is intentionally sexual, this confusion is understandable. But given global standards of modesty, diverse to the extent some primitive cultures forego clothing almost entirely, modesty makes a poor logical rationale for wearing clothes. You may object to so called “native nudity,” but as such attire (or lack thereof) is neither intended to arouse nor to draw attention to the individual, it fulfills the requirements of modesty. Modesty and wearing clothes are two different things. I don’t want to talk about modesty today, because I want to talk about the real reason we wear clothes—the gospel reason we wear clothes.
I want you to look at Genesis 3, particularly verses 7, 10, 11, and 21. We know from Genesis 2:25 that Adam and Eve, before the fall, were naked and unashamed. Apparently nudity was native to Paradise. However, this changes immediately after their sin. For reasons I ignore for the sake of time, God had ordained that Adam’s nakedness, his lack of covering, was a sign, a type, a symbol of his guilt and shame before God, and as Adam desired to hide his disobedience from God, so also he attempted to hide his nakedness. Thus also did Eve.
Nakedness is used symbolically for this shame of sin elsewhere in the Bible. For example, Ezekiel 16:35-38, 23:29, and Hosea 2:8-9 use nakedness to refer to the exposure and judgment of sin, particularly Israel and Judah’s idolatry (portrayed analogously as adultery). Other uses of nakedness, usually referring to a lack of clothing due to destitution, connote shame, but more importantly communicate the idea of having nothing worth showing before God or man, nothing to recommend yourself to Him or anyone else. As Adam’s shame and guilt correspond to his lack of righteousness, of anything to offer God, so also did his nakedness correspond to a lack of covering, a lack of clothing. Thus clothing is a type of the righteousness we have in Jesus Christ. This leaves me to define two terms: type and righteousness.
Type is not identical with metaphor or allegory. Biblical types are corresponding pairs, usually including a shadow (the type) and a substance (the antitype) (Hebrews 10:1-2, Colossians 2:17), with a predictive element. For example, marriage is a type of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). Marriage was given first, and is thus the type. It is a symbol foreshadowing the union of Christ and the church (the antitype). Similarly, the entrance of the High Priest to the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) was a type of Jesus’ final and complete atonement on the cross (Hebrews 7:26-28). Melchizedek, having neither father nor mother nor birth nor death recorded in Scripture, was a type of the high priestly role of Jesus Christ (see lots of Hebrews passages). Clothing is a type of the imputed righteousness we have from Jesus Christ. And the imputation of Adam’s sin to all mankind is a type of the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to the elect.
Righteousness is a rather misunderstood word. A righteous man is one who is sinless, clean, right before God. Hence many think of righteousness as an attribute of a person. To an extent this is valid, but it fails in explaining how Christians receive their righteousness from Jesus Christ; the notion is instead more properly termed innate righteousness. Consider Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6 together: Abraham had righteousness accounted to him through his faith in God. Righteousness is something that can be dealt with as a credit on a hypothetical accounting sheet. Or read Romans 3:21-26, where God imputes His own innate righteousness to those who accept it through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness is that which makes us right in God’s standing—it may or may not actually be an attribute of ourselves. The angels’ innocence suffices as righteousness for them. God’s righteousness is inherent. The self-righteousness derived from works and law-keeping of the scribes and pharisees, however, is worthless (Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 5:20). This poses a problem for fallen humanity, which is solved by the righteousness given to us in Christ. Consider Romans 5:12-17:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Now you can stop calling me blasphemous for saying Adam is a type of Christ. More importantly, the passage explains that the righteousness upon which a Christian relies for His justification is imputed to Him, given to Him by Christ, provided in turn by Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.
But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.
The clothes in the parable, which girded the acceptable guests at the wedding, represent the righteousness believers have in Christ. As the true guests were randomly selected from passersby in the street, we know that they did not bring their own wedding attire, and must have received it from the king. The wedding represents the kingdom of heaven, and the guests its members (believers). Their distinguishing wedding clothes, given to them by their king, represent their salvation, their justification, or in the terms of Romans 3-5, the righteousness of God made manifest in Christ. And without this righteousness, there is no survival in God’s presence. Without justification there can be no glorification. Without a commitment to Christ in this life there is no consummation of union with Him. Hence the man without wedding garments, the unjustified man, was cast out. Here we have clothes representing the righteousness we have in Christ.
Consider, given our conviction that clothes sometimes represent righteousness, two mentions of Jesus’ clothes in the Bible, first at the transfiguration and the second at His return. Consider Mark 9:3, where Jesus’ clothes at His transfiguration became white, “as no launderer on earth can whiten them,” emphasizing His holiness and purity, that which provides His personal righteousness, of which His innate righteousness consists. Also note Revelation 19:11-16, where Jesus’ robes are dipped in blood, before the battle of Armageddon even begins, suggesting that the blood is His own, the atonement for believers, giving them their righteousness. His armies follow hence in spotless white robes, provided to them in heaven. These are further examples of the symbolic link between clothing and righteousness.
But the clothes Adam and Eve wore were animal skins, not textiles like ours. Hence we conclude that an animal (or animals) must have died in order to cover their shame, providing a type of righteousness. Perhaps it was possible for God to create animal skins without killing an animal, but given (1) the existence of animal sacrifices instituted in the Bible seen as early as Genesis 4, (2) the skins are particularly mentioned as animal skins, and (3) no mention of some miraculous act is mentioned, this seems unlikely. We can safely conclude that God established even in Genesis 3 the principle that sin requires death, although that death may be of another. But this enhances the (symbolic) type, as the righteousness we have in Christ required His death.
In many types, the shadow passes away when the substance comes. For example, the Christians don’t offer burnt offerings or grain offerings in a tabernacle or temple. Christians eat pork and shellfish. Adam, a type of Christ, is already dead, and has been for quite some time. We no longer have a Davidic line of kings ruling in Israel, as Jesus, the eternal king from David’s line, will soon return to rule forever. So why do we still wear clothes under the New Covenant? Not all types pass away when the antitype is revealed: consider marriage. Marriage is clearly sanctioned in the New Testament, but it is just as clearly a type of the relationship of Christ and the church. Similarly, New Testament passages assume we will continue to wear clothes. See the modesty passages, or Paul’s use of nakedness (in the sense of destitution) as an abnormality caused by poverty in Romans 8:38-39 and several times in 2 Corinthians, implying that people wear clothes. This is a type that persists today.
So how is all this useful? The typological significance of clothes matters because understanding the gospel matters. God gave us types of the Gospel to instruct us; they are included in the Bible to broaden and deepen our understanding of His plan of redemption. The better we understand our salvation, the better we can love Christ and serve the Father.
Much of the boredom expressed by those reading the Old Testament wouldn’t exist if readers knew they should, and how they should, look for types of Christ (and other New Covenant truths) in the Old Testament. That is an acquired skill. So this blog post is practical for students of the Scriptures.
Most importantly, these truths provide us a daily reminder of the gospel. Every time we put on our clothes in the morning, we can think of God’s clothing us in the righteousness of Christ, of His covering our sins, of His love, care, and provision for us. Even the most mundane parts of our daily routine can be redeemed time for Christ, sparking prayer and praise and reminding us of our duty to proclaim the gospel to the nations. The “modesty/sexual temptation” explanation of why we wear clothes falls short in practicality as compared to the gospel explanation. The former tends toward legalism and strife. Consider all the needless ink spilled over the most utterly stupid things, e.g. the permissibility of wearing yoga pants, by Christian bloggers—not by the secular media, by Christians. Contentions over preferences distract from knowing only Christ crucified, instead focusing attention on ourselves, not God. But gospel explanations aid us in living a cross centered life, a Christ loving life, a God pleasing life, even when we must turn our attention to the mundane. Gospel explanations allow us to teach ourselves and others of the most important truths in the universe.