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        Christian Clothing                                                                    (PDF version here)


Scripture Standards for Dress and Conduct



3. Necessity of Modest Clothing

Apart from such regulations as belonged to the ceremonial or judicial laws of Old Testament Israel [1] (Dan. 9:27; I Cor. 9:8-10), all precepts ordained by God are binding upon the New Testament church (Matt. 5:17). Enshrined in the moral law is the directive that mankind must “hide the shameful nakedness of the body from the sight of men”[2] (Gen. 3:7-11, cf. Isa. 20:4; Ezek. 23:29; II Cor. 5:3). Clothing has been essential for mankind ever since the fall, and a hearty assent to modest clothing is a sign of true godliness.

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, . . . I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel . . . And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them (Gen. 3:9-14, 15, 20, 21).

This passage shows us that clothing has become necessary because of Adam’s fall into sin. All men, women and children descended from Adam[3] have guilty, corrupt natures, from which emanates all actual sin (Rom. 5:12, 19; Matt. 15:19), and so the human race is destitute of spiritual clothing, our own righteousnesses being now but filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Unless provided with a spiritual coverture (Isa. 61:10; Eph. 5:25), every human being will be compelled to answer for his own wicked works on that day of wrath (Job 21:30 ; Matt. 25:41, 46; Rom. 2:5, 6). Guilt, and the shame of nakedness both spiritual and physical, are results of sin. The more the knowledge of one’s guilt before God is suppressed, the more one’s conscience becomes seared, and the sense of the shame and depravity of physical nakedness is stifled.

You see that in providing Adam and his wife with clothing from the skins of slain animals, God gave a symbol of the Sacrifice for sinners who would provide spiritual robes of righteousness for those who “come unto God by Him” (Heb. 7:25). Says Matthew Henry:

Thus the first thing that died was a sacrifice, or Christ in a figure, who is therefore said to be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. These sacrifices were divided between God and man, in token of reconciliation: the flesh was offered to God, a whole burnt-offering; the skins were given to man for clothing, signifying that, Jesus Christ having offered himself to God a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour, we are to clothe ourselves with his righteousness as with a garment, that the shame of our nakedness may not appear. Adam and Eve made for themselves aprons of fig-leaves, a covering too narrow for them to wrap themselves in, Isa. 28:20. Such are all the rags of our own righteousness. But God made them coats of skins; large, and strong, and durable, and fit for them; such is the righteousness of Christ. Therefore put on the Lord Jesus Christ.[4]

The covering of righteousness for sinners was devised in eternity when God made a covenant with His Son (Psalm 89:3), and being of God’s design it was appropriate that it be represented by the material clothing made by God to cover the shame of physical nakedness. Not only is physical clothing absolutely required of God, but from the beginning it was bestowed upon men and women to be worn in the way that He sees fit, in a manner that fulfils the purpose of clothing. In his commentary on Ezekiel 16, William Greenhill (1591-1671) analyses the rich apparel given by the Lord to the Jewish church, which is represented as a woman; and in order to “discern more clearly of the lawful use or sinful abuse of these things”, Greenhill considers “for what ends the Lord hath given apparel and ornaments”:

(1.) To cover man’s nakedness. God set man and woman naked in the world at first, that they might see they had nothing of their own, that all was the Lord’s who created them; but when they sinned in eating the forbidden fruit, they were ashamed of their nakedness, and sought to cover it, Gen. 3:7, 21; yea, God made them ‘coats of skins, and clothed them,’ ver. 21, that so their nakedness and shame might not be seen, that so modesty and chastity might be preserved: Hos. 2:9, ‘I will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.’

(2.) To arm and defend them against the injury of the air, the violence of wind and weather, heat and cold [Prov. 31:21; 25:20; Job 24:7] . . .

(3.) To distinguish one sex from another. God would not have men and women dressed and adorned alike; Deut. 22:5, ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment:’ God would not have men to be effeminate, nor women to be mannish . . . 

(4.) To preserve the healthiness of our bodies. ‘Man is born to labour, as the sparks fly upward,’ Job 5:7; and man labouring, his body sweats . . . which our vestures receiving are to be changed, and so health preserved: so in time of sickness, Job 30:18 . . .

(5.) To notify the conditions, ranks, and places of men [Gen. 41:42; Esth. 6:8; Acts 12:21 ; Psalm 45:13, 14; II Sam. 13:18 ; Lam. 4:5; Matt. 11:8; 27:28] . . .

(6.) To adorn the body [Gen. 27:15; Isa. 52:1; Hos. 2:13 ] . . . Jer. 2:32 , ‘Can a maid forget her ornaments?’ Exod. 28:40, Aaron’s sons must have coats, girdles, bonnets, ‘for glory and beauty’ . . .

(7.) To testify grief or joy. Mordecai put on sackcloth in a time of mourning [Joel 1:13 ; Luke 15:22 ; Isa. 61:10; Eccl. 9:8] . . .[5]

It is not therefore merely for a covering of shame – for modesty – that we wear clothes, but also, notably, for the “honouring of the body”[6] (I Thess. 4:4), for protection from the elements, and “to distinguish sexes”.[7] Holy Scripture dictates that women’s clothes are to be distinct from those of men: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deut. 22:5). The distinctive features of men’s and women’s apparel complement their respective roles in society, and those who transgress these laws, wearing forbidden garments, display the wantonness and covetousness of their hearts. Women in particular add rebellion to these sins, breaking the fifth as well as the seventh and tenth commandments (cf. Exod. 20:12, 14, 17). “The distinction of sexes by the apparel is to be kept up,” notes Mr Henry,

for the preservation of our own and our neighbour’s chastity, v. 5. Nature itself teaches that a difference be made between them in their hair (I Cor. 11:14), and by the same rule in their clothes, which therefore ought not to be confounded, either in ordinary wear or occasionally . . . It forbids the confounding of the dispositions and affairs of the sexes: men must not be effeminate, nor do the women’s work in the house, nor must women be viragos, pretend to teach, or usurp authority, I Tim. 2:11, 12.[8]

John Gill[9] (1697-1771), a predecessor of C. H. Spurgeon’s at New Park Street Chapel, comments:

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man . . . It being very unseemly and impudent, and contrary to the modesty of her sex; or there shall not be upon her any ‘instrument of a man’, any utensil of his which he makes use of in his trade and business; as if she was employed in it, when her business was not to do the work of men, but to take care of her house and family.[10]

In the use of the word abomination (hb[wt, tow’ebah, in Hebrew) to describe the woman who wears “that which pertaineth unto a man”, and the man who puts on “a woman’s garment”, the immorality of such confusion is powerfully and decisively expressed, the same word being used in Leviticus 18:22 to denounce the sin of the Sodomites. And without doubt, those crimes denounced by God as abomination cannot be avoided by using merely arbitrary rules of human invention. This would be to follow the practices of our rebellious and perverse generation, who teach for doctrines the commandments of men. The Sacred Volume is our rule, and while giving little information on precise details of articles of clothing – replication of ancient garments being needless – it provides the principles necessary for appropriate and modest covering. These may be learned by searching the Scriptures and observing the standards of the godly. The apostle Peter exhorts us to follow faithful examples:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous (I Peter 3:1-8, cf. Heb. 11).

We do well, too, if we eschew the bad example of those set forth as warnings (Luke 17:32). Matthew Henry, expounding the prophet Isaiah’s warning to the daughters of Zion, says,

The prophet’s business was to show all sorts of people what they had contributed to the national guilt and what share they must expect in the national judgments that were coming. Here he reproves and warns the daughters of Zion, tells the ladies of their faults; and Moses, in the law, having denounced God’s wrath against the tender and delicate woman (the prophets being a comment upon the law, Deut. 28:56), he here tells them how they shall smart by the calamities that are coming upon them. Observe,

The sin charged upon the daughters of Zion, v. 16. The prophet expressly vouches God’s authority for what he said, lest it should be thought it was unbecoming in him to take notice of such things, and should be resented by the ladies: The Lord saith it. ‘Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, let them know that God takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the folly and vanity of proud women, and his law takes cognizance even of their dress.’ Two things that here stand indicted for – haughtiness and wantonness, directly contrary to that modesty, shamefacedness, and sobriety, with which women ought to adorn themselves, I Tim. 2:9. They discovered the disposition of their mind by their gait and gesture.[11]


[1] See ‘Of the Law of God’, Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 19:3, 4, pp80, 81.

[2] William Perkins, ‘On the Right, Lawful, and Holy Use of Apparel’, Cases of Conscience.

[3]Shorter Catechism’, Q16, Westminster Confession of Faith, p290. Christ was not descended from Adam by ordinary generation.

[4] Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. 1, p20.

[5] William Greenhill, An Exposition of Ezekiel (Banner of Truth, 1994), p358.

[6] William Perkins, ‘On the Right, Lawful, and Holy Use of Apparel’, Cases of Conscience.

[7] Thomas Boston, ‘Of the Seventh Commandment’, Commentary on the Shorter Catechism.

[8] Matthew Henry on Deut. 22:5, Commentary, vol. 2, p475.

[9] Unfortunately some of Dr Gill’s writings exhibit a tendency towards Hyper-Calvinism.

[10] John Gill on Deut. 22:5, Exposition of the Entire Bible.

[11] Matthew Henry on Isa. 3:16, Commentary, vol. 3, p667.

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