What Kind of Clothes
Should We Wear?
NCW 13, November 1994
Q. If you are so determined to follow the biblical pattern in everything, why don't you wear tunics and sandals instead of suits and shoes? Men never wore trousers in biblical times, so why do you? Since it is obvious Christians can't wear biblical dress in cold climates, what then should be the standards? How far should Christian imitate the customs of 2 to 4 thousand years ago?
These are interesting and valid questions. There is an apt expression which says: "Dress maketh the man". Although we know a great deal about the dress of the peoples of the Middle East over the millennia from Egyptian, Babylonian and Hittite monuments (see Figs.1a & 1b) there are few commandments in the Bible telling us how to dress. In fact, there are only two:
Otherwise, the dress patterns seemed to resemble those of the surrounding nations.
(1) Men may not dress in women's clothes, nor women in men's clothes (Deut.22:5);
(2) Priests must dress in a prescribed way.
In the tomb of Khnumhotep at Beni-hasan in Egypt we find a procession of Asiatics who arrive in Egypt with eyepaint. They are all dressed in vividly coloured garments, and this gives a clue as to how Abraham and other nomads were clad in about the XIIth Egyptian dynasty. Other murals, such as the fresco from the tomb of Sebekhetep (Thebes, 15th century BC), show Syrian emissaries wearing white garments edged in blue and red which are wound below the waist (see below). Revelation received by the Holy Order describes in detail the dress customs of the patriarchal period.
According to Genesis 3:7,12 the origin of dress is associated with the sense of shame. It is a shame to be naked (Gen.9:22-23) and we find this the especial fate of prisoners and fugitives (Isa.20:4; Amos 2:16; Mark 14:52). Children, however, used to run around naked up to puberty.
The most important garments in the Biblical period were a kind of loin- or waist-cloth, a long or short skirt or robe, an upper garment, and a cloak, not to speak of the belt, headdress, veil and sandals.
The loin- or waste-cloth ('ézôr) reaching from the waste to the knee was a common dress during the Bronze II and III ages, but it disappears during Bronze III, although it survived as a military dress (Ezek.23:15; Isa.5:27). The other kind of dress was the animal skin and hairy cloak or mantle (Zec.13:4; 2 Ki.1:8; Matt.3:4) which was only worn by prophets and poor people (Ecclus.40:4) or for penitence. Covering of the hips and thighs was required only of priests (Ex.28:42; 39:28).
The ordinary shirt, which becomes predominant in Bronze III and is the normal dress of the Iron Age, is called kuttónet in the Bible (chitón in Greek), which seems to have been made of linen or wool. It was worn next to the skin and reached down to the knees or the ankles. It was made with or without sleeves, short or long. For work or for running, this shirt was pulled up (Ex.12:11; 2 Ki.9:29), from which we get the expression to "gird up ones loins". The Bible also mentions a kuttónet passím, which was a special kind of garment (Gen.37:3,23,32), and was worn also by princes (2 Sam.13:18-19). It was possibly a highly coloured garment, a kind of plaid twisted round the body. The shirt, presumably worn underneath it, is possibly the sádin (Judg.14:12; Prov.31:24; Isa.3:23), but might include in this class of garments the me'îl, regularly torn as a sign of mourning (Ezr.9:3; Job 1:20; 2:12), and worn by men of importance, e.g. Jonathan (1 Sam.18:4), Samuel (1 Sam.2:19; 15:27; 28:14), Saul (1 Sam.24:4,11), Job and his friends (Job 1:20; 2:12), and Ezra (Ezr.9:3).
The ordinary mantle is generally called simlâ and can be identified with the 'abâye of the modern fellahin. This ia a more or less square piece of cloth, with is sometimes thrown over one shoulder or, as now, over both shoulders. There are openings for the arms at the sides. This cloak, which everybody possessed, could not be given in loan, as it was used at night as a covering (Ex.22:25-26; Deut.24:13). It was generally taken off for work (Matt.24:18; Mark 10:50) and was also used to carry all kinds of objects (see Ex.12:34; Judg.8:25; 2 Ki.4:39; Hg.2:12).
Another cloak was called 'adderet, which it is not easy to describe. It was sometimes made of a costly material (Josh.7:21,24) and was worn by the king (Jon.3:6) and by prophets (1 Ki.19:13,19; 2 Ki.13-14), where it was possibly made from animal's skin. It was not in general use, and the word does not appear in late Hebrew.
Notable men and women wore in later times the sáníp (Isa.3:23; 62:3), which was a piece of cloth twisted around the head.
The poor people generally went around barefoot, but the sandal was known (Deut.25:10; Am.2:6; 8:6). The soles were of leather or wood and tied with thongs (Gen.14:23; Isa.5:27; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16). These were taken off inside the house.
The dress of women was very much the same as that for men. But the difference must have been sufficiently noticeable, because it was forbidden for men to wear women's clothes, and vice versa (Deut.22:5). The difference has to be sought in finer material, more colours, and the use of a veil and a kind of headcloth (mitpahat: Isa.3:22), which could be used to carry loads. The most common dresses for the Israelite women were the kuttónet and the simlâ. The fine underwear sadín was also worn by women (Prov.31:24; Isa.3:23). For feasts, women wore a more costly attire (1 Tim.2:9). Hip and thigh clothing was not worn. A long train or veil was used by ladies of rank (Isa.47:2; Na.3:5).
Dress for Special Occasions
Festive attire was distinctive from ordinary dress in that the material was more costly (Gen.27:15; Matt.22:11-12; Luke 15:22). The colour was preferably white (Ecc.9:8; Mark 9:3; Rev.3:4). Tissues of byssus, scarlet, and purple were much appreciated (Proc.31:22; Ecclus.6:30; Jer.4:30). Women liked to adorn their clothes with gold and silver (2 Sam.1:24; Ps.45:9,14-15; Ezek.16:10,13; 27:7)
Dress for mourning and penitence (saq) was probably some kind of haircloth similar to the mantle of the prophets. This was worn with a belt and sometimes on the naked body (Gen.37:34; 2 Sam.3:31; 1 Ki.21:27; 2 Ki.6:30).
Dress of Priests
The oldest sacred dress seems to have been the ephod bad, probably a simple loin-cloth (2 Sam.6:14,20). The priests of Nob were known as men who wore the "linen ephod" (1 Sam.22:18). Samuel (1 Sam.2:18) and David (2 Sam.6:14) wore a simple linen ephod. This ordinary ephod has to be distinguished from the ephod of the high priest made of costly material (byssus = sés), worked with gold, purple, scarlet, or the like. This part of the dress reached from breast down to the hips. It was held in place by two shoulder-bands and was tied around the waist (Ex.39:1-26). There is also mention of an ephod which was used for the oracles. This was hung in the Temple (1 Sam.21:9). The ordinary priests wore during the liturgical service a cloth which covered the hips and thighs (Ex.28:42-43; Lev.16:4) and a long embroidered linen tunic with sleeves (Ex.28:40; 39:27), also an elaborately worked belt of twined linen, blue, purple and scarlet stuff (Ex.28:40; 39:29). They also had a kind of turban called misnepet (Ex.28:4,37,39; 29:6; 39:28). As in Egypt and Babylon, it was forbidden to wear woolen clothes (Ezek.44:17). They were not allowed to wear sandals in the Temple (Ex.3:5; 29:20).
This constitutes the sum of what we know of Biblical dress patterns from the Bible as well as from other sources.
Dress Standards in the Modern Christian Church
What, if any, of the biblical modes of wear should be maintained in the Christian Church?
Beyond these things, the Bible says little more. The modern apostolate, however, has given further guidelines and instructions to the saints to help them be more fully obedient to the commandments:
- (1) Paul speaks of the woman's headdress or veil in connection her subjection to headship or peribolaion (1 Cor.11:15). Rebekah put on a headcloth when meeting Isaac, her espoused husband, to denote her subjection (Gen.24:65). The New Covenant Church of God follows this custom which has subsequently been confirmed by revelation to the Holy Order and upheld by apostolic authority. Women are required to wear them when praying and prophesying in church meetings and elsewhere and are encouraged to wear them whenever possible at home and elsewhere to show proper subjection to their husbands, as is still the custom in much of Eastern Europe. Allowances are, of course, made for weather conditions.
- (2) The Israelites were commanded by God to make fringed edges on the skirts of their garments, with a blue string above the fringe, as a visual reminder that they were set aside as a people holy to the Lord, reminding them that they should obey all of God's Commandments (Num.15:38-41). Blue is an important colour in the New Covenant Church as it was in ancient Israel but today we no longer wear skirts in public except in hotter climates. Many Christians today wear pins or other symbols on their clothing to advertise to the world that they are Christians -- crosses, doves, and fish -- although unbelievers also do this a great deal now for fashion's sake. It is right that we should have some kind of distinguishing mark so many people in the New Covenant wear the NPKF logo on their clothes, e.g. on the arms of coats, shirts, etc.. The black-white-and-blue colour scheme (with red) is recommended as this particularly distinguishes New Covenant Christians. No further apostolic instruction has been given at this stage.
- (3) The Lord has told His people not to be unduly anxious about having sufficient clothing (Matt.6:25-32). The Christian woman is warned not to let expensive, showy dress or style be the thing she seeks, but rather let her clothing be modest, yet well arranged, showing soundness of mind. She should therefore give attention to her dress but should put the primary stress on the apparel of a quiet and mild spirit (1 Tim.2:9; 1 Pet.3:3-5). The writer of Proverbs describes a good wife as seeing that her family is well clothed, industriously making garments with her own hands (Prov.31:13,21,24).
- (4) No Christian man should marry a Christian woman who continues to dress as the pagans do (Deut.21:10-13), and vice verse, i.e. in a way that is antithetical to Biblical standards. When Israel fell into idolatrous and immoral practices, God condemned the women of the nation who haughtily garbed and decorated themselves in order to attract men (Isa.3:16-23 cp. Prov.7:10). Most women today dress up to be noticed or to be seductive, trusting in their prettiness to get by in life. This is not how it should be for Christian women who should emphasise modesty and spirituality. They should never dress up to be sexually attractive (except in private with her husband) nor go the opposite extreme of being untidy or dirty and thus dishonour the Name of Christ.
- (5) Today's unbelievers wear many kinds of pagan symbols -- the so-called Peace Logo (actually an upturned, broken cross, used by witches to deny Christ), snakes (symbol of Satan and unlicenced sex), the Yin-Yang sign (a New Age symbol meaning that perfection is a balance of good and evil), upturned crosses (a Satanic symbol mocking Christianity), good-luck amulets (St.Christopher), etc.. These should not be worn by Christians. The Holy Order has also issued instructions counselling New Covenant Christians to stop imitating the modern practice of wearing jackets and tea-shirts covered in meaningless logos and writing, but to dress plainly and simply. Christians, if they are to advertise anything at all, should advertise Christ and the Kingdom. Use of the firstborn and Church of Christ logo should be avoided in public save at special ceremonial occasions.
- (6) Our clothing should reflect our spiritual identity. God figuratively clothes His people in garments of righteousness and salvation (Psa.132:9; Isa.61:10) whereas His enemies will be clothed with shame and humiliation (Psa.35:26). For example, does a tough-looking, dirty, metal-studded leather motorcycle jacket worn with torn jeans and sunglasses reflect the Kingdom of God or the world? Paul commands Christians to strip off the old personality and to clothe themselves with the new personality, some of the features of which are the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, long-suffering, and, especially, love (Col.3:9-14). This should be reflected in the clothes they wear too.
One last point. Remember that clothes do alter your self-awareness. So when you are putting on clothes, ask yourself: Am I unconsciously trying to convey a message when I dress? If I do, is that message consistent with the Gospel? Would I dress this way if I knew the Lord Jesus would come and visit me? Am I deliberately trying to upset others the way I dress, to demonstrate "independence" or "originality"? Are my motives pure?
- (a) In countries where men customarily wear tunics or long shirts (as in Biblical times) rather than trousers, these should be the preferred (but not obligatory) mode of dress.
- (b) Where trousers can be avoided, women should preferably wear dresses (in extremely cold climates, trousers cannot really be avoided).
- (3) Women should only use makeup in moderation or, preferably, not at all, and then only use mild colouration.
- (4) Jewelry should be used in moderation or, preferably, not at all. Ears and noses should not be pierced for rings. The flesh should never be mutilated in any way (see NC&C 443). Pagan markings (such as the red eye of Shiva in Hindu women), tribal markings, war paint, etc. should be removed wherever possible.
- (5) Men should not wear jewelry at all, nor earrings or tattoos. Obscene tattoos should be removed if possible.
- (6) Women should grow their hair long (longer than collar length) and men cut theirs short (not longer than collar length). Men may wear moustaches or beards as they wish so long as they are neatly maintained but clean-shavenness is preferred. Women should keep their hair simple and avoid elaborate, expensive and time-consuming hairdos.
- (7) Avoid fashions and fads. Keep your colour schemes simple.
- (8) Women should avoid exposing their legs above the knee (except when bathing) and should avoid tightly fitting clothes. Long dresses are preferred.
- (9) Swimming costumes should be modest; bikinis should be avoided and one-piece swimming suits enjoined.
- (10) Avoid jeans and tea-shirts in official Church gatherings.
- (11) Do not oppress the poor with clothing regulations they cannot possibly afford to meet but encourage them to find solutions in God's grace.
- (12) In cultures were semi-nudity is the norm, do not make people feel guilty where there is no guilt nor immorality associated with the mode of dress. Allow them to be led by the Holy Spirit and God's Word. Remember how the Garden of Eden was.
- (13) Do not interfere with cultural norms of dress to such an extent that Christians will suffer unnecessary persecution and ridicule. Remember that salvation is of the soul. Allow the Indians to wear saris, the Malays to wear sarongs, the Africans to wear long shirts or go topless, the Arabs to wear Arabian dress, the Europeans and Americans to wear suits, but do not impose any single uniform pattern of clothing. Encourage Christians to wear their best clothes on the Sabbath. If a European wishes to wear a polo-neck shirt and sweater instead of a suit and tie, that is up to him. Let all be satisfied and live with a pure conscience, not making a special display or trying to be "different" to draw attention to self (see NC&C 5).
A few months ago I let my young son try on an old East German uniform I acquired in Berlin before unification. He was instantly transformed into a "soldier", strutting around as soldiers do.
An international traveller remarked how when he wore the traditional Japanese yukata (the man's equivalent of a kimono) he found himself behaving as the Japanese do. When he was back in his suit, he found himself behaving as Europeans do. Put someone in the clothes of 19th century courtiers and they behave like 19th century courtiers.
Clothes do modify our behaviour and we should never forget that. Not only are clothes expressions of our soul but they affect our souls too. People who wear expensive clothes act "rich", and those who wear rags act "poor". When decent people put on soldiers' uniforms, they find themselves doing things they would never do in civilian attire. So stringently avoid the clothes of the "anticulture" as promoted by rock groups and listless youth, because your spirit will be changed by them. Don't wear suits because business men wear them -- the Church is not a business organisation (though looking at many churches you would think it is).
It is well worth remembering that in heaven people wear simple white robes. I have seen them. And I have seen one up close, a woman's robe, beautifully embroidered. From afar it looked plain, but close up it was a work of art. In New Covenant temples people wear simple white robes too. White temple robes affect the way people behave, creating an atmosphere of purity and holiness. And in firstborn communities special clothing is worn too.
Let our outward dress match your inward holiness; and if your inward holiness isn't up to standard, then let your outer dress reflect the lofty goal you aspire to in Christ Jesus.
This page was created on 24 April 1998
Last updated on 24 April 1998
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