It may seem an odd—maybe even silly—question to occur to someone, but why do we normally begin each day by getting dressed, by donning some kind of clothing before heading out into the world? And the answers to this, if someone were to take the time actually to explain the reasons for wearing Levi’s and t-shirt to school, clean scrubs to the hospital, or suit and tie to the office, may seem so obvious that it would be ridiculous to ask.
But in the interest of inquiring research into human origins, as one recent article has noted, “Why our ancestors, alone in the entire animal kingdom, adopted clothes is one of those big questions that science has only recently begun to tackle.”1 Indeed, thinking of the ways in which Homo sapiens are considered to have evolved into shapes and behaviors beyond that of their predecessors would seem to be of obvious interest to self-understanding, itself a probably significant quality of human life.
As such, archaeologists studying the Stone Age generally pay little attention to clothing in their findings, probably because time has left only the vestiges of fur or fabric. But to those whose emphasis of study spans the more recent Paleolithic record, the physical evidence of attire still remains to some extent. And with it, several reasons for taking on some form of apparel begin to suggest themselves. Climate, of course, especially that in which winters were more harsh, would recommend the covering of oneself for comfort—or even for survival. And, then later, the earliest evidences of what today may be called “fashion” would have begun “to signal aspects of . . . identities, such as gender, clan or profession.”2
And so, these, considered the earliest of scientific report of the origins of clothing, may bring a measure of certainty to those who may have wondered about such things. But it is also probable that there is another account for it.
If someone were to ascribe any authority to the biblical account of human origins, the first clothing came about quite differently. It was actually a kind of symbolic act of the Creator Himself. There in the Garden of Eden, humankind’s very first home, God came for what by then appears to have been His usual evening visit with Adam and Eve. By this time, the couple had experienced the Fall, the first human breaking of God’s law, and they were actually hiding from Him.
“Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen. 3:9, NKJV).
What an almost amusing irony there was in that question. Surely God—the omnipresent and omniscient—knew exactly where Adam and Eve were there in the garden.
But God wasn’t asking about the physical location of His two loved ones. He was asking them, instead, to realize internally where they had become in their relationship with Him.
And, at first, they didn’t get it. Again, almost comically, standing there before Him wearing only fig-leaf loincloth, Adam answered, “‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’” (vs. 10, NIV).
And, again, when God must have known the answer just as surely as that of His question, “Where are you?” He asked Adam, “‘Who told you that you were naked?’” (vs. 11, NIV).
There the finger-pointing began: Adam claimed it was the woman God had given him—and, thus implying that it was God who was responsible. Eve said she had been deceived by the serpent.
But the fact was that no one had expressly told the couple there in the garden that they were naked. This had become aware to them as a result of their own partaking of the fruit.
Commentators have since pointed out that this particular reference to nakedness most likely describes something quite beyond the physical lack of clothing. They observe that the Greek word translated as “naked” in these particular verses appears many times throughout Scripture, but they seldom, if ever, talk of physical nudity. Instead, they refer—and are translated as “naked”—most often to a state of being. They speak of defenselessness. “This condition,” writes Jacques Doukhan, “is not a reference to some distant stage of history when humans did not wear clothes or to some psychological embarrassment in regards to sensuality and sexuality. . . . Nakedness is a state of vulnerability only when one is exposed to all kinds of possible attacks.”3
Whether Adam and Eve, created in God’s own image were physically unclothed, they had never been naked. From their very beginning, they had been clothed with light. But at this moment of human history came the first clothing as it has been known in various physical forms ever since. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (vs. 21, NIV).
This first clothing of Adam and Eve after the Fall and their realization of their exposed vulnerability was both physical and spiritual. “Dressing them [as God Himself did] was an act of investiture implying acceptance and a new status. God provided for them the skin of an animal, thus removing their shame.”4 And this was the first symbolic statement to humankind of the sacrificial coming of a Messiah in the plan of salvation.
This suggests an essential difference between the answers to the question introduced in the Smithsonian article: “When Did Clothing Originate?” Materialist science accepts only evidence of research from what is humanly observable and measurable, and then derives its inferences from that.
The apostle Paul, however, summarizes a worldview that transcends that of materialistic science. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18, NIV).
Though materialistic science certainly may have its value and application in addressing the immediate and physical aspects of modern-day life, its own self-limiting criteria are of less direction in the interpretation of the eternal. And there is unimaginably great hope in “what is [humanly] unseen,” the authority of spiritual evidence in the reading of history.
NOTES AND REFERENCES