How Dare The Bible Tell Women How to Dress?! #303

Happy Saturday to you, dear friends! We find ourselves in a bad place right now on the Covid rollercoaster, so allow me to exhort you to seek God and pray for breakthrough and deliverance! Our church is currently fasting and praying this week, and I invite you to consider doing the same. God is on His throne, and the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective, says James 5.

Bible readings today include 2 Kings 4, Psalms 117-118, Daniel 9 and 2nd Timothy 2, which we will focus on. Controversial topic today, to be sure, and I sort of played up the headline and the big Bible question somewhat intentionally. As I have mentioned to you all before, the process behind the BRP is that I first write the episode (in WordPress) and then use it as a manuscript to build the episode on. This gives us good shownotes, I guess, because the blog entries for each episode are the transcript I use for recording. There is definitely some spontaneous and extemporaneous parts of the pod, but most of it is written in advance. I say that because we are at over 511,000 words so far this year, and, having just searched the page to make sure I’m not duplicating a previous episode – I am a little surprised to tell you that I’ve never used the word ‘modesty’ on this podcast. Well, we change that today. Paul has the audacity to give men some instructions in 1 Timothy 2, and also some instructions to women. I point that out, because some people don’t particularly like that the Bible has specific instructions written to women and wives and mothers, but I think we should balance that truth with the fact that the Bible also has specific instructions to men and husbands and fathers. Children, workers and bosses too, while we are singling people out…as well as pastors, deacons, teachers, and other categories of people too, I suppose. In this passage, men are told to:

Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. 

1 Timothy 2:8

Does this mean that men have a proclivity to be in conflict with each other, or a not to pray, or to get angry? I guess the answer to all of those questions would be ‘yes,’ but I am not sure the specified instruction means that women don’t have a problem with prayerlessness or anger or arguing, nor do I think that it means that the women  are fine to go ahead and argue and be angry, and they don’t have to pray. Instead, I think this is a specific instruction to men to be diligent and focused on praying together and doing so in great unity. The women of the church are also given instructions here, so let’s go ahead and read the passage and then discuss Paul’s commands.

What do you think of when I say the word, “modesty?” I suppose most people would think of frumpy clothing that covers everything up and isn’t racy or sexy in anyway. Of all of the times I have heard this passage taught, and there have been many, that has been the major focus in the message. “Women, don’t wear sexy clothes that make men stumble,” would be a good summation of 95% of the messages I’ve heard on this passage. Is that a pretty good boiled down version of what Paul is communicating here? I’m not actually sure it is – let’s study the grammar/etymology of the passage and the context of the passage to see if we can get the gist of what we are being commanded to do.

First, let’s take a look at the word that the translators of the CSB chose to render as ‘modesty.’ Merriam Webster tells us that in English, modesty means, “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities. 2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.” Propriety means the condition of being right, appropriate or fitting. Right away we see a difficulty: there is a bit of subjectivity to the word modest – what might be considered modest in one culture (for instance, loin clothes and toplessness among some indigenous peoples around the equator) might be considered quite improper among other groups. As well, we see that the definition of modesty doesn’t seem to immediately address the issue of dressing provocatively, or sexually – though there are certainly definitions of the word that include that quality. The Greek word that Paul uses here is “κόσμιος kósmios,” an adjective derived from the Greek word Kosmos, which means “the world.” Paul commands Bishops/overseers in 1 Timothy 3:2 to be kosmion, but not in the way they dress, but in all of the affairs of their lives: 

An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

1 Timothy 3:2

Kosmion is translated ‘respectable’ in this context. So – church leaders are told to be Kosmion and women are told to dress kosmion in Paul’s letter to Timothy here, and sadly this is the only two places in Scripture where this word is used, so we can’t look at multiple places to determine exactly how Paul intends to the word to be used. Happily, however, in our passage today, there is enough context that I believe we can very clearly determine precisely what Paul is commanding, and quite surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with dressing sexually – at least, that’s not the thrust of the command. Here’s the context again:

Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God.

1 Timothy 2:9-10

Interestingly, Paul seems to be commanding that Christian women not dress in elaborate or expensive or show-stopping clothes – that seems to be the thrust of what he is saying and commanding here. I have heard this passage preached many, many times – and again, the thrust of the interpretation is almost always about dressing in a way that doesn’t cause men to stumble, and I honestly find that strange. Not because it’s not true – men and women are called not to make each other stumble in the Word, but this passage seems to be more targeted at the wearing of very expensive, flashy, attention-getting, eye-catching, clothes and jewelry that are expensive, super-stylish and indicate a lavish lifestyle. I think that this passage therefore challenges the idol of fashion – so prominent in our culture today – and commands us to not spend a lot of money on making ourselves look awesome. So – would a woman in a super-revealing or skintight outfit run afoul of this command? I tend to believe it would, because it would draw so much attention to one’s self, and that seems to be the opposite of the thrust of this passage. Surprisingly, however, I believe a woman dressed in a $1000 dress with super-expensive shoes and jewelry would run EVEN MORE AFOUL of the meaning of this passage. And just like we mentioned earlier – in the same way that the women still should pray without anger and dispute also…the men of the church should not take this passage as a license to go out and buy super-expensive jeans and sneakers and jewelry and such.

Now, you might disagree with that concept, and be thinking – hey, I’ve got a lot of money, why can’t I dress nice? And the answer is that you can and should dress nicely – if nice means decently, appropriately and with propriety, but the Bible is here commanding us NOT to dress in a way that draws attention, trumpets massive amounts of wealth and invites envy. Again, this passage is a great challenge to a hair, and eye-brow and makeup obsessed culture…and it should be! We are not being told to go around in sackcloth and ashes, but we are also disallowed from doing the opposite – we are to be servants of Christ and not peacocks who are super-obsessed with beauty and appearance and having all eyes on us.

This passage is a reminder of God’s values:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

When we as Christians avoid preening, avoid spending copious amounts of time dressing to kill and impress, and avoid spending copious amounts of money to look our absolute best, then we are inviting humility into our lives and also promoting God’s values of looking at the inside rather than the outside.

Now, remember – I don’t make the rules, I just share them. By that I mean that I didn’t write this letter to Timothy, but Paul did under the direction and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You can feel free to ignore my opinion all day long, but I’m not giving you my opinion on this issue, but simply helping us to understand what the Word says grammatically and contextually. When we know that – we will know what to do, and what not to do.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.