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AFTER THE FALL: GENESIS 3:21

In their effort to justify the slaughter of animals, there are those who point to Genesis 3:21 as a vindication of the kind of cruelty that serves its own interests without regard for the pain and suffering of any other creature.

This verse of scripture says "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skin and clothed them." And even though the Bible does not mention animals in this context, scholars have been all too willing to speculate that God killed animals, and then skinned them, in order to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve.

But in a previous verse of scripture (Genesis 3:7), the Bible records that after they had fallen into sin, and become aware of their nakedness, the man and woman "sewed fig leaves together" to cover themselves. If it were true that God slaughtered innocent animals in order to do the same thing, it would make Adam and Eve kinder, more sensitive, and less violent than the Creator of the universe. It would also make God the world's first recorded killer.

Of course the verse of scripture that tells about the Lord providing Adam and Eve with coats of skin has nothing to do with killing any creature. The Bible is filled with analogy, hyperbole, metaphor and simile and, in most instances, scholars are quick to point out such things. In the book of Job, for example, the term "skin of my teeth" is explained as meaning a narrow escape: "I am escaped with the skin of my teeth." (Job 19:20.) And in the same book, Job exclaims that it is God who has "clothed me with skin and flesh." (Job 10:11.) In this instance, no one makes the claim that God killed animals to clothe Job. It is obvious that the phrase means that man was clothed--covered--with skin as a protective covering, just as all animals are clothed with skin.

But when the same expression is used about Adam and Eve, in Genesis 3:21, no one bothers to explain this. And no one points out the context in which it appears. This verse of scripture immediately precedes the account of the man and woman having to leave Eden, forever. Henceforth they would live in a harsh and unyielding environment which would reflect the low estate to which they had fallen. The land in which they were going to live would bring forth "thorns and thistles" instead of the lush bounty of the Garden. And they would suffer the ill effects of a harsh climate in which they would eat their bread "in the sweat of their face."

Previously, they had lived a paradisiacal existence for which their bodies were well-suited. But now their survival demanded a tougher, hardier, kind of body. One that could withstand the rigors of an inhospitable environment. They needed, literally, to develop a "thicker skin." So just before they left Eden, the necessary adaptation was made. And the Bible explains this by saying that God clothed the man and woman with coats of skin. That thicker skin covered what had been a more delicate and sensitive organism.

But little attention has been given to this exegesis of the narrative. Mostly by default, scholars have allowed the unsubstantiated, popular interpretation of the event to prevail. The interpretation that arbitrarily brings the slaughter of animals into the story. They have allowed this because they, like most people, think animals are expendable. They, too, have been taught to believe that all other creatures exist for human consumption, decoration, or experimentation. And they believe that God allows-- and even encourages--this abuse of other species.

Consequently, there is little concern that the popular interpretation of Genesis 3:21 is incorrect. And there is virtually no concern that it is also blasphemous: it attributes to God the cruelty and insensitivity that characterizes a fallen human race. It also contradicts the revelation of Jesus Christ who told us that the God of the universe is concerned about the fate of all creatures--even the smallest sparrow.
 

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