Have you ever had the experience of reading something and automatically assuming you know what it means—indeed, you are so certain of the meaning that it does not occur to you that you are doing any interpretation? And only later do you learn that there are other equally plausible (or more plausible) meanings in what you’ve read? That is my experience with the garments of skin God stitched for Adam and Eve right before they were exiled from the garden of Eden.
Here is what the scriptures tell us: the man and the woman have eaten the forbidden fruit, stitched fig leaves together to cover their newfound vulnerability, and hidden from God. God
has discovered their wrongdoing, and pronounced punishments upon them. Then God is just about to banish Adam and Eve from Eden—but in a gracious and merciful response to their sinfulness, God first dresses them properly. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
I have known about those garments, and the fig leaves they replaced, since childhood Sunday school—and I have always understood the description in Genesis to mean that God clothed Adam and Eve with their own skin. In my imagining, they needed skin in order to live in the non-Eden world, and so God gave it to them, right before expelling them from the garden.
It was not until recently, when I read Gary Anderson’s book The Genesis of Perfection, that I realized a more straightforward interpretation might be that Adam and Eve had skin from the
start, and that after the Fall, God clothed them in garments of animal skin—which would be sturdier and warmer than their self-fashioned fig-leaf garments.