September 30, 2016

Addressing the Dressing III: “Modesty” in the Bible (ctd.)

by Lyndon Unger

In the previous post, we dug through 1 Cor. 12:23, which contains the first of two occurrences of the term “modesty” in the ESV.  We saw that in 1 Cor. 12:23, the term translated “modesty” carried an idea that wasn’t primarily one of appearance, but rather overall demeanour.  To be clear, the term included appearance but involved more than just appearance.

Today, we’ll look at the second occurrence of “modesty” in the ESV, which is found in 1 Tim. 2:9.

1 Tim. 2:9 – Again, I’m going to set the verse within its immediate context of 1 Tim. 2:8-15

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

The term “modesty” is actually translated from an entirely different term, but we’re going to look at the blanket category before getting to the specific word translated “modesty”.

The woman that Paul is mentioning is one who has different clothing than unregenerate women.  Their apparel should be “respectable,” and “modesty” is one of two ways Paul explains what he means.  The term translated “respectable” is kosmios and it occurs only twice: once with regards to men (1 Tim. 3:2) and once with regards to women (1 Tim. 2:9).  The term kosmios comes from the root kosmos, which is a very common term in the New Testament and usually means “world”.  In John 3:16 it says “for God so loved the world…” and “world” is translated from kosmos

Wait a minute.

What in the…world?

Well, the term kosmos has a rather large pool of meanings (semantic range) in the New Testament.  It’s kind of like how terms like “green” have a lot of different meanings in English (i.e. money, rookie, sick, envious, etc.)

Interestingly, kosmos also appears in 1 Peter 3:3 – “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear…”

Kosmos (in 1 Pet. 3:3) is a noun and kosmios (in 1 Tim. 2:9) is the adjectival form of that noun. The idea behind kosmos in both these passages is one of arrangement.  Without getting into a rather long discussion of the philology and etymology of kosmos, the earliest known common usage of the term carried the idea of arranging and order  and that idea is what’s being transmitted in both passages.  If you’re actually interested in tracking down that information, I can tell you exactly where to look:

– Puhvel, Jaan. “The Origins of Greek kosmos and Latin mundus.” American Journal of Philology [1976]: 154-167,

– Marconi, Clemente. “Kosmos: The Imagery of the archaic Greek temple.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics [2004]: 211-224,

– Bratcher, Robert G. “The Meaning of Kosmos,“World”, in the New Testament.” The Bible Translator 31, no. 4 [1980]: 430-434.

All three of those articles will provide ample background and further sources that will give a rather meticulous account of the history of the term kosmos (but you’ll need some sort of access to online journal databases to read them).

As a point of interest, the term kosmeo is also derived from kosmos and means “to put in order” or “to adorn.”  It is from kosmeo that we get the English word “cosmetic.”  I once heard a preacher say something along the lines of “when women get ready for church, they apply cosmetics to bring kosmos to their chaos.”

Sometimes makeup makes more chaos...

So the word that is translated “world” in most of the New Testament can also mean “order” or “arrangement” in specific contexts.  Now, back to 1 Tim. 2:9. So what does 1 Timothy 2:9 mean?

Well, let’s break down the passage phrase by phrase:

“likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel”

Adorn themselvesKosmeo is the Greek term here (another derivative of kosmos).  The idea is “arrange themselves” in the sense of “dress themselves.”

Respectable Apparel – The idea here is one of “orderly” apparel; clothing that is well-fitting or “proper for women who profess godliness” (1 Tim. 2:10).  The Greek term here is kosmios (there’s a clever word-play here by Paul, given the previous term).  This is the overarching category that Paul holds up as exemplary for the women in Ephesus.

On a side note, some folks tend to milk the word “apparel” (Katastole in Greek) into a full on teaching on “biblical skirt lengths,” so let’s address that quickly:

The term katastole is a “hapax legomena”. That’s the technical description for a word that only appears once in the Scripture. Words that appear once are hard to define since there’s no way to look at other usage of the words.  Also, Paul had a habit of creating terms to suit his needs when he was writing.

The guys who milk the term often break “katastole” down into its components and then build a definition from that. They do do the following math:

“kata” (“letting down”) + “stole” (“a garment let down”) = “a long garment that is let down to the bottom of the legs”.

Those guys then run all through scripture and look at how bared legs are associated with shame (or at least try to make such a claim), and then deduct that the Bible talks about skirt lengths and gives concrete rules on the matter.

That “kata + stole” idea is an exegetical fallacy that I know as the “butterfly fallacy.” A “butterfly” has absolutely nothing to do with “butter” or “flies”, except in the most general sense with the latter. “Kata” + “stole” doesn’t necessarily automatically mean the sum of its component parts added together. The problem is compounded because the verb “stello,” from which the noun “stole” is derived, itself only appears twice in the entire Bible. Neither reference is terribly helpful in determining the meaning. The whole word study (and related exegetical math), at least on this level, is nonsense. “Katastole”, being the noun form of “Katastello” is most likely talking about “arrangement/deportment” as shorthand for “apparel”.

Also, there’s no ironclad reason I’m aware of why “Katastole” couldn’t be “kata” + “stola”. That would make more sense, seeing that the universal Greek term for a woman’s garment was “stola”. That would mean that “katastole” would carry an idea along the lines of “according to the stola” (stola being shorthand for “suitable feminine attire”).  That would mean that “respectable apparel” is likely one of the best translations, though “respectable female attire” would also work.

I’d suggest that Paul’s purposefully NOT getting specific here, (at least in the sense of using some sort of technical term that indicates skirt length) since he’s giving general principles rather than a series of specific rules.

So what does “respectable apparel” look like if it’s not a specific length of skirt?

Let’s look at the next phrase and find out:

“with modesty and self-control,”

modestyNow we get to the specific term.  The term here is translated from the Greek term aidos .  The term comes from a (not) and eido (to look/see) and carries the idea of averting one’s eyes from a person of rank/power out of a sense of either shame or honour. It only appears here and in Heb. 12:28, where it’s translated “reverence.”

The idea is not one of being a doormat or some sort of quiet mouse of a woman, but rather being one who shows appropriate honour to those to whom it is due.

self-control – The term here is translated from the Greek term sophrosyne . The term is the noun form of the adjective sophron, which carries the idea of grabbing the reins of one’s own passions and desires; having oneself under restraint.

It’s also worth noting that sophrosyne is the term that appears also in 1 Tim. 2:15 that is translated “modesty” in the NLT and RSV.  To the translators, it seems that aidōs and sophrosyne were closely related, seeing that they translated both as “modesty.”

So when the two terms (aidos and sophrosyne ) are combined, the idea of “order” comes out clearly.  The women that God esteems are women who are marked by restraint and dignity.  They’re honourable women who are not given to wild behaviour.  The contrast that Paul makes shows exactly what sort of “self control” he’s thinking of.

“not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire”

braided hair -literally “woven hair”.  The Greek term is plegma and only occurs here in the New Testament.

gold or pearls – believe it or not, the Greek term for “gold” means “gold” and the Greek term for “pearls” means “pearls.”

costly attire – The term “costly” is translated from polyteles, which only occurs here, Mark 14:3 and 1 Pet. 3:4.  It’s interesting that in 1 Pet. 3:4, the contrast is between external adornment (“ braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire“) and internal adornment (“a gentle and quiet spirit“).  That internal adornment is what’s “costly” (polyteles), but it’s costly to God (“which in God’s sight is very precious“).

Amazingly, the Greek term for “attire” means “a tire.”


Well, not entirely (remember that I warned you that I’m a guy, right?  That joke was too hard to not make…).

So here, we finally get to talk about clothes.  The term “attire” is translated from himatismos and basically refers to one’s “array” or “apparel.”  It occurs fairly infrequently in the New Testament: Matt. 27:35; Luke 7:25, 9:29; John 19:24; Acts 20:33 and here.  The meaning is pretty simple.  It means “attire”, as in “clothes”.

Now we’re getting somewhere concrete, right?

Paul’s basically saying “don’t dress like a prostitute,” right?

Well, not so fast.

I don’t find too many people asking the questions: what did braided hair with gold and pearls indicate in ancient Roman culture?

I know that there’s an evangelical myth that such things indicated that a woman was a prostitute, but that’s:

a) Highly suspicious.

I’ve always struggled with the idea that loads of God-fearing woman in the early church apparently willfully dressed in a way to specifically advertise that they were prostitutes.  That just doesn’t make sense on a basic level.

b) Simply not true.

c) The next post.

Come back next for what may prove to be the beginning of a surprise.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him didn’t.
  • Jason

    Now we’re getting somewhere concrete, right?

    c) The next post.

    Using an entire post just to build people up for the next post? You could write films.

    • Ira Pistos

      Yes! And I’m intentionally not cheating by reading it in his blog. 🙂

    • Lyndon Unger

      Here’s hoping. I could use a seven-figure writing gig right now…

  • Hohn

    I find this entire series fascinating, and really appreciate the work you’ve put in. I have a question, however. The “katastole” point is a matter of first impression to me, I’ve never heard the argument either way, and I don’t speak Greek.

    I see the problem with the argument that it must mean a floor-length piece of apparel… there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to make that claim strongly. With that said, given the hapax legomena point, how confident are you in strongly making the contrary point?

    Put another way, doesn’t the inclusion of “kata” mean SOMETHING? If not, why not just use stole/stola? I ask this as someone who, in practice, does not use a ruler to measure clothing. 🙂

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for the kind words Hohn!

      Part of the problem with the kata + stole math is that kata doesn’t mean “letting down” and stole doesn’t mean “a garment let down” in the first place.

      Kata does mean something, and the most common meaning is “according to”. I would suggest that my understanding isn’t concrete, by any means, but my understanding is at least related to the meaning of the terms in question. I’d say that “according to the stola” makes the most sense in the context. I wouldn’t die on that hill, but I’m definitely making the argument.

  • Maranatha

    Dear Lyndon, the word for “braided hair” (woven) reminds me of the meaning of the name DELILAH who in the OT seduced Simson to reveal His secret of power. I think here lies the parallel to what you are going to explain. Women should IN PRINCIPLE not seduce men to give up their power and order Christ have to them (i.e. be the head of woman and family) and this to betray their saviour and Lord. Instead, they should always think of their important role as companion for the man to help him and complement him to fulfil his duty in front of their both Lord. This has nothing to do with “sexual attraction” but with sucking out the mens power of the Holy Spirit (if you know what I mean, I am German and perhaps not framing everything correctly).

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for your comment, Maranatha.

      So the Greek term for “braided hair” (plegma) reminds you of the meaning of Delilah (“feeble”), and that is related to the parallel that I’m aiming at?

      I’m wondering if you could maybe try to explain that connection for me?

      I somewhat agree with the sentiment that women shouldn’t openly rebel against the role that God has placed them in. Is that what you’re getting at?

      • Maranatha

        No, Lyndon, I do refer to another meaning of “Delilah” that has the connotation to “curly, loose, woven hair” (dalal il = to hang, let low). This was my first thought when reading through your commentary.