Holy Hands and Modest Bodies

Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:9 that he doesn’t want women to adorn themselves with costly array. The New Living Translation renders “costly array” as “expensive clothes.” So does the New International Version. The English Standard Version translates “costly array” as “costly attire.”

I have to return to certain passages of Scripture again and again to be sure that I’m reading them right. So, I am back at 1 Timothy 2:9 again. What is costly array? It’s polyteles himatismos. Himatismos means “raiment, vesture, clothes, clothing, apparel, array.” Polyteles is an adjective that modifies himatismos. Polyteles means “valuable, of great worth, expensive or costly.”

We see polyteles used in Mark 14:3 when at Simon the leper’s house in Bethany, Mary breaks that alabaster of ointment of spikenard and pours it on the Savior’s head. The adjective used to describe that spikenard is polyteles. This perfume was made from the root of a plant found chiefly in India. It was very expensive. The perfume had a value of more than three hundred denarii (a denarius was what a mean received for a day’s work). That gives one a good sense of what “expensive” perfume means. It was more than a year’s wage.

We see polyteles used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Proverbs 31:10. The rhetorical question is asked, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” A wife of noble character is not easily found, but when she is, the wise man says that her price is far above stones that are polyteles. We translated that “precious stones” or “precious rubies.” Even today when we speak of “precious stones” we’re talking about diamonds, rubies, et cetera. So polyteles means “expensive” and “very precious.”

The other place we see the adjective polyteles is in 1 Peter 3:4. Peter is telling the young church how women should be adorned. Here is his description: “the hidden man of the heart, in that which is corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God polyteles.” Yep, a meek and quiet spirit is “of great price.” Or a meek and quiet spirit is valuable, it’s expensive, it’s very precious.

When we return to 1 Timothy 2:9, we can see that when Paul says that he doesn’t want women to adorn themselves with “costly” array, that “costly” is referring to clothing that is “very precious,” “very expensive,” “precious,” “of great worth.”

Paul gives us a little context to verse 9 by telling us in verse 7 that he has been chosen to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. And he has gender specific instructions to give to the Gentiles about how they ought to come to worship. In verse 8 he says, “whenever you come together (assemble) for worship, the men are to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.

And then he continues with instructions to how the Gentile women ought to come to those assemblies. Among the things he names is an explanation of what he means by asking them to be modest in their appearance. Paul is saying that wearing extremely expensive clothing (remember the definition expensive -- the imported nard from India worth more than a year’s wages, the wife of noble character, the meek and quiet spirit in the sight of God) ... women, please don’t wear your Vera Wang to worship. This is not the red carpet! Verse 10 Paul goes on to say that women who are devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.

Okay Paul. I got you, I understand where you’re coming from. Now my question is, how do I apply this counsel in a local church? If my praise and worship leader tells us to lift our hands and a man doesn’t lift those hands up, what do we do? Furthermore, how do I check the men’s hands to be sure that the hands they lift are holy hands? How do I know that the heart behind those hands is free from anger, free from controversy?

With respect to the women not wearing expensive clothes, how do we establish what’s “expensive”? I mean, how do we apply this word without being subjective? What’s the dividing line between clothes that are affordable and clothes that are costly? Who determines the dividing line? Is “expensive” for my two-parent, one-income house the same as it is for the doctors and lawyers in my congregation? And how will we check to be sure that our sisters aren’t overspending on clothing? One may find a suit in Saks and another may find the same suit months later in Marshall’s. Is the same suit available in Nieman Marcus today for $1500 okay to March for $150? Did the quality of the suit change because of whose clothes rack it was hanging on? Did the craftsmanship diminish?

How does the church apply these instructions? I am hard pressed to find an answer to that question. Are we going to have each newly baptized member sign a covenant stating that they won’t spend more than a certain amount on a dress? Will there be a maximum number of outfits she can purchase in a given calendar year? How will we know that she’s complying with the terms of the covenant and not wearing us out with those high heels.

Paul said he was sent to teach and train. He is not a policeman. When I realize that my job is to tell people what Jesus is looking for (not enforcement), the questions that I had go away.


Belle said…
You are right, we aren't policemen over each other. God convicts our hearts, we just get mad if people try to do that.

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