Does Genesis 3:21 talk about modesty?

I recently have come back to the topic of Biblical modesty in some online discussions and I encountered a strange argument about how the Bible teaches some concrete rules about clothing lengths and styles. Believe it or not, there are folks out there arguing this from Genesis 3:21. They tend to suggest that the Hebrew term in the passage that is translated “garments” denotes a covering that goes from “neck to knee”, hence all “biblically” modest women need to look something like this:

Anything less is wickedness.

Is that the case?

In a word, “nope.”

For those who want more than a single word answer, let’s dig in!

Genesis 3:21 reads “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” The phrase “garments of skins” is translated from the Hebrew “kathnoth oyr”, where “oyr” means “skins” and “kathnoth” is the feminine plural construct form of “kutoneth”. Most of the articles I’ve found (and there’s not terribly many people making this argument that I’ve been able to find; even the Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that this argument is a stretch) tend to try to suggest that the Hebrew word kutoneth *always* denotes some sort of shirt/coat that has long sleeves, a tight collar and hangs below the knees (some say to the ankles).That level of specificity is nowhere in the text of scripture though. The term appears 29 times in 26 verses of the Hebrew Old Testament:

  1. It’s a indeterminate style overcoat in Genesis 37:3, 37:23, 37:31-33, Ex. 28:4, 28:39, 28:40, 29:5, 29:8, 39:27, 40:14, lev. 8:7, 8:13, 10:5, 16:4, Job 30:18, SOS 5:3, Is. 22:21
  2. It’s a generic term for “garment” in 2 Sam. 13:18-19, 15:32, Ezra 2:69, Neh. 7:70, 7:72.Not one of those verses says anything about length, but a bunch of them simply state that it’s an overcoat that goes over some sort of under-layer of a garment (Job 30:18, Is. 22:21) or a priest’s undergarment (Ex. 28:4, 28:39-40; Lev. 8:7, 8:13, 16:4) or robe (Ex. 29:5).
Artist’s rendition of a high priest’s undergarment, which apparently came with a matching pocket protector

The idea is that it’s an *outer* layer, not a *long* layer. That makes sense since Adam an Eve already had on what would have essentially been undergarments (the Hebrew essentially says they were “loin coverings” – see Gen. 3:7) and unless one’s going to argue that God *stripped* Adam and Eve’s existing clothes off as part of the process of covering their (semi) naked bodies (which seems absolutely idiotic), then the idea in Gen. 3:21 is that God put an over-garment on top of their insufficient under-garments. Those over garments were ones made from an animal that God had to kill, and the insufficiency wasn’t due to their length. If that were the case, God would have made a much longer leaf-covering for them. The insufficiency was in the cost; Adam and Eve should have died that very day but instead an animal died in their place and they had to wear the remnants of its corpse.

That’s a good reminder for us to not treat sin as if it’s no big deal, right?

That being said, absolutely nothing is connotated about the length of that over-garment, since length is absolutely and positively *not* the issue.

Was it a full on fur coat that had wizard sleeves, a hood and a train? Maybe, but we don’t know.

Was it simply a sleeveless tunic of some sort? Maybe, but we don’t know.

Was it some sort of sweet tanned leather tunic with a matching belt with a dope Christian slogan?

I’d really like to think so.

But seriously, anyone who suggests that the lexical root of the term or it’s usage elsewhere in scripture suggests some universal specificity with regards to form or style has either:

  1. Not done sufficient lexical work in the first place (or is blindly following a lexicon without understanding how they work).
  2. Filled in the white spaces with their personal preferences/tradition (as if THAT ever happens).

So that’s the long answer to the question.

No, Genesis 3:21 does NOT teach (explicitly or implicitly) about skirt length.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Master of Modesty Unger


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