Scriptural Teaching on Adornment and Dress

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By David K. Bernard

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“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broiled hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (I Timothy 2:9).

“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel” (I Peter 3:3).

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5).

Biblical Foundation

God desires for His people to display the spirit of holiness in outward appearance. Paul exhorted men and women to approach God in holiness, mentioning specific problems each sex had in his day. “Therefore I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or cost-ly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (I Timothy 2:8-10, NKJV). As stated in The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, “Paul was shrewd enough to know that a woman’s dress is a mirror of her mind. Outward ostentation is not in keeping with a prayerful and devout attitude. . . .Paul leaves no doubt as to what he means, by adding a list of prohibitions relating to outward adornment. . . .The plaiting of the hair was a usual feature of Jewish women’s hairstyle, and in the more elaborate types the plaits were fastened with ribbons and bows. . .Such tendencies to ostentatious adornment must be resisted by Christian women, and the same applies to the use of jewelry and costly clothing. In all these injunctions the dominating idea is the avoidance of anything designed merely to promote ostentation, with all its accompanying dangers.”1

To be modest means to be decent, chaste, proper, un-pretentious and pure, with particular reference to dress, speech, conduct and deportment. The word shamefaced-ness (KJV) or propriety (NKJV) comes from the Greek word aidos. The KJV of 1611 used the word shamefastness, meaning to be stedfast in modesty. According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, aidos means a sense of shame, modesty, and reverence. The word sobriety (KJV) or moderation (NKJV) comes from the Greek word sophrosune, which Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines as soundness of mind, sound judgment, habitual inner self-government with constant rein on all passions and desires. Thayer defined the adjective form as curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate.

Peter wrote, “Likewise you wives, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your beauty be that out-ward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands” (I Peter 3:1-5, NKJV). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says of the wife in I Peter 3:1-6, “She is not to seek attention by the artificialities of coiffure, jewelry, or ostentatious dress, but to be distinguished by that meek and quiet spirit so rare in the world and so prized by God. The wives of the patriarchs are seen as examples of this deportment (v. 5). Apparently gaudy and showy adornment is viewed as contrary to the spirit of self-effacement and modesty toward husbands. The same implication appears in I Timothy 2:9-12. Modesty of woman’s dress is associated with becoming modesty of deportment. Apparently Christian faith implies a different standard of dress and adornment from the world’ s.” 2

Paul and Peter did not oppose the simple braiding or arranging of the hair. Many women of the day arranged their hair lavishly and extravagantly. They often braided into their hair strands of pearls and silk cords with gold coins attached. Many wore ornamental crowns and headdresses. These passages, then, reject very elaborate hair arrangements as well as the use of ornaments in the hair. As Fred Wight stated, “Peter and Paul condemned an elaborate braiding of women’s hair. . .and the use of ornaments may possibly have been involved in the custom.”3

When we take Peter’s advice and look at the holy women of the Old Testament, we find that women should not wear clothing pertaining to men, and vice versa (Deuteronomy 22:5). Protestant theologian Rousas Rushdoony has said, “A fifth aspect of holiness has reference to dress. Transvestite dress is an ‘abomination’ to the Lord (Deuteronomy 22:5); it is a sterile and perverse hostility to God’s created order.”4 He cited Keil and Delitzsch with approval: “The immediate design of this prohibition was not to prevent licentiousness, or to oppose idolatrous practices. . .but to maintain the sanctity of that distinction of the sexes which was established by the creation of man and woman. . .Every violation or wiping out of a woman. . .was unnatural, and therefore an abomination in the sight of God.”5 The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes, “The distinction between man and woman should not be blurred by the one’s appropriating the characteristic articles of the other (Deuteronomy 22:5). God created them male and female, with distinctive natures and functions.”6 Other passages support this teaching. The New Testament affirms that effeminate men will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Nature itself teaches us to maintain a clear, visible distinction between male and female (I Corinthians 11:13-15).

The Spiritual Significance of Dress

The Bible does speak on the subject of adornment and dress. If we are to apply its teaching properly in our day, we must understand some of the underlying reasoning. Why is God concerned with the way we dress? Why is it important for Christians to maintain holiness in outward appearance?

* Our dress reflects what we truly are inside. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary says, “The clothing worn by the Hebrew people of Biblical times was graceful, modest, and exceedingly significant. They were considered so much a part of those who wore them that they not only told who and what they were, but were intended as external symbols of the individual’s innermost feelings and deepest desires and his moral urge to represent God aright.”‘ We can see this by the use of special dress for religious ceremonies, festive occasions, mourning, and repentance. In this light Elizabeth Rice Handford, wife of an independent Baptist pastor, has asked, “Why does a woman insist on wearing short skirts, tight knits, low necklines, and seem oblivious to the stress she puts on others? Can it be she subconsciously invites a proposition to sin? Does she like the gleam of desire she sees in a man’s eyes?”8

* As the preceding discussion indicates, our dress is an important statement to God. It signifies to Him our attitude, lifestyle, and choice of identity. Some say out-ward appearance is irrelevant because, “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). However, this verse does not say God approves of sinful or ungodly appearance, but that He does not evaluate someone by outward beauty or lack of beauty. It does not give license to Christians to adorn their bodies in ungodly ways. To the contrary, it shows that God is not interested in adornment. All attention given to adornment of the body is vain and useless. We should not spend excessive time on the external, but should emphasize what God emphasizes. If we want to please God and godly people, we will not concentrate on ornamentation of the body but on that of spirit.

* Our dress reveals to others our commitments and beliefs. It is important for Christians to appear to be holy and godly in front of others. Since man does look on the outward appearance, it is important for Christians to display godliness in outward appearance. Other people know us by our fruit (Matthew 7:16-20), which means our entire lifestyle, including actions and appearance. We must not only be right in the sight of God, we must appear right in the sight of all mankind (Romans 12:17; II Corinthians 8:21). We are to abstain from all appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22). One writer tried to justify the Christian woman in wearing makeup and jewelry by saying, “If the motive of her heart is right, her efforts are not wrong.”9 However, sincere motives are not enough; it is possible to be sincerely wrong. Despite innocent motives, if one’s actions violate God’s will and create spiritual problems for self or others, then those actions are wrong.


Dress and Christian Values

* The Christian is to exhibit self-control and moderation in all aspects of life (I Corinthians 9:25; Galatians 5:23). Temperance or self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit. The Christian must discipline the flesh, subdue its desires, and turn the spotlight away from it. Excessive preoccupation with adornment, significant alteration of the natural physical appearance, and lavish expenditure of money on ornamentation all violate this principle.

* The Christian is not to love the things of the world (James 4:4; I John 2:15). “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). Other translations of this verse elaborate upon its meaning: “Do not live according to the fashions of the times” (Norlie). “You must not adopt the customs of this world” (Goodspeed). “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (Phillips). “Do not be conformed to this world—this age, fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs” (Amplified).

People everywhere use dress to identify themselves with certain beliefs and lifestyles. We can give many examples: dress and hairstyle of hippies in the 1960’s, Mao suits of the Communist Chinese, use of uniforms by many organizations, business clothes, clothing of ethnic groups, similarity of dress among teenagers, dress of rock stars and fans, styles worn by homosexuals, clothing worn by prostitutes, and fads and fashions in general.

If Christians follow worldly fashions, they will often identify themselves with ungodliness. They put on the uniform of the devil’s team. They associate themselves with the world’s emphasis on sensuality, its focus on ego, and its blurring of sex roles. God does not want Christians to live in slavish conformity to worldly fashions and thus to identify with worldliness. Rather, He wants Christians to be identified clearly as such even in outward appearance.

* The Christian is to be a good steward of the blessings God has bestowed, including financial blessings (Luke 16:10-13). We are to store up treasure in heaven, not hoard it on earth (Luke 12:33-34). Jewelry, makeup, and very expensive clothing are poor investments. Without them people can still be clean, neat, attractive, and beautiful. The money saved can be used in many more beneficial ways: for necessities, for less fortunate people, and for the church. A preoccupation with outward adorning invests time and energy in something that simply is not profitable.

* The Christian is to be content with the way God has made him and the position in which he finds himself. “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Everything God creates is good, and we should not try to alter our natural, God-given appearance by using false colors for the face, false hair dyes, false eyelashes, or false hair. What is wrong with the way God made us? What is wrong with the complexion and hair we inherited? Why be ashamed of what we are? Why base our identity on the outward man? Why evaluate self-worth by physical appearance?

Instead of accepting themselves for what they are and what God wants them to be, many mistakenly try to fight nature. The Bible teaches that gray hair is a crown of glory and a mark of beauty or splendor (Proverbs 16:31; 20:29), yet many people with a false sense of values try to change it. Jesus taught that people could not alter the color of their hair (Matthew 5:36), yet many people today try to prove Him wrong. Nature itself teaches a distinction between male and female in behavior and appearance (Romans 1:26-27; I Corinthians 11:13-15), yet society today tries to destroy that God-ordained separation.

* Jewelry and makeup reflect a false set of values. They overemphasize the temporal, the unimportant, the physical, and even the ungodly. One author tried to justify jewelry and makeup by saying, “God does not require a drab and dull appearance. Why shouldn’t a woman try to look nice? . . .The extreme view that God requires a dull appearance (often accompanied with a dull personality) is certainly not consistent with the over-all teaching of the Bible.””

This statement actually insults both God and women. Who says a woman is dull and drab unless she wears makeup and jewelry? Who says a woman’s personality is dull unless she attempts to look seductive or showy? Certainly a Christian woman should seek to be attractive in both appearance and personality. However, we reject the notion that it takes cosmetics to make a woman attractive. What is wrong with God’s creative ability? What is wrong with natural beauty? What is wrong with the beauty that emanates from within? The movie producers in Hollywood, the fashion designers in Paris, and the advertising agencies on Madison Avenue in New York will tell us that beauty comes from sex appeal, bottles, tubes, potions, colors, dyes, and the latest fashions, but why should Christians believe this satanic deception? According to Paul and Peter, a woman develops her beauty by concentrating on spiritual values.


Detrimental Effects of Unholy Dress

* Immodest clothing, jewelry, and makeup feed the lust of the flesh, which is one of the three major areas of worldliness (I John 2:16). The woman who wears these things emphasizes physical sex appeal towards men to whom she is not married. In the minds of self and others, she defines her identity in terms of appeal to sinful lusts.

* Immodest clothing, jewelry, and makeup appeal to the lust of the eyes, which is the second major area of worldliness. Both psychology and common experience tell us that the male sex drive is often triggered by visual stimuli alone. Many women do not fully realize how visually oriented the male is. Jesus recognized this problem, for He said it was possible to commit adultery with the eyes only (Matthew 5:28).

Women who wear immodest clothing and adorn themselves sensually are actually placing temptation before men. If they cause someone to sin, God will not hold them blameless. A fundamental principle of Chris-tian liberty is that we should not do anything to cause others to stumble, but this type of adornment uses one of the most dangerous forms of temptation to do precisely that.

* Immodest clothing, jewelry, and makeup cater to the pride of life, the third major area of worldliness. These things breed pride and vanity, building up the human ego. They make a woman feel powerful because she can at-tract lustful attention. They make a woman proud of her own appearance. They give honor to the flesh, which actually contains no good thing (Romans 7:18), instead of giving honor to things of true value, such as good works and beauty of spirit, which can only come by God’s grace. In this context, we note that God hates a proud look, not only a proud spirit (Proverbs 6:16-17).

* External appearance has a profound impact on the inner self. What we wear can drastically change our moods in the short-term and our attitudes in the long-term. We become what we think upon and spend time upon. If we act out a part long enough it affects the way we think about ourselves. The perceptions others have of us also affect the way we think about ourselves. If we are with someone who thinks we are bold, humorous, brilliant, or seductive, we tend to act in accordance with those expectations.

Many times what we wear helps to mold their expectations as well as our own. When a woman wears an immodest dress, she begins to think of herself as seductive and acts accordingly. Other people perceive her as pro-vocative and treat her as such, which reinforces her behavior. In short, appearance both reflects and to a large degree determines what we are in the eyes of self and others.

Elizabeth Handford has elaborated on this subject: “Clothing a woman puts on can affect how she feels. . . . What you wear affects your performance. . . .How you dress does affect how you feel! . . .This is, I believe, an important reason for a woman to dress modestly—not only for the sake of those who might be tempted to sin, but for her own sake. She herself may be affected by what she wears. . . .Does she put on a scanty skirt because she reels provocative, or does the skirt bring out her feeling 01 seductiveness? Perhaps it is both. . . .A woman sets herself up for falling into sin when she chooses hair styles and clothes that are sensual. They will affect how she feels, and she won’t want to resist temptation.””

We can give many specific examples. Girls who wear pants all the time gradually become more and more masculine in their behavior. They sit, recline, and prop their legs up in masculine ways. When they do wear dresses, they often do not know how to act with modesty, grace, and femininity. Many men prefer for their wives or girlfriends to wear dresses, particularly on special occasions, because they look and act more feminine this way.

When a woman begins to wear a new article of jewelry, such as a ring, often her behavior and attitude will change noticeably. By her actions and looks she manifests pride, vanity, and a desire to be seen and noticed.

When a girl first begins to wear makeup and to dress immodestly there is often an observable change in her spirit. She becomes aware of her sexual power and often delights to influence men by it. It brings out a dark current of sensuality and seduction.

On one occasion, I observed a group of Pentecostal women putting on makeup for a video production. I was shocked at the subtle change in their conduct and the con-duct of men towards them. At first, there was some nervousness and embarrassment, covered up by hesitant humor. Soon, however, the humor, behavior of the women, and comments of the men became bold and suggestive. The atmosphere became charged with sensuality. * Ultimately, ungodly dress styles have a profound impact on society as a whole. Immodesty of dress, jewelry, and makeup teach false values to the entire society. In our day, a new generation has grown up not knowing anything else, and this has distorted their value system. Just because a woman wears slacks certainly does not mean she personally has usurped her husband’s role or condoned lesbianism. However, when all women in society wear slacks, the distinction between male and female blurs. The greater masculinity in dress and conduct helps to confuse societal, familial, and sexual roles.

The feminist movement is certainly aware of this; they promote the wearing of pants as part of their “liberation.” Feminist Susan Brownmiller’s recent book Femininity holds that femininity is “a nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations” and that women who adopt a feminine style are “trapped.”12 As part of her revolt against the God-given distinction between male and female, she stopped wearing dresses and skirts altogether.

This is precisely the development God sought to pre-vent when He instituted Deuteronomy 22:5. An individual woman may not see how her particular violation of this principle will cause great moral damage to her, but we must obey God whether we understand His reasons or not. When an entire society abandons God’s law, then the consequences become more obvious.

In light of all these problems, why would a Christian woman want to use makeup and jewelry? For whom is she adorning herself? If for God, it does not impress Him at all. If for herself, it is a dangerous, unjustifiable expression of pride. If for her husband, he should be more interested in her inner beauty, and any physical display should be in private for his eyes only. If for others, it is an unjustifiable expression of ostentation or seduction. If. unmarried, she should seek to attract those interested in true beauty rather than in false, transient trappings.


Biblical Examples: Immodesty

The Bible contains a number of examples that illustrate the problems we have discussed.

When Adam and Eve sinned they became aware of their nakedness and sought to cover themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Originally, God created their bodies with glory and beauty. There was no need for false modes-ty between husband and wife, for they were one flesh. After they sinned, however, they recognized that whole-some, God-given sexuality had the capacity for evil. God gave them a sense of shame so they would cover their bodies, thereby minimizing temptation for sexual sin in the future. The clothing they made was inadequate; God had to cover them with garments made from animal skins (Genesis 3:21).

From that time forward, immodest exposure of the body has often resulted in sin. In fact, “to uncover nakedness” is an Old Testament idiomatic expression for sex acts (Leviticus 18:6-19). Ham’s reaction to seeing the nakedness of his father Noah was sinful (Genesis 9:20-25). When David saw Bathsheba bathing, he yielded to the temptation to commit adultery (II Samuel 11:1-5).

Satan delights to cause immodest exposure of the body. The demons in the maniac of Gadara caused him to tear his clothes off, but when Jesus cast the demons out the man began to wear clothes (Luke 8:26-36). A demon-possessed man tore the clothes off seven Jews who tried to exorcise him (Acts 19:13-17).

God compared Babylon’s downfall to a woman’s shame in having her nakedness exposed, when she bares her leg and uncovers her thigh (Isaiah 47:1-3).


The Bible also shows that certain types of clothing can be particularly associated with adulterous behavior. When Judah’s daughter-in-law seduced him, she took off her widow’s garments and put on prostitutes’ garb (Genesis 38:14-19). The immoral woman in Proverbs 7:10 wore the attire of a harlot.

Biblical Examples: Makeup

Without exception, the Bible always associates the use of makeup with wicked women. When heathen Queen Jezebel tried to seduce Jehu so that he would not execute her, she used makeup and ornamentation. “And when Jehu had come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she put paint on her eyes and adorned her head, and looked through a window” (II Kings 9:30, NKJV). Solomon warned young men to avoid the immoral woman, who would use painted eyelids as one of her seductive techniques. “Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, Nor let her allure you with her eyelids” (Proverbs 6:25, NKJV).

God compared His unfaithful people to an adulteress who adorns herself for her lovers. “And when you are plundered, What will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson, Though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, Though you enlarge your eyes with paint, In vain you will make yourself fair; Your lovers will despise you; They will seek your life” (Jeremiah 4:30, NKJV). “Furthermore you sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and there they came. And you washed yourself for them, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments” (Ezekiel 23:40, NKJV). (The name of one of Job’s daughters in Job 42:14 means “horn of eye paint,” but this no more endorses the wearing of makeup than the names Ruby and Jewel endorse the wearing of jewelry or the name Jade endorses the contents of a jade box.)

Biblical Examples: Jewelry

The Bible frequently associates jewelry with aproud attitude, an immoral lifestyle, or pagan worship. When Jacob went back to Bethel to renew his relationship with God, he disposed of all the idols and earrings belonging to his family (Genesis 35:1-7).

The Israelites melted down earrings and made a golden calf to worship (Exodus 32:2-4). After Moses interceded for them, God spared their lives but announced He would not go with them to Canaan. “And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments. For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb” (Exodus 33:4-6). As a sign of their humility, repentance, and consecration , God ordered them to take off these badges of vanity, pride, and lust. They gave all their jewelry to God, to be melted down and used in construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:22).

Where did they get this jewelry originally? They received “jewels” of silver and gold from the Egyptians (Exodus 11:2). The more accurate translation is probably “articles” of silver and gold. (See NKJV, NIV.) In any case, God meant for them to take the Egyptian gold and silver for use in His service, not for personal ornamentation. Another time the Israelites captured much jewelry from the Midianites, and again they offered it all to God (Numbers 31:50-54).

In Gideon’s day, Ishmaelites and Midianites were distinguished from Israelites by their use of earrings and other jewelry (Judges 8:24-27). This jewelry became a snare for Gideon and his men. When they captured it in war, he fashioned it into a gold ephod (sacred garment) to which they offered idolatrous worship.

When Jezebel tried to seduce Jehu, she “tired her head” (II Kings 9:30) or “adorned her head” (NKJV). In light of the context, it is unlikely that she simply arranged her hair in a modest manner. It means she arranged her hair elaborately and apparently put ornaments on her head or in her hair.

The adulterous woman in Jeremiah 4:30 used extravagant clothing and ornaments of gold to attract her lovers. The adulterous woman in Ezekiel 23:40 also allured her lovers by ornaments. Her many lovers gave her bracelets and crowns, but God warned that all her jewels would be stripped away in judgment (Ezekiel 23:26, 42). Again, in Hosea 2:13, God likened His unfaithful people to an adulterous woman who wore jewelry: ” She decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the LORD.”

The Lord pronounced judgment upon the proud, haughty, vain women of Jerusalem who gloried in their ornamentation. “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet, therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will uncover their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the finery: the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the head-bands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes” (Isaiah 3:16-23, NKJV).

The perfume boxes, purses, and mirrors were usually worn on the body as ornamentation. Most of the listed items can be used only for ornamentation and so always come under condemnation for their association with pride and vanity. Some of them, such as the articles of clothing, can be used innocently, but in this case they too were worn with ostentation and pride. They come under the condemnation of this passage whenever they are worn with the wrong spirit or with great extravagance, expense, and show.

The spirit of Esther stands in contrast to this. When a woman was brought before the Persian king, she was allowed access to anything she desired in order to beautify herself (Esther 2:13). This included jewelry and cosmetics, which ancient royal courts used. Esther, however, desired and requested nothing, but used only what the king’s eunuch (who had charge of her) selected (Esther 2:15). The Bible only records that she used oil of myrrh, perfume, and other preparations to purify (beautify) the skin (Esther 2:12).


Application: Sex Distinction in Dress

In applying the foregoing scriptural concepts, we can draw several important biblical principles and make practical applications for our day.

At least part of our daily attire must be exclusively associated with our gender, providing an unmistakable visual identification at first impression. Men should not wear attire that is distinctively female, which for Western clothing means dresses and skirts. Women should not wear attire that is distinctively male, which for Western clothing means trousers, slacks, or pants.

Different cultures have different types of clothing. If clothing is modest and if there is a clear differentiation between male and female, the precise style of clothing in a particular culture is not important. Care should be taken to dress appropriately for the culture and occasion. For example, it may be proper for a Scotsman to wear a kilt for a ceremonial occasion, but improper for an American male to wear the same thing to the office. Interestingly, priests in the Old Testament wore breeches or trousers (Leviticus 6:10; 16:4), indicating that this has been distinctively masculine attire in Judeo-Christian culture from the earliest times.

Application: Modesty of Dress

We seek to be decent, chaste, and proper in dress, specifically avoiding immodest exposure of the body before someone of the opposite sex (other than one’s spouse). What is considered immodest? In answering this question we must look to the biblical context, the purpose behind modesty, our culture, and our motives.

If we take I Timothy 2:9 seriously, we must agree that some clothing is immodest. Those articles of clothing which are one step away from nudity—such as bikinis, miniskirts, shorts, and halter tops—must be considered immodest. Otherwise, no clothing could be immodest.

We must ask what practices of the time concerned God enough for Him to inspire this passage. What clothing did Paul have in mind when he warned against immodesty of dress? In a day when women wore robes to the ankle, what type of immodest dress existed? If Paul found immodest clothing in an age characterized by greater modesty of dress than our own, certainly he would consider many styles of clothing today to be immodest. As Chapter 8 will note, many women of the time tucked in their tunics above the knee for convenience in certain activities, and the early church fathers considered this immodest. God was concerned about modesty of dress in a day when even exposing the upper leg was considered immodest. In Isaiah 47:2-3 God considered baring the leg and uncovering the thigh to be shameful exposure of nakedness. This gives us a good idea as to what God would regard as the minimum standard of modesty, regardless of culture.

The basic reason for modesty of dress is to subdue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. The exposed body tends to arouse improper thoughts in both wearer and onlooker. To implement the purpose behind modest dress, the body should basically be covered, except for those parts which we must use openly for normal living. This suggests that clothes should cover the torso and upper limbs. Reasonable guidelines, then, would be women’s dresses over the knee and sleeves to the elbow. In addition, we should avoid low necklines, sleeveless dresses or shirts, very tight clothes, very thin clothes, and slacks on women because they immodestly reveal the feminine contours of upper leg, thigh, and hip. Likewise, swimming in mixed company is immodest. Since the primary effect of makeup is to highlight sex appeal, we reject makeup as immodest.

To some degree modesty is culturally relative. We must certainly dress in a manner that would be considered modest for the occasion and in the judgment of our culture. For example, 19th century society considered it improper for a woman to expose any of her leg in public. Applying principles of Christian liberty, a Christian woman of that day should not have worn a knee-length dress, for this would have brought reproach upon her and her Lord. However, there must be a minimum of modesty that is absolute. Otherwise, if society condoned total nudity, Christians could walk around nude. If so, we could delete I Timothy 2:9 from the Bible as irrelevant.

Finally, the heart must be modest and motives pure. Conduct, gestures, gait, body language, and speech must be modest. If a woman wants to, she can display her body immodestly and act seductively even in the most modest of dresses. We must never use dress to promote immodest conduct, and no degree of external modesty can cover up an immodest, lustful spirit.

A sign posted in an Orthodox Jewish district of Jerusalem provides an interesting definition of modesty or women’s dress:

“Passage permitted ‘only’ to women dressed modestly!

Long dress, lower than knee length (no slacks).

Long sleeves, beyond elbow length.

Closed Neckline”

(National Geographic, July 1985, p. 30).

Application: Adornment

Christians should avoid outward adornment (decoration or ornamentation). True adornment in the sight of God and godly men is holiness of spirit, not physical beauty. As part of Christian stewardship of the body, we believe in being physically fit, neat, clean, and attractive. We should not place undue emphasis on physical beauty, but should accept whatever God has given us. We should seek to present ourselves as best we can using natural rather than artificial methods. We should avoid colored makeup, tattoos, and ornamental jewelry because their sole purpose is ornamentation of the body. We have seen many Old Testament passages that associate jewelry and especially makeup with evil. I Timothy 2:9 and I Peter 3:3 stand in direct opposition to gold, silver, and precious stones for personal ornamentation; apparently they are always excessive in appearance and cost.

Some minor aspects of ornamentation are allowable since they do not highlight sexuality (as makeup does) or extravagance (as jewelry does), are not condemned by Scripture (as both makeup and jewelry are), and are considered standard attire. Examples are colored clothing, ribbons, ties, and scarves.

We emphasize simplicity and functional use for things which have a valid purpose other than ornamentation, such as hairstyles and clothes. We can try to be attractive in these areas, but even here we must take care not to be too elaborate and showy, for both Paul and Peter warned against extravagant hair arrangement and clothing.

Some things classified as jewelry actually have a valid purpose other than adornment, such as watches. If their primary purpose is functional use, not ornamentation, nothing is wrong with using them in moderation. Some things have both functional and ornamental use, such as cuff links, tie clasps, tie bars, watch chains, and brooches. We must carefully evaluate their use if we use them at all.

Moderation in cost is an important scriptural concept. We reject extreme luxury and ostentation in all areas of life. In accordance with the explicit teaching of I Timothy 2:9 and I Peter 3:3, we do not wear extremely expensive or extravagant clothing. This is another reason why we do not wear jewelry.

When does clothing, hair arrangement, and functional jewelry become extravagant, excessively ornamental, or unreasonably expensive? The answer may vary somewhat depending on culture, society, station in life, and occasion. Here are some questions to consider in making this evaluation:

*What is my motive for wearing it? Do I wear it out f pride, show, a desire to be noticed, a desire to provoke envy?

*Is this wise stewardship on my part? How does it compare with the time and money I spend for necessities, for others, for God’s church?

*How do others view it? Do they see it as flaunting wealth, showy, a manifestation of pride, or an object of envy? Do they see it as inconsistent with the Bible’s stand and my own stand against ornamentation in general? * What would Jesus do? Would He wear it? Would He spend His time and money in this fashion?


What about rings? Rings are undoubtedly a form of jewelry. There seems to be no clear way to distinguish a finger ring from an earring, a nose ring, or a bracelet. As with other jewelry, the primary motivation for wearing rings seems to be for ornamentation, show, and impressing others. One possible exception might be wedding rings, particularly simple wedding bands. Arguably, they could have a functional use far more significant than any ornamental use. However, many people use even wedding rings to satisfy their desire for expensive, showy ornamentation. Both toleration and caution are necessary in this area.

We personally do not wear wedding rings because: (1) They are uncomfortably close to other types of jewelry that we avoid based on the New Testament prohibition against wearing gold, pearls, and costly array. (2) We do not wish to appear inconsistent in our stand against jewelry. (3) We do not wish to give others an excuse to wear showy rings primarily for the sake of adornment. (4) There is no evidence for them in the New Testament; in fact, some maintain that they are pagan in origin. (5) As a practical matter, in our society wedding rings do not significantly deter advances by the opposite sex. Christian conduct and deportment are far more effective. (6)

We desire to make a consecration to God in this area, after Old Testament examples.

Objections to Deuteronomy 22:5

At this point, let us consider a number of objections to the teaching on adornment and dress. Below are several that have been raised.13

* “Deuteronomy 22:5 does not apply to is today.” This objection points to other teachings in the same chapter, such as the prohibition on plowing with an ox and a donkey together (verse 10), the prohibition on mixing wool and linen together in one garment (verse 11), and the instruction to wear fringes on garments (verse 12). If these do not apply, why should the prohibition of verse 5? This argument is not valid because chapter 22 contains laws against adultery (verse 22), rape (verses 23-27), and incest (verse 30). Are these laws void? Obviously not.

The key to interpreting this chapter is to realize that Christ’s death abolished the ceremonial law, but not the moral law (Colossians 2:16-17); God’s moral law stands forever. Verses 10-12 teach the principle of separation. The Israelites fulfilled this ceremonial law physically, but today we fulfill the principle spiritually. Verse 5, however, is manifestly part of the moral law: (1) God designed it to prevent certain moral evils such as blurring of sexual roles and homosexuality. (2) It enunciates the principle

01 distinction between male and female, taught by nature ;is well as other scriptural passages. (3) The verse itself says those who do the prohibited acts are “abomination to the LORD thy God,” which means something God detests or hates. God’s character never changes, and neither does His love for righteousness or hatred of sin. If He hated a certain practice in the Old Testament, He hates it now.

* “Deuteronomy 22:5 was only given to oppose cultic transvestitism (transvestite behavior associated with pagan worship).” If so, that hardly commends the practice to us today. In fact, Satan incorporated it as part of pagan worship because he knew it would violate God’s law, contradict the natural order, and cause problems for society.

Homosexuality and prostitution were associated with pagan religions of that day, but was that the only reason God condemned those practices? Using this objection, we could condone these practices today. This objection also ignores New Testament support for distinction of male and female in appearance.

* “There was little difference between male and female clothing in the Old Testament. In fact, men wore skirts.” Deuteronomy 22:5 stands as evidence that there was a significant difference. Men and women wore different types of robes and headgear, and women wore veils. “Among the Hebrews neither sex was permitted by Mosaic law to wear the same form of clothing as was used by the other (Deuteronomy 22:5). A few articles of female clothing carried somewhat the same name and basic pattern, yet there was always sufficient difference in embossing, embroidery, and needlework so that in appearance the line of demarcation between men and women could be readily detected.”14 Even in modern times Wight noted, “Among the Bedouin Arabs of Palestine there is great care taken that either sex shall not imitate the other in matters of dress.”15

These differences were significant enough for one to ascertain a person’s gender from far away, as the story of Rebekah and Isaac indicates (Genesis 24:64-65). The “skirts” of the KJV are “robes,” as both NKJV and NIV translate.

* “Deuteronomy 22:5 really means a woman should not wear a soldier’s clothing and vice versa.” This objection alleges that the Hebrew word for “man” in this verse should be rendered “soldier.” The word is geber instead of the more common wordish. However, no major translation has adopted this reading.

According to Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, geber means “a man. . .Specially—(a) opp. to a woman, a male, Deuteronomy 22:5; Jeremiah 30:6; 31:22; and even used of male offspring newly born; Job 3:3. . .(b) opp. to wife, a husband, Proverbs 6:34. . .(e) a soldier. . .Judges 5:30.”16 Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament says, “The root meaning ‘to be strong’ is no longer obvious in the usage of geber, since it is a synonym of  ish…A geber denotes a ‘male,’ as an antonym of a ‘woman.’ “17 It also says the word appears sixty times in the Hebrew Old Testament. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, in none of these places is it translated as “soldier” in English. Even if this objection were valid, why was it detestable for a soldier to wear feminine attire? It could only be due to the larger principle of sex distinction in dress.

* “Modern work and sports activities require ‘women ‘mar pants.” This statement is historically false; even he pioneer women of the past were able to get their work (I one in dresses. If women find themselves in an activity so masculine that they are forced to wear pants, they should reevalute their own sex role in life. In any event, convenience is a poor excuse for violating the Word of God.

Pants are definitely not required for modesty, for they reveal the feminine outlines of leg, thigh, and hip. A girl who always wears dresses can learn how to conduct herself modestly in most activities. Even in very strenuous activities there are ways to protect both modesty and femininity. For example, a woman can wear a jump suit or a ski suit under a skirt. In cold weather, women can dress as warmly as men by using hose, stockings, leotards, long skirts, or leg warmers.

* “Pants are made in women’s styles today, so they do not violate Deuteronomy 22:5.” Even if we accepted this objection, it would not permit women to wear many things that they do such as men’s jeans and military fatigues. In our culture pants have always been associated with men, so that all forms of pants are still “that which pertaineth to a man.” Accepting women’s pants would leave men without any style of clothing that is uniquely male. Furthermore, the ways in which women’s pants are distinguished from men’s pants are very minor. The first impression, the silhouette, the view from a distance, the overall picture is still the same. (It is no use responding that a woman’s curves make the difference, because this retort would concede that women’s pants are immodest!)

The Pulpit Commentary clearly states the teachings of Deuteronomy 22:5 and dispels the foregoing objections: “That which pertaineth to a man; literally, the apparatus of a man, (including, not dress merely, but implements, tools, weapons, and utensils). This is an ethical regulation in the interests of morality. There is no reference . . .to the practice of priests at heathen festivals of wearing masks of their gods. Whatever tends to obliterate the distinction between the sexes tends to licentiousness; and that the one sex should assume the dress of the other has always been regarded as unnatural and indecent.”18

Objections in Favor of Makeup

* “The Bible speaks favorably of perfume in the Song of Solomon. Using a pleasant smell is the same as using a pleasant color in makeup.” This objection ignores the evidence of Scripture itself. The Bible does mention per-fumes favorably, but it always mentions makeup unfavorably.

Furthermore, there is a qualitative difference between smell and sight. The Bible contains strong warnings about the lust of the eyes, but nowhere mentions the lust of the nose. The Bible describes the eye as the light of the body, but does not give a prominent role to the nose. Compared to vision, smell plays a very minor part in sensory precept ion and in stimulation of thought life. Perfume could possibly play a small part in seduction (and should not be Ko used), but it has only a fraction of the power that im-modest dress, makeup, and ornaments have to attract attention, accentuate sensuality, and encourage lust.

Perfume has always been considered part of a chaste, modest woman’s attire in a way that makeup has not. Per-fume helps to mask, eliminate, and replace unpleasant body odors caused by bacterial activity and perspiration. The visual counterpart to this is not to apply colored makeup, but to wash and cleanse the skin, using water, soap, oil, and other cleansing preparations.

* “Our culture now accepts the use of makeup; the negative connotations of makeup no longer exist.” Perhaps society does not associate makeup with harlotry as it used to, but does this mean God no longer thinks of those associations? Are the illustrations of the prophets no longer relevant? No matter how much society changes, we must seek to please God rather than man. Also, society’s acceptance does not change all the spiritual reasoning we have discussed. Makeup still highlights lust, sensuality, vanity, and pride as much as it ever did. The effects on the wearer and the observer are still as powerful as ever. It still teaches a distorted value system as much as always.

* “The Old Testament descriptions of wicked women who wore makeup also describe those women doing accept  able things such as washing with water and wearing colored clothing.” Many acceptable things can be done by an evil person or can become evil only because of an evil motive. However, makeup does not fall under this category. The other things mentioned all have valid purposes other than ornamentation or seduction, but makeup does not. The other things are all mentioned favorably in other passages of Scripture, but makeup is not.

Objections in Favor of Jewelry

* “Godly people in the Old Testament used jewelry.” To a limited extent this is true; however, we must keep in mind these points: (1) From Old Testament to New Testament God has progressively revealed more and more of His perfect will for His people. Through the Holy Spirit, we have power to live a holy life in a way that Old Testament saints did not. The inspired writings of Paul and Peter supersede any contrary examples from the Old Testament. (2) Even in the Old Testament God pointed to a high standard in this area (Genesis 35:4; Exodus 33:4-6) and alluded to the dangers of jewelry (Isaiah 3:16-23; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 23:40). (3) God moved on His people to dedicate to His service the jewelry they acquired (Exodus 35:22; Numbers 31:50-54). (4) Heavy use of jewelry seems to have been primarily associated with heathen peoples (Numbers 31:50-54; Judges 8:24-27). (5) The few passages that do mention jewelry in a favorable light are symbolic of blessings or spiritual treasures and do not endorse personal ornamentation (Proverbs 1:9; 25:12; Song of Solomon 5:14-15; Ezekiel 16:11-13; Malachi 3:17). (6) When godly people used jewelry, there was usually an important functional value other than adornment.

Here are some examples of Old Testament functional use: (1) People in ancient times used seals or signet rings to transact legal business (Genesis 41:42; Esther 8:2, 8; Haggai 2:23; Luke 15:22). Judah’s “signet and bracelet “was actually a seal with its cord (Genesis 38:18, NKJV and NIV). (2) Crowns, chains, and bands (KJV “bracelet”) were used to signify royalty or high official position (Genesis 41:42; II Samuel 1:10; Daniel 5:29). Like the signet, they conveyed legal authority. The high priest’s use of precious stones had a similar function, with the added dimension of worship (Exodus 28:17-38). (3) Jewelry w; is used as a wedding token, with the bride and groom adorning themselves for each other (Genesis 24:22, 47; Song of Solomon 1:10-17; Isaiah 61:10; Jeremiah 2:32). (4) In ancient times when coinage was rare, precious stones and metals were important means of saving or giving something of monetary value (Job 42:11). We find only one clear exception to these categories: ornaments on clothing as a sign of luxury in Saul’s reign (II Samuel 1:24-27).

Wight stated, “As a rule, Jewish men did not indulge in extravagance of dress, and there was little ornamentation among them. . . .Certain men wore a ring on their right hand, or suspended by a cord or chain around the neck. Actually this was the signet ring or seal, and served as the personal signature of its owner, and so was not usually worn as an ornament.”19 According to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, finger rings were used to signify rank and seal rings worn on a cord or on the hand were used to seal documents.20 It says the ring worn by the prodigal son had this same general meaning.

* “I Timothy 2:9 uses an idiomatic expression, which does not mean to avoid all outward adorning, but only to emphasize inward adorning more.” Under this view Paul meant, “Do not adorn yourselves on the outside only, but adorn yourselves inwardly also.” However, no major version translates the passage in this way.

This is a devious interpretation, for it adds words to the Bible, twisting them to mean the opposite of what they literally say. Using this interpretation Romans 13:13-14 would mean, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness only, not in chambering and wantonness only, not in strife and envying only, But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ also.” I John 2:15 would mean, “Love not the world only, neither the things that are in the world only.” I Timothy 3:8 would mean a deacon could be double tongued, given to much wine, and greedy of filthy lucre as long as he was grave also.

In reality, I Timothy 2:9-10 describes two contrasting, mutually incompatible lifestyles. To be modest, shame-faced, and sober is the opposite of wearing gold, pearls, elaborately ornamented hair, and costly clothing. Verse

8 teaches men to lift holy hands in prayer, without wrath or doubting. It does not imply that wrath and doubting are permissible if the men have holy hands too. Verse 9 draws a parallel with verse 8 by saying “in like manner.” Verse 8 teaches men to put away certain unholy things and acquire certain contrasting holy things, while verse 9 does the same for women.

* “I Peter 3:3 is not an absolute prohibition on wearing of jewelry, for then it would prohibit all use of gold and all wearing of clothes.” This verse tells women, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes” (NIV). The KJV says “putting on of apparel,” but the NKJV corroborates the NIV by saying “putting on fine apparel.” Interpreted this way, the passage parallels I Timothy 2:9 exactly. Like that verse, it is an absolute prohibition on elaborate hair arrangement, gold jewelry, and extravagant clothing.

If we interpret I Peter 3:3 to refer to all hair arrangements, all wearing of gold, and all wearing of clothing, then obviously it is not an absolute prohibition. Even so, it would prohibit the use of such things for adornment and show. Clothing has many other uses besides adornment, such as modesty, warmth, and protection.

Hair arrangement also has other functions such as neatness and convenience. Even gold itself or gold colored metal can possibly have other functional uses such as in watches, glasses, and teeth. However, gold earrings, nose rings, necklaces, and so on can have no function other than adornment. Even if I Peter 3:3 were only a prohibition on the use of certain things for adornment, it would permit functional use of clothing and gold metal but still forbid the use of gold jewelry.

* “If Christians should not wear gold and jewels, why did God make them? Why will they be part of the New Jerusalem?” This objection misses the whole point of our refusal to wear gold and jewelry. We recognize gems and metals as beautiful things created by God for our visual pleasure and for many practical uses. For example, gold’s inertness and the diamond’s hardness make them very valuable for many industrial uses. God simply forbids us to use these things for personal adornment because of the many spiritual dangers to self and others in this present evil world. These things can still be used in God’s service and for our pleasure, particularly in the life to come.

Chapter 8 will present historical teaching on the subject of adornment and dress and will conclude our discussion of the subject.



‘Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 14 of The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (1957), pp. 74-75.

2The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Charles Pfeiffer and Everett Harrison (eds.) (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 1448.

3Fred Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953), p. 100.

4Rushdoony, p. 87.

5/bid., p. 435, quoting C. F. Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commen¬tary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), III, 409. “The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 185.

7 ” Dress,” The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Merrill Tenney (ed.) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), p. 225.

‘Elizabeth Rice Handford, Your Clothes Say It For You (Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1976), p. 88.

°Ralph Woodrow, Women’s Adornment: What Does the Bible Really Say? (Riverside, Cal.: By the author, 1976), p. 27.

1″Ibid., pp. 27, 35.

“Handford, pp. 81-84.

12John Leo, “The Comeback of Womanly Wiles,” Time Magazine, January 30, 1984, p. 82.

“Most of these objections can be found in Woodrow. “”Dress,” The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 227. “Wight, p. 97.

‘William Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, Samuel Tregelles (trans.) (1847; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 156.

‘7Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, Merrill Unger and William White (eds.) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), p. 241.

“Spence and Exell (eds.), The Pulpit Commentary, V, 355. 1°Wight, p. 100.

20″Dress and Ornaments,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), I, 871.



The above article “Scriptural Teaching on Adornment and Dress” is written by David Bernard. This article was excerpted from chapter seven in Bernard’s book Practical Holiness.

The material is copyrighted and should not be repainted under any other name or author. However, this material may freely be used for personal study or purposes.

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