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What the New Testament says about clothing?
Surprisingly, it says almost nothing about men's clothing and gives no
specific commands about the style or length of women's clothing.
What does the Bible say about clothing? While the Old Testament forbids
cross-dressing (Deuteronomy 22:5), forbids Israelites from wearing garments
made of mixed fabrics (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11), and prescribes
particular garments to be worn by priests while performing temple service
(Exodus 28), it does not either prescribe or proscribe any particular style
of clothing for men or women generally. Neither does the Old Testament
anywhere state what length women's (or men's) clothing must be or prescribe,
as laws usually do today, what particular anatomical parts it must
completely and opaquely cover. Although the law which God gave Moses was
impossibly strict, and, indeed, designed to teach the people of Israel that
they could not possibly satisfy God's demands through their own efforts
(Galatians 3), it placed surprisingly little emphasis on clothing.
But if the Old Testament gives little guidance regarding what clothing
God requires of us, the New Testament gives even less. Women are instructed
only to dress "modestly," a term which is never defined and is used in
contexts in which it is contrasted with wearing expensive clothing, gold
jewelry and elaborate hair styles in an effort to impress. These contexts do
not draw a contrast between modesty and indecency, in the modern sense of
nakedness or of clothing which exposes too much of the anatomy. Indeed, the
concept of overly-revealing clothing isn't in view at all. The New Testament
gives no instructions about men's clothing at all, but instead spiritualizes
clothing by indicating that we can "put on" the Spirit and his fruit like
I Timothy 2:9-10 (ASV)
I desire therefore that the men in every place pray, lifting up holy
hands without anger and doubting. In the same way, that women also adorn
themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and propriety; not just with
braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing; but (which becomes
women professing godliness) with good works.
I Timothy 2:9-10 (KJV)
I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands,
without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn
themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with
broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh
women professing godliness) with good works.
In this passage, the words translated "modest," "decency" and "propriety"
(in the KJV) are very general, relative terms which do not even suggest an
absolute standard. "Modest" is kosmios, a term which means
"decorous," "orderly" or "of good behavior." Similarly, the term translated
"shamefacedness" (or "modesty" in the ASV) is aidows, a word which
literally indicates downcast eyes and figuratively denotes bashfulness,
respect or awe. Likewise, "propriety" ("sobriety") is sophrosune,
which means "soundness of mind, sanity or self-control." Similarly, the word
translated "dress" (katastole) is derived from the word used to
describe the robes worn by men of high office as a symbol of their authority
(stole), and both words are derived from a verb (stello) which
has as its primary definition "to place in order." The focus of all four
words is on maintaining of peace and proper order, not on the length or
style of the clothing.
Furthermore, the emphasis in the passage is a warning against wearing
excessive, overly fancy or expensive clothing, hairdos and jewelry in order
to obtain attention or recognition. The subject of the passage is not the
minimum standard for Christian dress. Nothing in the language of this
passage indicates that a bathing suit is prohibited as "immodest" attire at
a beach, a setting where most people in fact consider it perfectly in order
(i.e., perfectly kosmios). Indeed, from the perspective of the other
people actually present at a nudist resort, a woman's nakedness would be
"modest" (kosmios) there. It is only when one considers the reactions
of outsiders who consider the exposed human body offensive in principle
whether they personally see it or not that nakedness at a nudist resort
becomes "immodest" and potentially condemned by this scripture.
I Peter 3:1-6 (WEB)
In like manner, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; so that,
even if any don't obey the Word, they may be won by the behavior of their
wives without a word; seeing your pure behavior in fear. Let your beauty
be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing
jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person
of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit,
which is in the sight of God very precious. For this is how the holy women
before, who hoped in God also adorned themselves, being in subjection to
their own husbands: as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose
children you now are, if you do well, and are not put in fear by any
The real subject of this very controversial passage is the behavior of
Christian wives, which is to be pure and reverent and is to evidence a
gentle and quiet spirit. Feminists hate this passage, although the hatred
tends to be directed toward a rather simplistic, erroneous reading of it
which suggests that God expects women to be men's doormats. (Nothing could
be farther from the truth.) When clothing is brought into this discussion,
the emphasis is on over-dressing to impress, not on minimum standards for
I Corinthians 11:2-18 (KJV)
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and
keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you
know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is
the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying,
having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman who
prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for
that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not
covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be
shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover
his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is
the glory of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the
woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her
head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is the man without the
woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is
of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
Doth not even nature itself teach you that, if a man have long hair, it is
a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for
her hair is given to her for a covering. But if any man seem to be
contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. Now in
this I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together no for the
better but for the worse. For first of all when ye come together in the
church, I hear that there be divisions among you: and I partly believe it.
This is another one of the most controversial passages in the entire
Bible, for precisely the same reason as the previous passage. The focus is
on the man being the head of the woman in the same way as Christ is
the head of the man and God is the head of Christ. That the reference is to
a husband and wife, and not to all men being the head of all women, is
clarified by Ephesians 5:23-25. Moreover, as is discussed at greater length
in Ephesians 5, "head" does not mean "dictator;" there is instead to be
loving mutual submission, exactly as exists between Jesus and his Father.
Clothingóor, at least, coveringócomes into the discussion because Paul
indicates that, as a symbol of her submission, the woman is to cover her
head. However, later in the passage he speaks as if her hair is that
covering. So whether he is prescribing that women wear hats (or veils?) in
church or that they simply keep their hair long is somewhat obscure. He also
appears to prescribe that men keep their hair short and/or not wear hats (or
turbans?), at least in church. Moreover, since he ties his argument about
women covering their head and men not covering their heads to what "nature
teaches" his readers, it is possible that these prescriptions are also
culturally relative, and no longer apply in a culture such as exists in
modern America. (There is nothing in our modern culture or in the background
of most Americans which informs them that a short-haired woman without a
hat, or a long-haired man, is disgraceful.) This would also fit well with
the observation that what is "modest" depends on the setting, both physical
However, the New Testament does compare right attitudes and the fruit of
the spirit to clothing.
In each of the following passages, clothing is used as a figure of right
attitudes or of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
I Peter 5:5 (KJV)
God's future act of bestowing resurrected bodies upon us is also called
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all [of
you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
Luke 8:35 (KJV)
Colossians 3:9-13 (WEB)
Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found
the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of
Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
Don't lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man
with his doings, and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in
knowledge after the image of his Creator, where there can't be Greek and
Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondservant,
freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God's chosen
ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness,
humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each
other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you,
so you also do.
Ephesians 4:22-24 (ASV)
Ephesians 6:13-16 (WEB)
that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old
man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed
in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath
been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Therefore, put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to
withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand
therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and
having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having fitted your
feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; above all, taking up
the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery
darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of
the Spirit, which is the word of God...
Revelation 3:14-18 (KJV)
Revelation 16:15 (WEB)
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things
saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the
creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I
would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and
neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou
sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and
knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind,
and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou
mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that
the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with
eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
Behold, I come like a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his
clothes, so that he doesn't walk naked, and they see his shame.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 (KJV)
Revelation 6:9-12 (WEB)
For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were
dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal
in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed
upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we
shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan,
being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that
mortality might be swallowed up of life.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of
those who had been killed for the Word of God, and for the testimony of
the Lamb which they had. They cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long,
Master, the holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those
who dwell on the earth?" A long white robe was given to each of them. They
were told that they should rest yet for a while, until their fellow
servants and their brothers, who would also be killed even as they were,
should complete their course.
Revelation 21:1-4 (WEB)
I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first
earth have passed away, and the sea is no more. I saw the holy city, New
Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride
adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying,
"Behold, God's dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and
they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no
more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The
first things have passed away."