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Biblical Dress Codes: God's Laws on Clothes

By Vexen Crabtree

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1. Laws and Rules on Clothes in the Bible

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2. Why Women Must Cover Their Hair

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The Flood

These verses in Genesis form part of the introduction to the story of The Flood, where God drowns all nearly living beings on Earth (Genesis chapters 6, 7 and 8). See: Noah, the Ark and the Flood, from the Bible Book of Genesis.

1 Corinthians 11:4-10 (KJV)

4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels."

1 Corinthians 11:13-15

13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Genesis 6:1-2,4 mentions how the "Sons of God" fall for beautiful human daughters, and "took them wives of all which they chose" [KJV]. Verse 4 is actually a repeat of verses 1 and 2, but, only mentions giants and not the mysterious "Sons of God". It was Hebrew tradition to call angels "Sons of God", and, there was another tradition that these angels took hold of lovely women by their hair, hence "the Rabbis ... accordingly warned women to cover their heads in public, so that the angels might not get possession of them"2. Many have noticed St Paul's reference to this myth when he commands that women keep their hair covered (their 'crowning glory') in 1 Corinthians 11:10,15.

According to the custom of those days a veil on the head was a token of respect to superiors; hence for a woman to lay aside her veil was to affect authority over the man. The shaving of the head was a disgraceful punishment inflicted on women of bad repute; it not only deprived them of a great beauty, but also of the badge of virtue and honor.

"The Woman's Bible"
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1898)3

Some Christians argue that women do not have to cover their hair, as it can be read that the "covering" of St Paul is the hair, and, that when he says "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head" it means that women with shaved heads are a disgrace. However, as we have seen, there was clear Rabbinical instruction, from those who understood the Hebrew much better than we do, that Genesis 6 means women do have to cover their hair. Only in this context does St Paul's phrase "because of the angels" make sense.

3. All Laws of the Bible Must be Followed, Both Old and New

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Most modern forms of Christianity accept the Old Testament and the New Testament. Where the two collections contradict each other many believe that the New Testament overrides the Old: this goes for parts that disagree directly on legalities (dietary codes, etc), and, the feel of God in the New Testament is accepted whereas the short-tempered and smiting god of the Old Testament is generally forgotten.

Some Christians argue that the "you" in Old Testament Law only refers to Jews. But they do not follow through with the line of logic, and they do not argue that the sins and new laws mentioned in the New Testament only apply to you Christians. And they also do not apply this logic to all of the Old Testament - just to the bits that they don't like. Also, there are New Testament verses (such as 2 Peter 3:1-2) which also state that the OT laws should be kept. So the reasoning against not having to obey the OT laws is inconsistent.

There are lots of verses in the Bible that imply that the Old Testament laws no longer need to be followed. But there are also a greater number of verses in the Bible that are very clear that all of God's laws are eternal and unchangeable, and apply "forever". So no matter which side of the argument you take, your actions and beliefs are not in accordance with what the Bible says. So, many preachers and teachers will select which set of verses they are going to quote from, and they manage to discount some of the opposing verses, and often, completely ignore the ones that they can't discount. Such confusing contradictions occur because the Bible was written by many different people, who all had different ideas and vested interests, and who wrote at different times and in different places. So on some theological points, such as whether or not everyone has to follow all the rules in the Bible or just the nice ones, there is no consistent message in the Bible.

All Laws Have to be Obeyed ForeverOld Testament Laws No Longer Apply
  • Genesis 17:19: God tells Abraham that he has established an everlasting covenant for him and all of his descendants.

  • Exodus 12:14-20,24 can be argued to apply only to Jews - for whom "expulsion from Israel" is a true threat. "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord - a lasting ordinance. [A description of the 7-day Festival of Unleavened Bread follows]. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. [...] Anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. [...] Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants" [NIV].

  • Leviticus 23:14,21,31: Three times the following phrase is repeated: "it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations". The generations have not stopped - even if they have converted to Christianity and other religions, these verses are saying that the rules still apply.

  • Deuteronomy 4:2: "Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you" [NIV]. The previous verse was addressed to "Israel", so it can easily be argued that only those subject to the original covenant with God are covered by this particular instruction.

  • Deuteronomy 4:8-9: "And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? [...] Teach them to your children and to their children after them".

  • Deuteronomy 7:9: "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments". A thousand generations means 30,000 years, and this is repeated in "1 Chronicles 16:15". And the "Covenant of love" is surely exactly the same as that preached in the New Testament. The "Covenant of love" spans both the Old and the New, and, must be kept for 1000 years - and that covenant includes, as this verse says, keeping the commandments. This means that everyone must obey the Old Testament laws.

  • Deuteronomy 11:1, 26-28: "Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always" [NIV]. It does not say "until I make new commands". If God meant what it said, and if God's word is true, then it means always.

  • 1 Chronicles 16:15: "Remember ye to the age His covenant, The word He commanded -- To a thousand generations" [Young's Literal Translation] - this was also said before in Deuteronomy 7:9. A thousand generations is at least 30,000 years. Needless to say, we will be under the Old Testament laws for a very long time yet!

  • Psalm 119:151-3, 160: "Yet you are near, Lord, and all your commands are true. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever. Look on my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law. [...] All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal" [NIV].

  • Ecclesiastes 12:13: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind" [NIV]. It does not just just for those with whom I have made a covenant. It doesn't say, "the duty of Jews" or as it would say, "the duty of Israel". Nor does it allow a future possibility of the Jewish Law from being annulled. It says for all mankind.

  • Isaiah 40:8: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever" [NIV].

Verses from the New Testament are also in harmony with all of the above verses from the Old Testament:

  • Matthew 5:17-19: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven".

  • Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" [NIV].

  • Luke 16:17: "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law" [NIV].

  • Luke 21:33: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" [NIV].

  • 2 Peter 3:1-2: Paul states that we should recall the words of the Holy prophets of the past - although this verse doesn't say that this means the old Law should be obeyed, it makes little sense to recall those words for any other reason.

Paul knew James (Gal. 1:19) and "indicates that he was committed to keeping the Jewish law and appears to have insisted that the other Jewish followers of Jesus do so as well (2:12)"4.

  • Luke 16:16: "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached" [NIV]. Although this verse, taken out of context, sounds like it is saying that the old prophets have been replacement by a new preaching, this is not at all what the author of Luke was saying. The very next verse, says: "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law" (Luke 16:17). So whatever verse 16 means, it certainly does not mean that any of the Jewish Law has been dropped.

  • Romans 3:28: "A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" [NIV]. This statement makes the entire Bible irrelevant, but, as such, it does also serve to make the Old Testament laws redundant too. Just be a good person!

  • Romans 6:14: "Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace" [NIV].

  • Romans 7:6: "We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" [NIV].

  • Romans 10:4: "For Christ is an end of law for righteousness to every one who is believing" [YLT]. This confusing verse is no clearer in other translations - it might be saying that Jesus ended the law. But it also might be saying that Jesus is the culmination of the Law - the pinnacle of it - which doesn't actually imply that the old Law can now be discarded by anyone who doesn't happen to be Jesus.

  • Galatians 3:13: "Christ did redeem us from the curse of the law".

  • Galatians 5:18: St Paul writes to the church at Galatians, telling them that "if by the Spirit ye are led, ye are not under law". However, if some Christians argue that the Old Testament laws only apply to Israel, then, in this case, St Paul's comments only apply to the residents of Galatia (part of present-day Turkey. If Paul's comments apply to everyone even though they were addressed to those at Galatia, then, it must also be true that the Old Testament law applies to everyone, even though it was addressed to Israel. The contradictions are insurmountable.

  • Ephesians 2:14-16: "[Jesus] having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances... that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross".

  • Colossians 2:14: "having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross" [NIV]. Previous comments by Paul are unclear because they are addressed to particular people; but here is says "us" - therefore including not just those is he writing to, but including all those people who Paul counts as "us", which, given that he took responsibility for preaching to all the gentiles (non-Jews), could quite possibly mean that his comments apply to "everyone except Jews". It is not quite so clear as to be unambiguous.

The number of verses and arguments that show that all the Old Testament Laws still have to be obeyed somewhat outweigh the verses that indicate otherwise.

Current edition: 2014 Oct 29
http://www.humanreligions.info/biblical_dress_codes.html
Parent page: Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Holy Bibles Across Different Traditions

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References: (What's this?)

The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.

Ehrman, Bart
(2011) Forged. Hardback book. Subtitled: "Writing in the Name of God - Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are". Published by HarperCollins, New York, USA.

McFadyen, John Edgar. (1870-1933)
(1905) Introduction to the Old Testament. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition.

Stanton, Elizabeth C.. (1815-1902)
(1898) The Woman's Bible. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Carrie Lorenz and John B. Hare.

Footnotes

  1. McFadyen (1905) p29-30.^
  2. Stanton (1898) p106, 345. "This legend will be found fully treated in a German pamphlet, "Die Paulinische Angelologie und Daemonologie." Otto Everling, Gottingen, 1881." -- from book contributer L.S.^
  3. Stanton (1898) p344.^
  4. Ehrman (2011) p193.^

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