Why isn’t I Timothy 2:9 taken literally?


On I Timothy 2:9, how come it is not taken literally? I was wondering because I keep getting told that it is cultural when I do not understand even how the Bible could possibly be cultural being the Word of God and II Timothy 3:16.


In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works" (I Timothy 2:9).

When striving to understand any biblical passage, it is important not only what is said, but also what is intended. What is said can be gleaned from the words used and their definition. The intent, though, is determined by the context in which the words are used. For example, Paul said, "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10). If we ignore the context of the statement and take statement strictly as given we might walk away thinking that if a person gets laid-off and is unable to find another job quickly that he must starve. Such a conclusion contradicts other passages which tell Christians to care for the poor and destitute (Matthew 25:35-40). The context of II Thessalonians 3:10 helps us to understand that "will not work" means refuses to work when the opportunity exists.

"In like manner also": This refers back to verse 8 where men are encouraged to pray without wrath or doubts. The phrase helps us to understand that verse 8, while directed to men, who lead prayers, it is not intended to be taken as exclusive to men. In their personal prayers, women too should pray without wrath or doubts. In the same way, what comes after, though directed chiefly at women, should not be read as being exclusive to women. Men need to be properly attired, just as women.

"Modest apparel": (kosmious katastole)The Greek phrase here refers to clothing that is orderly, well-arranged, or decent. In other words, it refers to clothing that doesn't cause a person to stand-out in a typical crowd. Instead, the person is dressed neatly and appropriately for the occasion.

"With propriety": (meta aidos) This phrase means having a sense of shame, modesty, or reverence. It refers to a person who still has the ability to blush at inappropriate behavior, including inappropriate dress.

"And moderation": (kai sophrosune) The Greek word literally means "sobriety." It means that a person should exhibit a sound mind, self-control, and good judgment when they dress. In other words, a Christian should not be pushing the limits of good taste in what they select to wear.

Paul then illustrates what he means: elaborate hairstyles, costly jewelry, and expensive clothing are not appropriate for a Christian woman. They call attention to the wearer because of their expense. Instead, Paul argues that people should notice a Christian woman because of what she does in performing good works.

Does this mean that Christian women should not braid their hair into a ponytail? Such does not match the context of things which display expensive tastes or idle luxury. Can a Christian not wear any gold? In other words, should we give up our wedding rings, gold-plated watches, and eye-glass frames? While it is possible for these things to scream "Look at me! I'm expensive," the use of gold is common enough and cheap enough that people rarely notice in many items. If we only focused on braids, then we miss the overall point. I've seen some very elaborate hairstyles that probably cost a fortune and did not have a single braid. Paul's point was that these, too, would be wrong because we are broadcasting to the world that money is important to us and we want others to know how wealthy we are. Such clothing is making the wrong statement on the Christian's behalf.

Similarly, sloppy clothing makes a statement of "I don't care" which doesn't belong to proper Christian behavior. Sensual attire says things that a Christian out not to say. Wildly colored hair, excessive jewelry -- even when the items are inexpensive, and such like demand attention, but it is the wrong message for a Christian to be sending.

If we understand the intention, then it becomes apparent that culture will influence our choices. The apostles were all appropriately dressed, but they would stand out in a small mid-western town in America. Why? Because fashions have changed. What they wore was typical of their day and time. It fulfilled all the requirements. Yet, it would not fulfill the requirements in today's society.

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