Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Adam & Eve’s Fig Leaves (Genesis 3:7)

What were the first clothes made of? Fig leaves (Genesis 3:7)

Adam and Eve’s eating of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden is one of the Bible’s most well known stories (Genesis 3:1-21). God had previously allowed the man to eat from any tree in the garden with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, conveniently located at its center (Genesis 2:16-17). God assures the man that eating from this tree will result in death (Genesis 2:17). This one stipulation proves one too many as the first couple fails to resist the prohibited fruit (Genesis 3:6). Having been assured by a serpent that they would not die, they willingly eat the fruit (Genesis 3:4-6).

Prior to this infraction, Adam and his wife (who will later be named Eve, Genesis 3:20) enjoy unashamed bliss in the garden (Genesis 2:25). After eating the fruit their “eyes...were opened” and they realize that they are naked to which they respond by crafting makeshift clothing from fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. (Genesis 3:7 NASB)
With God’s inevitable visit awaiting, the couple can choose to confess, run or hide. The man and the woman opt to hide. Gordon J. Wenham (b. 1943) asks:
Though somewhat ineffective, these actions suggest urgency and desperation [Genesis 3:7]; the innocent serenity of Genesis 2:25 is shattered. But who are the couple trying to hide from? From each other or from God? Certainly their behavior before meeting God shows (pace Claus Westermann [1909-2000], 1:253) that they have a sense of guilt before he addressed them (so Eugen Drewermann [b. 1940], 79). (Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary), 276)
Genesis’ note regarding the repercussions of eating the fruit (Genesis 3:7) is paced identically as the previous verse which details the decision to eat of the fruit (Genesis 3:6). Kenneth A. Mathews (b. 1950) scrutinizes:
The results are told in the same rapid-fire fashion as the transgression, paralleling the actions of the woman in Genesis 3:6: (1) eyes open, (2) realize their nakedness, (3) sew fig leaves, and (4) make coverings. What they “saw” is that they are “naked,” what is “pleasing to the eye” causes displeasure with their own nakedness and the need to cover it with “fig leaves,” and the “wisdom” gained only enables the making of coverings.” The link between act and consequence is found in the wordplay between ta’ăwâ (“pleasing”) in Genesis 3:6 and similar tē’ēnâ (“fig”). The plural “they” shows that the couple simultaneously experiences the results of eating. The verb “realized,” when literally rendered “knew” (yd‘), echoes the “tree of knowledge” from which they had partaken; the word “naked” is reminiscent again of the “crafty” serpent who tricked the woman into exchanging her innocence for the embarrassing knowledge that they are naked (Genesis 3:1; Genesis 2:25). (Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 (New American Commentary), 239)
The verse leaves much to the imagination forcing the reader to engage the text (Genesis 3:7). Robert Gnuse (b. 1947) contemplates:
Now that they know their own nakedness is a condition that they should avoid, they undertake actions to cover themselves. They sew garments of fig leaves together to make loincloths [Genesis 3:7]. One can only wonder what they sew these fig leaves together with; the text tells us nothing. So the man and the woman hide in the underbrush, wearing the latest in fig-leaf fashion. One can only wonder what they thought that they were going to do next. (Gnuse, Misunderstood Stories: Theological Commentary on Genesis 1-11, 113)
Beverly J. Stratton (b. 1959) challenges:
The narrator does not tell us their feelings. Instead , the story quickly reports their next act: ‘they sewed fig leaves, and they made for themselves coverings’ [Genesis 3:7]. Readers must get involved in the story to try to understand this action. Did the couple gain new knowledge that suggested they should cover themselves? Did new knowledge reveal that nakedness was ‘bad’ and that clothing was ‘good’? Do the man and woman cover themselves because they are somehow newly aware of sexual differences? Or are they differently aware of their disobedience, and is this awareness related to their clothing of themselves? Perhaps the couple is embarrassed or ashamed to be in one another’s presence. The narrator is again silent (perhaps annoyingly so to the reader) about the couple’s thoughts and feelings after their action and whatever unspecified immediate consequences it may have had for them. But perhaps, given the couple’s unashamed nakedness of Genesis 2:25, their actions here speak louder than words. (Stratton, Out of Eden: Reading, Rhetoric and Ideology in Genesis 2-3, 49-50)
With newly opened eyes, the couple realizes that they are naked (Genesis 3:7). Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) interprets:
In the Bible, ‘ārûm [“naked”] usually describes someone stripped of protective clothing and “naked” in the sense of being defenseless, weak, or humiliated (Deuteronomy 28:48; Job 1:21; Isaiah 58:7). With an awareness of guilt and a loss of innocense, the couple now feels shame in their naked state. Their spiritual death is revealed by their alienation from one another, symbolized by sewing fig leaves together for barriers, and by their separation from God, symbolized by hiding among the trees [Genesis 3:7]. (Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks [b. 1970], Genesis: A Commentary, 92)
Ellen A. Robbins (b. 1945) praises:
The manner in which the story is constructed limited the Storyteller to just one immediate effect of eating from the Tree of Knowing as the primary trait that differentiates humans from other animal species, and it’s a tribute to his powers of observation and appreciation of irony that he chose the fact that we alone cannot tolerate being seen naked [Genesis 3:7]. He carefully prepared us for this insight by earlier describing the pair as “naked but not ashamed” [Genesis 2:25] which immediately puts us in mind of all the other animals in the Garden. (Robbins, The Storyteller and the Garden of Eden, 135)
The Hebrew terms used for “naked” vary slightly in Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3:7. John H. Sailhamer (b. 1946) accentuates:
There is a difference in meaning between ערום (“naked”) in Genesis 2:25 and ערום (“naked”) in Genesis 3:7. Although both terms are infrequent in the Pentateuch, the latter is distinguished by its used [sic] in Deuteronomy 28:48, where it depicts the state of Israel’s exiles who have been punished for their failure to trust and obey God’s word: “Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies that the LORD sends against you.” In distinguishing the first state of human nakedness from the second, the author has introduced a subtle yet perceptible clue to the story’s meaning. The effect of the Fall was not simply that the man and the woman came to know that they were ערום (“naked”). Specifically, they came to know that they were ערום (“naked”) in the sense of being “under God’s judgment,” as in Deuteronomy 28:48 (cf. Ezekiel 16:39, 23:29). (Sailhmaer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, 103)
M.D. Johnson (1935-2011) footnotes:
Louis Ginzberg [1873-1953] (Legends of the Jews, volume 5, pp. 121ff and n. 120) notes that the haggadic interpretation of “naked” in Genesis 3:7, 10 is that the first pair became aware that they were bare of good deeds; cf. Shabbat 14a; Megillah 32a; Genesis Rabbah 19:6; Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 14. Other Jewish and Christian writers assert that Adam and Eve had garments of light before the Fall. (James H. Charlesworth [b. 1940], The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2: Expansions of the Old Testament and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic works, 281)
In spite of the revelation of their nakedness, on the surface there is little change after partaking of the fruit (Genesis 3:7). Thomas Whitelaw (1840-1917) assures:
This sense of shame which caused them to seek a covering for their nudity was not due to any physical corruption of the body (Michael Baumgarten [1812-1889]), but to the consciousness of guilt with which their souls were laden, and which impelled them to flee from the presence of their offended Sovereign. (H.D.M. Spence [1836-1917] and Joseph S. Exell [1819-1887], Genesis (Pulpit Commentary), 59)
H.H.B. Ayles (1861-1940) concurs:
There is no need to think of any physical change. Their bodies were the same, but now they recognized the facts. The Midrash excellently comments: “they knew they were like the beasts.” (Ayles, A Critical Commentary on Genesis II.4-III.25, 62)
Tangibly speaking, nothing changes after eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:7). After an edict of death (Genesis 2:17), these results read anticlimactically. Gordon J. Wenham (b. 1943) admits:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened” [Genesis 3:7] combines phrases from Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3:5. The snake’s prediction is literally fulfilled but their vision is somewhat of a letdown: “They realized they were nude, and they sewed fig leaves together” [Genesis 3:7]. (Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary), 276)
Jerome M. Segal (b. 1943) assesses:
In a sense, this gaining of knowledge of good and evil seems strikingly devoid of content. After all, what do they know that they didn’t know before? It can’t be said that they learned that they didn’t have any fig leaves covering them. They knew that already. Rather, they came to perceive themselves as naked [Genesis 3:7]. They saw what they had always seen, but now they experienced it differently. They experienced themselves through moral categories; to perceive oneself as naked requires a notion of right and wrong. Until he ate from the tree Adam did not possess the concept “naked”; thus, when he explains to God why he was hiding, saying, “I was afraid because I was naked,” God responds by focusing on his language and what it reveals.”Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:10-11 NIV). (Segal, Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible, 41)
Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013) critiques:
In Genesis 3:7, the damage done in the human mind spills over into the real world...Since the tree was precisely about the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:9, 17], let’s begin with Adam’s and Eve’s stunningly stupid discovery of the nakedness they suddenly thought they knew for the first time...It’s all baloney. From the moment they were made, they’d never been anything but naked. Adam’s vision of Eve as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” [Genesis 2:23] was not a glimpse through a nightgown or bathrobe. The naked man simply recognized, in the naked woman, the same being as himself — with some delightful if puzzling differences. And the naked Eve (assuming she looked at herself first) must have seen the naked Adam, if not with fear and trembling, then at least with admiration for God’s sense of humor...The knowledge of their nakedness could not possibly have been news — unless it was a dangerously perverse knowledge of something that wasn’t there. And that’s exactly what it was: the gratuitous manufacture of a shame, of a guilt they’d never known before. The sin in the Fall, therefore, was internal, not external. It sprang not from the fruit of the tree but from the eating of the fruit [Genesis 3:6] — from the digesting of a lie about reality. And from there on, it was only a matter of time until it spilled over into the as yet innocent world...Hebrew is not a language of abstractions. It’s a tissue of concrete nouns, verbs, and adjectives that can deal with high subjects in an earthy way (reigning you will reign, dying you will die [Genesis 2:17]). And even though eating you will eat does not appear in the text, it meaning is plain: “You will metabolize this lie until it becomes the truth of your miserable lives.” It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden was a bad joke on the human intellect — a silly extravagance, a pointless peripatation around the simple truth of their being. And it took them clean (or murkily) out of their minds. They didn’t learn anything here. They focused n the unlearnable, and they paid the price. They became fools — and they took us into their folly with them. (Capon, Genesis: The Movie, 292-93)
Clyde T. Francisco (1916-1981) imparts:
What had they learned? That they were naked [Genesis 3:7]. How profound! With all the astounding knowledge that man has acquired in this century, where has it left him in his own soul? Overwhelmed with a sense of guilt about himself and his society. Always it is thus, the writer is saying, when the pursuit of knowledge is not directed by faith. (Clifton J. Allen [1901-1986], General Articles, Genesis–Exodus (Broadman Bible Commentary), 129-30)
While physically, the transformation is negligible, there is an immediate and marked change in the state of the couple before and after eating the fruit (Genesis 3:7).

David J. Atkinson (b. 1943) contrasts:

In Genesis 2:25 we read that the man and his wife were naked and unashamed. By Genesis 3:7 there is shame – that sense of unease with yourself at the heart of your being. Not being able to be comfortable with yourself as you are, and therefore not being comfortable in the presence of another: that is shame. (Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1–11 (Bible Speaks Today), 87)
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) appraises:
The effects of the Fall go well beyond physical death. The first place the consequences of the Fall can be seen is in relationship, which is so important to human beings. No longer can Adam and Eve stand naked before one another and feel no shame [Genesis 2:25]. They cover themselves with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. Their shame extends beyond a feeling of physical inadequacy and includes a psychological and spiritual estrangement. They no longer experience the same measure of intimate connectedness that they felt before the sin. (Longman, How to Read Genesis, 112)
The man and woman’s nakedness extends far beyond the physical realm (Genesis 3:7). Miguel A. De La Torre (b. 1958) gauges:
The first discovery they made once their eyes were opened was their vulnerability, for they were more than just physically naked, they were also emotionally and psychologically naked [Genesis 3:7]. They are left to make amends by creating clothing to cover up their nakedness. But human attempts to cover up their vulnerabilities fall short of the mark. Fig-leaf clothes do not last for long. (De La Torre, Genesis (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible), 77)
Donald E. Gowan (b. 1929) concurs:
Their eyes were opened [Genesis 3:7], and the result was shame or, perhaps more accurately, self-consciousness. Having made their declaration of independence from God, they are now aware of themselves in a new way, as autonomous beings over against other selves. They know that they can exercise an independent will that differs from the will of others, and they already sense (as we know so well from experience) that these differing wills are potentially hostile. The first act of their new state of knowledge is to attempt to create a defense. They are aware of themselves as naked, that is, as two different kinds of human beings and thus potentially enemies. Their pitiful garments of leaves, scratchy and sketchy, are their attempt to make clothing their first line of defense. (Gowan, Genesis 1-11: From Eden to Babel (International Theological Commentary), 55)
Augustine (354-430) envisages:
Then they saw that they were naked by perverted eyes [Genesis 3:7]. Their original simplicity, signified by the term nakedness, now seemed to be something to be ashamed of. And so that they might no longer be simple, they made aprons for themselves from the leaves of the fig tree, as if to cover their private parts, that is, to cover their simplicity, of which that cunning pride was ashamed. The leaves of the fig tree signify a certain itching, if this is correctly said in the case of incorporeal things, which the mind suffers in wondrous ways from the desire and pleasure of lying. As a result those who love to joke are even called “salty” in Latin. For in jokes pretense plays a primary role. Two Books on Genesis against the Manichaeans 2.15.23. (Andrew Louth [b. 1944], Genesis 1-11 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 81)
The revelation completely changes the dynamics of their interactions. Derrick McCarson (b. 1984) realizes:
For Adam and Eve, the age of innocense was over and the relational intimacy and naiveté that they enjoyed in the Garden was replaced with evil thoughts and guilt. What a contrast from the marital bliss they previously enjoyed (Genesis 2:25). (McCarson, Origins: An In-Depth Study of Genesis 1–11, 143)
David R. Helm (b. 1961) and Jon M. Dennis (b. 1966) diagnose:
Their shame is a signal that their relationship to each other has changed. Now they are painfully self-conscious. As an infant in his mother’s womb needs no clothes, so Adam and Eve, wrapped in the warmth of God’s presence, had no need for a covering. Now–as if thrust from the womb without warning–the impulse is to cover themselves and hide. What a contrast to how they felt earlier: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). (Helm and Dennis, The Genesis Factor: Probing Life’s Big Questions, 74-75)
Martin Sicker (b. 1931) expounds:
They had become aware of each other in a way vastly different than before. They had always been naked, but now they knew they were naked! [Genesis 3:7] Whereas previously they had been able to confront each other in their nakedness without embarrassment, now they began to feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence. A sense of vulnerability came over them. They felt exposed, without protection. They looked at the animals around them and then at themselves, and their discomfort increased. They now experienced a feeling unknown to them before. Fully conscious of their nakedness, they exhibit any inclination to shield their exposure. Why, and in what way, were they different in this regard? Their eyes were opened and they saw things now that they had never noticed before. Was this what it was like to be as Elohim, as the serpent had taunted [Genesis 3:5]? (Sicker, Reading Genesis Politically: An Introduction to Mosaic Political Philosophy, 30)
R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) laments:
Paradise lost!...The carefree nakedness [Genesis 2:25] that went with their perfectly transparent character and their unfettered harmony with God and each other dissolved. (Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Preaching the Word), 76)
Perhaps most tellingly, the choice to eat of the fruit is endemic of a change in priorities. Johnson T.K. Lim (b. 1952) understands:
Their eyes are opened to guilt and shame. Self-consciousness replaces God-consciousness. They sew fig leaves to hide themselves from each other [Genesis 3:7]. They didn’t like what they had seen of themselves and of each other. In the end, doubt and denial lead to disharmony and death. In the end, they were driven from the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:23-24]. (Lim, Grace in the Midst of Judgment: Grappling with Genesis 1-11, 209)
After eating the fruit, nothing changes. Yet everything changes.

Significantly, God does not immediately intervene. John L. Hemphill III (b. 1971) recognizes:

To sow fig leaves together takes time yet God doesn’t approach Adam and Eve right away [Genesis 3:7]. God let’s the shame of their sin sit around and he doesn’t expose it right away. The mercy of God is also seen by the simple fact that God doesn’t destroy mankind right away, but spares man. Even in man’s darkest hour God is merciful. (Hemphill, Genesis: Human History Through the Eyes of God, 38-39)
God’s absence confirms that divine agency does not directly cause the change in the humans; it is rather a consequence of their actions. The proof is in the pudding: The couple comprehends their failure without being told (Genesis 3:7).

Leon R. Kass (b. 1939) observes:

The immediate consequence of the transgression doesn’t require God’s intervention at all. “The eyes of them both were opened, and they saw that they were naked, and they made themselves coverings of fig leaves.” [Genesis 3:7] God hasn’t intruded upon that. There’s some kind of sadness and shame in that first discovery. They somehow know how far they are from Godliness. (Bill Moyers [b. 1934], Genesis: A Living Conversation, 53)
Anthony F. Campbell (b. 1934) determines:
What is portrayed in the Garden story is a matter of natural consequence, independent of God. God may have warned against it [Genesis 2:16-17]; the warning is ignored. The act is performed (the fruit eaten) [Genesis 3:6]; the consequence follows (their eyes are opened) [Genesis 3:7]. God is not involved at all, unless the story is unfolded further and it is time for the evening walk in the Garden [Genesis 3:8]. Did Israel envisage a human nature that came from the creative hand of God much as we experience it now? Apparently so, in this text at least. In Genesis 2:25, the couple were innocent (“not ashamed”); in Genesis 3:7, that innocense was lost (they needed fig leaves). God is portrayed as having warned them (the prohibition).The consequences of the act flow from the act itself, not from God. (Campbell, Making Sense of the Bible: Difficult Texts and Modern Faith, 49)
Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) construes:
When the couple eat without limit, no one condemns them immediately—neither God nor parent, state or church, friend or foe. But they know in themselves that something is wrong. In a sense, it is not God who expels them but they who expel God (Diana Culbertson, in conversation, Cleveland, May 22, 1997). They have damaged themselves, and their making of leafy loincloths seems to be an initial effort to protect themselves. (Brodie, Genesis As Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 151)
The change in the man and the woman is not a punishment from God but rather the consequence of not following divine guidance (Genesis 2:16-17). This has important ramifications when generalizing into a hamartiology or doctrine of sin.

As the couple does not experience immediate death (Genesis 2:16-17), some have seen the serpent as being more accurate than God (Genesis 3:4). Ellen A. Robbins (b. 1945) concedes:

God had warned the man that eating from the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad would result in death (Genesis 2:16-17). On the other hand, the snake denied that they would die, but claimed rather that God knew that having obtained this faculty of knowing their eyes would be opened and they would become like gods (Genesis 3:4-5). Strictly in terms of the narrative, the snake proved to be correct, they did not die and “their eyes were opened” [Genesis 3:7]. (Robbins, The Storyteller and the Garden of Eden, 75)
Despite incorporating truth, the serpent has unequivocally misled the humans (Genesis 3:4-5). Martin Kessler (b. 1927) and Karel Deurloo (b. 1936) discern:
Ironically, the serpent was right that seeing is knowing, but it was a serpentine knowledge that brought about alienation instead of deeper trust. On one level, they had been rudely outsmarted by a cunning reptile—a shocking humiliation [Genesis 3:4-6]! On another level, the humans experienced a cultural-historical development and covered their sexual nakedness with aprons of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. (Kessler and Deurloo, A Commentary on Genesis: The Book of Beginnings, 53)
The serpent is undoubtedly the story’s villain (Genesis 3:1-21). Ellen Van Wolde (b. 1954) studies:
The serpent does not represent chaos, as is the view of Karen Randolph Joines [b. 1938] and Francis Landy [b. 1947], for chaos is discontinuity. The serpent represents the opposite of chaos: complete continuity. As there are no differences of distinctions, everything has become equal. The serpent’s deception is the totalitarian principle, the denial of differences and limits. The human being becomes aware of this deception as early as Genesis 3:7b, that is to say before God’s acting. The human being himself arrives at the insight that the acquired knowledge does not result in a continuity of life, but also in the experience of fragmentation to discontinuity in existence. The fact that they cover themselves with fig leaves testifies to the human beings’ confusion resulting from the knowledge, although the serpent had presented this knowledge merely as something positive. In this way the serpent’s representation of continuity is already exposed as false by the human beings’ reaction. (Van Wolde, Words Become Worlds: Semantic Studies of Genesis 1-11, 10)
Upon having their eyes opened and realizing their nakedness, the couple’s instinct is to hide (Genesis 3:7). Leon J. Wood (1918-1977) perceives:
The first action of Adam and Eve, having thus sinned, was to try and hide from God. They made coverings for their bodies from fig leaves and then hid themselves [Genesis 3:7]. Man in his sin does not want to be found out by God, but God always knows (Proverbs 15:3). (Wood, A Shorter Commentary on Genesis, 34)
Unlike the biblical text, the Book of Jubilees, an ancient Jewish interpretation of Genesis, asserts that the woman is the first to cover up. J.T.A.G.M. van Ruiten (b. 1956) educates:
The text of Jubilees 3:21a has an addition. It states that before the woman gave the fruit to her husband, she first covered her shame with fig leaves. With this addition, the author stresses the innocense of Adam with regard to the nakedness of his wife. Then Adam ate the fruit (Jubilees 3:21c), his eyes were opened (Jubilees 3:21d) and he discovered his nakedness (Jubilees 3:21e). After the making of the apron (Jubilees 3:22a-c), Jubilees adds to the text of Genesis that he ‘covered his shame’ (Jubilees 3:22d), as if to say that the apron could have been used for something else. It is in line with the tendency, also elsewhere in Jubilees, to fill in gaps in the text of Genesis. The text of Jubilees 3:21b is a quotation of Jubilees 3:6b. It omits the word גם (‘also’) and עמה (‘who was with her’), and has Adam instead of ‘her husband’. It is striking that Jubilees has all verbs and suffixes in Jubilees 3:21d-22d in the singular. The reason for the use of the singular in Jubilees could be that the author wants to stress that Adam’s wife has covered her shame. It is, therefore, not necessary or even inconsistent to apply the verbs of Jubilees 3:21d-22d to Adam’s wife. If she had already covered her shame, there would be no need to state that her eyes were opened, and that she would sew fig leaves. The omission of עמה (‘who was with her’) of Genesis 3:6g shows that the author is trying to avoid any suggestion that Adam could have seen the nakedness of his wife. In Jubilees 3:21e the verb...(‘he saw’) is used, whereas Genesis 3:7b reads וידעו (‘they knew’). This variation should, perhaps, be seen in relation to the addition of the verb ‘to know’ in Jubilees 3:16c. He did not know that he was naked before the eating of the fruit, his eyes were open and he saw that he was naked (cf. Jubilees 3:21e). Perhaps the word ‘to know’ was inadequate for the author of Jubilees after the opening of the eyes. One of the consequences of this interpretation of the rewriting of Jubilees is that the eyes of the woman were not opened after she gave the fruit to her husband as in Genesis, but had already been opened before. (Ruiten, Primaeval History Interpreted: The Rewriting of Genesis 1-11 in the Book of Jubilees, 95-96)
The man and the woman construct their garments from fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). The biblical description of the garments is sparse. Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) speculates:
The fact that the narrator reports only the people covering themselves and nothing else demonstrates his delicate sensibilities. The old material may have been much cruder. This narrator is quite a different man than those who tell of the wiliness of Lots [sic] daughters [Genesis 19:30-38], of Tamar [Genesis 38:1-30], or even of Rachel [Genesis 31:34-35]! (Gunkel [translated by Mark E. Biddle [b. 1957)], Genesis (Mercer Library of Biblical Studies), 18)
The Hebrew phrasing has intrigued some interpreters (Genesis 3:7). Jeff A. Benner translates woodenly:
And the eyes of the two of them were opened up and they knew that they were naked and they sewed together leaves of the fig and they did for them loin coverings [Genesis 3:7]. (Benner, A Mechanical Translation of the Book of Genesis: The Hebrew Text Literally Translated Word for Word, 26)
Barry Bandstra (b. 1951) directs:
Note the singular: leaf of fig, fig leaf [Genesis 3:7], whereas English might use the plural: fig leaves. (Bandstra, Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text, 183)
Genesis 3:7 marks the first time that the fig appears in the Bible. Claus-Hunno Hunzinger (b. 1929) notes:
The fig tree is an ancient and important tree in Palestine and claims special dignity in Judges 9:7ff. To sit under one’s vine and fig tree is to enjoy peace. Figurative use occurs in, e.g., Isaiah 28:4; Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1; Proverbs 27:18. The fig tree is the only tree mentioned in Eden (Genesis 3:7). (Gerhard Kittel [1888-1948] and Gerhard Friedrich [1908-1986], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume, 1100)
Henry Alford (1810-1871) specifies:
It seems better, with Marcus Kalisch [1828-1885] and Wilhelm Gesenius [1786-1842], to take this as the ordinary fig, whose leaves would require uniting for this purpose, than, with August Wilhelm Knobel [1807-1863], and others, as the banana or musa, one of whose leaves would be too large for the purpose. The ordinary fig is indigenous over the whole East. (Alford, The Book of Genesis and Part of the Book of Exodus: A Revised Version with Marginal References and an Explanatory Commentary, 16)
Thomas Whitelaw (1840-1917) echoes:
Fig leaves [are]...not the pisang tree (Musa Paradisiaca), whose leaves attain the length of twelve feet and the breadth of two (August Wilhelm Knobel [1807-1863], Peter von Bohlen [1796-1840]); but the common fig tree (Ficus Carica), which is aboriginal in Western Asia, especially in Persia, Syria, and Asia Minor (Marcus Kalisch [1828-1885], Carl Fredreich Keil [1807-1888], Donald MacDonald [1783-1867]). (H.D.M. Spence [1836-1917] and Joseph S. Exell [1819-1887], Genesis (Pulpit Commentary), 59)
Nahum M. Sarna (1923-2005) describes:
The fig tree has unusually large and strong leaves. Incidentally, it is indigenous to the land of Israel, where it was cultivated very early, but it was known in Babylon; hence, this detail reflects a West Semitic, not a Mesopotamian, cultural background. (Sarna, Genesis (JPS Torah Commentary), 26)
There is intrigue regarding the rationale behind the couple’s choice of these particular leaves (Genesis 3:7). Helmer Ringgren (1917-2012) admits:
After the fall, Adam and Eve try to make their first clothing out of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Whether the lobate form of these leaves made them particularly unsuitable for this purpose or their size made them particularly suitable (as many think) may be left an open question. (G. Johannes Botterweck [1917-1981], Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry [b. 1944], Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume 15, 546)
Many have seen practicality guiding the decision. Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) posits:
Fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]...are strong and broad enough for clothing. (Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks [b. 1970], Genesis: A Commentary, 92)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) suggests:
Why the man and the woman chose fig leaves is not clear [Genesis 3:7]. The fig tree produces the largest leaves of any tree that grows in Palestine, and if such large-leafed trees were in the garden, then the couple would choose those that provide most coverage. (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series), 191)
Gordon J. Wenham (b. 1943) suspects:
“Fig leaves” [Genesis 3:7] were probably used because they are the biggest leaves available in Canaan, though their heavy indentations must have made them less than ideal for a covering! (Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary), 276)
Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) quips:
At least this time their implied choice of tree is good; fig leaves are large. (Brodie, Genesis As Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 151)
Others have seen the selection of fig leaves as a matter of opportunity (Genesis 3:7). Andrew Willet (1562-1621) presumes:
They sewed fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]...not because its fruit, which they had tasted, was forbidden, for they would so much more have abhorred the leaves thereof; nor to betoken the desire of the flesh now procured by sin, which they say is provoked by the rubbing of the fig leaves, nor yet as the testimony of repentance, inasmuch as fig leaves prick and sting the flesh; nor need we run to allegories, that this covering with leaves or with fruit betokens the vain excuse and defense of sin. Rather, they made aprons of fig leaves, which were of suitable breadth and ready at hand, for no other reason than to hide their nakedness, of which they were now ashamed. Commentary on Genesis 3:7. (John L. Thompson [b. 1952], Genesis 1-11 (Reformation Commentary on Scripture), 140)
As they hide amongst the trees, the fig leaves perhaps represent the first camouflage: Adam and his wife make like a tree and wear leaves (Genesis 3:7).

It has been suggested that the couple takes leaves from the very tree from which they have eaten. Rashi (1040-1105) remarks:

This was the tree of which they had eaten; by the very thing through which their ruin had been caused was some improvement effected in their condition (Sanhedrin 70b). The other trees however prevented them from taking of their leaves. And why is not the name of the tree clearly mentioned? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, never wishes to grieve anything He has created: hence its name is not mentioned in order that it might not be put to shame by people saying, “This is the tree through which the world suffered” (Midrash R. Tanchuma. (Kristen E. Kvam [b. 1954], Linda S. Schearing [b. 1947], Valarie H. Ziegler [b. 1954], “Medieval Readings: Muslim, Jewish, and Christian (600-1500 CE)”, Eve & Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender, 211)
One rabbinic writing anthropmorphizes the Garden’s trees to tell how the fig tree relinquished its leaves. Pisikta de-Rav Kahana 20 reads:
After Adam had eaten from that tree, the Lord banished him from the garden of Eden. Adam went around to all the trees [asking them for leaves], but they would not receive him. What did the trees say? “Thief! You tried to deceive the Creator! You tried to deceive the Lord!” This is what is written: “Do not let arrogant feet crush me” (Psalm 36:1)—[the trees said,] “Do not bring against me that foot that transgressed in pride!” Or wicked hands expel me (Psalm 36:11)—[the trees said,] “Do not shake me with that hand! And don’t take my leaves!” But as you would expect, that tree that gave him fruit also gave him its leaves, which is what is written, And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:7). So what was the name of that tree [from which Adam ate]? The fig-tree. (David Stern [b. 1949] and Mark J. Mirsky [b. 1939], Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature, 45)
Given that the woman professes that the prohibition against the tree encompasses not touching it (Genesis 3:3), it seems unlikely that leaves from the untouchable tree would be used to conceal the act of eating from it.

From the fig leaves, the couple constructs “aprons” (ASV, KJV, RSV), “loin coverings” (NASB) or “loincloths” (ESV, HCSB, NRSV) (Genesis 3:7). Some translations leave the term nondescript: “coverings” (NIV, NKJV), “makeshift clothes” (MSG), “something” (CEV). The NLT omits the term entirely.

W. Sibley Towner (b. 1933) informs:

The Geneva Bible of 1560 called them “breeches,” and that early English version was known as the “Breeches Bible” ever after. (Towner, Genesis (Westminster Bible Companion), 45)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) investigates:
The word...translated aprons (hagōrōt) [Genesis 3:7] is, in other places, an article of woman’s dress (Isaiah 3:24) or the belt of a warrior (II Samuel 18:11; I Kings 2:5; II Kings 3:21). It could be that the couple provided themselves with one covering, that of fig leaves which they made into an apronlike garment, or else they covered themselves first with foliage, then with skins. In either case, the man and the woman are successful in hiding their nakedness from each other, but that does not exonerate them from their sin of disobedience. (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series), 191)
Gordon J. Wenham (b. 1943) supports:
“Loincloths” חגרת [is]...elsewhere used of a belt (I Kings 2:5; II Kings 3:21; Isaiah 3:24). The usual term for a loincloth is אזור. Perhaps...the skimpiness of their clothing is being emphasized. (Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary), 276)
Artistic renderings of these garments are often misrepresentations. John C.L. Gibson (1930-2008) corrects:
It is not—repeat not—a single fig leaf that they use, something only to hide their sexual organs [Genesis 3:7]. The impressions of the great European artists painting this scene owe more to the teaching of the Church than to the text of Genesis. It is an “apron” made up of a number of fig leaves, in other words the normal clothing which one would expect early “man” in a hot region of the earth to wear. (Gibson, Genesis, Volume 1 (Daily Study Bible), 129)
A common interpretation associates the fig leaf garments and consequently the act itself as being sexually suggestive (Genesis 3:6-7). Martin Sicker (b.1931) imagines:
Of course, the humans’ bodily configurations were quite different from those of the animals. The latter, going for the most part on all fours, did not directly expose their genitalia to one another, nor did they visually affect or incite one another’s passions. With the man and the woman, however, such was not the case. They now found the sight of each other’s nakedness arousing and embarrassing. It seemed appropriate to artificially restrict their view of each other. Thus they took large fig leaves and sewed them together with grass and vines and made coverings for their bodies [Genesis 3:7], thereby effectively concealing the exposure that made them experience a consciousness of shame. (Sicker, Reading Genesis Politically: An Introduction to Mosaic Political Philosophy, 30-31)
John H. Walton (b.1952) and Victor H. Matthews (b. 1950) connect:
The significance of the fig’s use may lie in its symbolism of fertility [Genesis 3:7]. By eating the forbidden fruit, the couple may have set in motion their future role as parents and as cultivators of fruit trees and grain. (Walton and Matthews, Genesis–Deuteronomy (IVP Bible Background Commentary), 21)
Hugh C. White (1936-2001) argues:
The specification of the type of covering made indicates that the sexual organs were at the center of their new awareness of nakedness [Genesis 3:7]. This awareness of nakedness arises from the inner division and reorientation toward a narcissistic, objectifying form of consciousness, which comes to be attached to our outer sexual differences. Autonomous, narcissistic consciousness is androgynous and cannot admit binary sexual differentiation. Thus they intuitively act to cover their nakedness. (White, Narration and Discourse in the Book of Genesis, 137)
Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013) pronounces:
The fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] ...covered their privy parts — their pudenda (to use the shame-filled Latinism). That was what the “aprons” were all about, you know. They weren’t gowns to flatter their figures, or headdresses to glorify their faces, or shoes to save their feet. They were itchy little chastity belts to protect their newfound — and useless — embarrassment. (Capon, Genesis: The Movie, 293)
Paul J. Kissling (b. 1957) discusses:
It is possible that for the imagined audience fig trees had sexually suggestive connotations and that they might see a critique against the fertility cults of Canaan...Stephen N. Lambden (“From Fig Leaves to Fingernails: Some Notes on the Garments of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible and Select Early Postbiblical Jewish Writings,” in A Walk in the Garden, p. 76): “It is important for the understanding of Genesis 2:1-3-24 to note that the very first act of the first couple after eating the fruit of the forbidden tree was the making of fig-leaf ‘aprons’ [Genesis 3:7]. Modern commentators are generally disappointing in explaining the significance of this act – if indeed, it is commented on at all. The view that the first couple made specifically fig-leaf aprons because of the leaves of the fig tree, being the largest on any Palestinian tree, were more suitable for sewing together and making ‘aprons,’ is not very convincing. Also inadequate is the view that the first couple made fig-leaf ‘aprons’ because the forbidden tree itself, allegedly being a fig tree, provided them with the necessary material. Rather, it seems to me, the first couple’s act of making fig-leaf ‘aprons’ is an indication of the fact that, despite their becoming sophisticated or wise as a result of eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree, they were still so foolish as to imagine that they could adequately cover their ‘nakedness.’ Genesis 3:7b points to the folly of the first couple and also perhaps in the suggestive associations of the fig tree to the dangers of participation in fertility cults and rites.” I find David P. Wright [b. 1953]’s [Wright, “Holiness, Sex and Death in the Garden of Eden,” Biblica 77 (1996):305-29] suggestion of parallels with Gilgamesh and its equation of sexuality and acquisition of knowledge far-fetched. (Kissling, Genesis, Volume 1 (College Press NIV Commentary), 195)
W. Lee Humphreys (b. 1939) wonders:
The most immediate result of eating the fruit of this tree is that “the eyes of the two of them were opened and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). They react by stitching fig leaves together to make rather fragile aprons for themselves, a response in marked contrast to their reaction to their nakedness in Genesis 2:25. We might thereby conclude that this “Knowledge of Good and Evil” is a whole new level in the experience of human sexuality, a transformation of their understanding of themselves as sexed beings in a social world. This is an especially powerful human experience at puberty as physical changes in bodies and especially in reproductive biology spark dramatic changes in our experiences of ourselves and others as sexed beings. Have we at core a story of growing up? Is eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil a figure for the passage from childhood to maturity? Is Genesis 3 the story of the stormy passage we know as growing up—stormy for parents as well as children becoming adult? It is certainly in the area of one’s sexual identity that one makes basic and early moral decisions as an adult, deciding for oneself what is good and evil, and this fact is mirrored in the sometimes sustained attention given to sexual activity in early collections of laws (including biblical Torah). (Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal, 38)
Anthony A. Hoekema (1913-1988) advances:
Their sense of shame was the immediate response of a guilty conscience. Now, however, Adam and Eve both realized that they had done wrong, and so they contrived to cover themselves by sewing fig leaves together [Genesis 3:7]. “That the sense of shame should concentrate itself on that portion of the body which is marked by the organs of generation, no doubt has its deeper reason in this that man instinctively feels that the very fountain and source of human life is contaminated by sin.” (Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 133)
Like eating from the fruit itself, reading the Adam and Eve story as a sexual awakening has negative repercussions (Genesis 3:1-21). Ellen A. Robbins (b. 1945) evaluates:
We’ve inherited many preconceptions from the long history of interpretation. For example, take Genesis 3:7...It has long been assumed that this verse refers to the origin of sexual awareness, which is thus viewed as an effect of disobeying the divine command. Assuming that sexual desire is a consequence of sin reinforces an attitude towards human sexuality that is ambivalent at best. It comes from a time when the body was opposed to the soul, and all bodily desires were suspect. The opposition of body and soul provided the foundation on which the allegorical interpretation was built and in which women, identified with the body and sensuality in all its forms, became the source of all physical temptation..Claus Westermann [1909-2000] noted, on this introduction of sex and sexual shame into the interpretation of Genesis 3:7, “This explanation is in accordance with a very traditional Christian conception of the story of the “fall.” It is a telling example of how fixed and firm ideas can influence the understanding of the text.” (Robbins, The Storyteller and the Garden of Eden, 12-13)
Clayton Sullivan (b. 1930) traces:
Over the years theologians intensified Paul’s negative attitude toward flesh and body [Romans 6:6, 12; I Corinthians 9:27, 15:39; II Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 5:16-25, 6:7-9, 17]. The shame regarding genital organs (the penis and pubic areas) became a favored point of intensification. Theologians did this by elaborating even further the Adam and Eve story in the book of Genesis [Genesis 3:1-24]. Consider, for example, what Augustine [354-430] conjectured in City of God. According to Augustine, divine grace forsook Adam and Eve immediately after they had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 3:7]. Moreover, they became “appalled at the nakedness of their own bodies. Thus, they took fig leaves, which were perhaps the first things to come to hand in their confusion of mind, and covered their shameful parts with them. For though their members remained the same as they were at first, they had not originally been a source of shame to them.” Ponder Augustine’s just-cited opinion that genitalia (the penis and vagina) are “shameful parts” and a “source of shame.”...But Augustine was not content merely to heap disgrace on genitalia. Instead, he also intensified Paul’s view—expressed in Galatians 5:17—that the flesh (behaving autonomously) possesses its own desires and is opposed to the Spirit. In other words, Augustine postulated an extravagant flesh-body rebellion. For him the flesh or body is a rogue unto itself, a lustful rebel against the soul, the source of spontaneous sexual desire. (Sullivan, Rescuing Sex From the Christians, 27-28)
Miguel A. De La Torre (b. 1958) augments:
For some, like Augustine of Hippo [354-430], sex was the forbidden fruit that the first humans tasted. The reason Adam covered his genitals with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7], according to Augustine, was not due to modesty or shame, but rather because Adam’s penis was erect. Augustine succeeds in linking shame and sex to the fall of humanity. Both Adam’s erect penis and that of all men who follow him signify our will toward the flesh, over against the spirit. Adam’s uncontrollable penis symbolized his rebellion against God, making sex the cause for expulsion from paradise. An erect penis, philosopher Michel Foucault [1926-1984] reminds us, “[becomes] the image of man revolted against God.” The Christian problem with sex becomes desire itself. Sex, within Christian tradition, symbolized the choice for the material things of this world over against the spiritual things concerning the kingdom of heaven. Unfortunately, this type of interpretation has created a strong anti-body perspective from which sex is associated with shame, negatively influencing human development and relationships for the past two millennia, a perspective still prevalent in many circles with the Christian church. (De La Torre, Genesis (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible), 77-78)
A sexually suggestive interpretation is not the only way to read Genesis’ story of the eating of forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-24). Carol A. Newsom (b. 1950) reveals:
Most readers are accustomed to thinking of this new knowledge as somehow signalling awakened sexuality, and there are some overtones of that. The fig-leaf coverings that the humans make for themselves are specifically loincloths for covering the genitals [Genesis 3:7]. But sex itself hardly seems to be the main point. Sexual difference was apparently what adam was talking about when he first saw the woman God had made from his own flesh and called her ishah [Genesis 2:23]. Nor can one readily find an exegetical basis for assuming that the woman and the man were ‘chaste’ in Eden. All that the text says is that they were naked and did not really notice [Genesis 2:25]—until now. (Norman C. Habel [b. 1932] and Shirley Wurst, “Common Ground: An Ecological Reading of Genesis 2-3”, The Earth Story in Genesis, 68)
Theresa Sanders (b. 1963) documents:
It is not clear that this gesture [Genesis 3:7] is meant to hide sexual shame...In fact, according to some interpreters, the nakedness of the first couple had nothing at all to do with sex. Several early Jewish sources say that prior to their eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve had been covered with a scaly skin and a cloud of glory. Once the man and the woman disobeyed God, their scales and the cloud dropped away, and thus the couple were “naked.” The implication is that the two people were ashamed not because of their sexuality but because there was now a visible sign of their disobedience...Another interpretation says that Adam and Eve were “naked” in that they had been stripped of the beauty of the commandment that they had just broken. Yet another notes that in the Bible, the word “naked” primarily conveys a sense of vulnerability. (Sanders, Approaching Eden: Adam and Eve in Popular Culture, 63)
J. Ellsworth Kalas (b. 1928) expands:
Their first reaction was to become conscious—painfully so!—of their nakedness [Genesis 3:7]. We’re inclined to interpret this experience as a recognition of their sexuality. Sexuality was probably a factor, but far more was involved. The man and woman had come to see themselves in a new light, and they made fig leaf garments to hide themselves—not so much from each other as from themselves. It’s interesting that we still use the language of their experience to describe our feelings when we have told another person something that we had previously kept hidden or when we have an inner experience where we see ourselves more clearly. “I felt as if I were stark naked,” we say, just like the man and the woman in Eden. (Kalas, Genesis (Immersion Bible Studies))
A far greater consequence of their snack is that the man and the woman move from being God-centered to self-centered. Beverly J. Stratton (b. 1959) pinpoints:
The couple’s opened eyes and new knowledge prompt a change in them from verbally to physically active: they sew fig leaves together and make coverings for themselves [Genesis 3:7]. The last remark, ‘for themselves’, suggests an additional change. The couple previously seemed dependent on God as the provider for food, beautiful trees, and even the breath of life. Now they act on their own, independently of God, as they make things ‘for themselves’. The contrast between Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3:7 may suggest other changes in the couple as well: perhaps from naive to conscious, from innocent to knowing, from ignorant of social convention to aware of prudence, from accepting of their differences to fearing or being ashamed of them. (Stratton, Out of Eden: Reading, Rhetoric and Ideology in Genesis 2-3, 154-55)
Though most now wear commercially manufactured clothing, we still construct flimsy makeshift coverings for ourselves. John Calvin (1509-1564) generalizes:
All of us smile at their folly since, certainly, it was ridiculous to place such a covering before God’s eyes [Genesis 3:7]. In the meanwhile, we are all infected with the same disease. Indeed, we tremble and are covered with shame at the first pangs of conscience; but self-indulgence soon steals and induces us to resort to vain trifles, as if it were easy to delude God. (Calvin, Genesis (Crossway Classic Commentaries), 45)
Richard D. Nelson (b. 1945) agrees:
We, too, take inadequate measures to cope with these feelings and have our own psychological equivalents of fig leaves and hiding behind trees [Genesis 3:7]. Conceivably, we might also take a little human pride in the resiliency of our first ancestors! (Nelson, From Eden to Babel: An Adventure in Bible Study, 26)
Terry L. Newbegin (b. 1948) personalizes:
Genesis 3:7 is about you...and how you began to feel the loss of perfection within your own consciousness that you experienced in the first creation (garden). Once you transferred your focal point to an ultra ego personality consciousness you began to manifest your desires, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs in a dualistic study that reinforced your reality of positive and negative, good and bad, God and Satan as real. (Newbegin, Genesis: Your Journey Home, 2nd Edition, 66-67)
The process of generating coverings from fig leaves has been repeated time and again. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1891-1981) asks:
Has it ever occurred to you that in one phrase you have a complete summation of the whole history of civilization? What have men and women been doing in this supposed civilization? They have simply been sewing together fig leaves to hide their own nakedness—that is precisely the meaning of what we call “civilization.” (Lloyd-Jones, The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith, 49-50)
Cleven L. Jones, Sr. (b. 1948) illustrates:
Adam and Eve sinned and attempted to clothe themselves in their own poorly tailored self righteous “fig leaf attire” (Genesis 3:7). It is as if they were saying, “We will look better when God stops by, after all we were given dominion [Genesis 1:26, 28] and this dominion has to include creativity. Perhaps if we cover ourselves, God won’t pay us any mind.” God sees through our weak attempts to make ourselves acceptable. We are like the child who behaves poorly in school, refuses to do homework gets a “D” grade and attempts to alter it into an “A.” He wants to be acceptable, save himself a scolding and make his parents feel proud. As a race we try to alter our grade before God. We live immorally, practice genocide, start unnecessary wars, provide limited relief or no relief to the less fortunate, seek power to abuse others, enact unfair laws, deny the real selfish motives behind our uneven laws, and try to alter our grade. As the first man was responsible for more than himself so are we. Adam and Eve seized the initiative to take control of their own lives and the world has not been the same. (Jones, Genesis and Life, 30)
Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952) broadens:
Having become conscious of their shame Adam and Eve at once endeavored to hide it by making unto themselves aprons of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. This action of theirs was highly significant. Instead of seeking God and openly confessing their guilt, they attempted to conceal it both from Him and from themselves. Such has ever been the way of natural man. The very last thing he will do is to own before God his lost and undone condition. Conscious that something is wrong with him, he seeks shelter behind his own self-righteousness and trusts that his good works will more than counter-balance his evil ones. Church-going, religious exercises, attention to ordinances, philanthropy and altruism are the fig leaves which many today are weaving into aprons to cover their spiritual shame. But like those which our first parents sewed together they will not endure the test of eternity. At best they are but things to time which will speedily crumble away to dust. (Pink, Gleanings in Genesis, 24)
R.R. Reno (b. 1959) explains:
Adam and Eve seek cover to hide their shame with clothes sewn from fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. So it shall be with subsequent generations. Vice rarely parades itself in public. More often than not it takes on disguises. Pride becomes what we imagine to be a healthy self-confidence. Shameless sin disguises itself as an authentic existential stance that will not stoop to hypocrisy. We’re not so much greedy as responsible parents, laying up prudent reserves for the education of our children. It’s not gluttony or lust, but instead a world-affirming ethic that takes life seriously. The alchemy of rationalization sews together the fig leaves in many different ways. We do so in order to reclothe ourselves in a greater moral purpose, hiding the deep truth that we are living carnally, living as if the material world was the final truth that constrains and governs human life. (Reno, Genesis (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 92)
Though it seems that human instinct dictates we cover up sin, it is beneficial to fight this urge. Craig Groeschel (b. 1967) advises:
When they ate the forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened, the Bible says, “They realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD” (Genesis 3:7-8). Our natural response to shame is to cover ourselves and hide. Separation and isolation feel safer. As long as we hide, though, our Father can’t clean up our mess, leaving us no choice but to wallow it in. (Groeschel, Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After: Preparing for a Marriage That Goes the Distance, 100)
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and his wife and engage in the world’s first cover up (Genesis 3:7). Their choice of clothing shows that they are not concerned with comfort; they are consumed with hiding. As they will learn, you cannot hide from God (Genesis 3:8-21). Nor should you wish to do so.

What changes when the coupe eats the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6-7)? How should they have responded; what were their other options? In describing the world’s first garments, does the biblical author envision a leafy version of standard clothing composed of leaves or leafy loincloths (Genesis 3:7)? Why do they select leaves to construct their clothing? Why does the Bible specify the type of leaves? For whose benefit are the humans covering up: each other, God or themselves? How much time elapsed between the eating of the fruit (Genesis 3:6) and the wearing of the clothes (Genesis 3:7)? Why does God wait to appear, allowing the man and the woman time to construct their inadequate coverings (Genesis 3:8)? What would you cover yourself if you found yourself naked in the Garden? How is the invention of clothing depicted in other cultures’ origins stories? What were your first clothes? When have you employed makeshift clothing? Do you feel embarrassed when reading of your ancestors’ failure in Eden (Genesis 3:1-24)? Should you? When have you felt exposed? What modern day fig leaves do we string together to excuse ourselves before God? How did the couple think their story would resolve?

Though misguided, the couple’s cover up has been seen as an example of human ingenuity and industriousness (Genesis 3:7). Manufacturing clothing from fig leaves is an impressive feat.

As a point of comparison, in the pilot episode of the television series Project Runway, aspiring designers were taken to a New York grocery store and given only $50 and an hour to procure items to create a dress (December 1, 2004). The designers utilized aluminum foil, candy, garbage bags, shower curtains, etc. Ultimately, Austin Scarlett (b. 1983) won the challenge with a cornhusk dress. The episode is naturally titled “Innovation”. Adam and Eve’s exercise seems like a Project Runway challenge gone awry.

Steven W. Boyd contemplates:

Consider their effort in preparing for this dreaded meeting. “They sewed fig leaves” [Genesis 3:7)...entails that they had the simulacrum of a needle and thread, which they had to manufacture from scratch. They sewed the fig leaves into a type of leaf fabric, which could then be made into clothing...that would cover their nakedness. (Boyd and Andrew A. Snelling, “Tacking with the Text: The Interconnection of Text, Event, and Time at the Macro-level”, Grappling with the Chronology of the Genesis Flood: Navigating the Flow of the Biblical Narrative, 498)
Dominic Rudman notifies:
It is worth noting the first action of Adam and Eve after eating the fruit: they seek to cover their nakedness by sewing together garments (Genesis 3:7). This, it has been argued, is an “industrious” act which parallels the actions of humanity in the Tower of Babel episode (Genesis 11:3-4). Once humanity have gained the ability to think independently, technological progress cannot be halted. (André Wénin [b. 1953], “A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Crossing Forbidden Boundaries in Genesis 3-4”, Studies in the Book of Genesis: Literature, Redaction and History, 462-63)
Leon R. Kass (b. 1939) contends:
Sexual shame becomes the mother of invention, art, and new modes of cooperative sociality: note well, it is not the woman alone who sews [Genesis 3:7]. If the needle is the first tool, clothing is the first product, and hiding is the first goal of art. Clothing, a human addition to nature, at first hides the sexual from view. (Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, 109)
In many ways the creation of clothing represents the birth of civilization and culture (Genesis 3:7). Andy Crouch (b. 1968) inquires:
What is the first thing that happens after the man and woman have eaten? Culture. “They sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). They make something of the world to ward of their sudden exposure to one another and to God. Culture is no longer the good, gracious activity of tending a good, gracious world. It is a defensive measure, an instrumental use of the world to ward off the world’s greatest threat—the threat, suddenly a threat, of being known, of trusting one’s fellow creatures and one’s Creator. (W. David O. Taylor [b. 1972], “The Gospel: How Is Art a Gift, a Calling, and an Obedience”, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, 34-35)
Nahum M. Sarna (1923-2005) argues:
Their pristine innocense is gone. In a sense, this action has already taken them outside Eden, for clothing is a characteristic of civilization. In the Gilgamesh Epic, putting on clothes is one of the tokens of the wild Enkidu’s abandonment of his outdoor life with the beasts of the field. (Sarna, Genesis (JPS Torah Commentary), 26)
Despite these advancements, the clothing made from fig leaves denotes an abysmal failure (Genesis 3:7). The clothes are woefully inadequate and neither eating the fruit (Genesis 3:6) nor constructing the clothing (Genesis 3:7) produced the desired results.

Kenneth A. Mathews (b. 1950) digs:

Their efforts to hide their shame are as puny as their efforts to hide from God since their man-made coverings are ineffective (Genesis 3:21. “Made” (‘āśâ) and “coverings” (hăgōrōt) anticipate Genesis 3:21, where God “made” durable “garments” (kotěnôt) from animal skins for their needed apparel. (Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 (New American Commentary), 239)
Stephen J. Bramer (b. 1953) and Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) critique:
They sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves [Genesis 3:7]. They tried to change these conditions by their own effort. But these leaves from the fig tree were neither long-lasting nor effective. (Bramer and Gangel, Genesis (Holman Old Testament Commentary))
Andy Crouch (b. 1968) opines:
The fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] are useful—barely—but they are not a delight to the eyes. They are strictly instrumental, hastily assembled to solve a problem and secure a measure of protection. They are torn from the living, good garden and stitched into a rudimentary, fading, dying, withering form of protection from—from what? Not even protection from the world, which has not yet, at this moment in the story, fallen under the curse. Just protection from one another, bone of bone and flesh of flesh [Genesis 2:23]. And protection from the one who had breathed life into dust [Genesis 2:7]. (W. David O. Taylor [b. 1972], “The Gospel: How Is Art a Gift, a Calling, and an Obedience”, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, 34-35)
John E. Hartley (b. 1940) bemoans:
Instantly becoming aware of their nakedness, the man and woman gathered fig leaves and made for themselves makeshift coverings [Genesis 3:7]. Ironically, the knowledge they acquired did not even give them the skill to make adequate clothing for themselves. Instead of being filled with pride of achievement and becoming like gods [Genesis 3:5], they were overwhelmed by a deep sense of inadequacy and disturbing self-consciousness. (Harltey, Genesis (New International Biblical Commentary))

The fig leaves’ deficiency has long been known. Irenaeus (130-202) interprets:

Now “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” [Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10]. The understanding of transgression leads to penitence and God extends his kindness to those who repent. For [Adam] showed his repentance in making a girdle, covering himself with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7], when there were many other trees that would have irritated his body less. He, however, in awe of God, made a clothing that matched his disobedience...And he would no doubt have kept this clothing forever, if God in his mercy had not clothed them with tunics of skin instead of fig leaves [Genesis 3:21]. Against Heresies 3.23.5. (Andrew Louth [b. 1944], Genesis 1-11 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 82)
Not only are the clothes insubstantial, they incriminate their creators! They are about as effective as treating a bazooka blast with a Band-Aid as they only serve to highlight the very transgression that is attempting to be concealed.

Hugh C. White (1936-2001) delineates:

They simultaneously reveal objectively the inward concealment of those desires which has occurred. An outer symbolic division of the body into revealed and concealed areas thus corresponds to the inner division between that which can and that which cannot be thought (or said). Inner concealment spontaneously gives rise to outer concealment...This, however, is a form of concealment that reveals precisely that which it is designed to hide, as does the hiding of Adam and Eve from God which follows [Genesis 3:8]. (White, Narration and Discourse in the Book of Genesis, 137-38)
Despite their efforts, Adam and his wife remain exposed before God. The inadequacy is evidenced in their reactions (Genesis 3:7). Claus Westermann (1909-2000) condenses:
The disruption is now heightened; the garments of fig leaves are ineffective at the sound of God’s footsteps [Genesis 3:8]. They now realize that despite the covering they are exposed before God; they are afraid and hide. (Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (A Continental Commentary), 254)
James McKeown (b. 1952) inspects:
After eating the fruit, the first human pair lose their innocense and two new emotions grip them; fear and shame. They attempt to deal with their shame by using fig leaves [Genesis 3:7], and their fear drives them to hide among the trees of the garden [Genesis 3:8]. These strategies fail; fig leaves do not remove shame and it is not possible to hide from God. Since all else has failed, they resort to passing the blame [Genesis 3:12, 13]. (McKeown, Genesis (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary), 35)
Deep down, Adam realizes he is still exposed. This is evidenced in his reply to God (Genesis 3:10). Pauline A. Viviano (b. 1946) notices:
In the ensuing dialogue between Yahweh and the man, we note that the man, rather than answering Yahweh’s question “Where are you?” [Genesis 3:9], gives the reason why he hid—“because I was naked” [Genesis 3:10].The reason is appropriate, in spite of the fact that it appears to be untrue. He is not naked, he is clothed with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. However, in relationship to Yahweh, he is naked, that is, his relationship to Yahweh has been disrupted and remains so. Humanity cannot “cover up” its own guilt and shame and restore its relationship to Yahweh. It is Yahweh alone who can remove humanity’s guilt and shame. This is symbolized at the end of the story (Genesis 3:21), when Yahweh makes garments for the man and the woman. (Viviano, Genesis (Collegeville Bible Commentary), 22)
John H. Hill (b. 1956) presents:
Even though man had made the fig aprons in order to cover their shame [Genesis 3:7], when God spoke, they were as naked as ever...Our first parents stood naked, clothed only in their own attempts at righteousness...Each person shall one day stand before God Almighty and give account. A great choice is laid before everyone, however, to choose God’s provision and have everlasting life or to chose [sic] his own covering and be eternally separated from God’s gracious presence and loving attention. (Hill, Foundations: A Commentary of Genesis 1 - 10, 198)
Our covering today is as ineffective as our ancient ancestors’. Paul J. Kissling (b. 1957) relates:
The material used to meet that desire, fig leaves, is pitifully inadequate [Genesis 3:7]. When we as men and women try to fix our problems by ourselves which our sins against God have brought upon us, our remedies are just as pitiful. Fig leaves will serve as clothing no better than our own self-help strategies. (Kissling, Genesis, Volume 1 (College Press NIV Commentary), 195)
The inadequacy of the fig leaves is endemic of a much bigger problem. John Phillips (1927-2010) divulges:
Those fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] represent man’s earliest attempts to cover up his sin, to provide himself with a covering to cloak his guilt and shame. They represent every effort made by man to do something to make himself fit for the presence of God. Fig leaves would never do. They might be good enough between themselves, but they would never do to hide from the piercing eyes of God. All such human efforts wither in the presence of God. (Phillips, Exploring Genesis: An Expository Commentary, 59)
Lisa Underwood Magro (b. 1965) interjects:
The aprons of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] speak of man’s attempt to save himself by a bloodless religion of good works. (Magro, Genesis: The Biblical Foundation of Civilization, 23)
Derrick McCarson (b. 1984) buttresses:
When they sewed coverings of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] this was the first act of man-made religion in history. These fig leaves represent man’s attempt to cover up his sin by his works. This is the essence of humanistic religion—man trying to make himself presentable in sight of all-knowing, thrice holy God. (McCarson, Origins: An In-Depth Study of Genesis 1–11, 143)
J.G. Vos (1903-1983) professes:
The clothing, which Adam and Eve made of fig leaves was not adequate [Genesis 3:7], for God clothed them with coats of skin (Genesis 3:21). It has been aptly observed that all man-made religious systems are in reality only fig leaves that man has sewn together to cover his guilt. Only the true, God-given religion of redemption by the shedding of the blood of a mediator can really clothe man with righteousness. (Vos, Genesis, 64)
Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) explicates:
Having lost all divine wisdom on account of his sin, Adam was no longer able to look out for his true salvation. A kind of wisdom does remain to him in political matters, even as in this instance he is not acting imprudently when he covers his private parts with a loincloth of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. But he has lost true wisdom and prudence, by which he might be able to cover his sin before God. For that, fig-leaf coverings are worthless. Adam couldn’t have made a tunic long enough but that the scoundrel he had become would have leapt out and appeared above his waist! Commentary on Genesis 3:7. (John L. Thompson [b. 1952], Genesis 1-11 (Reformation Commentary on Scripture), 139)
It is unknown how long Adam wore the fig leaves. ’Erubin 18b records:
Rabbi Meir said Adam was a great saint. When he saw that through him death was ordained as a punishment he spent a hundred and thirty years in fasting, severed connection with his wife for a hundred and thirty years, and wore clothes of fig [leaves] on his body for a hundred and thirty years. (Kristen E. Kvam [b. 1954], Linda S. Schearing [b. 1947], Valarie H. Ziegler [b. 1954], “Rabbinic Interpretations (200-600 CE)”, Eve & Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender, 95)
The fig leaves’ inadequacy is painfully evident when God feels it necessary to provide new clothes, this time created from animal skins (Genesis 3:21). Joseph Blenkinsopp (b. 1927) briefs:
The man and the woman cover themselves with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7], but this is no more than a provisional measure; they are later given apparel more suited to their new life outside the garden [Genesis 3:21]. The verdict on the man and the woman is not a punishment distinct from the expulsion into a harsher world, but simply a description of what life outside the garden will entail. (Blenkinsopp, Creation, Un-creation, Re-creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11, 56)
The intended comparison between the two outfits is accentuated in the Hebrew (Genesis 3:7, 21). J.T.A.G.M. van Ruiten (b. 1956) correlates:
Genesis 3:21 is a rewriting of Genesis 3:6g-7b. It has verbatim quotations with modifications, additions and omissions. (Ruiten, Primaeval History Interpreted: The Rewriting of Genesis 1-11 in the Book of Jubilees, 95)
In reclothing the couple, God provides a different type of garment (Genesis 3:21). Jeffrey W. Hamilton juxtaposes:
It is...obvious that not every choice of covering is acceptable. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves into an apron (Genesis 3:7). The Hebrew word for the garment is chargorah, which means a garment that covers the midsection of the body, tied about the waist. The same word is translated in other passages as a girdle or belt. Adam and Eve’s attempt at clothing was unsuccessful, because they still considered themselves naked wearing the fig leaf aprons [Genesis 3:10]. When God visited them in the Garden, they hid themselves because they were naked [Genesis 3:8]...God ...took animal skins and made tunics for the man and woman (Genesis 3:21). The Hebrew word for tunic is kethoneth, which describes a shirt that hangs on the shoulders and reaches to the knees. (Hamilton, Genesis: A Study of the Beginning, 32)
Michael Whitworth concurs:
God provided garments of animal skins for Adam and Eve to cover their now-shameful nudity [Genesis 3:21] (their self-made fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] had been little more than loincloths). The Hebrew noun translated “garments” (kuttonet) meant clothing that reached the knees or even ankles. God gave these garments to the first couple as an act of grace; he did for them what they could not do for themselves. (Whitworth, The Epic of God: A Guide to Genesis, 43-44)
Stephen N. Lambden grants:
As much uncertainty surrounds the exact meaning of words in the Hebrew Bible indicative of items of clothing, it is difficult to tell whether ‘aprons’ (חגרת, Genesis 3:7; alternatively, ‘loincloths’, ‘girdles’ or ‘sashes’?) signifies a less adequate means of attire than is implied by ‘coats’ (כתנות, Genesis 3:21; alternatively, ‘tunics’, ‘robes’, or ‘shirts’?), although this is possible. The fact, however, that the ‘aprons’ were made of fig leaves and the ‘coats’ of animal skins may indeed highlight the folly of the first couple as compared with the superior wisdom of God. Despite the acquisition of human wisdom, the first couple lacked even the knowledge of how to clothe themselves adequately. Their fig-leaf ‘aprons’ served no real purpose. (Paul Morris [b. 1954] and Deborah Sawyer [b. 1956], “From Fig Leaves to Fingernails: Some Notes on the Garments of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible and Select Early Postbiblical Jewish Writings,” A Walk in the Garden: Biblical, Iconographical and Literary Images of Eden, 77)
Adam and Eve’s new attire is more suitable to life outside of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:21). R.R. Reno (b. 1959) contextualizes:
In this enigmatic verse [Genesis 3:21] the theme of clothing and nakedness in the story of the original transgression reemerges. God seems to express care by providing the fallen man and woman with clothing to replace the woven garments of fig leaves. These clothes prepare the man and woman to live under the burden of their transgression. (Reno, Genesis (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 95)
Laurence A. Turner realizes:
God gives them both clothing [Genesis 3:21]. The substitution of the flimsy covering of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] with the more durable one of animal’s skin might demonstrate God’s care, but at the same time confirms the permanence of the human dilemma (Alan J. Hauser [b. 1945] 1982:32). Ironically, an animal was instrumental in humans becoming aware of their nakedness [Genesis 3:4-5], and animals are used to hide that nakedness [Genesis 3:21], just as eating from a tree produced knowledge of nakedness [Genesis 3:7], and leaves from a tree were used to hide that nakedness [Genesis 3:7]. (Turner, Genesis (Readings: A New Biblical Commentary), 25-26)
Providing new clothing is an act of grace (Genesis 3:21). Johnson T.K. Lim (b. 1952) affirms:
God is...imagined as a tailor who provides clothing for Adam and Eve from animal skins to replace their fig leaves [Genesis 3:21]. By so doing he protects them and also shows his care and love for them both. (Lim, Grace in the Midst of Judgment: Grappling with Genesis 1-11, 205)
Celia B. Sinclair (b. 1954) extols:
Our fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) are pitiful; what we long for and receive is the finery of God’s own making. To be clothed is to be given life (II Corinthians 5:4). The trial sentence of Genesis 3:9-19 describes the reality of life. God struggles with the humans and decides finally to respond graciously, to clothe them with care [Genesis 3:21]. There is simplicity in the action and dignity in the effect. God does for them what they cannot do for themselves. (Sinclair, Genesis (Interpretation Bible Studies), 19)
Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) concludes:
In Genesis 3:7 we learn that Adam and Eve found out that they were “naked” so they “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” That is, immediately after their rebellion as they came face to face with what had previously been their great joy and their great fulfillment—themselves in open communion with God—they were now afraid and tried to cover themselves. But in Genesis 3:21 God took this covering away and gave them a coat of skins...This indicates, I believe, that man could not stand before God in his own covering. Rather, he needed a covering from God—a covering of a specific nature—a covering that required sacrifice and death, a covering not provided by man but by God. (Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 105)
Gary A. Anderson (b. 1955) asks:
God...is the one who clothes Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:21]. But why, we might ask, must he do it? They were fully capable of putting on their own fig leaves. Couldn’t they put on their own tunics of skin? (Anderson, The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination, 125)
God clothes his creation because it is a task only God can do (Genesis 3:21). Robert R. Gonzales Jr. (b. 1963) understands:
That Adam evidenced hope in a redemptive reversal that would emerge from Yahweh’s curse is suggested in his naming of Eve, which Moses positions immediately following the curse-sanction (Genesis 3:20). That Adam’s response is an act of saving faith is intimated by Yahweh’s reciprocal action of clothing the human couple to hide their nakedness, which signifies that Adam and Eve’s “fig-leaf” coverings (Genesis 3:7) were inadequate to cover their nakedness. Human nakedness, which in this context includes guilt and shame, can only be remedied by a covering that God himself provides (cf. Exodus 28:42), which covering signals the expiation of guilt (Genesis 3:21). (Gonzales, Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives, 51)
Conspicuously, artistic interpretations have often failed to adapt to the couple’s new attire: Adam and Eve are consistently depicted wearing their leafy loincloths, stuck perpetually in their flimsy, makeshift clothing as opposed to the new improved ensemble assembled by God (Genesis 3:7, 21).

Gary A. Anderson (b. 1955) observes:

Our author makes the most curious aside prior to expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden. In this brief interlude, Adam names his wife [Genesis 3:20] and then the Lord God steps forward, “and made for Adam and Eve garments of skin and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Adam and Eve don’t die; instead they are given a change of clothes. They exchange their modest fig leaves [Genesis 3:7] for more substantial vestments—a truly extraordinary turn in our story. And things become even more peculiar when we turn to the iconographic representation of this scene. Almost no artist chooses to depict Adam and Eve as leaving the Garden clothed in such skins. This is clear in Michelangelo [1475-1564]’s Temptaton and Fall. Adam and Eve leave the Garden naked. But doubly odd is the fact that many icons found in Greek and Russian Orthodox churches portray Adam and Eve as clothed in Eden. (Anderson, The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination, 118)
Despite not always being acknowledged, Adam and Eve are supplied with new, satisfactory attire (Genesis 3:21). The new clothing is sufficient because God is its supplier.

Adam and Eve’s experience in the Garden of Eden serves as a reminder that there are some things humans cannot cover up (Genesis 3:1-24). But there is no transgression that cannot be covered by the grace of God. We can be clothed with Jesus (Romans 13:14) and righteousness (Colossians 3:12) which effectively covers all of our sins if we only allow God to do so.

Has anyone else ever attempted to use clothing created from leaves? What are its limitations? How do you picture Adam and Eve, naked (Genesis 2:25,) wearing fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) or dressed in animal skins (Genesis 3:21)? Who is synonymous with one outfit? What is the least effective cover up in history? When has a cover up incriminated the guilty? When has a new wardrobe symbolized a new identity? Have you been clothed by God?

“It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.” - L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942), Anne of Green Gables, p. 224

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Elect Lady (II John 1:1)

Which book is written to “the elect lady”? II John [II John 1:1]

Second John is a brief letter comprised of only thirteen verses (II John 1:1-13). It encourages its readers to remain steadfast in the faith (II John 1:4-6) and to reject false teachers (II John 1:7-11).

Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) describes:

Second John is a message “from the front lines,” much like a scrap of war correspondence discovered long after the battle has passed. The tension implied in I John takes on a desperate tone. Therefore, John writes with two purposes in mind: to buttress his followers’ commitment to the truth and to warn them about the severity of their opposition and the need to protect themselves...Because this is a personal letter, it follows conventional first-century epistolary form—unlike I John, which is not actually a personal letter but a public theological document. (Burge, The Letters of John (NIV Application Commentary), 231)
The epistle preserves correspondence between “the elder” and a “chosen lady and her children” (II John 1:1 NASB).
The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth. (II John 2:1 NASB)
Second John is the only New Testament book addressed to a woman (II John 1:1). Her precise identity remains a mystery as the Bible does not directly identify this “elect lady”.

Allen Dwight Callahan (b. 1957) introduces:

Second John is an appeal to “the elect lady” [II John 1:1], a chosen authority in the community of the addressees: an alternative rendering of her title is “the chosen authority.” The letter is also addressed to “her children” [II John 1:1], that is, all those under her authority. In II John women, “elect ladies,” lead these circles and the Elder addresses II John to them. (David L. Petersen [b. 1943] and Gail R. O’Day [b. 1954], Theological Bible Commentary, 465)
Second John complies to the standard epistolary format of the period. Karen H. Jobes (b. 1952) compares:
Both II John and III John are in the conventional form of a Greco-Roman letter — the one as an open letter to the church personified as the “chosen lady and her children” [II John 1:1], the other written to an individual apparently known well by the author [III John 1:1]. Both end with the conventional greetings (II John 1:13; III John 1:15). (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament))
R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) expounds:
The salutation follows the traditional letter form: A to B, greetings. In II John, however, the sender is identified by title rather than by name, the recipient is identified by a metaphorical reference (“an elect sister and her children” [II John 1:1]), and the greeting is delayed until after an elaborate description of the elder’s relationship to the recipients. (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts), 276)
Though its structure is normative, Second John’s addressee is peculiar (II John 1:1). Birger Olsson (b. 1938) observes:
This description of the letter’s recipients is unique [II John 1:1]. Early Christian letters—like ancient letters generally—normally have a name at this point, or they refer to the recipients as the church, God’s church, the saints, or the elect in a given location. This cryptic formula in II John early on led to other suggested translations: “to the lady (of the house) Eklekta and her children,” attested in the third century and after; “to the chosen Kyria and her children,” fourth century and after; “to the charming lady and her children.”. (Olsson, A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach, 48)
Second John deems its recipient an “elect lady” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), “chosen lady” (NASB, NIV, NLT) or “very special woman” (CEV). The Message paraphrases the expression as “dear congregation”.

To be precise, Second John refers to an (CEV) elect lady, not the elect lady (II John 1:1). Though supplied by most contemporary translations (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), the definite article is absent from the Greek text.

Tom Thatcher (b. 1967) praises:

Stephen S. Smalley [b. 1931], 318...correctly emphasizes the absence of the definite article at II John 1:1 with the translation “to an Elect Lady”. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews ~ Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 514)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) comments:
The introductory greetings (II John 1:1-3) are addressed to ‘the chosen lady’ (eklektē kyria) and her children’. The rest of the letter has these people in mind, even though what is said is addressed sometimes to the ‘lady’ (kyria) using the second person singular (II John 1:4-5, 13), and sometimes to both the lady and her children using the second person plural (II John 1:6-12). (Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 37)
The epithet is distinctive. Peter H. Davids (b. 1947) notes:
Elect Lady [is]...a title appearing only in II John 1:1, 5. The “elect lady”(Greek eklektē kyria) is said to have children [II John 1:1] and an elect sister, who also has children [II John1:13]. (David Noel Freedman [1922-2008], “Elect Lady”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 389)
Ruth B. Edwards adds:
There is no exact parallel to this designation in biblical or secular Greek. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27)
On the surface, the letter appears to be addressed to a woman (II John 1:1). John Christopher Thomas (b. 1954) inspects:
The letter is addressed to the Elect Lady (ἐκλεκτη κυρία) [II John 1:1]. At first sight it appears that II John is addressed to a woman and her children, as ‘Lady’ (κυρία) is used frequently in the papyri, but usually qualified in some way...Cf. the examples in Adolf Deissmann [1866-1937], Light from the Ancient East, pp. 167, 192-93. (Thomas, The Pentecostal Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, 39)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) delineates:
The word translated “lady” [II John 1:1] is a respectful term meaning “mistress.” It is the feminine form of the word “lord”; possibly there is a hint of the church being the bride of the Lord [Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8], so that her children are the spiritual offspring of the Lord and his church. She is “chosen,” an adjective often applied to Christians to denote that it was God who called them to be his people; the word always signifies those who have responded to this call and thus actually become the people of God. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60-61)
The lady is said to be “elect” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) or “chosen” (NASB, NIV, NLT) (II John 1:1). Birger Olsson (b. 1938) defines:
The Greek word eklektos [II John 1:1] means chosen, exquisite, excellent, and kyria means lady (of the house), mistress...The fact that specifically kyria is used, rather than, e.g., gynē (“woman”), can be explained according to some people in terms of its associations with Kyrios “Lord.” Kyria is the feminine form of Kyrios. (Olsson, A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach, 48)
Daniel L. Akin (b. 1957) construes:
“Chosen lady” [II John 1:1] is a term of endearment and respect...She is “chosen” because God elected her to belong to himself. God called the lady and those who comprise her family to be his own. The fact that she is chosen [“by God” is clearly implied] indicates the initiative of her election was with God and that her privileged position is not accidental. The spiritual status believers enjoy is the result of God’s grace and goodness. (Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (New American Commentary), 220)
Robert Kysar (1934-2013) designates:
Elect is used of Christians elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 24:22; Romans 8:33; Titus 1:1), and means those selected from humanity by God to be his people. (Kysar, I, II, III John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 123)
Though found elsewhere in the New Testament, the word “elect” is uncommon in the Johannine corpus. John Painter (b. 1935) analyzes:
The adjective eklektos is used only here (and II John 1:13) in the Johannine epistles. There is a contested reading in John 1:34 where “the elect of God” has minority support against “the son of God.”...Revelation 17:14 describes the called and the elect and the faithful (all in the nominative plural) with the triumphant Lamb. The term is somewhat characteristic of I Peter (I Peter 1:1, 2:4, 6, 9). The verb “to choose” is used in John 6:70, 71, 13:18, 15:16, 19. (Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), 338)
Though the terminology is scarce in the Johannine literature, the concept may not be. Peter Rhea Jones (b. 1937) probes:
The idea of election may not be pronounced in John, but it does appear in terms of Jesus as the Elect One of God (John 1:34) and the disciples as chosen (John 6:70). Indeed, rather emphatically we find the Johannine Christ saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). (Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 251)
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) correlates:
John describes this local church as “a select lady” [II John 1:1] in the sense that like the original disciples of Jesus, they’ve been selected out of worldly society (compare John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16, 19, but above all see Revelation 17:14). God has selected them for salvation (John 6:37, 39, 17:12). Mention of the selection assures them that they needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, pay heed to false teachers who tell them they lack what’s needed for salvation. John is going to warn against such teachers [II John 1:7-11]. (Gundry, Commentary on First, Second, and Third John (Commentary on the New Testament))
Reconstructing the identity of the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) presents several challlenges. Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) inquires:
Who is this “elect lady” (KJV, ESV, NRSV), “lady/Lady chosen by God” (TNIV, NEB), “very special woman” (CEV), or “dear lady” (TEV)? “She” presumably knew, but interpreters today are less certain. Moreover, she is spoken of as having children; is this literal or metaphorical? (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 333)
Equivocal addresses are not uncommon in the New Testament. Judith M. Lieu (b. 1951) asks:
Is the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] any more precise than the “all those who follow the equally valuable faith as us” of II Peter 1:1, or than “those called who are beloved in God and preserved in Christ Jesus” in Jude 1:1? (R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) and Paul N. Anderson [b. 1956], “The Audience of the Johannine Epistles”, Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles, 129)
The “elect lady” is shrouded in mystery (II John 1:1). Martin M. Culy (b. 1963) acknowledges:
Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] (223) notes, “the rendering of this phrase is beset by great difficulties.” Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] (652-54) points out that either the first or second term may be construed as a proper name (“the Lady Electa” or “the elect Kyria,” though the former is highly unlikely given the use of της ἀδελφης σου της ἐκλεκτης at the end of the letter [“the children of your chosen sister ”, II John 1:13 NASB]); the expression may be viewed as a courteous way of greeting a female addressee (“dear lady”); or “Elect Lady” may be viewed as a figurative way of referring to the church. (Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text, 141)
Urban C. Von Wahlde (b. 1941) diagnoses:
There are two problems here [II John 1:1]. The first is the meaning of the title and the second is to whom it refers. The resolution of the second helps in the resolution of the first. (Von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: The Three Johannine Letters (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 225)
Many possibilities have been raised as to the elect lady’s identity. Daniel L. Akin (b. 1957) surveys:
This [II John 1:1b] is a unique designation of a New Testament letter, and it has engendered significant discussion. Interpreters are divided over exactly who eklektē kuri kai tois teknois autēs [“the chosen lady and her children”, II John 1:1 NASB] is, and the following views have been offered...1. It is a figurative reference to a local church and its members. II John 1:13 would likewise refer to another local church...2. It is a reference to the church universal (a view favored by Jerome [347-420])...3. The recipient is an individual lady and her children. (Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (New American Commentary), 219)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) relays:
Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] lists five interpretations for the meaning of ‘elect lady’: (I) the lady Electa, referring to a certain Babylonian lady named ‘Electa;’ (ii) ‘the noble Kyria’; (iii) ‘dear lady’, a colourless term of courtesy addressed to an individual woman; (iv) an elect lady, meaning the church at large; (v) an elect lady and her children, a symbolic reference to a church in a town at some distance from the community centre in which the author is living. Brown, like many others, adopts the fifth option. (Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 38)
Though many options exist, there is a clear favorite among modern interpreters. David Jackman (b. 1942) traces:
Some have taken the addressee to be an individual named Kyria (lady or mistress), or the Lady Electa (following Clement of Alexandria [150-250]). Some older commentators, Alfred Plummer [1841-1926] among them, regard her as a matriarch, perhaps a widow, ruling her family in the ways of the Lord. But most modern commentators (including Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901], R.C.H. Lenski [1864-1936], F.F. Bruce [1910-1990] and I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934]) opt for a corporate identity and see the destination of the letter as a local church, personified as a lady. Others (such as Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976]) suggest the catholic or universal church; but the church in that sense has no sister (II John 1:13). (Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters (Bible Speaks Today))
For a time, the majority of scholars presumed that the elect lady was an historical individual. Though this reading is no longer dominant, it is possible and still has supporters.

Ruth B. Edwards contemplates:

Could eklektē kyria in II John 1:1...be taken in its more natural sense of a real woman? Four possible interpretations have been put forward: (a) Kyria might be a proper name, and eklektē an adjective (ancient Greek did not use capitals to indicate proper nouns); (b) kyria might be an adjective and Eklektē a proper name; (c) both Kyria and Eklektē might be proper names; (d) perhaps neither is a proper name. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27)
Peter Rhea Jones (b. 1937) annotates:
Early on, Clement of Alexandria [150-250] suggested that the Elect Lady was some influential woman by the name of Electa in a church in the vicinity of Ephesus. Other scholars such as Adolf Deissmann [1866-1937] and Johannes H. Ebrard [1818-1888] opted for an individual, some of them thinking of Kyria or Curia as a proper name. Still others recknoned simply with “Dear Lady.”...The author has even been associated with Ruth in the Old Testament (Rendel Harris [1852-1941]). (Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 251)
There is a grammatical possibility that either “elect” or “lady” could represent a proper name (II John 1:1). If this is the case, the recipient would be the only named figure in Second John.

Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) researches:

Is ἐκλεκτη κυρία (eklektē kyria, chosen lady) [II John1:1] the proper name of a lady (“Kyria”), with “chosen” as a modifier? (Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:653 points out that “Eklecta” is unattested as a name at this time.) This view goes back to Clement of Alexandria [150-215]’s Adumbrations 4 (Gerald Bray [b. 1948] 2000:231) and is also reflected in a Syriac version (Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] 1883:224). Among commentators, William Alexander [1824-1911] (1901:283-86) takes this position, with great imaginative powers sketching her as a lonely but noble widow of heroic stature. I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934] (1978:60n5) cites some older scholars who follow suit. A parallel might be Romans 16:13 where Paul writes, “Greet Rufus, the chosen [τὸν ἐκλεκτόν, ton eklekton] in the Lord.” Since II John lacks the definite article before “chosen” [II John 1:1], however, Romans 16:13 is not a good parallel (John Painter [b. 1935] 2002:340 and many others). (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 333-34)
Like Eklekta (“elect”), Kyria (“lady” could also be a proper name. This view is ancient as well, dating at least to Athanasius (296-373). John Wesley (1703-1791) espoused this theory, writing, “Kyria is undoubtedly a proper name, both here [II John 1:1] and in II John 1:5; for it was not then usual to apply the title of lady to any but the Roman empress.” James Strong (1822-1894) also advocated this interpretation.

Ruth B. Edwards supports:

Kyria, meaning ‘mistress’, ‘lady’ (cf. Aramaic ‘Martha’) is found as a personal name in both inscriptions and papyri; eklektē, meaning ‘chosen’, or ‘elect’(of God) is an appropriate epithet for a Christian leader (cf. Romans 16:13. Rufus, the elect in the Lord; Ignatius [35-98], Letter to the Philadelphians 11.1. Rheus Agathopous, an elect man). It has been objected that one might expect the definite article with eklektē. We can reply that this letter is not written in fully idiomatic Greek, having other linguistic peculiarities (cf. the occurrence of ‘Father’ both with and without the article in II John 1:3); if eklektē kyria means ‘the Church’ the absence of the article is odd...In favour of kyria as a common noun is its frequent appearance in the papyri as a polite and affectionate form of address to an older woman (cf. Oxyrhynchus Papyri 744, ‘to Berous my lady’, etc.) Against this has been argued the absence of ‘my’ with Kyria and lack of evidence for Eklektē as a personal name in contemporary papyri (so Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:653). Indeed George G. Findlay [1849-1919] alleged that ‘Eklektē occurs nowhere else in Greek...as a proper name’ (1909:23). One may reply that ‘my’ is not always found with kyria in the papyri, and although the name Eklektē has not so far been found in the papyri, it is attested in Greek inscriptions, along with a parallel male name Eklektos (known also in literary sources). We may mention also a series of inscriptions of imperial date from Rome with the woman’s name Eclecte or Eglecte (c.7x). Although the inscriptions are in Latin, the form of this name is Greek. The idea that Eklektē might be a personal name also receives some support from Clement of Alexandria [150-250], who thought that II John was written to ‘a certain Babylonian woman called Electa’ (according to Adumbrationes, a Latin translation of his Hypotyposes)...The idea that both Kyria and Eklektē might be proper names is described by Brooke Foss Westcott [1825-1901] (1902) as ‘very strange’, but such double names are common in the ancient world, and Eclecte occurs combined with other personal names in the Roman inscriptions mentioned. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27-29)
Most modern scholars have rejected this theory. John Painter (b. 1935) dismisses:
If the addressee is named (eklektē kyria) we may understand either “to the lady Electa” (Clement of Alexandria [150-215]) or “to the elect Kyria.” Though each of these is theoretically possible, only Kyria is a well-attested name, and Romans 16:13 provides precedent for reference to a name with the epithet “elect”(Rhouphon ton elekton). As indicated by the example in Romans, we would expect the article with this form (tē eklektē kyria). Thus there are grammatical problems with the suggestion that kyria here is a proper name. (Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), 340)
Ruth B. Edwards defends:
A problem often raised with understanding Eklektē as a proper name is its reappearance in II John 1:13. Mention of two women with the same name in such a short letter might seem improbable, but the ancient world had a smaller range of women’s names than we do (cf. all the New Testament Marys). The woman in II John 1:13 need not be a blood sister; she may equally well be a Christian sister, herself a church leader. Alternatively eklektē in II John 1:13 could be the adjective ‘elect’. It might seem awkward to use the same Greek word both as a proper name and as an adjective within 13 verses, but ancient writers were not so sensitive to such grammatical distinctions as modern ones; the repetition of eklektē in II John 1:13 must deliberately echo II John 1:1, and it is likely the two women shared a common role. Incidentally the final greetings are not from the ‘elect sister’ herself, but from her children. If this is a real woman, she must either be deceased or at least not present with the writer. In either case it is hard to believe she is a church. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 28-29)
Elect lady (II John 1:1) need not be a proper name for the epithet to designate an individual. Ruth B. Edwards recognizes:
The case for the ‘elect lady’ [II John 1:1] as a real woman does not stand or fall on taking Kyria or Eklektē (or both) as a proper name. ‘Chosen lady’ could equally be a sobriquet (or nickname), like the Gospel of John’s ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ [John 13:23, 18:15, 16, 19, 26, 26, 20:2, 3, 4, 8, 21:7, 20, 23, 24], for someone whom the author, for whatever reason, did not wish to name directly. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 29)
Tom Thatcher (b. 1967) reflects:
The Greek eklekē kyria (Edward W. Goodrick [1913-1992] and John R. Kohlenberger III [b. 1951] 1723 + Goodrick and Kohlenberger 3257) [II John 1:1] could literally mean “to the elect Kyria” or “to the lady Electa,” both proper names, or could be an honorary nickname for a Christian woman (“the Elect Lady”). Alfred Plummer [1841-1926], 132, advocates this last option arguing that the reader is a female Christian and the literal mother of the “children” John mentions. In his view, this explains the author’s “somewhat informal [self-] designation” as “the Elder” [II John 1:1] (cf. Ruth B. Edwards, The Johannine Epistles [New Testament Guides, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996], 27-29). In support of this interpretation, one might note Romans 16:13, where Paul refers to his friend Rufus as “elect [NIV, chosen] in the Lord.” (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews ~ Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 513-14)
Earl F. Palmer (b. 1931) documents:
Alexander Ross [b. 1888]...(Eerdmans, 1954) argues that the letter is written to a person and her family who probably live in Asia Minor. This would mean that the letter therefore addresses her personal situation. J.L. Houlden [b. 1929] (Harper, 1973)...has observed that the word kuria (“lady”) is an equivalent to the name Martha in Aramaic, a well-attested proper name. (Palmer, 1, 2, 3 John, Revelation (Mastering the Old Testament))
The belief that the “elect lady” represented an historical individual was once dominant. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) footnotes:
Older scholars (e.g. Alfred Plummer [1841-1926], 57ff; David Smith 162 ff; Alexander Ross [b. 1888], 129ff; Leon Morris [1914-2006], 1271) took the phrase [II John 1:1] literally as a reference to a particular lady and her children. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60)
This literal reading still has some advocates. Ruth B. Edwards directs:
For the ‘Elect Lady’ (or her sister) [II John 1:1] as probably an individual woman: Charles Bigg [1840-1908], The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910), especially p. 197 on the ‘elect sister’...Leon Morris [1914-2006], in D.A. Carson [b. 1946], R.T. France [1938-2012] et al. (editors), New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), p. 1271...Dorothy R. Pape [1913-2011], God and Woman (Oxford: Mowbray, 1977), p. 206...Donald Guthrie [1915-1992], New Testament Introduction (Leicester: Apollos; Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 4th edition, 1990), p. 889. (Barnabas Lindars [1923-1991], Edwards and John M. Court [b. 1943], The Johannine Literature: With an Introduction by R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], 131)

Allen Dwight Callahan (b. 1957) contests:

The interpretation of the addressee’s designation as signifying a church rather than a female is an old one. Clement of Alexandria [150-250] claims that this epistle is addressed to the holy church in Babylonia because he reads “to an elect lady,” of II John 1:1 as a gloss for “the likewise elect [church] in Babylon” mentioned in I Peter 5:13. The interpretation is as venerable as it is strained, and flies in the face of the plain sense of the text. The Byzantine commentator Oecumenius comes close to the obvious: “He writes with commandments of the Gospel to a church or to some woman giving spiritual governance to her household. He writes this epistle to one of the women who have received the proclamation.” Apparently independently, this is the interpretation of the Order of the Eastern Star, an African American organization for wives, widows, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the Prince Hall order of the Masons. Eastern Star rites claim five biblical women as heroines: Jeptha’s anonymous daughter [Judges 11:34] to whom the Order has given the name Adah, Ruth [Ruth 1:4], Esther [Esther 2:7], Martha [Luke 10:38], and Electa. “Electa” is the Elect Lady in II John 1:1. The sisters of the Eastern Star hold Electa to have been a martyr and assign to her the color red, symbolizing fervency and commitment. (Callahan, A Love Supreme: A History of Johannine Tradition, 11)
John F. MacArthur (b. 1939) argues:
Many commentators believe the phase “the chosen lady” (II John 1:1) refers metaphorically to a local church. The more natural understanding in the context, however, is to take it as a reference to an actual woman and her children, whom John knew personally. The letter’s obvious similarity to III John, which clearly (III John 1:1) was written to an individual, favors the view that II John was also written to an individual. Further, it would be unnatural to sustain such a figure of speech throughout the whole letter. Such an elaborate metaphor is also not in keeping with the letter’s simplicity and the tenderness of its tone. Finally, the change from the singular form of the personal pronoun “you” in II John 1:5 to the plural form in II John 1:12 applies more naturally to a woman and her children than to a church and its members. (MacArthur, 1 – 3 John (MacArthur New Testament Commentary), 212)
Earl F. Palmer (b. 1931) agrees:
I find it hard to agree with the church theory. It makes better sense in my view to interpret this letter in its most obvious sense, as a letter written by John to an esteemed friend and her family. The fact that no city designation is made also supports this view. (Palmer, 1, 2, 3 John, Revelation (Mastering the Old Testament))
Judith K. Applegate (b. 1948) bolsters:
First, it has been shown that there is only one clear instance of the title ‘elect’ used to refer to a named person in the New Testament (Romans 16:13), but not a church. In addition, there are at least two New Testament greetings that address unnamed women, even in the midst of other greetings to women who are named (Romans 16:13, 15). In light of these references, it is not impossible to conceive of an unnamed woman being addressed by the title ‘elect’, rather than by name. Second, Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] points out that Johannine literature contains other references to titled, but unnamed people, such as the ‘beloved disciple’ [John 13:23, 18:15, 16, 19, 26, 26, 20:2, 3, 4, 8, 21:7, 20, 23, 24] and the ‘mother of Jesus’ [John 2:1, 3]. In this tradition it would not seem unusual to find another titled woman addressed without reference to her name. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Maria Mayo Robins, “The Co-Elect Woman of I Peter 1”, A Feminist Companion to the Catholic Epistles and Hebews, 95)
There is precedent for a woman guiding a house church. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) concedes:
It is possible that “the chosen lady” [II John 1:1] is a particular woman in whose house the church met, as in the case of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), or Lydia (Acts 16:40). (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], John, Hebrews–Revelation (Bible Knowledge Background Commentary), 193)
If the elect lady is an historical figure, it adds intrigue to her identity. George R. Knight (b. 1941) reveals:
The “chosen lady” [II John 1:1]...has elicited a great deal of discussion. It could certainly have been an individual. Those who have followed that route have speculated much regarding who she might be. Favorite candidates are Mary the mother of Jesus and Martha of Bethany. Some argue for Martha because the word for “lady” in Aramaic (the common language of first-century Palestine) was “Martha,” while others sponsor Mary since Jesus left her in the care of John, and her traditional area of residence in her later years was Asia Minor. But all such theories are nothing but speculation. (Knight, Exploring the Letters of John & Jude: A Devotional Commentary, 182)
As noted, Mary the mother of Jesus, perhaps the most “elect” woman of all (Luke 1:30), is among the candidates posited. Though Mary would certainly have been worthy of the title, this hypothesis raises the potentially divisive possibility that there was need to write a letter to Mary to warn her about being deceived by false teachers (II John 1:7-11).

There are significant implications to the elect woman’s role if she represents a literal, historical figure (II John 1:1). Ruth B. Edwards wonders:

One sometimes suspects that a reason why the ‘elect lady’ [II John 1:1] has been so rarely taken as an individual is reluctance to assume that a woman could have led a church. But female church leaders are attested elsewhere in the New Testament: we note particularly ‘Nympha and the church at her house’ (Colossians 4:15) and Phoebe, minister or deacon of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1). (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 29)
Stanley J. Grenz (1950-2005) and Denise Muir Kjesbo (b. 1957) investigate:
Is there a specific example that offers...confirmation that women acted as congregational leaders? In this context, egalitarians occasionally cite the “co-elect woman” Peter perhaps mentions in the close of his first epistle (I Peter 5:13). More commonly mentioned, however, is the “elect lady” of the Johannine community [II John 1:1]. John the elder addresses his second epistle to “the elect lady” and her children” (II John 1:1)...The egalitarian use of this text hinges on the identity of the recipient of the letter...Several clues in the epistle suggest that its recipient may have been a woman church leader—a prominent patron of a Christian community, like Mary [Acts 12:12] or Lydia [Acts 16:14, 40]—together with the congregation under her care. The word translated “lady” (kyria) fits best with this personal interpretation. The term is the feminine form of “lord” (kyrios), which could connote a guardian, the master of a house or the head of a family. The personal interpretation is preferable in that the New Testament nowhere uses the word as a metaphor for a congregation. This interpretation also fits best within the address itself. If “lady” refers to the church and not a female church leader, the greeting to “her children” is redundant. John’s use of children elsewhere of “my children” to address the members of his community (I John 1:1, 12-14, 3:7) suggests that in this text “her children” refers to the community ruler under the watchful care of this leader, many of whom may have become believers through her witness...In addition to the form of address, the admonition to reject false teachers [II John 1:7-11] favors the suggestion that the letter was intended for the leader of a house church...To date, the exegetical question has not been answered definitively. There are good reasons to see in this epistle support for the contention that the early congregation had women leaders. But the exegetical case is admittedly inconclusive. (Grenz and Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, 91-92)
Leonard Swidler (b. 1929) deliberates:
Though in New Testament times there was no “monarchial episcopacy,” episkopoi (literally “overseers”) did appear late in the period as sort of chairpersons of committees of presbyters. Many scholars argue that the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] (lady—kyria, as parallel to lord,kyrios) to whom the Second Epistle of John is addressed, and her “elect sister,” whose children send greetings [II John 1:13], must be “symbols” of churches. But they are perhaps just as properly understood as real persons. (For a similar view, see Ernst Gaugler [1891-1963], Die Johannesbriefe, p. 283; Zurich: EVZ-Verlag, 1964). Judging from the content of the letter, the elect lady is responsible not only for her natural children but also for the Christians in her charge (a house church as with Priscilla [Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:13; I Corinthians 16:19; II Timothy 4:19], Nympha [Colossians 4:15], etc.?); does she not then have the function of an “overseer,” episkopa, even though the title is not mentioned, but rather kyria is? Her sister also?...Already within the same century when John’s epistle was probably written, i.e, the second century, church father Clement of Alexandria [150-250] spoke of “elect persons” as a designation for officers of the church—which included not only bishops but also widows—supporting the contention that the “elect” lady of II John could be properly be understood as a generic term for church officers. (Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman, 315-16)
The evidence is inconclusive. John Painter (b. 1935) confesses:
This decision concerning the meaning of the opening [II John 1:1] and closing forms of address [II John 1:13] has nothing to do with the question of whether the leaders of such churches might have been women. We know too little of the situation to hazard an informed guess in relation to the church to which II John was addressed. Certainly the possibility that the leader of the church addressed was a woman should not be excluded. (Painter, 1, 2, and 3 John (Sacra Pagina), 334)
If the “natural” reading of II John 1:1 is that the elect woman is a literal female human, the equally natural inference is that at the very least she has influence on a Christian community.

As has been documented, most modern scholars have rejected the idea of a literal individual in favor of a metaphorical church (II John 1:1). Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) rebuffs:

An ancient tradition has thought “chosen lady” [II John 1:1] refers to a person. Both words are personal names for women in Greek (Electa, Kyria). But this usage here is unlikely. Not only does the tone of the letter imply a wider audience, but the letter itself lapses into the plural at many points (II John 1:5, 6, 8, 10, 12). (Burge, The Letters of John (NIV Application Commentary), 231)
Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) remarks:
If neither ἐκλεκτη nor κυρία is apt to be a personal name, the possibility raised and rightly rejected by William Loader [b. 1944] (1992:84-85) that this refers to a prominent Christian sister is unlikely. Apart from the unsuitedness of either of the words for this purpose, the discourse in the epistle shifts so frequently to second-person plural [II John 1:6-12] that most likely a group, not an individual, is being addressed. (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 334)
William Barclay (1907-1978) rejects:
It is possible to take Kuria as a proper name...The objections are threefold. (a) It seems unlikely that any single individual could be spoken of as loved by all those who have known the truth (II John 1:1). (b) II John 1:4 says that John rejoiced when he found some of her children walking in the truth; the implication is that others did not walk in the truth. This would seem to imply a number greater than one woman’s family could contain. (c) The decisive objection is that, throughout the letter, the eklektē kuria is addressed sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. The singular occurs in II John 1:4, 5, 13;and the plural occurs in II John 1:6, 8, 10, 12. It would be almost impossible that an individual would be addressed in this way. (Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (New Daily Study Bible), 147)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) further renounces:
It is not impossible that an individual, the Lady Electa (the head of a house church?), is being addressed but there are several reasons to reject this conclusion: (1) It is most natural to take II John 1:13 as a reference to a sister church, where the author worships, whose members are called offspring and send greetings. (2) Notice that the author calls himself “the old man/elder” [II John 1:1]. That is, he is the familiar “old man,” not just an anonymous elder, and he assumes authority over the audience. Notice, by contrast, that “elect lady” has no definite article before the word in question, suggesting that we are not dealing with a particular individual. “While the addressees are referred to as ‘the chosen lady and her children’ in II John 1:1 and the elder says ‘it has given me great joy to find some of your [singular] children walking in the truth’ in II John 1:4, in the rest of the letter (II John 1:6,8, 10, 12) he addresses all of his readers in the second person plural, suggesting that’“the chosen lady and her children’ [II John 1:1] is another way of addressing all members of a local church.” (3) Notice that the document concerns community problems, not those of an individual, and so it does not read like III John, which is a personal letter [III John 1:1]. (4) The reference to the giving of a new command [II John 1:5] seems to imply a community of believers to whom it was given. In the Old Testament and elsewhere in the New Testament the people of God sometimes are personified as a woman (cf. Isaiah 54:1-8; Galatians 4:25; Ephesians 5:22-25; II Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 12:7, 21:2). It is perfectly natural for our author to address his audience this way. It would be far less appropriate to address a particular individual in this vague sort of way in a letter, and III John shows that the author is not reluctant to use personal names where appropriate [III John 1:1, 9, 12]. Thus I conclude that the “lady” is the church addressed, and her children are the members of the house church. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 565-66)
The “elect lady” (II John 1:1) as a personification of a church is now the standard view among contemporary scholars. Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) determines:
“It is now generally agreed that this title [II John 1:1] refers to a sister church” (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946] 1998:276; cf. Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:654-55; Gail R. O’Day [b. 1954] 1992:375; Ben Witherington III [b. 1951] 2006:563-64). Marianne Meye Thompson [b. 1954] (1992:151) points out that the people of God, whether Israel or the church, are frequently referred to in Scripture as a woman or bride, whether of God or of Christ (Isaiah 54:1, 6, 13; Jeremiah 6:2, 31:21, 32; John 3:29; Galatians 4:25-26; Ephesians 5:22; Revelation 18:1-19:21). First Peter refers to “elect” (ἐκλεκτοις, ekletois) sojourners (I Peter 1:1) as the author writes from a “co-elect” (συνεκλεκτή, syneklektē) congregation in “Babylon”—likely Rome (I Peter 5:13)—showing that ἐκλεκτη can denote a local church (Brown 1982:655). (Yarbrough, 1–3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 334)
Rodney Combs (b. 1965) enumerates:
A personification designating a local congregation of believers...seems the best interpretation for several reasons: the language of love and the command given to love in II John 1:5 seems inappropriate for an individual; there are no explicit personal references such as those found in III John [III John 1:1, 9, 12]; the writer switches between “you” singular [II John 1:4-5, 13] and “you” plural [II John 1:6-12] often in the letter (unobservable in most modern translations) while being consistent with the singular in III John; and it was normal to personify towns or institutions in the first century much as we do today. (Combs, I, II & III John (Shepherd’s Notes))
David Walls (b. 1953) and Max Anders (b. 1947) support:
The lack of any personal references in the letter, in contrast to III John [III John 1:1, 9, 12], suggests that it is addressed to a church. In that case, it might be a sister church to the church John wrote to in his first epistle. (Walls and Anders, I & II Peter, I, II, & III John, Jude (Holman New Testament Commentary), 236)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) presumes:
“The chosen lady and her children” [II John 1:1]...is a metaphorical way of saying “the church and its members.” If the letter was sent to a particular church, there was no need to specify more particularly which church was meant—and this may have been indicated on the package containing the letter. The personification of a community was not uncommon in ancient writings. Jerusalem was regarded by the Jews as the mother of the nation [Isaiah 54:1-8; Baruch 4:30-37, 5:5; Galatians 4:25; Revelation 12:17], and it was natural for Christians to think similarly of the church. When Peter writes about her “who is in Babylon, chosen together with you” (I Peter 5:13), he is using the same idea...The interchange of singular [II John 1:4-5, 13] and plural [II John 1:6-12] in the letter and the reference to the lady’s sister [II John 1:13] all support the view that the writer is personifying the church. For detailed argument in support of this position see Alan England Brooke [1863-1939], 167-70. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60)
Birger Olsson (b. 1938) contends:
A collective sense of the term kyria [II John 1:1] is most likely: the word “lady” indicates a local (house-)church, and her children are its individual members. Biblical linguistic patterns, the vacillation between you-singular [II John 1:4-5, 13] and you-plural [II John 1:6-12] in the letter, the qualifier “elect,” and the fondness for the collective aspect of Jesus’ disciples in the Johannine writings, speaks in favor of this reading. (Olsson, A Commentary on the Letters of John: An Intra-Jewish Approach, 48)
Robert W. Yarbrough (b. 1953) suggests:
The word translated “lady” is the Greek word kyria...This Greek word was also used for a sociopolitical subdivision in Athens, a subdivision of the larger ekklesia (often translated in the New Testament as “church”). John appears to be using a word for a local congregation that is not attested elsewhere in early Christian writings. The word is chosen because of distinctive local social and linguistic conventions about when we have no additional information. “Chosen lady,” then, simply means a local congregation who, as God’s people, are by definition “elect” or “chosen” (a common term for Christians, see, e.g., Romans 16:13; I Peter 1:1, 2:9). (Clinton E. Arnold [b. 1958], Hebrews to Revelation (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 96-97)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) critiques:
Hans-Josef Klauck [b. 1946] points out that Walter Bauer [1870-1960], William F. Arndt [1880-1957] and F. Wilbur Gingrich [1901-1993]’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is misleading when it cites Hellenistic sources (which include references to kyria ekklēsia) in support of an interpretation of eklektē kyria as lady congregation. The references cited refer to an Athenian assembly and provide no support for a metaphorical interpretation of kyria ekklēsia. Nevertheless, Klauck agrees with most modern commentators that eklektē kyria does refer to the congregation, and he finds support for this interpretation in the many references in the Old Testament and Apocrypha to Israel as wife, bride, mother, daughter, etc. (Kruse, The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 38)
Though not always preeminent, the theory that the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) represents the church is ancient. Hilary of Arles (403-449) asserts:
The elect lady [II John 1:1] is clearly a church to which the letter is written. It is elect in faith and mistress of all virtues. Introductory Commentary on II John. (Gerald Bray [b. 1948], James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, Jude (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture))
That the “elect lady” refers to a church is now undoubtedly the dominant view. Marianne Meye Thompson (b. 1954) catalogs:
Many commentators hold to the interpretation of the chosen lady as a personification of a local church and its members (Glenn W. Barker [1920-1984] 1981:361; Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1982:654; F.F. Bruce [1910-1990] 1970:137; C.H. Dodd [1884-1973] 1946:144; Kenneth Grayston [1914-2005] 1984:152; J.L. Houlden [b.1929] 1973:142; I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934] 1978:60; Stephen S. Smalley [b. 1931] 1984:318; D. Moody Smith [b. 1931] 1991:139; John R.W. Stott [1921-2011] 1988:204), since the verbs and pronouns of the epistle are all in the plural (“you all”) [II John 1:6-12]. Moreover, the New Testament elsewhere speaks of the church as a woman or bride, and when greetings are sent from the children of your elect sister (II John 1:13), it suggests the greetings from one church to another. (Thompson, 1-3 John (IVP New Testament Commentary), 150-551)
Tom Thatcher (b. 1967) echoes:
Most modern commentators...conclude that “the Elect Lady” is a general reference to an entire congregation, so that “her children” are the individual members of that congregation (so J.L. Houlden [b. 1929], 142; R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], 117; I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934], 60-61; John R.W. Stott [1921-2011], 203-04; David Rensberger (b. [1948], 148). This reading is supported by the closing verse of II John, where the elder sends greetings from “the children of your elect [NIV, chosen] sister,” apparently the congregation of which John is a member (II John 1:13). While it is possible that both congregations were led by individual Christian women, it seems more likely that the terms “lady” and “sister” are used metaphorically to portray a familial relationship between the two churches. Outside the Johannine literature, the New Testament frequently portrays the church as a woman or bride of the counterpart of Jesus (II Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-32; Revelation 19:6-9). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Hebrews ~ Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 514)
Some have seen Second John as having been written not to a single church, but rather to multiple churches. Martin M. Culy (b. 1963) examines:
The greeting from τὰ τέκνα της ἀδελφης σου της ἐκλεκτης [“The children of your chosen sister”, II John 1:13 NASB] makes it clear that ἐκλεκτη κυρία [“the chosen lady and her children”, II John 1:1 NASB] cannot be a metaphor for the universal church (Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998], 653). Brown (654) thus posits that the lack of article with ἐκλεκτη κυρία marks this as “a circular letter meant to be read in several communities. (Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text, 141-42)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) infers:
In II John the author clearly is at some distance from the audience. Notice also that in II John the church is addressed rather formally as the “Elect Lady” [II John 1:1]. I therefore agree with Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] that in II-III John we have documents written in order chronologically to two different but related house churches over which “the old man”[II John 1:1] has some jurisdiction. The picture that one gets from both Paul and the later writings of Ignatius [35-98] is that Ephesus had numerous house churches, as did the outlying cities. But are the congregations addressed in II-III John merely in the suburbs of Ephesus? Probably not. The writing of these letters suggests that these churches are far enough away that letters needed to be written to them. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 406)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) relays:
Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976], 107ff, thinks that the letter is a “catholic” epistle to be taken to a number of churches. But to justify this view he has to argue that the details in the letter which suggest one particular destination are fictitious. (Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 60)
Bultmann’s proposal has been largely rejected based upon the fact that the church universal would have no sister (II John 1:13).

The use of feminine language for a church has precedents; even the Greek word for church is feminine. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) documents:

In Revelation, the Lord returns for his bride, the church (Revelation 19:7-8), and I Peter 5:13 speaks of the church as “she who is in Babylon.” The Shepherd of Hermas sees a maiden (parthenos), whom he recognizes as the church (Visions 4.2.1-12), and Tertullian [160-225] wrote of “our lady mother the Church” (Ad Martyras1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers 3:693). Similarly, Ignatius [35-98] addresses the Trallians as “elect” (Trallians, address), and I Peter is addressed to exiles who have been “chosen” (ekletois; I Peter 1:1). (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], John, Hebrews–Revelation (Bible Knowledge Background Commentary), 193)
Paul S. Minear (1906-2007) characterizes:
Akin to the image of the Messianic mother of the book of Revelation [Revelation 12:1-2] is that of the elect lady, a phrase used in II John 1:1 to designate the congregation to which the elder addressed his letter. Associated with this image of the local church as mother is the reference to its members as her children and to another congregation as her sister (II John 1:13; cf. I Peter 5:13). Blended in this phrase are two common ideas: that of the church as the elect...and that of the Messianic community as a woman bearing children. (Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (New Testament Library), 54)
Gail R. O’Day (b. 1954) observes:
The author of II John, who identifies himself as the “elder” (II John 1:1), uses feminine imagery to speak of the church. The community to which he writes is addressed a “elect lady” (II John 1:1, 5), and the community from which the elder writes is identified as “your elect sister” (II John 1:13). Lady and sister are thus metaphors for the church...The noun “lady” (kyria) is the feminine form of the noun “lord” (kyrios). This vocabulary emphasizes the relationship between the church (lady) and its Lord. This language links II John with other New Testament writings that use feminine images for the church (e.g., Revelation 12:1-2; Ephesians 5:22-31). These images may show the value the early church placed on female leadership in the church, or they may indicate the beginning of patriarchal structures of governance in which the elder becomes “lord” over lady church. (Carol A. Newsom [b. 1950], Sharon H. Ringe [b. 1946] and Jacqueline E. Lapsley [b. 1965], Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, 623)
Second John’s imagery is not holistically feminine. Robert Seesengood (b. 1969) acknowledges:
The Johannine epistles all address questions of early Christian missionary work. They refer to the church as “the elect lady” [II John 1:1], but consistently use masculine metaphors for God and believers (II John 1:2, 5, 13; I John 2:1, 12-14). (Julia M. O’Brien [b. 1958], “Masculinity and Femininity in the New Testament”,The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies, 532)
Those who view the elect lady (II John 1:1) as an individual naturally object to the title being read collectively. Ruth B. Edwards counters:
Most modern commentators suppose the phrase is used metaphorically for a church. In the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem or Zion is often personified as a woman; sometimes Israel is pictured as God’s bride—imagery occasionally picked up in the New Testament (cf. Revelation 21:2; Ephesians 5:25-28). In the Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century CE allegorical writing, the Church appears as a woman in a vision and is addressed by the author as kyria (V.I.5). But there are major differences between these images and II John’s. In Revelation, Ephesians and Hermas it is the new Jerusalem or the church as a whole which is personified, not one congregation. Yet if the ‘elect lady’ of II John 1:1 is the whole church, who is her ‘elect sister’ in II John 1:13? (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 27)
If “elect” lady” (II John 1:1) is a reference to the church, it is one of many. Robert L. Reymond (1932-2013) registers:
In addition to their most common term, ekklesia for the noun “church,” the New Testament writers employ many other singular figurative expressions to describe the entire church such as the following: one flock (John 10:16), one body (I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:18), one new man (Ephesians 2:15), the temple of God (or of the Holy Spirit) (I Corinthians 3:16; II Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22; II Thessalonians 2:4), the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4:26), the new Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22), the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), a letter from Christ (II Corinthians 3:2-3), the olive tree (Romans 11:13-24), God’s field (I Corinthians 3:9), God’s building (I Corinthians 3:9), the chosen lady (II John 1:1), the wife (or bride) of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-31; Revelation 21:9), God’s house (Ephesians 2:19), the people of God (I Peter 2:9-10), a chosen people (I Peter 2:9), a holy nation (I Peter 2:9), a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9), the circumcision (Philippians 3:3-11), the tabernacle of David (Acts 15:16), the remnant (Romans 9:27, 11:5-7), the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16), God’s elect (Romans 8:33), the faithful in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:1), a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17), the kingdom of God (or of heaven) (Matthew 13:1-52), the Way (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:14, 22), and the brotherhood of believers (I Peter 2:17). (Chad Owen Brand [b. 1954] and R. Stanton Norman [b. 1963], “The Presbyterty-Led Church: Presbyterian Church Government”, Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity, 113)
In the Johannine Literature,the church is most commonly described with familial imagery. David Rensberger (b. 1948) inventories:
Of all the Johannine writings, only III John uses the word “church” [III John 1:6, 9, 10]. Second John uses the unusual terminology of the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] and her “elect sister” [II John 1:13] to refer to Christian congregations, which may express a sense of the church’s diving calling (Judith M. Lieu [b. 1951] 1986, 67); but the letter says nothing further about this. Otherwise, all three epistles plainly show the marks of a communal history, the only term they have for the community is adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” used seventeen times to refer to other Christians. The metaphor of Christians as a family of God’s children is thus the primary way of speaking about the church (Dietrich Rusam 1993, 163-65, 185-86). (Rensberger, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries))
George L. Parsenios (b. 1969) professes:
In II John 1:1, the Elder addresses his letter to “the Elect Lady and her children,” which interpreters generally understand to be a symbolic reference to a church and its members. Support for this interpretation comes from the close of the letter in II John 1:13, where the Elder speaks of “your Elect Sister and her children,” a phrase that clearly refers to the Elder’s own church and its members. Christians are children of God, children of their teachers, children collected within churches, and brother and sisters of one another. The use of family language to describe ecclesisastical relations raises interesting historical questions and provides valuable insight into the social relations of early Christianity, as it seems to reflect an effort to deal with the crisis of conversion to a new faith. (Parsenios, First, Second, and Third John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament))
Others have viewed the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) as an artificial straw figure utilized to present a standard teaching. If this is the case the traditional reconstruction is misguided and does a disservice to Second John’s literary artistry.

Judith M. Lieu (b. 1951) develops:

The identity of the “elect lady” [II John 1:1] is...obscure, although “lady” (kyria) is a common epithet in letters, whether used of a mother or sister or of someone more exalted. The profile at first presented by II John is of a woman with her children, of their responsibility for a home to which visitors may come, and of her sister, who is well known to the author. However, this is hardly sustained throughout the letter: the lady plays no real role and the letter lacks any personal details such as characterize III John [III John 1:1, 9, 12]; the second person plural address quickly takes over from the singular (II John 1:8, 10, 12; see also II John 1:5); the children are sufficiently numerous for the author to have encountered “some” of them (II John 1:4); and that he knew only the female siblings (II John 1:13) seems unlikely. On these grounds it is frequently assumed that the “real” addressee of the letter is a church, while the “sister” and her “children” represent another community...II John is not simply an ordinary letter, as is also evidenced from the high degree of artificiality when compared to III John...Second John initially has to be read as creating its own narrative, independently of questions as the intended audience of the text; within this, the “narrative recipient,” the lady is not to be dissolved as a symbol of a “real recipient”; to seek to identify “a real recipient” who might justify the personification as an “elect lady” fails to recognize that the letter creates its own, self-contained narrative world...The anonymity of the sender is matched by that of the recipient, “the elect lady”...and is sustained throughout the letter (cf. II John 1:13). This introduces an artificial note, which could suggest that the contrast between “the elder” and “the lady” is deliberately chosen as appropriate to a letter of concern and direction; the letter format was commonly used in antiquity as a fictional device and as a vehicle for teaching, for example of a philosophical nature, although the recipient is named even in these. (Lieu, I, II, & III John: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 244-45)
Not only is the identity of the “elect lady” (II John 1:1) contested, it is also unknown why the epistle opts not to name its recipient. C. H. Dodd [1884-1973) conjectures:
The possibility should perhaps not be excluded, that, in the unfavourable situation of Christianity at the time (see I John 3:13), it was judged safer, in case a document implicating the Church should fall into hostile hands, that it should appear to be a harmless letter to a friend. It is possible that the names of the writer and of the church addressed are omitted for prudential reasons—though both may have appeared...on the outside of the postal packet, according to custom. (Dodd, Johannine Epistles (Moffatt Commentary), 145)
Beth Moore (b. 1957) explains:
Many...believe that the address was more likely metaphoric to hide the identity of New Testament believers in a time of fierce persecution. If the letter fell into the wrong hands, no one could be singled out. The letter may well have been written to a church. (Moore, The Beloved Disciple: Following John to the Heart of Jesus, 213)
Regardless of whether Second John addresses an individual or a church, it is clear that the writer speaks favorably and loves its recipient (II John 1:1). Before confronting the reader with her precarious circumstances, the epistle’s opening line sets a loving tone. Second John speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

How irregular is the salutation “elect lady” (II John 1:1)? To whom do you think the “elect lady” refers (II John 1:1)? What is the most natural way to read the text? If the title refers to an historical individual, who is she? Why does Second John not reveal the elect lady’s proper name? Do you know of anyone who uses the title “elect lady” today? Does anyone address you by a title? If Second John addresses a woman and her children (II John 1:1), where is the father? Why is the church commonly personified as a woman (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8)? How do you think of church; what terminology would you use to exemplify it? How does the interpretation of Second John change if it is read as having been addressed to an individual as opposed to a group?

While there is a natural curiosity associated with an ambiguous epithet like “elect lady” (II John 1:1), it does not alter the letter’s application. The spiritual content of the letter’s words outweigh its recipient’s identity.

Daniel L. Akin (b. 1957) assures:

Regardless of how one interprets these words [II John 1:1]...the basic application of the epistle remains unchanged. What the author would expect in belief and behavior of a lady and her children he would also expect of a local church and its members. (Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (New American Commentary), 220)
The elect lady and her children are addressed (II John 1:1). As such, a group is involved regardless. Ruth B. Edwards concludes:
Our eklektē kyria may well have hosted or led a local congregation; ‘her children’, to whom the letter is also addressed [II John 1:1], were probably not her physical children, but rather members of her house church. Thus the letter is still written to a church even if the ‘elect lady’ is taken to be an individual. (Edwards, The Johannine Epistles (New Testament Guides, 29)
David L. Allen (b. 1957) interprets:
In II John 1:13 John signs off his letter much the way as he began it by sending greetings to them from “children” of a sister church whom he refers to as “your elect sister.” As in II John 1:1, notice that John’s use of the word “elect” does not refer to an individual election, but to corporate election as he views the local congregation as a whole to be an elect body. (Allen, 1–3 John: Fellowship in God's Family (Preaching the Word), 266)
David G. Buttrick (b. 1927) advocates:
Virtually everything in scripture is written to a faith-community, usually in the style of communal address. Therefore, biblical texts must be set in communal consciousness to be understood. Even when texts are ostensibly addressed to individuals—“Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), “Philemon”(Philemon 1:1), “The Elect Lady” (II John 1:1)—they are nonetheless addressed to individuals who share communal Christian consciousness. Thus, texts do not address individuals in individual self-awareness. The issue is tricky, but crucial. Because we interpret scripture individually we tend to assume that scripture speaks to individual consciousness, to an individual in existential self-awareness. Thus, our “applications” of the Bible tend to be personal in character...As interpreters we do not ask, “What does the text say to me?” or even “What does the text say to me as representative human being” but “What is the text saying to our faith-consciousness?” Most of the “you”s that show up in the New Testament texts, in the letters of Paul or in the teachings of Jesus, should rightly be translated into “Southern” as “you-alls.” (Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures, 276-77)
Regardless of who the elect lady is, Second John is written to a community, an elect community. Peter Rhea Jones (b. 1937) postulates:
One suspects from the perspective of I John regarding the world and from John 15:19 and II John 1:7 that the Elder means to infer that the believers addressed were chosen out of the world. This election does encompass receptive believing and obedience to the commandments (II John 1:5). This election is corporate, experienced in Christian community (II John 1:1, 13). (Jones, 1, 2 & 3 John (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 251)
Urban C. Von Wahlde (b. 1941) concurs:
It is not a title bestowed only on that specific community...as is indicated by the fact that in II John 1:13, the Elder will also refer to his own community as “elect.” In the Gospel (John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16, 19), the disciples are said not to have chosen Jesus but to have been chosen by him. In light of this usage, it would be particularly appropriate for members of the community to refer to themselves as “elect.” Nevertheless, it is not unusual for the wider circle of early Christians to refer to themselves or others as “chosen” (eklektos). Similar usage is found in I Peter 5:13 and in the salutation of Ignatius [35-98], Letter to the Trallians. Consequently, although I am inclined to think that choice of the title is based on Johannine usage, it cannot be proved that the derivation is particularly “Johannine.” (Von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: The Three Johannine Letters (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 225)
Though it is natural to glean individual insights from the New Testament writings, they are written to groups. The elect lady is one of many elect. All Christians are chosen ones.

Why did the standard interpretation of the “elect lady” shift from an individual woman to a collective church? Have you ever written a (personal?) letter to a group? To whom would the title “elect lady” describe today? Does the adjective “elect” apply to you? Do you feel chosen?

“When you lose touch with your chosenness, you expose yourself to the temptation of self-rejection, and that temptation undermines the possibility of ever growing as the Beloved...When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.” - Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996), Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World