An applied biblical theology of clothing
By Naomi Carle
The bridal gown
The Bible traces the relationship between God and his chosen people, culminating in a description of the ultimate Wedding Day between Christ and the church. Unsurprisingly then, procuring an appropriate dress takes the entire sweep of Scripture. As with any bridal gown, alterations must be made, accessories chosen and embellishments added. The criteria: perfection. Examining the patterns God repeatedly stitches into his people’s clothing, toile by toile, anticipates the glory of the final design, glimpsed in Revelation.
As priest-king, Adam is clothed for office in the reflected glory of his Creator. His invisible investiture reflects God’s righteous character which speaks to humanity’s image-bearing likeness. At the Fall, Adam and Eve were stripped of their original righteousness – their spiritual clothing – compromising their reign and invoking God’s curse.
For the first time, physical clothing was necessary to cover their sin and shame. To afford protection, these garments must be designed by God. Covering one’s own iniquity before others and before God only increases guilt and results in death (Gen. 3:7). God’s grace and mercy abound as he clothes Adam and Eve in skins before their banishment (Gen. 3:21), affirming their instinctive desire for a covering to protect them from righteous judgment (Ps. 32).
Clothing provides a powerful image for justification through penal substitution throughout Scripture, culminating in the Old Testament with Zechariah 3’s vision of Joshua the High Priest exchanging his filthy rags for Christ’s gleaming white robes, pointing to Christ’s work at the cross.
Priestly lines added
The second set of clothes to descend from the design rooms of heaven are given to Moses while he is up a mountain, clothed in a theophany which temporarily causes his face to glow. God’s priestly garment pattern is created “for glory and for beauty” to reinvest humanity with their reflected glory lost at the Fall. The investiture of Aaron as High Priest points forward to the indwelling Spirit as well as backwards to the garden. The priestly robes echo the tent (tabernacle) and so point back to the skins originally used to cover Adam and Eve as they were exiled from the garden, and forward to the new temple God will build through his people (1 Peter 2).
Before Aaron reclaims Adam’s original glory, he must undergo ritual washing, a type of baptism. His linen undergarments signify righteousness and are overlaid with gem-encrusted silks, reflecting the cosmos and coloured like flaming sky to symbolise God’s glory-presence (Gen. 2 and Rev. 21-22). The priest’s breastplate is designed to reflect the holy of holies, which descends in Rev. 21:10-27, and to propitiate God’s judgment, deflecting his wrath from Israel, linking it to the righteous armour of the warrior-God worn in Isaiah 59:17 and the church’s investiture in Christ in Ephesians 6:14.
Eschatological bridal toile
Isaiah 62’s vision of the future Israel pairs righteousness and glory, inverting humanity’s movement from Creation to Fall towards magnificent, re-created glory. Adam proved himself unrighteous, his glory was diminished, but in God’s graciousness, not destroyed. A time is coming when nations and kings will witness God’s people restored to magnify his glory. The “Glory and beauty” which underpinned God’s design of Aaron’s priestly garments now describe a dazzling crown, a diadem for the royal bride. God’s audacious plan is to fuse a union with his people so exclusive, so precious that it can only be described by marriage. The reversal is stark: “You shall no more be termed “Forsaken” … “Desolate” … but … “My delight is in her” … “Married”. Atonement will be made.
Costly haute couture
The substitutionary sacrifice needed to cover humanity’s sin is at last provided by Christ. Christ’s seamless robe intentionally echoes the priestly garments and the tabernacle. He becomes temple and high priest in his mediation of God’s presence with his people, deflecting God’s wrath by enrobing believers in his identity, transforming them into royal priests and living stones (1 Peter 2:2-9). Christ, clothed in flesh, is stripped of glory, becoming naked and exposed, covered in our guilt and shame, so that we might be clothed in his robes of righteousness. Our little stories of nakedness clothed and sins forgiven echo Scripture’s master narrative.
The clothing Christ provides is the Holy Spirit himself. In Acts 2:4 the disciples are “filled” at the point of their investiture, synthesising the roles of Moses and Aaron as innately and externally reflecting God’s glory. Just as Moses left the mountain glowing, so all Christians will be changed from one degree of glory to another because their Father God has clothed them in Christ’s righteousness, the antitype of Aaron’s priestly garments. The reality of our clothing in Christ guarantees that the deep work of restoring his image will happen, by the Spirit’s power. Believers simply grow up into their new white, righteous garments given to them in Christ.
There is now great freedom in what we wear within the constraints of a modesty rooted in understanding that we must still clothe ourselves in recognition of our broken image, out of love for one another and a desire to encourage the pursuit of blameless righteousness. We can dress to complement and to celebrate our Heavenly Father’s glorious design, uniquely expressed in us! Getting dressed can help us reflect our spiritual identity as we consciously remember our need for covering and fix our eyes on Christ, who has paid for our radiant future wardrobe.
Glimpsing the bride’s arrival
In Revelation 21:2 the church descends from God, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” God has “prepared” Christ’s bride. When John examines the Bridal gown closely, he is shown Jerusalem, “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal” in an astonishing echo of Rev. 4:5’s description of the enthroned Christ. The Bride is dressed in her husband’s likeness, wearing robes cut from the same cloth. Although the Bride must play her part, as she walks in the good works granted for her to do (Eph. 2:10; Rev. 19:8), this enrobing is prepared for and achieved by the Bridegroom’s sacrifice alone. He has clothed many sons and daughters in glorious garments that will never wear out, in a beauty that will only intensify.
Naomi is currently in her second year of study with Crosslands which she does alongside being a full time mum of four. She and her family live in North London while her husband, Joel, trains for full-time ministry. Before having children, Naomi studied and worked in the English department of a university and instead of going back into academia, she’s slowly been taking on more ministry responsibilities and looking after the women at church as family life allows.