CHRISTIAN ATTIRE
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

modesty molly.jpg

Several years ago, I was passing by a local video rental when one poster in particular caught my attention. It featured a new release titled, “The Devil Wears Prada”. The name, however, was far more suggestive than may be realized. I began to ponder on it and several thoughts came to mind. It's interesting that the world proudly identifies the kingpin of the fashion industry as Satan. Prada, like many other clothing outfitters, thrives on name brand recognition and makes its millions simply by appealing to the latest trends in fashion.

 

But why is fashion such a popular hit? And why does it seem so appealing? Is it because something in all of us craves prestige and glamour? After all, it is said that “with style comes status” and perhaps that's true. Throughout history, clothing has been used to determine class and rank in society. Depending on your attire, you will make an impression about who you are or what you aspire to be. Your choice of clothing is a powerful tool that can be used to provoke the admiration and respect of others. Yet there’s no mistaking the spiritual influences permeating such practice or that the Bible strictly condemns it:

 

"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 Jn. 2:16).

"...for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Lke 16:15).

The above verses clearly demonstrate that the world is driven by lust and pride. Ordinarily, the carnal man is pleasure seeking and attracted to such things as exotic cars, fancy clothing, nice homes, vacations, cruises, and choice properties. This carnal attraction is what the Bible calls "lust". But lust is a compacted word that denotes covetousness, greed, and idolatry. No doubt all three of these empower and propel the fashion craze. Then there's sexual lust, which can easily consume us. The fact that much of our modern apparel is tailored to complement the body in a sexy manner should provoke a healthy degree of concern among Christians. There is simply no denying the sensual and provocative forms of dress promoted everywhere as the new norm. And the apparent aim of those controlling the fashion industry is to arouse our sexual appetite through the use of skimpy clothing. The obvious appeal to the “lust of the flesh”, the “lust of the eyes”, and the “pride of life” is reason enough to draw a line in the “sand” when it comes to dress. And if it's pride that motivates us to distinguish ourselves so prominently in the area of style that too needs to be properly considered.

 

HOW SHALL WE DRESS?

By Harold S. Martin (in blue)

So how should God’s people dress? Is there any prescribed way for the Christian to adorn his or her body? If we approach the New Testament with the idea that we are going to find in it a set of dress regulations with the material and the pattern all described, we are bound for disappointment. It is not there. The Bible lays down great principles on the matter of dress just as it does in many other areas of the Christian life. For example, the Bible does not specifically say that we must stop at a stop sign. Is it wrong not to stop then? And the answer is, yes—it is wrong not to stop. It is wrong, not only because we might get caught, but also because there is a principle in the Bible which says that we should obey the state authorities. And they say we shall stop, and therefore in obedience to this divine principle in the Bible, we are to stop. The Word of God does not specifically tell what color clothes to wear, the preferable style, or whether a business suit and tie are more appropriate than jeans and work trousers, and so on—but yet the fundamental principles are there and they behoove our attention and careful research.

 

Women

As established previously, the cultural norms of dress are drifting ever further from modesty and decency and gravitating increasingly closer toward sexual promiscuity. So where does the Christian woman draw the line? At what point is it decided that the trend has gone too far? And more specifically, how much of the feminine anatomy should be concealed or revealed? These are all very important questions that I hope to address in the following sections. But first, it's important to realize that apostle Paul gave some pretty specific guidelines of dress to the early Church. To see this for yourself, notice the following verse:

 

"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; but which becometh women professing godliness with good works" (1 Tim 2:9-10).

 

The following section was borrowed from an online source (in blue).

In describing the mode of dress appropriate for Christian women, the apostle Paul exhorts them to dress “modestly” with “shamefacedness and sobriety”. Then he goes on to contrast modest dress with good deeds and true worship of God (1 Tim 2:9–10).

 

Modesty in the way we dress is not just for the church building; it is to be the standard for all Christians at all times. The key to understanding what constitutes modesty in dress is to examine the attitudes and intents of the heart. Those whose hearts are inclined toward God will make every effort to dress modestly, decently, and appropriately. Those whose hearts are inclined toward self will dress in a manner designed to draw attention to themselves with little or no regard for the consequences to themselves or others. A godly woman, however, endeavors to do everything with a “God-ward” perspective. She knows that God wants His people to be concerned for His glory and the spiritual state of their brothers and sisters in Christ. If a woman professes to be a Christian yet she dresses in a way that will unduly draw attention to her body, she is a poor witness of the One who bought her soul by dying for her on the cross. She is forgetting that her body has been redeemed by Christ and is now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19–20). She is telling the world that she determines her own worth on a purely physical basis and that her attractiveness depends on how much of her body she reveals to them. Further, by dressing in an immodest fashion, displaying her body for men to lust after, she causes her brothers in Christ to sin, something condemned by God (Matthew 5:27– 29).

 

The Scripture says that we are to dress modestly, but what exactly does that mean in modern society? Does a woman have to be covered from head to toe? There are cults and religions in the world that demand this of women. But is that the biblical meaning of modesty? Again, we have to go back to the matter of the attitudes of the heart. Proverbs 7:10 mentions a woman “dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent”—here, the woman’s heart condition is displayed by her manner of dress. If a woman’s heart is inclined toward godliness, she will wear clothing that is neither provocative nor revealing in public, clothing that does not reflect negatively upon her personal testimony as a child of God. Everyone else in her circle may be dressing immodestly, but she resists the temptation to go along with the crowd. She avoids clothing designed to draw attention to her body and cause men to lust, for she is wise enough to know that that type of attention only cheapens her. The idea of causing men to sin against God because of her dress is abhorrent to her because she seeks to love and honor God and wants others to do the same. Modesty in dress reveals a modesty and godliness of the heart, attitudes that should be the desire of all women (and men) who live to please and honor God.

 

(A) Modest Apparel

In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul uses the phrase “modest apparel” to describe proper female attire. But to understand the meaning of this phrase we must consult the original Greek. The word modest is translated into the Greek as kosmios and simply means orderly, modest, sensible, or decent. Apparel, however, is a bit more significant in terms of its meaning. The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as follows:

 

Strong’s NT 2689: Apparel καταστολή (katastole)

1. properly, a lowering, letting down

2. in Biblical Greek, a garment let down

 

Now it’s important to note that apparel (Greek: katastole) is actually a compound word comprised of a preposition (kata) and a noun (stole). Kata simply refers to something that is “let down” or “lowered”, like a garment lowered from the shoulders, while stole was a floor-length robe worn by many ancient Romans. Notice:

 

Strong’s #2596 (kata)

Definition: down

Original Word: κατά

Part of Speech: preposition

Transliteration: kata

Phonetic Spelling: (kat-ah')

Short Definition: down from

General Meaning: against, down from

 

Strong’s #4749 (stolḗ) A long, flowing robe worn by the elite (people of high station, wealth). "4749 (stolḗ) is a long robe, worn by the upper classes in the east" (Souter), "especially flowing raiment, a festal robe" (A-S).

 

Stola: A floor-length dress with straps (or sometimes, long sleeves) that is worn over a tunic. —Wikipedia

 

History: The stola was a staple of fashion in ancient Rome spanning from the early Roman Republic through the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire into the first millennium. It was a long, pleated dress, worn over an undergarment called a tunic or tunica intima (the Roman version of a slip). —Wikipedia

 

So from the above information, we can easily observe a common consensus in respect to the definition of katastole. What we find is that katastole is the actual name for a specific type of garment.

 

But let's return now to our examination of the phrase “modest apparel”. To underscore the uniqueness of this phrase, notice the following excerpt from Adam Clark's classic Bible commentary:

 

“'That women adorn themselves in modest apparel’– Και τας γυναικας ες καταστολη κοσμιω …. The apostle seems to refer here to different parts of the Grecian and Roman dress. The στολη, stola, seems to have been originally very simple. It was a long piece of cloth, doubled in the middle, and sewed up on both sides, leaving room only for the arms; at the top, a piece was cut out, or a slit made, through which the head passed. It hung down to the feet, both before and behind, and was girded with the zona round the body, just under the breasts. It was sometimes made with, sometimes without, sleeves; and, that it might sit the better, it was gathered on each shoulder with a band or buckle. Some of the Greek women wore them open on each side, from the bottom up above the knee, so as to discover a part of the thigh. These were termed φαινομηριδες, showers (discoverers) of the thigh; but it was, in general, only young girls or immodest women who wore them thus.

 

“The καταστολη seems to have been the same as the pallium or mantle, which, being made nearly in the form of the stola, hung down to the waist, both in back and front, was gathered on the shoulder with a band or buckle, had a hole or slit at top for the head to pass through, and hung loosely over the stola, without being confined by the zona or girdle. Representations of these dresses may be seen in Lens’ Costume des Peuples de l’Antiquité, fig. 11, 12, 13, and 16. A more modest and becoming dress than the Grecian was never invented; it was, in a great measure, revived in England about the year 1805, and in it, simplicity, decency, and elegance were united; but it soon gave place to another mode, in which frippery and nonsense once more prevailed. It was too rational to last long; and too much like religious simplicity to be suffered in a land of shadows, and a world of painted outsides.”

 

With all of the above in mind, here are some pertinent points to consider in relation to katastole:

 

• The English word “apparel” is a poor generic translation of katastole.

• Katastole is a very specific description of attire and refers to the Roman stola.

• The above references describe it as a long flowing robe or garment extending to the floor.

• Katastole is so specialized that it only occurs *ONCE* in the entire New Testament.

 

• 1 Timothy 2:9 contrasts katastole with its generic Greek counterpart himatismos. In this passage, katastole describes a specific kind of garment, while himatismos is generically applied to all clothing. For example, himatismos is translated into English as “array”—"not with costly array". Paul advises the women of the Church to dress in “modest apparel” (katastole), but not in costly clothing (himatismos).

• The New Testament Greek provides several instances where clothing is described in general terms, like the following:

 

1. array—himatismos (1 Tim. 2:10)

2. raiment—esthes (Jas. 2:2)

3. garment—himation (Mar. 5:27)

4. clothing—enduma (Mat. 7:15)

 

If Paul was describing a generic form of dress, he could have chosen any of the above when teaching the appropriate mode of clothing for women…but he didn’t.

 

• If we transliterate the phrase “modest apparel”, 1 Timothy 2:9 would read like this: In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in decent (or orderly) long flowing garments, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

 

In summary of the above section, we can be sure of the following. Paul was concerned for the wellbeing of the Church. He was concerned that the proper standard of holiness would not be compromised by immodest dress. And for this reason, he advised women to dress themselves in modest flowing garments. We can assume he did so in order to eliminate sexual impropriety. After all, few will deny the fact that men are sexually aroused by their eyes and that women dressed in a promiscuous manner only emphasize that tendency. 

 

(B) Jewelry

In spite of the clear instruction located in 1 Timothy 2:9, some Christians will still argue that apostle Paul was not making a prohibition against the wearing of jewelry. Instead, they believe Paul was merely advising against placing outer adornment and ornaments ahead of spiritual virtue. But this is only partially true. And while we may seek to debate the exact meaning of Paul's instruction, there is still enough evidence elsewhere in the Scriptures to suggest that a Christian should not wear jewelry for the sake of decorating their body. To understand why, please notice the following biblical principles that condemn this practice:

 

Moderation & Humility

The Old Testament permitted the obvious expression of opulence in areas of dress, material possession, and property. Hardly does it condemn those who wear their wealth visibly or flaunt their riches. But the New Testament holds us to a much higher standard. The Christian is supposed to preference the poor (Mat. 20:16; Luk. 14:13; 1 Cor. 1:27; Jas. 2:5), and to practice discretion (1 Tim. 2:9-10;1 Pet. 3:3-4), moderation (Php. 4:5), and humility— not doing anything for “vainglory” (Php. 2:3).

Equality

The New Testament Spirit promotes equality, not social status (Jas. 2:2). Jewelry has always been a symbol of the latter.

 

Modesty

The opposite of modesty is vanity. The Bible encourages the attitude of modesty but condemns vanity: "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way" (Psa. 119:37). Vain people are often absorbed with superficial things such as outward appearance and self-promotion (Eph. 4:17; 1 Pet. 1:18).

 

Financial Thriftiness

Jesus instructed the rich young ruler to sell all of his excess possessions in order to give to the poor (Mat. 19:21). Jewelry is a waste of money that could have otherwise been spent on a better cause.

 

Christian Piety

Idolatry is the very opposite of piety. While the world is obsessed with wealth and luxury, Christian piety is the complete opposite. It rejects the vain lifestyle of materialism by occupying itself with spiritual pursuits. As followers of Christ, it is important to realize that the world’s ambitions are in conflict with God and that the things often glorified by man are an abomination to Him: "…for that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luk 16:15). Based on these principles, I would greatly encourage Believers to question their motives for wearing jewelry. In doing so, we may discover this practice to be not only vain, but also costly and emblematic of the world’s idolatry.

 

(C) Makeup

For the same reasons covered earlier in our examination of jewelry, it is clear that the New Testament would hardly condone the wearing of makeup. In fact, even the Old Testament would seem to condemn it. Take for instance the story of Queen Jezebel, the high priestess of Baal, who painted her face prior to meeting Jehu when he came to enact the wrath of God upon the house of Ahab (2 Kin. 9:30). This was the mark of her pagan identity and she sought to disarm him with her status. The painting of the face with makeup is not becoming for a woman of godly character. Rather, it speaks of pride and vanity. Furthermore, makeup is a form of deception and represents dissatisfaction with one's appearance. Women wear makeup to either conceal and exaggerate their true looks or to create false beauty. They do this because they are dissatisfied with their natural God given appearance. How sad!

 

Notice what the 1956 edition of Encyclopedia Americana states in regards to makeup:

 

“The last two decades have seen make-up progress from its early category of woman’s conceit to become an art and an integral part of feminine beauty and psychology. Chief credit for this about-face and the widespread use of cosmetics should go to the motion picture industry, which set new standards of beauty and…brought new products and principles of application and use to the world’s women” (Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 18, 1956 Edit., p. 157).

 

(D) “Braided” Hair

"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair…" (1 Tim. 2:9).

 

Paul’s instruction pertaining to braided hair is often misunderstood. The type of braid referred to in the above passage is very distinct from the common braid used today by women and girls. In fact, the braid in Paul's day is known as a Flavian braid and was only present in the ancient Roman-Grecian world. It has since become extinct. A Flavian braid involved weaving colored strands of wool and jewelry into the hair. It was a rather expensive ordeal handled by special servants that only the wealthy could afford. To better understand the Flavian braid, notice the following quote from Wikipedia:

 

“During the Flavian period (79-81 CE), the daughter of Roman Emperor Titus, Julia, created lavish up-dos consisting of wire frames, and twisted braids and curls studded with jewelry of every kind. These elaborate hairstyles eventually became popular amongst wealthy Roman women and became even more dramatic in later Roman periods. The more elaborate the style, the more it indicated a woman’s wealth and available leisure time.”

 

So it's easy to see why Paul would condemn this practice. Clearly, he was attempting to curb certain women from flaunting their Flavian braids in a gross show of flamboyance. After all, how could equality exist in the Body of Christ if some women were allowed to display their “wealth to the maximum” around the poor members of the Church? Paul’s advice here is certainly appropriate.

 

Comparing 1 Timothy 2:9-10 with 1 Peter 3:3-4

1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3 contain very similar instruction pertaining to women's external appearance. Yet the two also differ from each other. For instance, Peter's text is meant to instruct Christian women on the matter of godly behavior, while Paul's is meant to provide specific guidelines for proper dress. Nevertheless, it is tempting for Christians to use Peter’s instruction on women’s behavior in order to invalidate Paul’s guidelines on modesty. But to better appreciate the differences and similarities between these two texts, let's examine them individually, starting with Peter's:

 

"Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 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" (1 Pet. 3:3-4).

 

Peter starts out by warning women not to be excessively concerned with their physical looks. He does so while pointing to the basic elements of outward appearance such as the “plaiting of the hair” and “putting on of apparel.” Now truly this is every woman’s weakness. But while society is obsessed with physical appearance, Christian women should have a different focus. Their attention should be concentrated on character and spiritual things, rather than physical beauty. So it is clear that Peter's intention is not to condone or condemn any of the cited examples of outward adornment. What he does, instead, is instruct women to carefully prioritize their lifestyle around godly virtues, not merely external appearance.

 

But what about Paul’s instruction? Let’s take a closer look at what he has to say: "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; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (1 Tim. 2:9- 10).

 

As usual, Paul’s instruction is more comprehensive but shares a common theme with Peter’s--external appearance and godly character. Paul is also more specific and gives greater attention to detail. Not only does he advise women to prioritize matters of inner beauty (such as godly character), but he goes a step further by providing clear guidelines on women's modest dress. To better interpret Paul’s message, here’s a simple, but accurate paraphrase of the text:

 

“I would have women dress themselves in modest long garments, with propriety and sobriety, not with extravagant braided hair or gold or pearls or extremely expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

 

We should carefully note that Paul’s instruction is highly specific and meant to condemn the following pagan practices:

 

(1) immodest attire

(2) Flavian braided hair

(3) jewelry

(4) expensive clothing (such as name brand apparel and fashionable dress)

 

So as tempting as it may be, Peter's instruction is not to be superimposed upon Paul's, nor should we ignore the moral guidelines found in either of their valuable teachings.

 

Women’s Dress Summarized

The teaching of modesty is also a lesson in chastity and respect. Modest women are more likely to remain chaste while respecting the weaknesses of the men around them. Many careless women have been the cause of moral failure in society even though the motive may not have been intentional. That's why this teaching is so paramount. It represents the moral code of a godly culture and must be therefore incorporated into every Christian home and Church.

 

Now based on our study so far, here’s a summary description of what the Scriptures teach in regards to the proper standard of dress for women:

 

Appropriately Concealed:

Since the woman’s body was designed by God to be sexually appealing, it needs to be appropriately concealed in order to avoid arousing the natural tendencies of men. Loose blouses over dresses or skirts best achieve this objective. Dresses or skirts that are short (above the ankles), tight-fitting, thin, lownecked, sleeveless, and in any way designed to accentuate the female form are a disgrace and do nothing more than provoke men to lust. Low necks, tight dresses, slit skirts, and bare shoulders may be the order of the day in our society, but they do not promote God’s Kingdom.

 

Pants are another issue to consider. They shouldn't be worn by women because they fail the standard of modesty described in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 (long robe-like garments). Neither do they comply with God’s ruling in Deuteronomy 22:5, which prohibits cross-dressing.

 

Modest & Simple:

Following the latest trends and styles is neither practical, nor modest. And while women are not required to dress distastefully or in an unattractive manner, they should still tailor their wardrobe to be fairly simple and non-glamorous. 

 

We warn against stylish and trendy clothing because more than anything else they show that our pursuits are superficial and vain, rather than spiritual. Jewelry and expensive clothing is a sure way to rack up status and prominence in society, but not so in God's Kingdom. It only creates a greater rift between the rich and the poor in the Body of Christ, and this is contrary to the teaching of equality and humility.

 

Beautiful on the Inside:

Godly women are adorned with good character, virtue, and wholesome pursuits. They are discrete and sensible. They know how to avoid flirtatious behaviour and immoral conduct. And a woman that is beautiful on the inside is content with her natural outward appearance. Therefore she does not desire to exaggerate her looks or misrepresent her appearance with makeup.

 

Men

To be entirely fair, much of the same dress standards that apply to women also apply to men. The Christian man avoids appearing publicly in shorts; he keeps his shirt on his back; and is careful to see that his whole family guards purity by being modestly attired.

 

Sadly, because society has fallen to such a degenerate level, homsexuality is at an all time high and men are becoming increasingly more attracted to each other. As a result, this changes the dynamic of male modesty. Then there's the fact that women are also changing their natural tendencies. Much like men, they are finding themselves "turned on" more frequently by visual stimulus. Unfortunately, these dire effects can be blamed on the hyper sexual environment created by the media. So what does this all mean? It means that men need to be extra cautious in areas of dress and modesty, perhaps much more so than in the past.

 

Consider also the recent promotion of form-fitting clothing for men. Obviously, the intention of the clothing industry is to normalize neuter gender-wear so that both men and women can share the same clothing. This movement is striving to make men more feminine and women more masculine in direct variance to God’s ruling in Deuteronomy 22:5, which prohibits cross-dressing. For this reason, it's important for men to shun tight-fitting pants and tops and stick instead with normal fitting clothing.

 

Now in regards to men’s shorts, we must consider the evidence in Exodus 28. Old Testament priests were required to cover their “nakedness”, which the Scriptures define as follows:

 

"And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach" (Exodus 28:42).

 

From the above passage, we discover that Old Testament priests wore "linen breeches" or underwear to cover the space between their loins (groin area) and thighs. So if this was the area concealed by the ancient equivalent to underwear, how can we possibly consider it appropriate to wear men's shorts in public? Also, consider the fact that the New Testament refers to the Christian as a type of priest (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6). If so, Christian men should endeavour to follow the instruction in Exodus 28 and be covered just as sufficiently. Something to consider...

 

CONCLUSION

By Harold S. Martin

Why must we follow the fashions of the day? Suppose we are peculiar, what of it? It would be a thousand times better to retain our modesty and please God, than to adopt a manner of dress that borders on the immoral. There must be a dividing line between the Christian and the world. You say, “But no one is going to tell me what kind of clothes to wear.” Yet every one of us (consciously or unconsciously) dresses according to someone’s pattern. We either get our pattern of dress from the Word of God (as understood by godly men and women), or we get it from the world and worldly-minded people. Whatever fashion decrees, no matter how ridiculous or how immodest it is, that’s the goddess that many are worshiping, and this world is dictating what to wear. Never say, “No one is going to tell me what kind of clothes to wear.” Someone is telling you—never forget that. 

 

In Christ,

JA