The Bible first mentions the issue of clothing in Genesis 3. After Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, they realized that they were naked, so they made coverings for themselves from fig leaves: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (NIV). However, shortly afterward God made garments out of animal skin for them: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:20).
From this we can see that since Genesis 3 it is now normal and right for men and women to wear clothes. However, what clothes should they wear?
Deuteronomy 22:5 says that: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” God does not give an explicit reason for this command, however, presumably the existing practice of changing clothes had to do with sexual immorality or temple prostitution in surrounding people groups. The Israelites should stay away from that, and maintain proper distinctions between men and women.
The New Testament addresses the question of what is proper for women to wear in two passages, in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 3:3-4.
1 Timothy 2:9-10 says: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
Paul’s command to the women in the church at Ephesus is that they dress appropriately, that is, modestly. They are not to dress in a showy or sexually provocative manner. Rather they are to dress with restraint. As a result, women should be known as people who are characterized by good conduct and deeds, rather than characterized by what they wear. That is not to say that beautiful clothing in itself is wrong. In Ezekiel 16:8-14, God speaks in poetical imagery about his love for the people of Israel, and He shows his love among other things by giving his “bride” beautiful clothes and jewelry. In Revelation 21:2, John sees the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”. Enjoying beauty is good, but with the right intentions.
Be culturally sensitive
We should be sensitive to what is culturally acceptable and keep in mind what Scripture tells us: we should try not to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother (Romans 14:13). In Philippians 1, Paul says: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10 KJV). Christians are to grow in their discernment of what really matters and be without ‘offense’.
1 Peter 3:3-4 says: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Paul says that inner beauty is more important than outward adornment. A woman’s character is the most important: a gentle and quiet spirit. Peter doesn’t prohibit wearing gold or beautiful clothes or braided hair, but it is less important than your character.
Since the fall, men and women have to cover themselves with clothes. But there are many ways to dress. The Bible tells us that we should dress in a way that does not distract from our character. Also, the way we dress should not be to show off wealth or beauty, and we should not be preoccupied with it at the cost of more important things.
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