Most of my writings are inspired by real-life events. I feel somewhat akin to comedians who routinely say, “I don’t have to try to come up with material. I live, things happen, I make jokes about it.” Sometimes it seems this also is how God teaches us things – how events of life bring about understanding, or at least it brings about questions and we must go seeking answers.

Recently, as my children grow (two daughters) the subject of modesty comes up from time to time. Some influences from our past, some just natural curiosity of a growing mind. And truth be told, as at rather of daughters, I want them to learn modesty, but real true modesty, not legalism, guilt, and shame that comes from legalsim. So how do you explain a topic from a Biblical perspective, that does not have much outline or definition in Scripture (Modesty has little- Holiness is well defined), mix it with the balance of Grace, AND with the desire to be pleasing to God?

Defining the Word

Well – for starters, let’s look at the word, modest, and modesty. For being a topic of damning proportions in certain denominations and groups, the word modest is found only once in Scripture, in certain translations like my go-to, the English Standard Version (ESV), and a couple others such as King James Version. It’s absent in most and replaced with words like respectable.

That lack of the word being found does not negate its value and importance, but it’s a clue into how widespread, talked about, and big of an ‘issue’ it was to the early church. Other topics receive far more attention, and for good reasons.

“likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” (1Ti 2:9 ESV)

The word here for respectable and/or modest is kosmios, which in the Strong dictionary is word #G2887, meaning, in its primary sense (context) orderly, that is decorous. We can thus read this as,

“Likewise also that women should adorn themselves orderly, of good decorum”.

The word kosmios comes from the Greek (#G2889) kosmos which quite literally means an orderly arrangement. We might say something today like, “God ordered the universe/world (cosmos) to his liking.”

This brings up some interesting principles to the topic of modesty, that it is connected to the arrangement of the cosmos. The full Strong definition of kosmos says this;

orderly arrangement, that is, decoration; by implication the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively [morally]): – adorning, world.

As God is a God of order, and not chaos, he thus wants His people to live in order. And under the context of modesty in physical appearance, order, and carefulness is His desire. Modesty then is the care taken to order one’s self, one’s appearance, and one’s behavior, so that it may not appear chaotic, or against the nature of God’s creation.

The problem with using 1 Timothy 2 as a blanket statement against particular articles of clothing is that it actually translates and addresses itself. For instance, if the verse simply stated, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves modestly…” we would be a little more open to interpretation and meaning. Yet, and thankfully, Paul didn’t leave it up to the gamble. For the entire verse says;

“likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” (1Ti 2:9 ESV)

Paul goes on to say, “Do this, and don’t do that!” And here, the ‘that’ is defined as “not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.

Furthermore – the second usage of ‘modesty’ here, where it says “with modesty and self-control” is translated as ‘shamefacedness’ in many other translations and that word is quite important to the culture of the day and times this was written.

The word shamefacedness comes from the Greek aidōs (Strong #G127) which means bashfulness (towards men) or reverenceIn reading many commentaries of the day, it was the custom that women were in the ‘background’, and not to be gaudy, and flashy, and thus, steal the attention and to supersede men. For instance, Matthew Henry reads as such;

Here is a charge, that women who profess the Christian religion should be modest, sober, silent, and submissive, as becomes their place. 1. They must be very modest in their apparel, not affecting gaudiness, gaiety, or costliness (you may read the vanity of a person’s mind in the gaiety and gaudiness of his habit), because they have better ornaments with which they should adorn themselves, with good works.

This is not some total condemnation of wearing jewelry or certain types of clothing as some have perverted it so, rather, it is certainly an inspirational command that the beautiful marks of a woman are in her hospitality, generosity, and ‘good works’.

And finally, this ‘modest apparel’ encompasses so much more than clothing and is manifest more so in the person’s manner of speech and behavior.

What was Paul dealing with in regards to Modesty?

Similar to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11, the context of all these passages have to do with public worship. Going to church so to speak. And while of course, these commandments are profitable, it’s most unfortunate to see them perverted into things they are not, such as lifestyle commandments that are open to any interpretation.

For instance, I’ve written extensively about Paul’s conversation in 1 Corinthians 11, to which the same group that uses 1 Timothy 2 to prove a woman cannot wear pants to say that woman also cannot cut their hair. Ever. This completely conflates the conversation and passages and ignores the context in both regards.

Paul begins 1 Timothy 2:9 with ‘likewise,‘ – leaving the question, like what?

Prayer and Public Service. Church.

Verse 8 says, “I desire then that in every place men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;”, and verse 11-12 states, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

Joseph Benson’s commentary quickly and succinctly sums up the context of these passages with the culture of the day;

Let the women learn in silence — Let every woman receive instruction in religious matters from the men in silence, in your public assemblies; with all subjection — With becoming submission to the other sex, neither teaching nor asking questions there. I suffer not a woman to teach — Namely, publicly; nor to usurp authority over the man — Which she might seem to do if she officiated under the character of a public teacher.

You see – modesty here, and the concept of ‘headship’ and ‘coverings’ from 1 Corinthians 11 is explicitly tied to Church or Synagogue, and more specifically, officiating and teaching in public assemblies. In the culture of the day, men were the ‘authorities’, and women were not to usurp that authority.

This could be done in many ways, one such way that Paul was dealing with was that women would adorn themselves in ways that would draw much attention – and it wasn’t even implying sexuality here, not even in a passing way – as to draw the attention of suitors.

Conclusion

I have absolutely no doubt that some Apostolic/Oneness apologetics will find this and make extra-biblical claims about a dress standard, makeup, jewelry, and without a doubt, Jezebel will be named. And that’ just fine – they are free to believe in their deceptions. What is most important, however, is the full context of the Word, Rightly Divided as is the premise and purpose of this page and post.

While ALL Scripture, I believe, is given by inspiration, and is profitable, and it has a purpose for reproof, rebuke, and exhortation, it must also carefully be understood and used in its right place and purpose. It’s clear by context and word definitions, and grammar, that Paul was not condemning particular articles of clothing, he was not condemning having braided hair, nor was he condemning wearing nice clothing.

Paul was clearly teaching a principle he held to firmly, in his time and culture, that during public assemblies, church, that women were not to usurp men’s authority, and the ways in which they did that at those times was to stray from cultural norms, such as head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11. They walked in public rebellion rather than in submission.

And to them, modesty had nothing to do with trimming an inch of split ends, or short vs. long sleeve shirts, or pants vs. dresses (pants and dresses weren’t even invented then…) Modesty was decorum – it was having controlled and honorable character and behavior, and where that really matters, is in the public eye. Modesty was adorning oneself with order and carefulness, even as God ordered the universe – carefully.

There is little to no doubt, that while God looks on the heart, men still look on the body. And Christian men, and women, should be mindful of how they appear. Yet – to take these verses, or should I say one verse, on modesty, and to create entire doctrines of man around it, when the Bible does not clearly identify such things, is to distort the very Gospel itself, and to add to and to take away from the all-sufficient Word of God. We must be careful in all things.

 

Posted by dividinghisword

I am the father of two, husband of one, and lover of Christ! I simply seek to spread the Word of God unadulterated, not filtered by denominational interpretation. I have a degree in Theology from Texas Bible College but more so I have His Word!

2 Comments

  1. Another good lesson brother Ralph. This bears a striking resemblance to what the LORD told Samuel when selecting the next king of Israel at the house of Jesse. When the LORD chose David as Israel’s next king, Samuel was surprised. However, God told Samuel that He (God) does not look at the outward appearance or the height of a man’s stature. He looks at the heart.

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  2. Also, women were holding spiritual authority over the men in the cult of Cybel. This was, for the most part a cult of women. The women prayed to Cybel to save them through child birth also. The men that wanted to join this cult had to castrate themselves & dedicate their genitals to the “goddess” Cybel which made them eunichs for Cybel in this cult. So, having spiritual authority over men, by women, was forbidden in Paul’s day because it was worship to a false “God”. This cult was so prevalent that a royal edict was declared that this was a form of murdering yourself.

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