Friday, December 17, 2021

The Lie of Dressing Modestly

So, the Bible has a lot to say about modesty, right?  Well, according to some teachers, the answer is yes.  But according to our English translations of the Bible, it's just two verses.  Which don't say anything concerning what the Church says concerning modesty.  And there's a mistranslation in one of them.

9 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; 10 but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. [1 Timothy 2:9-10; KJV]

The word translated as "modest" in this passage is the Greek word "kosmios".  It appears twice in the New Testament, both times in 1 Timothy.  Here's the other instance:

2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; [1 Timothy 3:2; KJV]

If we just go by how this word is translated, we see that there is one standard for men, and a different standard for women.  For men, it's just about behavior.  For women, it's about behavior and choice of clothing.  God calls those who have such double standards abominations! [Deuteronomy 25:13-16]  So it's either the case that Paul is setting two different standards (one for men and another for women), or there is something that is being missed.

Turns out, it's the latter.  The word "kosmios" literally means "orderly".  It's derived from the Greek word "kosmos", which means "orderly array".  Knowing this solves most of the apparent double-standard, as it means that the same standard is being applied to both men and women.  But why is it specifically women who are told to dress in "orderly apparel"?  If you take a look at what Paul said they should not be wearing, then you have your answer.  The women that Paul is addressing here are wealthy women who love showing off their wealth through expensive clothing and hair styles.  Some have suggested that they were competing against each other for bragging rights on most elaborate clothing.  Such behavior and clothing is obviously disorderly.

Let's assume though, that "modest" is the correct translation.  The issue of modesty in the above passage is not whether the women are wearing enough, but whether they're wearing too much.  The former is a cultural norm that is read into the text based on a grossly-incorrect understanding of Scripture, especially in the area of "lust", which has nothing to do with a woman's clothing (or lack thereof).  The definition of modest that Paul gives is to not wear expensive clothing, jewelry, or hair styles.  That is it.

But the word is not "modest", the word is "orderly".  If you read the passage carefully, you will notice that what is defined as orderly is one's behavior and character.  Shamefacedness means humility, and viewing yourself less highly than others.  Sobriety means self-control.  In other words, this passage is all about behavior, and has nothing to do with physical clothing.  The same rule holds true for any other passage in the New Testament that is misinterpreted as addressing the issue of modesty.

In fact, the Church's rules concerning modesty not only are in direct violation of Deuteronomy 24:16, since the woman is held responsible for the sin of the man, it is also a direct violation of Deuteronomy 12:32, since it adds to God's commandments.  Even Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:8 admitted that his rules concerning orderly apparel are his own rules, not God's commandments.  Again, it is sinful to blame the woman for the sin of the man, regardless of the reason she is being blamed.  It is also sinful to hold a cultural norm (the Church's vague rules concerning modesty) as equal to the Law of God.

Also, the Greek text of 1 Timothy 3:15 uses the phrase "house of God", which appears to be able to have either of the meanings I listed in a previous post about the word Church, but not both at the same time (The distinction I made is only in some English translations, not in the Greek text.  Oops!).  So it is possible that the rules that Paul gave before this verse only apply to the behavior expected within the Church setting (some argue exactly that point).  I have my doubts that this is the case, but if is, then the Church should not be applying its rules on modesty outside of the Church setting.

Even if the rules laid out prior to 1 Timothy 3:15 are meant to always apply (which I believe to be the case), the fact that the passage uses the word "orderly" instead of "modest" should be enough to prove that the setting determines what is or is not orderly.  But to leave this on a somewhat positive note:  The Church does have some concept of different settings calling for different standards of acceptable (or required) clothing.  And most will probably agree with me to a point that what is acceptable in one setting may be completely unacceptable in a different setting.  The problem here is that the Church is restricting what these standards can be on a perceived moral ground that does not exist in Scripture.

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