A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:9-10. ii). Women and their adornment.
The Greek sentence begins with the word ‘Likewise…’, so that commentators have naturally asked what similarity Paul has in mind. Some suggest that we should read: ‘In the same way I want women to pray…’ and certainly Paul did expect women to engage in public prayer (1 Cor.11:5). But it is more simple and straightforward to read *I also want…*
The skeleton of the sentence in Greek is ‘I want women…to adorn themselves’, and it is important to note the apostle’s positive desire before coming to the qualifications. When a woman adorns herself, she is seeking to enhance her beauty. So Paul recognizes both that women are beautiful and that they should increase and exhibit their beauty. There is no biblical warrant in these verses for women to neglect their appearance, conceal their beauty or become dowdy and frumpish. The question is *how* they should adorn themselves. There are three parts to Paul’s instruction.
First, he tells women *to dress modestly, with decency and propriety* (9a). It is not possible to distinguish these words from one another in a clear-cut way. But the general impression is clear, that women are to be discreet and modest in their dress, and not to wear any garment which is deliberately suggestive or seductive. This establishes a universal principle.
Secondly, Paul tells women not to adorn themselves *with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes* (9b). Unlike the first part of the verse, this is surely not an absolute ban on all hairstyles in which the hair is plaited, all jewellery which incorporates gold or pearls, and all clothing which is elegant (the word ‘expensive’ raises a different issue, which, although cost is a comparative matter, could well apply universally). If the glorified church is portrayed in the book of Revelation as ‘prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’ (Rev.21:2), it is evident that all material adornment is not forbidden to women. No, hairstyle, jewellery and clothing have different meanings in different cultures. Christian women in Ephesus, for example, would need to make sure that their attire in no way resembled that of the hundreds of prostitutes who were employed in the great goddess Diana’s temple. Chrysostom grasped this. ‘Imitate not therefore the courtesans’, he cried, ‘for by such a dress they allure their many lovers.’
James B.Hurley explains this more fully: ‘He [sc. Paul] refers…to the elaborate hairstyles which were then fashionable among the wealthy, and also to the styles worn by the courtesans. The sculpture and literature of the period make it clear that women often wore their hair in enormous elaborate arrangements with braids and curls interwoven, or piled high like towers and decorated with gems and/or gold and/or pearls. The courtesans wore their hair in numerous small pendant braids with gold droplets or pearls or gems every inch or so, making a shimmering screen of their locks.’ Dr Hurley also supplies references for further information on hairstyle and clothing in the Roman Empire.
Such hair-dos were inappropriate for Christian women in first-century Asia Minor. But the same could not be said about some African tribes today. Their Christian women have preserved traditional hairstyles, which involve the most intricate plaiting, but are neither expensive, nor ostentatious, nor sexually significant. What Paul is emphasizing is that Christian women should adorn themselves with clothing, hairstyles and jewellery which *in their culture* are inexpensive not extravagant, modest not vain, and chaste not suggestive.
Thirdly, they are to adorn themselves *with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God* (10), literally ‘who profess godliness.’ Paul is reminding women that there are two kinds of feminine beauty, physical and moral, beauty of body and beauty of character. The church should be a veritable beauty parlour, because it encourages its women members to adorn themselves with good deeds. Women need to remember that if nature has made them plain, grace can make them beautiful, and if nature has made them beautiful, good deeds can add to their beauty. Moreover, men can facilitate this process by recognizing and applauding in women the beauty of Christlikeness. The apostle Peter also contrasted ‘braided hair and the wearing of gold, jewellery and fine clothes’ with ‘the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in God’s sight’ 1 Pet.3:3-4). If it is valuable to him, it should be valuable to us also.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.