Western art typically portrays Adam and Eve as naked in the Garden of Eden, and dressed in “coats of skin” after the Fall. However, the Eastern Orthodox tradition depicts the sequence of their change of clothing in reverse manner. How can that be? The Eastern Church remembers the accounts that portray Adam as a King and Priest in Eden, so naturally he is shown there in regal robes. Moreover, Orthodox readers interpret the “skins” that the couple wore after their expulsion from the Garden as being their own now-fully human flesh. Gary Anderson interprets this symbolism to mean that “Adam has exchanged an angelic constitution for a mortal one”—in Latter-day Saint parlance, they have lost their terrestrial glory and are now in a telestial state.
The top panel of the figure above shows God seated in the heavenly council surrounded by angels and the four beasts of the book of Revelation. The second panel depicts, from left to right: Adam and Eve clothed in heavenly robes following their creation; then stripped of their glorious garments and “clothed” only in mortal skin after eating the forbidden fruit; and finally, both clad in fig leaf aprons as Eve converses with God. The third panel shows Adam conversing with God, the couple’s expulsion from the walled Garden through a door showing images of cherubim, and their subsequent hardship in the fallen world. Orthodox tradition generally leaves Adam and Eve in their aprons after the Fall and expulsion, seeing them as already having received their “coats of skin” at the time they were clothed in mortal flesh.
Gradients of Holiness and Changes of Clothing
Recalling the parallels between the layout of the Garden of Eden and Israelite Houses of God, Anderson points out that “the vestments of the priest matched exactly those particular areas of the Temple to which he had access. … Each time the high priest moved from one gradient of holiness to another, he had to remove one set of clothes and put on another to mark the change”:
(a) Outside the Tabernacle priests wear ordinary clothes. (b) When on duty in the Tabernacle, they wear four pieces of clothing whose material and quality of workmanship match that of the fabrics found on the outer walls of the courtyard. (c) The High Priest wears those four pieces plus four additional ones—these added garments match the fabric of the Holy Chamber where he must go daily to tend the incense altar.
In Eden a similar set of vestments is found, again each set suited to its particular space. (a) Adam and Eve were, at creation, vested like priests and granted access to most of Eden. (b) Had they been found worthy, an even more glorious set of garments would have been theirs (and according to St. Ephrem, they would have entered even holier ground). (c) But having [transgressed], they were stripped of their angelic garments and put on mortal flesh. Thus, when their feet met ordinary earth—the realm of the animals—their constitution had become “fleshly,” or mortal.
According to Sebastian Brock, the imagery of clothing in the story of Adam and Eve is “a means of linking together in a dynamic fashion the whole of salvation history; it is a means of indicating the interrelatedness between every stage in this continuing working out of divine Providence.” To Latter-day Saints, this imagery also makes clear the place of each individual Christian’s priesthood ordinances “within the divine economy as a whole.” We describe the sequence of changes in more detail below.
From Glory to Nakedness (Moses 3:25)
Though figuratively “naked,” because their knowledge of their premortal state had been taken away by a “veil of forgetfulness,” Adam and Eve had come to Eden nonetheless “trailing clouds of glory.” While the couple, as yet, were free from transgression, they could stand “naked” in God’s presence without shame, being “clothed with purity” in what early commentators called “garments of light” or “garments of contentment.” In one source, Eve describes her appearance by saying: “I was decked out like a bride, and I reclined in a wedding-chamber of light.”
In the context of temple teachings based on the experiences of Adam and Eve, Hugh Nibley explains:
The garment [of light] represents the preexistent glory of the candidate. … When he leaves on his earthly mission, it is laid up for him in heaven to await his return. It thus serves as security and lends urgency and weight to the need for following righteous ways on earth. For if one fails here, one loses not only one’s glorious future in the eternities to come, but also the whole accumulation of past deeds and accomplishments in the long ages of preexistence.
From Innocence to Transgression (Moses 4:16)
Rabbinical tradition taught that, following his transgression, “Adam… lost his [heavenly] clothing—God stripped it off him,” and similarly that Eve “was stripped of the righteousness in which [she] had been clothed.” In the Life of Adam and Eve, Adam is made to say that God then “sent seventy plagues upon us, to our eyes, and to our ears and as far as our feet.” As we have seen, this can be taken to mean that “Adam has exchanged an angelic constitution for a mortal one,” in other words that he has been “clothed with flesh.” Shamed by their loss of glory, Adam and Eve covered their earthly bodies with fig leaf aprons.
Rabbinical writings describe how, in likeness of Adam and Eve, each soul descending to earth “divests itself of its heavenly garment, and is clothed in a garment of flesh and blood,” the prior glory being, as it were, “veiled… in flesh.” The various “afflictions” of mortality initially given to Adam and now bestowed upon “all… generations” “‘are against the ‘seven natures: the flesh for hearing, the eyes for seeing, the breath to smell, the veins to touch, the blood for taste, and bones for endurance, and the intelligence for joy’; or against life, sight, hearing, smell, speech, taste, procreation.” Though Adam and Eve had been protected from fatal harm, ancient texts recount that Satan had been allowed to hurt them, and the “wounds,” foreshadowing the wounds later received by Christ at His crucifixion, “remained on their bodies.”
Nibley sees the wounds of nature and of Satan to various parts of the body as symbols figuratively corresponding to the “blows of death” taught by Satan to Cain. He describes their enactment in Jewish ritual as follows:
The wages of sin is death, and the dead body is chided at an old-fashioned Jewish funeral because its members no longer function, and each one is struck an impatient and accusing blow. This is the chîbut ha-keber: “On the third day the departed is treated with increased rigor. Blows are struck on his eyes because he would not see, on his ears because he would not hear, on his lips because they uttered profanities, on his tongue because it bore false testimony against his neighbor, on his feet because they ran toward evil doing.”
From Transgression to Blamelessness (Moses 4:27, 6:50-53)
Adam was powerless except through death to rid himself of the mortal flesh he had now put on. However, while still in this life, he was enabled to “[put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ” so that he could be found “blameless in the sight of God.” When Adam asked why “men must repent and be baptized,” the Lord replied: “Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.”
Above is a mosaic from the San Marco cupola in Venice showing God not merely providing coats of animal skins, but also actually dressing Adam and Eve. The coats of skins were a visible sign of God’s forgiveness, constituting a tangible witness of the couple’s acceptance of the atonement that would reverse the “blows of death” and cover the shame of spiritual nakedness they experienced following their transgression. The “second skin” provided by the Lord figuratively replaced their covering of mortal skin with the flesh of Jesus Christ, the “second Adam,” through whose power they would experience a “renewing of their bodies.” Indeed, the Hebrew term for “atonement” exactly fits this situation, meaning “to cover or recover, cover again, to repair a hole, cure a sickness, mend a rift, make good a torn or broken covering.”
Though the leather garment given to Adam and handed down through the patriarchs was foremost a sign of repentance, it was also a sign of authority, and a symbol of “royal rebirth and rejuvenation.” It provided protection, afforded modesty, reminded Adam and Eve of their covenants, and served as an earnest of the glorious celestial robes that awaited them through their faithfulness.
“Putt[ing] off the natural man” so as to be made a “new creature” in Christ is figuratively enacted in the rites of some Christian traditions relating to the renunciation of Satan and the acceptance of Christ through baptism. In these rites, the candidate “is stripped of the garments inherited from Adam and vested with the token of those garments he or she shall enjoy at the resurrection.” The function of the skin garment was subsumed by the linen coat and breeches worn next to the skin by priests in the Tabernacle precincts at the time of Moses, purportedly in order “to avoid the shedding of animal blood.” Moreover, as Matthew B. Brown observes, “The fine linen worn by heavenly beings is described as ‘clean and white’ or ‘pure and white’ and is therefore an appropriate symbol of worthiness or righteousness. Since linen is not the product of an animal that is subject unto death, or ‘corruption’ as it is called, it is also a fitting symbol of immortality, which is also called ‘incorruption.’”
From Blamelessness to Celestial Glory (Moses 4:27)
While the coats of skins “covered” the direct effects of Adam and Eve’s transgression (corresponding to the idea of justification), additional clothing worn over the first garment represented their being endowed with glory, holiness, and godliness (i.e., sanctification). In connection with the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel that promise “eternal life… unto all the obedient,” Adam and Eve would, in the resurrection, be “clothed with honour and majesty… [and] covered… with light as with a garment,” in perfect similitude of God’s own glory.
Rabbinical writings recount: “When the time comes for the soul to leave this world, the Angel of Death strips off the worldly garment, and at the same instant the soul is clothed in the holy garment that was stripped away when it descended to this world. Then the soul delights in having been stripped of its worldly body and in having its original garment restored.” Similarly, Nephi describes the worthy dead as “being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.” 1 Enoch says that the “righteous and the chosen will have arisen from the earth … and have put on the garment of glory … the garment of life from the Lord of Spirits; and your garment will not wear out, and your glory will not fade in the presence of the Lord of Spirits.” “For these are those selected by God for an everlasting covenant and to them shall belong the glory of Adam.”
In ancient Israel, the temple clothing of priests symbolized the heavenly clothing that would be given them in the next life. Nibley explains that “the white undergarment is the proper preexistent glory of the wearer, while the [outer garment of the high priest] is the priesthood later added to it.” Anderson describes God’s concerted attempt at Sinai to figuratively reverse the effects of the Fall of mankind and then to cover him with glory:
by ordaining that Israel wash and then put on new clothes. “When you have already been washed and purified through the Law of God,” Origen declared, “then Moses will dress you with a garment of incorruptibility so that ‘your shame may never appear’ and ‘this mortality may be absorbed by life.’” And what was done to Israel in this general way was done to the priesthood in a much more dramatic way. Priests’ clothing anticipated the resurrection body that all would receive at the end of time.
Eve Receives a Fitting and Proper Name (Moses 4:26)
Just before God clothed the first couple with “coats of skin,” Eve was given a proper and fitting name, replacing the generic name of “woman” (ishah) she had received previously. Jolene Edmunds Rockwood explains how the second naming differed from the first:
[In the first instance of naming,] man is actually making a pun on the origin of woman. As the human (ha-‘adam) received his existence from the earth (ha-‘adamah), now the man (ish) has been used to form the woman (ishah). We see this difference even more clearly when we look more closely at the episode where ha-‘adam names the animals. He uses a Hebrew naming formula: the verb “to call” (gara’) followed by the word “name” (shem) or “calling the name.” Cain “builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son”; and “Adam knew his wife again, and she bare a son, and called his name Seth.” It is interesting that the man does not employ this formula for the woman until after the Fall when he “calls her name Eve”.…
As before Adam made a covenant with her, now he gives her a title of great honor: “Life, the mother of all living.” This is not a mere naming. It signifies that a great event has taken place, and a title commensurate with the event is bestowed upon the woman. It is also similar to the Near Eastern formula for titles given to goddesses.
The imagery of clothing beautifully conveys the correspondence between the stages of personal progression and the accrual of glory in increasing likeness to God. This clothing with glory is not an event that transpires in an instant, but rather occurs through a process of gradual growth, “grace for grace.”
William Blake depicts the exit scene at the gates of Eden as a tender moment of forgiveness and farewell. In childlike submission and gratitude, Adam and Eve bow their heads and prepare to leave God’s embrace and prove themselves by overcoming the dangers of the mortal world.
In his Hymns on Paradise, Ephrem the Syrian summarizes the blessings that come to the posterity of Adam and Eve through their faithfulness:
Among the saints none is naked,
for they have put on glory,
nor is any clad in those leaves,
or standing in shame,
for they have found, through our Lord,
the robe that belonged to Adam and Eve.
This essay is adapted from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw. Temple Themes in the Book of Moses. 2014 update ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2014. English: https://archive.org/details/150904TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses2014UpdatedEditionSReading ; Spanish: http://www.templethemes.net/books/171219-SPA-TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses.pdf, pp. 149–157.
Notes on Figures
Figure 1. From the New Julfa (Isfahan) Bible. Courtesy of the British Library, with the assistance of Sandra Powlette. Published in V. Nersessian, Treasures, p. 219. https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/0892366397.html (accessed July 8, 2021).
Figure 2. Figure © Jeffrey M. Bradshaw. Concept inspired by G. A. Anderson, Perfection, p. 80.
Figure 3. University of California Press. Previously published in P. H. Jolly, Eve and Adam, p. 56.
Figure 4. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.
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As a prelude to his investiture, a medieval Ethiopian Christian text portrays Adam in the Garden of Eden being commanded by God to enact a series of covenantal gestures in order to “become associated with the Surafel (i.e., the Seraphim) in the mysteries.” Afterward, God arrayed him in gloriously clothing from head to foot (B. Mika’el, Book, pp. 21-22; cf. M. i. A. A. al-Kisa’i, Tales, pp. 28-29). In this sense, Adam and Eve, “though naked, [were] still clothed” (Ephrem the Syrian, Paradise, Hymns on Faith (The Pearl), 133:2, p. 71).