Clothes?Or should they follow Christ's example who dressed "just like the world"?
The Clothing Issue
Among certain religious groups, "plain" clothing is a paramount element of their faith. It is believed by sincere Christians that God desires His people to dress distinctively in order to be non-conformed to the world. This outward distinction makes a firm demarcation between the world and the Christian—but it also makes a firm demarcation between Christian and Christian. Those in plain groups will relocate to another state in order to find a plain group with which they harmonize, but they will almost never accept or attend a non-plain Christian church down the street.
Is this regrettable separation in the body of Christ necessary?
For seventeen years the authors wore "plain" clothing, believing it to be pleasing to God. They respectfully acknowledge that others who wear plain clothing from a heart desiring to please God are indeed pleasing Him. The Bible says he who eats meat does so for the Lord and he who eats vegetables only does so for the Lord, and none of us should go against his conscience and none should judge another man’s servant.
The hope of this little study is to encourage those who dress "plain" to understand why other Christians do not—and for those who do not dress "plain" to understand why some Christians do. May we always accept one another, having unity in the essentials and charity in the non-essentials.
Must Christian Men
Wear the Beard?
All Jews were required to wear untrimmed beards, according to Lev. 19:27: "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."
This is straight out of the Mosaic Law. Just a few verses away are commands of equal value prohibiting cross-breeding cattle, using hybrid seed, eating fruit of your orchard in the first five years, and wearing clothing made with two fibers (such as cotton/polyester). Is it consistent to make the beard a Christian doctrine and ignore the surrounding commands? The Bible says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
Of course, Christians have been freed from the Mosaic law. (Gal. 5:18, Eph. 2:18) Any remaining binding parts of the Mosaic law have been repeated in New Testament precepts.
There is another verse that is used to support a mandatory beard and that is Romans 9:20, "shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?"
A reading of the whole passage will reveal that God is speaking about His sovereign right to bring some to power and others not, to give some the birthright and others not. When the question is asked, "Why hast thou made me thus" it is speaking of the circumstances and privileges of one’s birth and life. It has absolutely nothing to do with physical attributes!
But even were this verse saying we shouldn’t change how God made us, then why do men constantly cut their hair, since the Lord made men’s hair to grow down to their waist? Why do men shave parts of their beard if the Lord put the whiskers there, too? Why do women remove the hair on their legs that God put there? Or trim fingernails? Why does anyone put braces on teeth or straighten crooked limbs or correct birth defects, if that verse means we should not change the way God has made us?
A beard on a man is a distinctive badge of manhood. But it can never scripturally be made an issue of obedience to God.
The "Sin" of Casual DressIt is hard to know just where this idea came from. There is not even a verse in the Bible to be able to discuss such a prohibition. The most that can be said is that Jesus wore what his countrymen wore. He certainly did not wear something more formal. If you wish to follow His example, sit at the entrance to Walmart and see what your countrymen consider appropriate town wear. Watch Christians enter their churches and see what is the cultural norm. If you are not in a primitive country where they go naked, that’s what Jesus would have worn.
It is an interesting inconsistency that some groups will adjust their clothing to fit the culture and climate on the mission field, such as short sleeves and sandals without nylons. Yet when their own culture is wearing the same thing in the same temperature, they appear in public dressed very formally—and hot.
Another oddity is that, despite their dislike of "causualness," and preference for formality, men in plain groups forego a tie, which is the very symbol of formal wear in this culture...
If Pants are Men’s Clothing,
Why Did Jesus Wear a Skirt?
To quickly forestall offense at the above statement, consider that the Bible actually calls the male Jewish garb a skirt. (Psa 133:2; 1 Sam 15:27)
Deut. 22:5 forbids a man putting on a woman’s garment and a woman putting on a man’s garment. Does this mean Christian women may not wear pants?
Again, this verse is right out of the Mosaic Law. Just verses away is the command to stone your rebellious son, stone your wife if she was not a virgin at marriage, build a parapet around your roof, wear fringes on your garment, not wear clothes with two fibers (like cotton/polyester), not sow hybrid seed, and not allow any man who is wounded in the privy parts (as in prostrate surgery) to enter the church of the Lord. How can we be consistent if we emphasize verse 5 and ignore the other verses?
However, if we insisted on plucking out this verse, we still must answer the question: Are pants inherently men’s clothing?
And if they are, what brand of pants did Jesus wear?
Of course, Jesus did not wear pants. Jesus wore what we would call a shift or dress with a shawl over it. Jesus wore what all the men of his day wore—and all the women, too. The shape of the garment was the same for both, the distinction between men’s and women’s being in color or accessories. Jesus was wearing men’s clothing when he wore a "dress." Mary and Martha were wearing women’s clothing when they wore a "dress."
Throughout history, styles have varied. In Scotland and England, men’s clothing was (and on certain occasions still is) a very short skirt called a kilt. In the orient, women’s clothing has been a trouser suit. In India, women’s clothing includes harem-style pants beneath a sari. Whether a garment has leggings or no leggings is immaterial. Yet in each culture, the boundaries between men and women’s clothing has been recognized.
In America and most of the world, pants have for more than a half-century been recognized as women’s clothing. They are made to fit women’s shapes in the colors women prefer, and they are sold in women’s departments.
Some might argue that pants reveal a woman’s form more than a dress. This depends on the pants and on the dress. Any style of clothing can be worn seductively, which is never fitting for a Christian. God wants us to cover our bodies in suitable, well-arranged attire, but He has not asked us camouflage the form. Besides this, pants actually reveal more areas of the male form than female. Why are pants then modest for men but not for women?
We know that cross-dressing and transvestitism is abominable, being closely related to homosexuality. But Deut. 22:5 is not speaking of forbidding a certain culturally accepted style of dress.
An interesting question to ponder is this: Just how did a man in the days of the Old Testament law violate Deut. 22:5? He was already wearing a dress like the women....how did he "put on a woman's garment"? And how did a woman back then commit the abomination? How did she dress in men's clothing? It certainly was not by putting on pants, because men did not wear pants! The only answer is that since both men and women wore dresses, the violation of this command was wearing accessories or perhaps colors that were regarded as proper only for the opposite sex.
Likewise, a Christian man today should not wear something recognized as feminine, neither should a woman dress in clothing that society recognizes as strictly male.
In our society, it is respectful and acceptable for women to wear slacks to work, church, funerals, and even governmental state affairs. A Christian woman is wearing recognized woman's clothing when she wears respectable pants.
The cap or veil is probably the most important issue to the plain groups. It is the watershed between "plain" Christians and those the plain groups would consider "worldly" Christians. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to carefully examine what the Bible actually says on this major issue. Since the Bible was written in Greek, the actual meaning is always better understood by examining those originial word meanings. Here are the pertinent verses, with the important words in their original language:
Verse 4: "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered dishonoreth his head"
Covered: kata: something down over: "to hang down from the head"
Verse 5: "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head"
Uncovered: akatakalupto--a combination of three words. (a) not or negative (kata) something down over ( kalupto) covered. The word means uncovered or not having something hanging down over to hide or cover the head.
Verse 6: "For if the woman be not covered (doesn’t have something hanging down over her head), let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered (have something hanging down over the head).
Shorn:Keiro: to shear or shave very close like a sheep. When talking of humans, this word is always used to mean "shave"
Shear: xurao:To shave with a razorSo far, there is not one word mentioned about fabric coverings. But there is talk about hair, i.e.. shearing and shaving hair. More about hair follows…..
Verse 14: Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
Have Long hair:Komao: To wear tresses of hair: Have long hair
Verse 15a:But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.
Have Long hair:Komao: To wear tresses of hair: Have long hair
Glory: doxa: Dignity, praise, honor, glory
And Now Comes the Only Word in This Whole Passage
That Means Something Made of Fabric!
Verse 15b: For her hair is given her for a covering.
For: anti: instead of, in place of, as a substitute
Click here to see over 100 occurrences of "anti" and its usage in the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint Old Testament.
Covering: Peribolian: mantle, veil, vesture, cloak, wrap, cape, outer garment, headdress.
Other translations accurately reflect the original Greek wording:
"But woman, if she have long hair, it is glory to her; for the long hair is given to her in lieu of a veil." DARBY
"nor that hair is a woman’s glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings." ISV
"but on a woman it is a thing of beauty. Her long hair has been given her to serve as a covering." GNB
"and a woman, if she have long hair, a glory it is to her, because the hair instead of a covering hath been given to her" YLT
"because her hair has been given her instead of a veil" MON
The NIV version has this in the footnote: "If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair, but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again"
THE ACTUAL WORDING IN THE ORIGINAL GREEK
Photocopy of Interlinear Greek-English New Testament
by J.P. Green, Baker Book House
JP Green, lifelong scholar of the original languages and translator of the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, says this about the headcovering passage: "The way that I read the Greek and understand the message is that woman’s hair is sufficient cover in the assembly. This I conclude because the contrast is being shorn, and not being shorn. To my knowledge there is no requirement that a woman wear a fabric hat at any time, much less at all times."
ARGUMENT #1: If the covering is the hair, then men would have to shave their heads.
This would be true if the Bible said the covering is simply "hair." But the Greek wording says, "a woman But if she wears long hair a glory to her it is? Because the long hair instead of a covering [ fabric veil] has been given to her."
Therefore, the man is not to have "something hanging down over" his head and the woman should have "something hanging down over" her head. (It is an interesting inconsistency that some fabric head coverings do not drape at all, but are skullcaps giving the woman a cropped-haired appearance and making her silhouette almost identical with a mans!)
Long hair provides "something hanging down." Some have asked, What is long? The word for long hair does not mean "uncut," so each Christian woman must rely on the Holy Spirit for direction in this. Could it be that what is considered long on a man is also long enough for a woman? Could it be that the importance is in the difference between men’s and women’s hair length, not necessarily the length itself?
As the Bible indicates when it says, "Doth not nature itself teach you?" most cultures practice distinction between the sexes through hair length, even those of races with tightly-coiled wool type of hair that bushes out rather than veils down.
Can we take our cue from the lengths for men and women that are recognized as appropriate among Christians in our own culture?
ARGUMENT #2: It makes no sense for the long hair to be the covering, because if a woman won’t cover her head (with long hair) then she should cut it off—well, it’s already cut off!
This would indeed not make sense if the passage said a woman who won’t cover her head (with long hair) should cut her hair short. But the Greeks words translated "shorn" and "shaven" do not mean simply "cut short." These words mean shorn like a sheep or shaven with a razor. So, it makes perfect sense that a woman who won’t cover her head with long hair (meaning she has short mannish hair) should just go ahead and finish the job by shaving it off! Her short hair serves no purpose as a covering, so she might as well be bald. And the fact that it is a shame for a woman to be shaven is seen today in the baldheaded cancer victims who invariably cover their heads. Bald men are no disgrace, but women instinctively have a horror of appearing in public bald, as women undergoing chemotherapy can attest.
ARGUMENT #3: Yes, a woman’s hair is a glory to her, but in humility and modesty she should not show that glory. Her glorious hair should be only for her husband to see, not displayed for all the world to see.
This is an interesting theory that sounds pious—but again, the Bible simply does not say anything of the sort. If we are to understand the plain words of God, we must not add man’s words.
This thought is also contrary to other usages of the word "glory." In the Old Testament an old man’s white hair is his glory. Shall he cover that glory in modesty? A young man’s strength is his glory. Shall he only lift heavy objects in front of his wife? Flowers have glory. Shall we throw a tarp over our flowerbeds? The sun, moon, and stars all have a certain glory, and God does not require them to be hidden. Like a sunset or the colors of a butterfly or the mane of a horse, God created glorious beauty—and it brings honor to Him as creator!
If the woman should in modesty hide the hair God gave as her glory, then man should hide his wife, for God gave her to be his glory. To be consistent with this thought of covering glory, husbands should require women to wear the Islamic burkha, so that none might see the glory.
ARGUMENT #4: Just because the Bible says her hair is given her for a covering, it doesn’t mean her hair should replace that covering! She has a natural covering to show her natural place in creation, and she should wear an additional covering over that to show her voluntary submission to her spiritual role.
An interesting thought, but again the Bible doesn’t say anything of the sort. This is, pure and simple, man adding to the Word of God, which Revelation says is a very risky thing to do! Besides that, the word anti (translated "for" in the KJV) means instead of, to replace, in lieu of, as a substitute, in exchange, to serve as, because of. Here is how the word anti is used in the Bible. Notice that in every case comparing two things, it always denotes substitution or exchange of one thing for another.
Matt. 2:22 Archlaus did reign in the room (anti) of his father Herod
5:38 An eye for (anti) an eye, and a tooth for (anti)
17:27 give unto them for (anti) me and thee.
20:28 given his life a ransom for (anti) many.
Luke 11:11 will he for (anti) fish give him a
Rom. 12:17 recompense no man evil for (anti) evil
1 Cor. 11:15 her hair is given her for (anti) a covering
Heb. 12:2 who for (anti) one morsel of meat sold his birthright
OLD TESTAMENT GREEK SEPTUAGINT
Occurances of the Word "anti" and how it has been translated
appointed me another seed instead of Abel
a burnt offering in the stead of his son
Am I in God’s stead
gave them bread in exchange for horses
priest in his stead
other stones, and put them in the place of those stones
the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn
instead of all the firstborn
the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings
Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn
the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle
instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn
ye are risen up in your fathers’ stead
whom he raised up in their stead
take her, I pray thee, instead of her.
Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab
thou hast made thy servant king instead of David
Made him king instead of his father
His son reigned in his stead
Instead of the children of Israel
Made him king in his father’s stead
Made him king in his father’s stead
Queen instead of Vashti
Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children
If your soul were in my soul’s stead
Let thistles grow instead of wheat and cockle instead of barley
Instead of sweet smell, there shall be stink
Instead of a girdle a rent
Instead of well-set hair baldness
Instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth
Burning instead of beauty
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree
Instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle
Which reigned instead of Josiah
The Lord hath made thee priest in the stead of Johoiada
Josiah reigned instead of Coniah
*There are over 100 occurances of the Greek word "anti." For a complete list of every single occurance of the word "Anti" in the Greek New Testament and the Greek Septuagint, click here
ARGUMENT #5: The early church fathers wrote about veils.
Some of the early church fathers did indeed teach wearing of a veil, but several of the most vocal recommended it cover the face and be as long as uncut hair, which is at least to the waist or even to the knees. It was the custom for hundreds of years into the early church, especially in North Africa, for all decent women to appear in public completely veiled with a burkha-type covering.
If those men’s writings are our authority, we should be consistent and wear a blanket over the head. We should also fast so often that we are gaunt, for one of the same men said that skinny people get into heaven quicker than plump people. We should also practice lifelong celibacy in marriage, as some of these same church fathers also taught! These were men, like us, with strengths and weaknesses. They were our brethren in Christ, but their writings were no more inspired than any of ours.
The Bible alone is the pure Truth and our only authority—and it says her hair is given her instead of a fabric veil.
Is could be prudent and respectful, however, to conform to local custom by wearing a veil in cultures that demand it. Commentator Matthew Henry says about the veil, "[they would be] odd...if they would quarrel for a custom to which all the churches of Christ were at that time utter strangers, or against a custom in which they all concurred."
ARGUMENT #6: The Bible says, "We have no such custom." This word actually should be translated "other" as in, "We have no other custom [than that women cover their heads ]
On what basis? The word translated "such" is used in the New Testament 61 times, and not in one of those instances is it translated "other." Nor would it be possible to replace any of the 61 occurrences with "other" without making the verses nonsensical. It is a very dangerous thing to change the Word of God.
ARGUMENT #7: I finally just prayed to God and it felt right to wear a fabric covering. Plus, my minister had a vision and God told him it was true.
If we can set aside clear Bible teaching in favor of what "feels right," or what someone tells us, then we don’t need the Bible in the first place! Also God says the value of dreams compared to the worth of the Word of God is like chaff to wheat: (Jer. 23:28)ARGUMENT #8: My fabric veil makes a distinction between me and the world and is a good opportunity to witness.
Does the New Testament instruct anyone to show their Christianity by distinctive dress? Christian women are to dress modestly, but the Greek word for "modest," kosmios, simply means well-arranged and orderly. (In fact, this word comes from kosmos, which translates "world’ in the Bible, meaning orderly adornment!) Jesus condemned the Pharisees for distinctive dress--for enlarging the borders of their robes. The difference in their garments from the average citizen could be seen across the market place—this is how they displayed their religiosity. Jesus also condemned judging by outward appearance. Why should Christians then employ that same outward appearance as a tool for witnessing? Is it a tool for witnessing for Christ or witnessing for plain dress? The Bible says we are to be non-conformed by the renewing of our minds, not our wardrobe! We are to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us, not to explain our strange clothes.
ARGUMENT # 9: Why does the Apostle Paul go to such trouble if all he wanted to say was than man should wear short hair and woman long. Was it just cultural?
The Bible doesn’t say anything about this passage being merely cultural, so it is a dangerous thing to dismiss it as such. Nevertheless, most commentaries will say that prostitutes in that city had their head shaved for identification purposes and respectable women went veiled. Perhaps prostitutes were being converted and entering the church services with shaven heads, in which case they would need to wear a veil until their natural veil grew out. Or perhaps because there were legalists who wanted a cultural norm to be recognized as a Christian doctrine, Paul was agreeing that women should come before God properly covered—but that their "long hair is sufficient to serve as a veil. And if anyone wants to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."
We can only speculate about the reason Paul approached the subject as he did or about the cultural issues involved, but none of these speculations should overrule what is actually written in the Word of God. Besides, it is unlikely that a convert from a backward country will know anything about the customs of ancient Corinth—but he can read the plain Word of God, which simply says a woman’s long hair is given to her instead of a veil.
[One time the author’s wife was trying to convince a Spanish-speaking woman of the validity of wearing a cap. They looked into the Spanish Bible, and my wife was shocked and silenced to see, "en lugar de velo le es dado el cabello." Her hair is given to her in place of a veil.]
Can we not take this passage at face value?
ARGUMENT #10: But the headcovering is to be a symbol of authority!
The Bible does not mention a symbol. It says: "For this cause ought a woman to have power on her head because of the angels." The word power in the Greek means "power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases, power of authority." In whatever way that relates to her submission to man, "power" on her head is still shown by her long veil of hair.
ARGUMENT #11: Why have Christian women worn hats to church throughout the centuries? Didn’t they discontinue it only when the women’s liberation movement began?
Wearing headgear was for centuries an almost universal cultural custom for Christians and non-Christians. It is said that early Christians hiding in the catacombs could be detected by their pale skin—not any distinction in headgear. Likewise, the Anabaptist could fade undetected into the crowd—their headgear was the same as their neighbors.
This longstanding cultural custom may have influenced some great men of the faith to view 1 Cor. 11:1-16 as commanding women to wear hats to church, which would be proper in those settings.
When the custom of wearing hats in public was discontinued, they stopped being seen in most churches, also. This change in culture came long before the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s. In 1946 film footage of Prussian Mennonites being rescued from Berlin holding camps, the majority of the women are not wearing headgear in church.
Today in all the true Christian churches, women wear their hair longer than men. They also accept the teaching behind the covered and uncovered head—submission to the chain of authority established by God. May we all be obedient to this!
When a Christian women from a plain group sees a Christian from a non-plain group, she can’t help feeling that her sister should allow God to change her outward appearance. Cut, curled, permed, or dyed hair; makeup, jewelry, and stylish clothing! What does the Bible mean when it talks about modest apparel?
"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" ( 1Tim 2:10)
"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" (1 Pet. 3:3)
There are two ways to look at these parallel passages. (1) Christian women are forbidden to use the adornments listed. (2) Christian women are not to rely on outward adornment as the source of their true worth and beauty.
The vast majority of Christian commentators favor the second view. As one commentator said, " Peter did not state that women should not wear jewelry and nice clothes, but that Christian wives should not think of outer attire as the source of genuine beauty."
These two views have very different results! We must let the original language of the Bible define the term, "modest." The Greek word is kosmios, which comes from the word, kosmos, translated "world" in about 150 places in the New Testament. Kosmos simply means "orderly adornment" and it is where we get our modern-day word cosmetics.
It’s close relative, kosmios or modest means "properly, orderly, decorous, becoming." Therefore, the literal meaning in the Bible of adorning ourselves in modest apparel is to be adorned or decorated in a becoming, orderly way.
If we accept the view that we are forbidden to use outward adornment, we must be consistent in rejecting all outward adornments listed in these passages: braiding the hair (yes, this includes schoolgirl plaits), wearing gold, or pearls, or costly array, and putting on apparel.
Of course, the command to not put on clothes poses a problem with this interpretation!
Could this passage be a of similar construction of another passage, Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. Obviously, even though Jesus says labour not, we understand that He is not actually forbidding us to work for our daily food, but is making a contrast between a lesser and a greater "labour." Are the passages on women’s adornment simply making a contrast of priorities in the same way? If so, then none of those adornments would be wrong—neither jewelry, makeup, hairstyling, nor pretty clothes, if used decently and with propriety. And if we realize they are infinitely less important than the true beauty from within.
A passage about sensuous, haughty women (Isa 3:16) has often been quoted to denounce outward adornment, but the emphasis in this passage is the women’s wanton, mincing, seductive heart.
Men’s carnal temptations are the same now as in Old Testament times. If the use of outward adornment incites lust, why did God himself say to Jerusalem, " I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work….and thou wast exceeding beautiful" (Eze. 16:11-13). Why would God use those images if outward adornment were sin?
All Christians know we should not be wanton or lust-provoking in our hearts or clothing, but we differ in our idea of what is decent and proper. What about short sleeves? What about shorts? Does the Bible tell how much to cover?
Some have quoted a passage (Isa 47:2) that portrays the shame and hardship of slavery, where a once tender and delicate woman is now forced to sit in the dust without her veil, grinding meal, and hiking up her skirts to trudge across the rivers. This is a description of slavery and conquest, not a commentary on how much leg to show.
The Bible does not tell us how much of our arms and legs to cover, but we do know that Jesus wore what his neighbors wore—a knee-length or ankle-length tunic, and an outer mantle. They also wore open-toed sandals. It seems that bare feet, arms, and legs, at least below the knee, were not an issue. They should not be an issue to us, either.
There are Christian women who sincerely believe they should wear long-sleeved, voluminous dresses in muted colors with black stockings. In order not to violate their conscience, they probably should continue to do so. However, it should be a concern to them whether they are actually showing true modesty— being adorned in a seemly, unobtrusive, becoming way.
There are other Christian women who sincerely believe they are free to wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt. It should be a concern to them that in their freedom, they practice restraint and reject the sensual excesses of today’s styles.
May all Christian women seek that inner beauty of a meek and quiet spirit—one that would accept in love our fellow sister in Christ, whether she wears "plain" garb or whether she dresses with propriety in the styles of her culture.
Love letter to the Holdemans:
Whether it be of God and No Proselytes in Zion--a Re-examination: (this is the original pamphlet sent to 2,000 members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite)
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