8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:8-11).
This has always been a puzzling passage. It’s understandable why they tried to hide from God. Although that’s comical, they knew less about God than we do. So they might believe they could successfully elude divine detection.
Even so, why did they hide because they were naked? What does nudity have to do with it?
Is it because they were embarrassed to be seen in the buff by God after they ate the forbidden fruit? But once again, what’s the logical connection? Perhaps their reaction is inexplicable. When caught redhanded, wrongdoers may react in irrational ways.
It won’t do to say the account is fictional, for even fictional stories are supposed to make sense on their own terms. It had to be meaningful to the narrator. Indeed, good fiction has to be more logical than real life because it lacks factuality to lend it plausibility.
God’s question implies that Adam wasn’t conscious or self-conscious of his nudity until he ate the forbidden fruit. At one level, that’s reasonable. Having been made that way, Adam had no point of contrast. No occasion to give his nudity a second thought. That was his exclusive experience.
Perhaps they took shelter in the bushes to provide a barrier against physical harm. Nudity is a vulnerable state which leaves one more exposed to physical harm. There’s nothing between you and the elements–or weapons. They were unarmored and unarmed.
If, as Jeffrey Niehaus has argued, the divine visitation is a storm theophany, perhaps they took refuge in the bushes to provide a measure of protection against the approaching storm. Assuming it was a storm theophany, we don’t know what form it took. A thunderstorm? A whirlwind?
Perhaps a fire theophany? The Angel of the Lord may assume a luminous appearance or even, according to Exodus, the appearance of a fire whirl. If they saw something like that touch down and head in their direction, it’s not surprising that they ran for cover.