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  • What is meant by "modest apparel"
    in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 & 1 Peter 3:3-5

    ARTICLE INDEX     



    Well, let us read the two passages in the New Testament that discuss how women should adorn themselves:

    King James Version English Translation:

    2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 2:10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. - 1 Timothy 2:8-10

    King James Version English Translation:

    3:3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 3:4 But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 3:5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 3:6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. - 1 Peter 3:3-5

    One thing to consider is that the Apostle Paul is refering to a Christian attitude of dress and its perception by others. As it is clear, when the Apostle Paul talks about Sara, he mentions how she honored and obeyed Abraham, her husband. This is mirrored in the other passage, when it says to adorn yourself "with shamefacedness and sobriety". So, Paul's instruction is not really a set of clothing standards, but rather a standard based on the message you are giving other people and the inward heart. Two of the fruits of the Spirit are "gentleness" and "self-control". The greek definition of "shamefacedness" is "reverence, honor". And for "sobriety", it is "soundness of mind, self-control". So, essentially, the Apostle Paul is telling all women to dress with reverence and self-control, rather than without reverence (to husband, God, etc) or without self control (one who is addicted to fashion, shows herself in a manner to draw the wrong type of men or attention, etc).

    So, it is not refering to an actual dress code, other than the mention of "broided hair", "costly array" or "plaiting the hair", etc. And, what this is refering to was likely obvious violations (per the culture he was in) against being reverent and self-controlled. Is it saying a woman can never braid her hair? Or that a woman can never wear "gold, or pearls"? Or that a woman can not "put on apparel"? Whoa? Wait a second! Did I just say that a woman can not "put on apparel"?!? So, basically, if you read this passage to say, you "never" can do these things, it would also mean a woman can never "literally" put on apparel (clothing, in greek). So, if you could not wear gold, you could not wear any form of clothing either(you would be nude), with such an interpretation, logically contradicting itself. Therefore, it is actually saying, a woman is to focus on being "modest" in apparel, rather than focusing on braiding her hair (eludes to women's hair being longer), wearing gold jewelry and the arrangement of apparel. So, it is about the focus of the woman in question, not the apparel she is wearing.

    What should be glean from this? The Apostle Paul is assuming women have a tendency to wear such things and get addicted to fashion, so your focus should be away from it, on the inward heart. In other words, if your heart is right, your clothes will follow. So, if you are focused on being reverent and self-controlled, you are not concerned with being the most beautiful woman, or looking glamourous, having the latest fashion (whether according to your church or the world), hence you will not have the persona about your character either. And being a woman of God who seeks to show your inner character, it follows, you should also not judge other women by what they are wearing as well. As then, you are playing into the whole problem (judging by outer appearance). So, worrying about if other women are too fashionable or not fashionable enough, rather than showing them how to focus on their inner character is not good either. So, the point is not wearing no gold or jewelry, the point is to maximize your Christian character to others (reverence, self-control).

    Regarding hair length, generally, there are two opinions that revolve around one passage's interpretation, namely, "11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." - 1 Corinthians 11:16. When looking at the greek for this passage, it appears to be saying, "11:16 But if a certain one be of opinion and happens to be fond of strife/contentious we with such as this kind regarding being used to or accustomed with not join closely neither the citizens of the God". It seems to be saying that those who are contentious in nature or have striving opinions, we don't take on such a custom or associate with them or their ways. It is NOT saying, we don't have a custom saying women need to have hair of longer length. So, this verse seems to become clear and we can conclude that the chapter's interpretation is that women's hair is longer as a covering and to show submission to her husband and that the man should not have longer hair than a woman. But, I don't think it is a commandment, but more of a "custom", or a commonplace approach. And that a woman who is with short hair, it is the same as it being shorn or shaven, as, to God, short hair is the same as being bald, as it does not show submission to her husband ("head" of household). So, shaven, shorn or short are all the same in God's sight and the point is you should have your head covered (as a customary rule). As shaven can refer to someone grieving (yet to reverence her husband, she should cover her head maybe as done in Jesus time with her head garment)? As woman is second in the household, under her husband.

    What about men who take a Nazarite vow? Also, why do all paintings show Jesus' hair longer? With regards to the Nazarite vow, it could be viewed as a form of special submission to God, as longer hair is designated with submission. Regarding the priests of Israel, they were to cut their hair regularly, and not allow their locks to grow long. Regarding Jesus Christ, if we look his time period, the Romans, Israelites and the Greeks had shorter hair as a custom. So, within Israel, around the time of Jesus or Paul, it was common for men's hair to be short. So, either Jesus had short hair, like those of his time and culture, or he had a special exception for having it longer (at the time of death). And if he did have longer hair, it could be perceived as longer, per our standards of what is "long hair". Or, maybe the renderings of Christ are just in error and his hair was shorter. As Paul, would be condemning Christ's hair length in this passage, if every man was required to have short hair. The longer hair renderings are likely based on the Shroud of Turin, which may be the image of Christ at his burial, before ressurection. So, it is one of those dilemas where, I think it is quite clear that the Jews generally had shorter hair for men during this time period. And it is clear, Jesus did not take a Nazarite vow, because he touched both the dead and drank wine, which is expressively forbidden in the Nazarite vow. However, here is a question for you: "What if Jesus took a different vow?" As there is some indication that if a man takes a vow, he would first grow his hair longer and then shave it off as part of the vow (as Paul likely did here). Also, many heroes of the culture, philosophers of that time generally are shown with longer hair in depictions. So maybe Paul is actually just declaring the "standard" way for men and women to have their hair length, but there are exceptions to this "custom" as well.

    Now, what is "modest apparel"? Well, if you look in the greek, you discover that "modest" means "orderly, decorous, good behaviour, modest, well arranged, seemly". If you sort of wrap all those words into one definition, you discover "modest apparel" to mean, "apparel of good taste that is well arranged, not trying to show yourself as important".

    Regarding some specific dress code of what Christians can wear, worldwide, I believe such a thing would not be possible beyond what Paul stated. Because, in one culture, wearing a dress maybe considered immodest or something maybe a loose woman would wear (Muslim countries), while, in another culture, a dress maybe the highest standard for modesty (the Western World). So, it has to do with your audience/culture and what you are trying to convey to those around you. Not so much what you are actually wearing. So, the Christian standard is one that comes from the attitude or heart of the person and considers what its audience would think.

    For instance, some men in Scotland wear a kilt. In countries, such as the USA, this would be deemed inappropriate clothing, and perhaps even something a woman would wear. Yet, no man would dare say this to a Scottish man, lest they offend and receive their just due reward. So, to say, a man can not wear something like a kilt, would be to assume God made such a prohibition. In Scotland, it is normal. In other countries, it may not be. As Paul said, "unto a Jew I become as a Jew... To them that are without law, as without law".

    So, the point is women are to be humble in dress toward their husbands, not loud and riotous, without self-control, or with expensive and flashy attire. So, lets say a Queen wore something considered expensive apparel, would this make her immodest? I do not believe so, because she is actually expected to wear such clothing and modesty for her, would be as the greek says, namely, "apparel of good taste that is well arranged, not trying to show yourself as important". So, a queen should consider apparel that would be well arranged, good taste, yet not trying to show herself as more important than others (simple, not extravagent or expensive in perception). Further, she is to show herself as reverant and self-controlled, not loud or rebellious. So, it is dependant on your circumstances, and the message you are giving to other people.

    On the topic of jewelry and fine dress, you find the Bible full of righteous examples of people using such things:
    1. "And I asked her, and said, whose daughter art thou? And she said, the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bare unto him: and I put the earring upon her face, and the bracelets upon her hands. And I bowed down my head, and worshipped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, which had led me in the right way to take my master's brother's daughter unto his son." - Gen 24:47-48
    2. "And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck..." - Gen 41:42
    3. "As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear." - Proverbs 25:12
    4. "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels." - Isaiah 61:10
    5. "Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number." - Jeremiah 2:32
    6. "I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom." - Ezek 16:11-13
    7. "But the father said to his servants, bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand." - Luke 15:22

    Looking at the high priest and his levitical clothing, you see use of jewels on the turban, the breastplate, and the ephod, etc. If God had a problem with jewels and expensive clothing, he would not be putting it on the man who is represent his people and to enter the Holy of Holies. So, the point is not the value of the clothes, but what you are conveying to those around you. The priest is to represent his people and to be perfect before God. The design or dress of the high priest had symbolism in the concept of humbleness, atonement and judgement. In the New Testament when it discusses how woman should dress, the idea is not to attract the wrong attention or give the wrong message to people and to avoid pride and self focus on outer beauty. So it is a matter of the heart. God's commandments tend to deal more with the heart, while man made commandments tend to deal more with the outer appearance and outer actions.

    Regarding how a woman's modesty relates to the topic of nudity, I would say, nudity is something that has its place and time. You have to ask yourself this question, "Is there any time in which it is normal to be nude?" One would likely consider such situations as bathing, maybe sleeping in private, having sex with your husband, etc. So, you can not apply the "modest apparel" command to situations that would warrant nudity and you can not be hypocritical and apply it to situations you don't like, while not applying it to situations you do like. For instance, you may think it is OK to bathe nude, but you may consider it sinful to have sex, in daylight, nude. Such a viewpoint is your opinion and you can not apply the "modest apparel" to the sex situation and not the bathing situation, being hypocritical.

    Further, there are situations that you would likely deem uncommon or not a time to be nude, that the Bible and other people would consider situations to be nude. For instance, King Saul actually prophesied naked before the prophet Samuel, for a complete day and night! Now, to most people, this would seem very "immodest", however, as you can see, this was commonplace with prophets, as the people said, "[Is] Saul also among the prophets?" So, there are situations where nudity is justified and "modest apparel" would not apply. Generally, nudity is associated with shame, and sometimes prophets would show nudity to mirror the people's shame before God. In this case, where King Saul is naked for a full day and night, it does not say he is doing this for any shame related reasons. Nudity is often tied to "shame", "sex", or "prophecy". So, being nude in public is often a sign of some sort (shame, prophecy, etc), atleast in the Old Testament, as some nations defeated in battle were paraded naked. In the Garden of Eden we find Adam and Eve naked and hiding, because they were afraid (and ashamed). We see one instance where David danced unto the Lord atleast in a manner, for which those who didn't like him, were able to say he was not "modest" in their sight (though, not naked). Ironically, David while in the joy of the Lord, actually said he would become more base, to prove a point (verse 22). What did he mean? - I am not sure, but he said his "maidservants ... of them shall I be had in honour." Just a guess - He was going to dance more for them and that they are not so high-minded, as to judge. ". So, the point is the message you are giving.. So, nudity is defined by scripture, not by people's beliefs. And it is clear, there are situations in the Bible, where someone is naked and people today would assume it is evil or wrong. A brutally honest question for you, "If you saw a man of God, one you revered, naked, prophesying, would you assume he is insane or sinning?" Like I said, there are situations which many would judge hastily, without considering what the Bible says. I am not saying go do such a thing, but obviously, we have to put our preconceived notions aside and let scripture speak for itself.

    By modest apparel, it is refering to the message you are conveying. Looking at the greek definition of "modest apparel" again, it is, "apparel of good taste that is well arranged, not trying to show yourself as important". This modest apparel would be utilized in most of your activities in life (secular, religious, etc). However, there are actually situations where less clothing conveys the right message (swimming, displaying the human form, etc). Could a regular beach be something acceptable in God's sight, with all those swimsuits and bikinis? It is hard to know from scripture, as it is not discussed in depth in scripture (lust of eyes factor discussed here). So, to assume it is a sin, would be an assumption, not something based in scripture, as not all situations call for "modest apparel". Probably the closest thing to a beach for swimming would be the Apostle Peter, partially nude, on his fishing boat, seeing the Lord Jesus at shore and swimming to him. I am guessing the Apostle Peter was wearing something equivelant to a bathing suit, as it would lend to his occupation. So, atleast, you could say a regular beach wear or common boat wear would be deemed permissible.

    Regarding a nude picture of a woman, is she sending the wrong message or sinning? When making a nude photo, she is not working in secular or religious society, but rather for beauty and/or eroticism (such as seen in the Song of Solomon). Would doing such a thing be sinful automatically, because of Matthew 5:27-28? A majority of people would assume so, however, I have recently posted an article about Matthew 5:27-28 here, challenging the common interpretation of this scripture, harmonizing it with the Old Testament. You could have various opinions in this gray area. Some would say, it is a sin in all sexual circumstances, others would say it is a sin only if it is not art, while others would have a more controversial viewpoint of thinking it is not a sin, as long as your witness is intact. For instance, consider also nudity for medical purposes. What about a medical textbook showing various regions of a nude anatomical body for medical purposes? Are these sketches or photos immodest? Again, it has to do with the message you are giving and what you are conveying to your audience, as that is the point of 1 Timothy 2:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-5 . Putting a nude picture in the lime light can be unwise, particularly if it can be identified with you and cause you problems within your own life or represents Christianity in a bad light. But, does that mean every form of nudity would cause damage or bring shame on Jesus Christ? As currently, most non-Christians, assume Christians are rather sex-negative, so what would be a method in which to represent Christianity in the right light on this topic? If God can put the Song of Solomon in the Bible, perhaps not all forms of eroticism and nudity is sinful? Of course, I should just fall in line with most and say it is a sin? Maybe Romans 2 or Matthew 7 is relevant to such a discussion?

    Let us not be hypocritical in our judgements or make a standard God did not set. Should I say to those who have a different interpretation, you will goto Hell for your viewpoint? Or, should I be a little more open minded and not ignore such things that are enigmas in scripture? Can you deny God telling a prophet to be nude for 3 years? Or declare the Harlot Rahab to be a sinner? Or maybe Sampson, are you ready to judge him for harlotry and say he is in Hell? What about King Solomon with his erotic laden text of the Song of Solomon? Did you know, it is highly likely King Solomon wrote more than one of these erotic stories (potentially a large amount, as he wrote 1005 songs)? What would you think of a Christian doing that today? If a Christian wrote several erotic stories for people to read and it even had nude depictions of men and women, I would have to ask you, where is the sin? Did not King Solomon do basically the same thing? How about King Solomon for dressing in expensive apparel and living in luxury? Or John the Baptist wearing animal skin and eating locusts and wild honey? Should we say Jesus was a drunk and accompanies sinners, like the pharisees did? How about avoiding the woman at the well, for being such an adulterer? Maybe, those who do not dress the same as us, should we judge them by outer appearance, rather than looking upon the heart? What do you say to all of these things? Am I crazy, or am I making a valid point?

    I am not saying, change your standards. What I am saying is do not assume your standards are the only ones that are biblical and also test your standards in light of scripture. As you can see above, you can not define "modesty" by your own opinion, but rather, you should seek out the meaning based on the original languages in scripture. Dresses did not even exist in Jesus' time, neither did pants for men. There is a commandment for men not to dress as women and vice versa. So, is a Scottish man required to wear pants? Or should we go "old school" and wear a garment like Jesus wore? I believe the standard is based on what culture around you accepts as moral, reverent and self-controlled. In Arabia, you could be stoned for wearing a dress, so you should consider your audience, rather than your local church's teaching. In America, wearing a burka could get you in trouble with your driver's license picture ID. Do you see my point? The standard is not a laundry list of what to do and not do with apparel (sleeve length, dress length, beards, suits, etc), but rather, what is reverent and self-controled per the audience around you.



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