By Les Potter, PhD
In these latter days when nearly all women wear pants in our society, a title such as this is bound to invoke derision. But before you discount it as irrelevant, please consider that it has not been that long since the idea of women wearing pants in public would have seemed just as strange. From time immemorial, in every culture of the world, women’s attire has been universally known by a common standard now long forgotten in western culture. The vestiges of this are still cemented in our society however. For example, the international symbol of a men’s restroom is a human form wearing pants. Likewise, the ladies restroom is a human form in a dress. We still use the common phrase about who “wears the pants in the family” to denote who is in the place of leadership. So the object of this writing is to provoke us to do something we might not normally do. That is, to take something we have accepted without question and examine it according to scripture. Does God really care about things so ‘unimportant’ as what we wear? Let’s look to the scripture and find out.
Consider also that the general downward trend of society as a whole is sufficient reason for the Christian to question anything new when it departs from the wisdom established by 6,000 years of man’s existence. Despite mankind’s great technological advancements, who can deny that his level of inherent wisdom and discernment has contrariwise devolved to what it is today? When the discernment of right and wrong waned among the Israelites of old, God said: . . . Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein,” (Jeremiah 6:16)
As long as we inhabit this body of flesh, none of us will ever reach a state of such spiritual maturity where we can determine the will of God apart from scripture. The spirit filled Christian relies on the word of God to know doctrine and practice. It is for us to study and understand God’s words the way He wrote them. This goes much further than a casual deductive check of the scriptures. Far too many Christians base their standards on the world, and declare it acceptable as long as they do not see a “thou shalt not” associated with it. In such cases, they are obviously not interested in the Lord’s will, but in license for their own. But biblical truth is understood inductively from scriptural precepts. Building from ‘the bible up’ brings to light the mind of God in areas that are otherwise not seen. This scriptural approach however, is not natural to the worldly, unsurrendered soul. It is perhaps, a treasure reserved for the sincere mind and heart.
With this in mind, we want to start this study where the first mention of clothing begins, the Garden of Eden. (Gen 3:6-7) “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Man’s fall not only revealed his nakedness, but also separated him from God. Mankind is therefore unable to discern the mind of God apart from God’s revelation. Adam and Eve attempted to cover their nakedness from God according to their now flawed wisdom, but that was not sufficient in God’s sight. In verse 21 we see that God replaced their apron of leaves for coats of skins to cover them sufficiently. Note that Adam and Eve DID have a dress standard. Everyone has a basic standard according to their perception of decency. But that standard, no matter how innocently you follow it, is irrelevant unless it meets the Lord’s. Most professing “Christians” today have never considered this issue because they unwittingly follow the standard set by the world. Worse still are those who simply do not want to know God’s standard but get furious at those who point out what God says. This they do while expecting to be recognized as sincere, devout Christians who “love the Lord.” “ . . . If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: John 14:23-24 This concept of claiming to love God while disregarding what he says is idiosyncratic of this apostate, Laodicean age.
Let’s look at another example of dress in the Old Testament Law. Some will immediately argue that we are no longer under law but grace. This is correct, however, we point out that the Law of Moses is our schoolmaster and was written for our admonition (1Cor 10:11.) The Law has three parts which teach us about the mind of God. The Ceremonial laws teach us the mind of God in the shadow of those things fulfilled in Christ. The Civil laws teach us the mind of God in the example of societal rule. Much of our modern civil laws today come straight from the Old Testament Law of Moses. The Moral laws teach us the mind of God in morality. Every mandate concerning morality is reinforced in the New Testament. What was immoral in the Old Testament is just as immoral today. That which was an abomination to God in the law is every bit as much an abomination to Him today. His holiness is His governing attribute and His moral standards are as unchangeable as He is.
So when we read the context of Deuteronomy 22, we see verses dealing with Civil practices (putting battlements on your roof to avoid injury, rules dealing with divorce, punishment of adulterers, rapists, presumption of innocence for rape victims, etc.) Also Ceremonial statutes which teach us object lessons about separation, simplicity, equality and avoiding confusion, etc. This chapter also teaches us about moral issues. Notice in vs. 5: 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.
Notice how God says that a man shall not wear a woman’s garment, but a woman is not to wear anything that even pertains to a man. Garments in the bible and throughout history were always gender specific. The Israelite men of that time wore breeches and/or robes that came to the knee. Women also wore robes, but of a completely different cut and length. Breeches were specifically male attire both in the bible and throughout history.
Furthermore, there is that word abomination. There are things in scripture deemed abominable to man, and things deemed abominable to God. Everything that God declared an abomination to him is still an abomination unto this day and always will be so. There are those who somehow imagine the New Testament made all things to be OK that ‘were’ abominable to God. Nothing is further from the truth. When the Lord changes his mind on sodomy idolatry, child sacrifice and witchcraft, you can feel safe that a woman wearing that which pertains to a man will no longer be an abomination to him either. The New Testament reinforces God’s standards of righteousness, and deals with this issue of how a Christian woman must adorn herself in even greater detail.
1 Timothy 2:9 says: 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;
There are many words used for clothing in the bible, including raiment, garments, attire, array, and apparel. It is important to point out the use of apparel in this passage. It is a common mistake of some to emphasize the word “modest” in this passage as if it were the subject. But if you read it, the passage is a command to wear apparel. The word modest here is only the adjective. It is there to modify “apparel.” So it is “apparel” that the Lord is stressing here, which must also be modest. You might consider this to be of little importance until you understand what this word “apparel” means in the better English from when our bible was published. We commonly use the term “apparel” nowadays to describe any article of clothing. But originally apparel, whether worn by men, women or angels, meant “loose, long flowing outer garment.” You will find proof of this in the volume of the Old Oxford English Dictionary, which retains archaic definitions. If you look in the Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words or a Young’s Analytical Concordance, you will see that in this verse, the term comes from the word “katastole.” This word Katastole is a very exact term used only in this particular text directed at how a woman should dress. It differs from the general terms used such as those translated “garments, attire, clothing, etc.” Note what it says in the Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vine.
From Article on Apparel, p.63
“KATASTOLE Greek spelling), connected with katastello, to send or let down, to lower (kata = down; stello= to send), was primarily a garment let down; hence, dress, attire, in general (cp. stole, a loose outer garment worn by kings and persons of rank, –Eng,. Stole); 1Tim 2:9, “apparel.” From p.199-200 STOLE (Greek spelling), Eng., stole), denotes any stately robe, a long garment reaching to the feet or with a train behind.”
The definition continues with more examples, but sufficient here is the proof that God’s use of the term “apparel” in this passage (1Tim 2:9) is exacting in detail. It leaves out any question of pants, mini-skirts, shorts, tight dresses, bathing suits, etc. Notice that the Lord leaves a lot of liberty according to style and culture throughout the centuries. Also note how unnecessary it is for the Lord to give a list of what not to wear, given the words he used. Our obedience to Christ is our measure of love for him, and this is a matter of the heart, not the letter of law. Simple observance of what God gave the woman to wear is sufficient for the woman that wants to please him. This brings us to our next point.
Diligence in seeking God’s will in such matters is contingent on only one thing. That is a sincere love for the Lord. Many professing Christians would take great offense at any question of their love for Christ, citing that “Nobody can know my heart.” But a heart that is right with God will manifest itself in obedience and outward testimony. It would be an exercise in folly to discuss whether ones heart is right with God when that heart does not follow Christ in obedience. Scripture is replete with teaching that if we love the Lord, we will keep his commandments. This is not a matter of “judging” anyone. Christ is the judge and it is he that gave this criteria. (JN 14:15; 1JN 5:3.) It is important to mention here that these things are written for those who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. Dressing scripturally is not the same as salvation. But obedience to Christ is the essence of our testimony. This matter of testimony is a crucial point to ponder.
Have you ever been in a store or public place where you spotted a lady whom you assume is obviously a Christian? Why did you think that? Was it not because of her appearance? God created the woman to be the glory of mankind. A Christian man in a crowd does not shine the way a Christian woman does. There is something about the beauty of holiness that has the impact of a hundred sermons without a word spoken. This is something God gave specifically to women. It is very noteworthy to observe how men instinctively regard a woman who is adorned as a Christian lady. They are naturally stirred to more chivalrous conduct once common in society when the difference between the sexes was about more than sex.
This positive influence is affected by women regardless of age or physical beauty. But the impact made by a Christian lady is not something she just puts on. It is a product of the heart that leads her to dress as she does. In this day of inconsistent, cheap Christianity, it is not uncommon for women to take on a somewhat schizophrenic approach. One day, she might enjoy the attention she gets while wearing clothing that reveals or accentuates her body. Another day, she might feel like playing the role of a chaste, honorable Christian lady. What she probably doesn’t realize is that the second role never quite comes through. It is not her clothes, but her heart (and therefore her demeanor proceeding from it) that elevates her to that position of Christian ladyhood. It tends to come out when she cannot resist that ‘slit’ or that certain ‘fit’ to suggest her physical desirability. This attention she attracts is not in respect of her person, but as an object for a man’s use. A woman who has not surrendered an obedient heart to Christ in this area will not likely discern this. It is not until she has, that she understands she could not have a godly testimony without it.
In conclusion, we note the testimony of many Christian ladies who have found a certain joy from the Lord when they surrender to him in this matter. It is a blessing obtained by simple obedience. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this tract to your edification as you seek to walk pleasing to the Lord.
1JN 2:3-6 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.