Last week we have looked at some of the Old Testament (OT) passages which dealt with the redemptive analogy of clothing. This week we will turn to the New Testament (NT). The imagery of clothing is especially used by the Apostle Paul (see, e.g., Rom 13:14; 1 Cor 15:53; 2 Cor 5:3; Gal 3:27; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:10) and the Apostle John (especially in Rev 3:4-5, 17-18; 6:11; 7:9; 19:8; 21-22). We will not be able to deal with all of these passages, but I listed them, so that the reader in his/her leisure time might delight in looking these up.
The exchange of garments as a redemptive analogy wraps up in the person Jesus Christ and his work. [This, by the way, is the fascination of biblical theology. We trace a theme through both testaments (i.e., OT and NT) and see how the different writes understand and apply that theme.]
The Apostle Paul is the first writer we are going to look at. He reminds believers that they have “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). This has the OT background of passages like Isa 61:10; 64:6; and Zech 3:3 in mind (cf. Bruce, 186).
Paul does this also in Col 3:9-10 where he brings to remembrance that we “have put off the old self… [and] put on the new self.” In Col this picture however has even more practical/ethical implications than the Galatian passage (since the latter focuses more on the positional aspect of it). The practical/ethical implications are seen by the adding of “the old self with its practice” (emphasis mine; cf. also the immediate context of vv. 5-8). Though these verses are ethical in nature, the main thrust is soteriological. Moo comments,
[F]or Paul, the “old self,” or “old man,” is first of all Adam and the “new self,” or “new man,” is Christ. Note, in this regard, that Paul can speak of “putting on Christ” as apparently parallel to “putting on the new self” (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 13:14). It is therefore our “Adamic” identification, with its servitude to sin, that we have “put off” in coming to Christ; and it is our “Christic” identification, with its power over sin, that we have “put on.” (268)
This new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” as Paul points out in Eph 4:24. In all these passages dealing with the “putting on” or “putting off” theme it seems that this is done by human effort. We are the ones who are either “putting off” or “putting on.”
But O’Brien rightly observes that “to put on” in Eph 4:24 “has an implied imperatival force, not in the sense that they were to continue putting on the new man, but that they should conduct their lives in the light of the mighty change God had effected” (331). It is God who has effected such change (cf. also Eph 2:10 where Paul writes that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”).
Paul picks up the imagery of Isa 59:17 (see “Part 1” of this series) in Eph 6:14, 17. Whereas in the Isaiah passage God is wearing the “breastplate of righteousness” and the “helmet of salvation” Paul shows in Ephesians that it is God who “gives his helmet to believers for their protection. This helmet is salvation itself […], and believers are urged to lay hold of it as they engage in the spiritual warfare” (O’Brien, 481). So, in Paul too, God provides the garments of salvation. Wow, what a God we have!
The theme of redemption culminates in the book of Revelation. In this treatise by the Apostle John the clothing and garments of the saints are mentioned as “fine linen” which are the “righteous deeds of the saints” (19:8; further, worthy ones will be “clothed [with] white garments” (3:5) and the church in Laodicea is admonished to purchase “white garments so that [they can] clothe [themselves] and the shame of [their] nakedness [will] not be seen” 3:18).
Here we find a theological tension between 19:7 the “Bride has made herself ready” and 19:8 “it was granted her to clothe herself” (cf. also 3:4-5 where the active and passive is used in the clothing picture). This tension is resolved if we see the OT background of Isa 61:10. Beale comments,
The objective genitive rendering of God’s “deeds putting right (or acquitting) the saints” or God’s “righteous acts for the saints” is also supported by the use of the allusion to Isa. 61:10. The allusion emphasizes God’s sovereign provision: the bride is able to prepare and clothe herself because God has given her clothes to wear. (938; emphasis mine)
God has prepared and enables us to live a life in godliness (cf. 2 Pt 1:3ff)!
Through the imagery of clothing and wedding garment metaphors which “signals the arrival of the bride” the Apostle John demonstrates “the completion of God’s plan of salvation” (Osborne 674; leaning on H. Giesen, Die Offenbarung des Johannes (Regensburger Neues Testament. Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1997) [p. 412]; emphasis mine).
In conclusion we see that God’s dealing with His people is shown by the analogy of clothing and exchange of garments in order to demonstrate His love and grace in His work of redemption. God cares for His people and is ready to clothe us with His righteousness so that our shame of nakedness will be covered by His cloak of salvation.
How will we respond to God’s offer?
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.
Harril, J. Albert. “Coming of Age and Putting on Christ: The Toga Virilis Ceremony, Its Paraenesis, and Paul’s Interpretation of Baptism in Galatians” In Novum Testamentum. 44.3 (2002): 252-277.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.
The NET Bible. 1st Edition. Biblical Studies Press, 2006.
O’Brien, Peter Thomas. The Letter to the Ephesians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.