the role and physical structure of men is by God’s ordination different
from that of women, men’s clothing should be distinctively adapted for
manly physique and activity. In Scripture the man’s dress was more suited
to outdoor life, travelling and hard physical work than that of women, as
evidenced by the practice of girding up the loins:
the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran
before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel (I Kings 18:46); Then answered the
LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Gird up thy loins now like a
man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me (Job 40:6, 7, cf. Exod.
12:11; II Kings 4:29, 9:1; Jer. 1:17; Luke 12:35-37; I Peter 1:13).
latter statement is repeated in Job 38:3, which Matthew Poole explains as
follows: “Gird up now thy loins;
as warriors then did for the battle. Prepare thyself for the combat with
As indicated in God’s words to Job on this occasion, girding up the loins
was invariably a custom pertaining to men alone, by which they would have
“their long garments tucked up (which otherwise would hang about them, and
whilst on the other hand we infer from Isaiah 47:2, 3 that for women, any
raising of the skirts was a disgrace. The word used in Job 38:3, 40:7 and
Deuteronomy 22:5 for “man” isrbg(geber),
which tends to denote a “valiant man or warrior”,
whereas the word used in Deuteronomy 22:5 for “woman” ishva(ishshah),
the feminine of vya(iysh),
the ordinary word for any man. Hence, the Hebrew grammar in the phrase,
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man”, shows us
that especially forbidden to women is the costume of an active man: the
“long garments which they tucked up when they went about earnest
the shorter robe, and the trousers worn as an outer covering by workmen,
soldiers, sailors, horsemen, etc., in many ancient and modern cultures.
Men’s robes being of such a style, and being worn in such a manner,
as was conducive to their being girt up to free the wearer for action is one
of the most frequently cited distinctives of men’s apparel in Scripture,
and it contradicts the common argument for “women’s trousers”, which
is as follows: “As men and women of Bible times all wore robe-like
garments, so modern women may wear trousers as men do, so long as the
trousers are different in style from men’s.” It should firstly be noted
that the current “differences” in apparel are so minor as to be
generally unobservable, except that women’s outfits tend to be
closer-fitting and altogether less concealing. But secondly, until after the
entrenchment of Higher Criticism and other heresies in the churches, and the
loss of faith in God’s Word, the distinctive clothing of women was never
merely a modified imitation of whatever men might be wearing, but a
full-length robe, so styled as to conceal the body and provide proper
covering down to the ankles or feet, as we shall see.
Conversely, very long robes worn by men were an addition to the
essential garments (Luke 20:46) and were, along with other flowing, outer
garments worn in those Eastern lands, considered an encumbrance to a man on
a serious errand. This is seen in the actions of blind Bartimæus, the son
of Timæus, who, “casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus”
(Mark , cf.
the same token John Calvin says, “We
know that orientals use flowing tunics and long robes, so that they cannot
execute any business without putting off their garments.”Although the
nobler sort of men often wore long robes (Mark 16:5), these were not
essential as a covering and were different from the woman’s outer robe.
Even in our day, the long ceremonial robes worn by a prince, and the gown of
a judge, are quite distinguishable from a woman’s dress or long skirt and
blouse. Our Lord warned the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, which love
to go in long clothing, and love salutations
in the marketplaces” (Mark , cf. Luke
20:46). Matthew Henry says
of such men:
affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures
down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or
judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not
sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing
themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes,
as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now
before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his
disciples go with their loins
Long garments, as well as the rest of the wardrobe, are misused by
men who indulge in excessive elegance, luxury and softness. Such vices are
to be shunned – in men they are breakages of the rule of Deuteronomy 22:5.
James Durham (1622-1658) elaborates:
is in clothes a base effeminateness amongst men (which some way emasculateth
or unmanneth them) who delight in those things which women dote upon, as
dressing of hair, powderings, washings, (when exceeded in), rings, jewels
&c. which are spoken of, and reproved in the daughters of Zion, Isa. 3.
and so must be much more unsuitable to men. Also interchanging of apparel is
condemned; men putting on women’s, and women men’s clothes, which is
unsuitable to that distinction of sexes which the Lord hath made, and is
condemned in the word, as a confusion, an absurd, unnatural thing, and an
inlet to much wickedness. Whereof the Dutch annotators, as several fathers
did long before them, on I Cor. 11:14. make men’s nourishing and wearing
of long hair to be some degree [i.e.,
crime], it being given to women, not only for an ornament and covering, but
also in part for distinction of the female sex from the male.
Though men are cautioned against pride in the wearing of dignified
long garments, such are the standards of modesty required in the Sacred
Records that a man wearing only an inner garment is said to be naked. Easton’s
Bible Dictionary describes this inner tunic:
was a closely-fitting garment, resembling in use and form our shirt (John 19:23). It
was kept close to the body by a girdle (John 21:7). A person wearing this
‘coat’ alone was described as naked (I Samuel 19:24; Isaiah 20:2; II
Kings 6:30; John 21:7).
According to the same dictionary, a Hebrew man would also wear
another, longer tunic over the inner “coat” (I
Samuel 2:19, 24:4, 28:14; Matthew 10:10; Luke 9:3), and over that an outer
garment consisting of a “piece of woollen cloth like a Scotch plaid . . .
confined to the waist by a girdle, and the fold formed by the overlapping of
the robe served as a pocket (II Kings 4:39; Psalm 79:12; Hag. 2:12; Proverbs
Thus biblical truth teaches us that, while taking account of the climate and
customs of each land, men must be decently dressed in clothing that covers
the body and is not tight-fitting. Although God’s Word emphasises the
virtue of modesty in women, there is also, without doubt, great shame in the
uncovering of a man (Gen. 9:23; II Sam. 10:4, 5; I
Chron. 19:4, 5; II Cor. 5:3; Rev. 16:15). For this reason the
Lord commanded Moses to make linen breeches for Aaron and his sons, which
were a form of trousers worn
under the robe, to cover the body “from the waist to a little above the
The Lord appointed the priests’ trousers in these words:
thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins
even unto the thighs they shall reach: And they shall be upon Aaron, and
upon his sons, when they
come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto
the altar to minister in the holy place;
that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever
unto him and his seed after him (Exod. 28:42, 43).
particularly ordered, in their ministration,” notes Matthew Henry
of these priests of the Lord,
wear linen breeches, v. 42. This teaches us modesty and decency of
garb and gesture at all times, especially in public worship, in which a veil
[for women] is becoming, I Cor. 11:5, 6, 10. It also intimates what need our
souls have of a covering, when we come before God, that the shame of
their nakedness may not appear.
While the various robes and turbans of the priests were made “for
glory and for beauty” (Exod. 28:40), the
breeches were necessary for decency, being given “to cover their
nakedness” (v. 42). John Gill says that these
breeches “were to reach above the navel near the heart, and to the
end of the thigh, which is the knee, as Maimonides says; who also observes,
that they had strings, but had no opening before or behind, but were drawn
up round like a purse; they were a sort of drawers, and somewhat like our
Ezekiel, too, was told that the priests
“shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches
upon their loins” (Ezek. 44:18, cf. Exod. 39:28; Lev.
Therefore the priests’ costume was to be in the form of men’s
garb; different from ordinary wear, and hallowed, but still of a manly
style. By God’s ordination the priests wore short hair, turbans and robes
in common with other Israelite men (cf. I Cor. 11:14; Ezek. 24:17; Luke
15:22), and although ordinary Jews were apparently not compelled to wear
breeches, it is probable that those consecrated for the priests had their
equivalents in the garments worn by common men. Such appears to have been
the view of John
Calvin, who remarks in his comments on Jeremiah 13:1-5, that the Hebrew word
in the Authorised (King James)
not only the breeches which
they then wore, but also a girdle or belt, according to what Isaiah says,
when, speaking figuratively of Christ’s kingdom, that faithfulness would
be the girdle of his loins (Isaiah 11:5). It may here, however, be taken for
breeches as well as for a girdle.”
Knee breeches well accommodated the custom of girding up the loins and the
practice of horse-riding, ensuring that the wearer would remain covered
above the knee.
Further, it appears from the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in
Daniel 3:21, “Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and
their hats, and their other
garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace”, that
Jewish men were not averse to wearing trousers as an outer garment after the
manner of the Persians. “Hosen” is an old word for trousers or breeches;
Matthew Henry says, “They were bound in their coats or mantles, their
hosen or breeches, and their hats or turbans, as if, in detestation of their
crime, they would have their clothes to be burnt with them.”
Again, it is apparent that men outside of the priestly order also wore
trousers, whether under robes or as outer garments with their cloaks. Such
styles are still in use in the Middle East, and have also been
a tradition for millennia in much of Europe and Asia – men’s trousers
playing a more prominent role in the costumes of those who relied on the
horse for transport – while full-length dresses remained the garment of
Also exclusive to men was the cloak, an outer garment, which was
different from the woman’s shawl and head covering. The apostle Paul told
Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when
thou comest, bring with thee”
(II Tim. 4:13, cf.
if exchange of garments be not lawful, so that neither she should be clad
with a cloak, nor he with a mantle or a veil:
(‘for the woman,’ saith He, ‘shall not wear that which pertaineth to a
man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garments:’) [Deut. 22:5] much
more is it unseemly for these things to be interchanged.
Finally, the Lord reveals through Scripture and by nature itself that
grown men are usually given a sign of their status in the form of a beard.
While bearing in mind the obligation to neatness and common civility, it is
worth considering that the men of the Old Testament church knew to
appreciate the beard and understood its marring or removal to be shameful
(Lev. 19:27, 21:5; I Sam. 21:13, 14; II Sam. 10:4, 5, 19:24, 20:9; I Chron.
19:4, 5; Ezra 9:3; Isa. 15:2; Jer. 41:5, 48:37). Note the pleasant and
solemn references to Aaron’s beard in Psalm 133, a song that extols unity
and brotherly love in Christ: “It is
like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even
Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments” (Psalm
133:2, cf. Psalm 45:7; Heb. 1:9; John 3:34). Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) – the Church Father renowned for his defence of the doctrines of
grace – wrote a commentary on the Psalms, and on this passage he says:
was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered
into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once
Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to
offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one
whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is
Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and
the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard
signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the
earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he
is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles,
descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore
the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell
together in unity, suffered persecution; but because the ointment descended
to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered.
Aaron was a type of our Messiah who was in all things made like unto
his brethren (Heb. 2:17), and of whose words
Isaiah prophesied, saying, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks
to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and
spitting” (Isa. 50:6). It was a part of the open shame suffered by our
Lord Jesus Christ that His face was spat upon, and His beard torn out.
As nature itself teaches us (cf. I Cor. 11:14), this manly,
paternal or patriarchal
bearing is not confined to the Levitical priesthood or the Old Testament
dispensation of the covenant of grace. C. H. Spurgeon once gave his
theological students a lecture “On the Voice”, and touching on the
necessity of taking care of the throat he advised the young men against
wrapping their necks in scarves, adding, “If you feel that you want
something else, why, then grow your beards! A habit most natural,
scriptural, manly, and beneficial.”
Poole on Job 38:3, Commentary, vol. 1, p1018.
Matthew Henry on Luke 12:36,Commentary, vol. 5, p412. Note: “to gird” can mean simply “to
clothe” oneself (Prov. 31:17; John ).
James Strong, ‘Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary’, Strong’s
Exhaustive Concordance (Baker Book House, 1982), p25.
John Calvin,Commentaries on Jeremiah, vol.
Books, 2003), p160.
4, p1250. In the AV the Aramaic
is translated as
becomes “hosen” or “trousers”. However, as this
description of Persian costume has no equivalent in Scripture with which
it may be compared, scholars have varied in their translations, some
understanding sarbal to be
“trousers”. Cf. Persian sherwal
and Arabic sarwal, “trousers”
– a traditional, commodious men’s outer garment worn in the Middle East.
Chrysostom, Homily 26, On the
Veiling of Women.
Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms.
The Hebrew word for ‘beard’, ˆqz(zaqan),is derived from ˆqz(zaqen),
an ‘elder’ or ‘old man’ (see ‘Hebrew
and Chaldee Dictionary’, no. 2206, Strong’s
Exhaustive Concordance, p36).
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, First Series, Lecture 8 (Baker Book House,