By Frank Jamerson
Elsewhere in this issue Jonathan Perz has reviewed the short article that I wrote in the October 21, 1999 issue. First, let me thank him for the kind spirit he manifested in his review. (I suggest that you read my first article and his review before proceeding.) He thinks that I have misled people by not teaching a specific law on how long, high, and tight clothing must be in order to be modest, so I will make some further comments in response to his criticism of the article.
First, he agreed that “we cannot bind the law of Moses today,” “we are under the law that Christ’s blood binds upon us,” and “we cannot derive exactly what is modest,” but he still thinks that it is dangerous to teach this. If we do not know exactly where to draw the line, “can we ever know what God has declared ostentatious or skimpy?” According to his reasoning, if we cannot know exactly what is modest, we can never say anything is immodest.
I did not criticize anyone for using the Old Testament to help people understand New Testament teachings on modesty or giving. In fact I commended such, but there is a difference between learning and law. God gave specific instructions about tithing and those who did not give a tenth were robbing God (Mal. 3:8). We can learn something from this, but should we bring over this “principle,” so people will not rob God today? How can we bring over the principle of tithing without bringing over the law that taught the principle? Is it dangerous to teach that we are to give as prospered without teaching a specific percentage? Is it dangerous to teach that we should dress modestly without teaching an exact length, height, tightness, and cost of a garment? Must we know exactly how much to give, which bite became gluttonous, how capable a man must be in teaching (to qualify for an elder), and the exact measurements of modesty in order to know that some things are not in compliance with these principles?
Second, Paul (1 Tim. 2) and Peter’s (1 Pet. 3) teaching on modesty is directed more to ostentation (showy display) than to skimpiness. Yes, skimpy attire is immodest, but so is ostentation. If there is a specific limit for one, why not the other? How much gold can a woman wear before she is immodest? How much time can she spend braiding her hair, or how much may she spend on her apparel? The “not . . . but” idiom (cp. John 6:27; 7:16; 1 Cor. 1:17) does not forbid the things after the “not,” but places them in proper perspective. This is not specifically directed to skimpy apparel, too little gold or not enough braiding of the hair. Those would be included in “modest, propriety, and moderation,” but both passages are talking about too much emphasis on the hair, gold, and apparel. Now, if we do not know exactly what is ostentatious, can we say anything violates the principle? Should we wear no gold “just to be safe”? How would that apply to wearing apparel or braiding the hair?
Third, brother Perz asked, “Was Peter guilty of the sin of being a Pharisee when he directed brethren back to the examples of holy women?” No, but did you notice that Peter did not give a specific length, height, tightness, or cost of the apparel? A good Pharisee could have done that! Peter simply said, “not . . . arranging the hair, wearing gold or putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart . . .” Now, did he specify exactly how much time to spend on the hair, how much gold, or how much to spend on the apparel? Or, did he say how long, high, and tight the apparel must be? The Pharisees not only violated God’s word (Mark 7:9-13), they also built fences so everyone would know the “safe course.” The law forbad work on the Sabbath, but they let everyone know exactly what actions were work, because if you do not know exactly when an action is “work,” you cannot say anything is work! Do you see a parallel? God said “modest apparel,” and I believe and teach that, but does that demand that I build a specific fence on length, height, tightness, and cost? To do so is to speak where God was silent.
Fourth, and maybe this should have been first, because this whole contention that God has given specific instructions on modesty is based upon the assumption that we know the exact boundaries of the Hebrew words translated coats and loins (Gen. 3:21; Exod. 28:42). Being ignorant of the Hebrew language, I have asked two students of the language and both of them said that the words themselves do not give specific limits. Scholars describe garments based on evidence they have from different periods of time, but no one knows exactly what God made for Adam and Eve. Some say coats meant a “tunic descending to the ankles, enveloping the body and with long sleeves” (Josephus, Antiquities III, vii. 2). Should we “follow the safe course” and teach that apparel must reach the ankles and have long sleeves to be modest? There was a time when such was the standard and godly women respected that. Should they have said that the knee is God’s standard and refused to be regulated by human customs? (I did not say that custom is the only thing to be considered.) Some scholars define loins as “the mid-portion of the back (Exod. 28:42) around which a belt could be fastened…it also symbolized the functions or organs of generation, and was used in this manner of a man’s offspring as ‘those who come out of his loins’ (cf. Gen. 35:11)” (Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia, 958).
If some of the ladies read this and conclude that their mini-skirts cover this area, what are you going to say? Why should they accept your definition of loins instead of someone else’s?
The fact is that neither the Old Testament nor the New gives a specific standard of modesty. Am I concerned that women who want to excuse immodest dress will abuse the principle taught in Scripture? Yes, but I am equally concerned when brethren build specific fences and bind them as though they are taught in God’s word.
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