Vol. 1 - No. 12
Atonement: Figured by Skins
by Robert L. McDonald
In the October (1982) issue of THE EXPOSITORY REVIEW, Darwin Chandler had an interesting article, “The Fate of Innocence,” which caused a raising of eyebrows. Hardly had the paper been mailed when inquiries began to be received from some with an interest to review the article in part.
As editor, I questioned the article before publication, writing Darwin to see if some of the material could be reworked because I felt it would become one of controversy as it was penned. Darwin informed me the article should be printed as written. Its appearance in THE EXPOSITORY REVIEW was as received from him.
One point which seems to have caused concern among some readers is the “covering” of Adam and Eve with animal skins as a type of justification. Brother Chandler wrote:
“First, he must learn that only God can cover sin and its consequences. Until sin came in, man felt no need for covering. And now he is to be taught that only Divine effort can hide his sin. The root of 'atonement' in Hebrew is 'to cover.' The covering is a type of justification -- God's gift to the sinner who has no capacity to provide his own covering. Adam's attempt to cover his sin was merely the first attempt. to do what billions of lost souls have tried ever since” (TER, October, 1982).
In a recent gathering of preachers in the Dallas area, this particular point of brother Chandler was brought up by one expressing his delight in what had been written. Another responded by saying that such could not be proven by the Word of God. A neo-Calvinist replied, “Well, it makes good reading.” Making good reading does not establish a position to be according to truth and no Bible student will allow “good reading” of an uninspired man to be the foundation of one's faith. Let us examine the paragraph.
From the idea of Adam and Eve being clothed, as it is expressed in Genesis 3:21, brother Chandler shifted gears to another word, covering, which is an altogether different word, and made an argument on atonement, pointing out that atonement had a root meaning of covering.
It is true that the Hebrew, kaphar, translated “atonement,” has a primitive root which means “to cover” (Strong). But the word in the text under study by brother Chandler was not kaphar but rather labesh, “clothe.” “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
The Hebrew, labesh, has a primitive root, “properly, wrap around, i.e. to put on a garment or clothe (oneself, or another)” (Strong). This is the word which Moses used as he recorded the events of our first parents. There is nothing in the word “clothe” (labesh) which gives an idea of “atonement.”
The position under examination says the skins were a covering as a type of justification as a gift of God to the sinner. No inspired man has said the skins of animals which “clothed” the bodies of Adam and Eve were types of anything. Brother Chandler does not have this prerogative in the handling of the Word of God.
In the article under examination, the argument was made that God slew the animals as a substitute victim in sacrifice to Himself. This is another of those, “it makes good reading!” The speculation of brother Chandler is without foundation and should be so categorized. There is nothing in the inspired text which leaves the idea that God slew the animals as a sacrifice to Himself, offering a substitute victim for the life of Adam and Eve because of their sin.
I believe that H. C. Leupold has correctly expressed the idea of Genesis 3:21 when he said: “Now God makes necessary provision for man's physical well-being. The covering that man had made for himself was inadequate, and so God showed him how to provide a more suitable and durable covering for himself. By so doing God gave His approval of the sense of shame which had led our first parents to cover their nakedness, and at the same time He furnished protection against the rigors of climate which would be encountered outside of the garden. The expression 'and he made' (wayya'as) is best understood not that He personally did the making, but that He gave such directions as man required to learn how to make appropriate skin garments (Leupold on the Old Testament, Genesis, pg. 178).
In looking over some of the older sectarian commentaries, the position advanced by brother Chandler seems to have been along the same intellectual conjecture of at least two centuries ago. Some of the scholars of old toyed with the idea that garments were a covering to remind of sin and as a type of atonement by Jesus Christ. Others, equally scholarly, have pointed out that the position cannot be established by the text.
Another point of emphasis should be with reference to “atonement.” The idea of atonement is to cover our sin, hence to forgive or reconcile. This forgiveness, or atonement, in the New Testament was realized by the death of Jesus Christ by which all penitent believers are brought into a proper relationship with God. The words reconciliation and atonement are, in all of the New Testament except Hebrews 2:17, translations of the same word, katallage, and conveys the idea of a state of friendship and acceptance. Thayer informs us this word means, “Adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor” (Greek-English Lexicon, Thayer, pg. 333). In Hebrews 2:17, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make RECONCILIATION for the sins of the people.” Reconciliation in this passage, from the Greek hilaskomai, is the equivalent of the Hebrew kaphar, atonement, meaning to cover. Jesus Christ was made a covering for the sins of the people.
The clothing (labesh) of skins in Genesis 3:21 is not the “covering” for the sins of anyone at anytime. The Bible doesn't teach it and such an idea is nothing short of foolish speculation.