There are many things misunderstand by the world when they glance at the Scriptures. 1 Timothy 2:9-15 is no different. Even followers of Christ have been known to misinterpret such a passage. This fact emphasizes all the more the need for careful study of any text – especially every inch of the Bible!
In verse 9-15 we see a call for women to not make themselves a distraction in the church. To be clear, we are talking about within church gatherings and functions – especially worship times.
“I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,” (v. 9)
When we look into the original Greek it was written and the context, we see a few things:
- This is a command. Not a suggestion or opinion. The command goes to each individual woman and not some sort of external “fashion police”.
- “adorn” comes from the Greek word kosmeo. It is the same word cosmetics comes from. It encompasses not only clothing but the entire person – the whole look as well as demeanor.
- “modestly and discreetly”. Modest specifically has sexual overtones. The idea is to avoid dressing in seductive or suggestive ways in the worship of God. This includes how she carries herself. “discreet” is aimed at being self-controlled such that she isn’t flaunting her sexuality.
- The overall idea here is not to institute a bunch of external rules but that a woman in public worship would cultivate a heart that exemplifies a personal intent to not draw others away from the true point of being at the public worship – to glorify God in worship.
- The remaining points about hair and jewelry has a cultural element. We must not forget that the original Greek letter was written to a particular audience. In those times, elaborately braided hair was a way to show off to people that a woman could afford what was commonly considered an extravagant luxury. Even in our own culture today, there would be counterparts to such a practice as you think about it. The same goes for the costly garments and jewelry. It was common then to dress up in such things when you wanted to flaunt your wealth in those times – not something that is beneficial in a worship time. Committing to such elaborate actions would be a clear sign of vanity.
- The passage also speaks to the practices of prostitutes who would also deliberately dress and decorate themselves in ways to draw attention to themselves. Not a manner one should emulate when the point is to gather to worship God.
Following on the heels is verse 10:
“but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.“
Intent of the heart flows out into one’s actions. A woman following after God will make clear such intent in her actions resulting in good works that ultimately point back to the God that has influenced their heart to act so.
No where is this passage saying women cannot wear nice things to church, have nice hair, or wear jewelry. The core, the chief point is the intent of the heart and the actions that flow out of this. This will naturally include a cultural sensitivity to the norms the people of the gathering are most accustomed in the surrounding culture to gauge what would be excessive. In my mind, what would be considered typically great to look like at prom wouldn’t be a good idea for church worship (as an example).
On the points of culture, no where do I intend to suggest that culture should trump Scripture. In what has been said so far, the point was to bring attention and understanding to the context of the audience Paul was writing to in 1 Timothy. This context helps us to understand the reason for why the particular words were stated in this letter as they were. It would be no different today. We see politicians deliberately ripping what opponents have said out of the original context in order to twist the original meaning to their own ends. Considering the context of any particular passage in Scripture helps us to ensure we avoid twisting the original meaning of the text as it was written and reading the Greek helps all the more with this.
Continue onto Part 2.
A Woman’s Conduct – 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Part 1)