For he has clothed me with garments of salvation,Isaiah 61:10b
and wrapped me in a robe of justice…
In the book of Revelation, the holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). Throughout Sacred Scripture, exterior garments symbolize the interior condition.
Garments in Biblical Hebrew
The Hebrew verb translated as “clothed” (from labash) makes its first appearance in the Bible before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. According to a longstanding tradition stemming from Jewish and patristic sources, Adam and Eve were clothed in light prior to being clothed in skin after the Fall. For centuries, interpreters have found layers of mystical meaning embedded in biblical Hebrew.
For example, the words for “light” (or) and “skin” (or) have the same pronunciation; they differ by their first letters (א aleph begins “light” and ע ayin begins “skin”). Interestingly, the pictograph for aleph is an ox head, indicating strength and power, which is also the letter for father (Ab, Abba). The pictograph for ayin is an eye. When the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, they saw that they were stripped of their glory. Out of mercy and pity, the Lord clothed them in garments of skin.
The Lord God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them (vayalbishem).Genesis 3:21
According to the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism:
An outer garment is called levusha, which is an acronym for lo busha, which means no shame, as one who is clothed is no longer ashamed.The William Davidson Talmud, Shabbat 77b
In the state of innocence, “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame (lo yitboshashu)” (Genesis 2:25).
Robe of Glory in Christian Tradition
St. Gregory Palamas, a fourteenth-century Byzantine Greek theologian and monk of Mount Athos, teaches that Adam, before the fall, was clothed in a garment of glory, irradiating the divine light. Thus “he was not naked, nor was he unseemly by reason of his nakedness. He was far more richly adorned than those who now deck themselves out with diadems of gold and brightly sparkling jewels” (Philokalia, Volume 4, 377).
St. Makarios of Egypt, a fourth-century Coptic monk and hermit, speaks of “Adam’s original glory shining from the face of Moses” (Philokalia, Volume 3, 300).
As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he spoke with the Lord. When Aaron, then, and the other Israelites saw Moses and noticed how radiant the skin of his face had become, they were afraid to come near him.Exodus 34:29-30
On the mountain of transfiguration, Peter, James, and John fell prostrate before the Lord Jesus Christ when the blinding splendor of his glory overwhelmed their sight.
In the theology of St. Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century patristic poet who was immersed in the Jewish sources, the saints in heaven shine with the light of glory that enveloped Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation.
Among the saints none is naked,St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise VI.9,
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 belongs to Adam and Eve.
As the Church
purges her ears
of the serpent’s poison,
those who had lost their garments,
having listened to it and become diseased,
have now been renewed and whitened.
Translated by Sebastian Brock
Garments of Betrayal
Replacing Adam’s luminous rays, the garments of skin symbolize his betrayal of God’s trust. The Hebrew word for “garments” (beged) in Isaiah 61:10 is derived from the verb bagad, “to act or deal treacherously or deceitfully.” Thus “garments” represent treachery, disloyalty, and betrayal. In another usage, Jacob put on the garments (beged) of Esau in order to deceive his father Isaac and obtain his blessing (Genesis 27:15). Similarly, the word for “robe” (meil) in Isaiah 61:10 is derived from the verb maal—to act unfaithfully or treacherously.
Theology and Language
Biblical words for clothing thus stem from the divinely inspired narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. In the interrelation of theology and language, the Hebrew Scriptures give rise to a constellation of biblical concepts. Whereas the garments of skin symbolize rebellion, the removal of skin in the covenant of circumcision signifies intimacy between humankind and God.