Nathan Mayo

Hi there, The nature of this site is such that it is designed to get people to think about things that hadn’t already occurred to them. Given that somewhat controversial task, I would like to take a moment to explain my personal story and the heart behind the things I have written. I was raised in a pentecostal, independent Holiness home. My parents did a lot of things right in my upbringing, for which I respect them and have tried to honor them as I can. They raised me to be a thinker, and I have been. There are a lot of things I like about the Holiness movement.

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

 

Introduction (by Natalie)

As a young girl, I was sitting in church when the preacher began to tell us the following story. It all started with two girls very much like myself—two Holy-Ghost filled, Holiness Pentecostal girls who loved Jesus. Their parents and pastor had always warned them, “Don’t trim your hair girls!” But it didn’t make much sense to them. Their long, uncut hair was stringy and had splits ends. What would it harm to trim a few inches off? So, when they were old enough to decide for themselves, they went to the salon together and asked for a trim. As soon as the scissors began to cut—boom—something instantly changed. In sheer horror the girls felt the Holy Ghost leave them, they may have even seen a physical dove leave the room. Distressed, they began to weep and cry, “Come back, come back!” But it was too late. Their hair was irreversibly cut and they’d lost the Holy Ghost for good. 

Retelling the tale now, it sounds dramatic and unbelievable, but around the age of thirteen it scared me enough not to ask questions. There was no way I’d risk God leaving me for good. Unfortunately, I have found that I am not the only woman with this experience. Many others have come to me over the years and expressed how they are too are scared of trim their hair—scared God will leave them, scared they’ll lose special power, and even scared their husbands will have an affair or their children will die. To my disturbance, I’ve found that some circles teach a woman’s uncut hair protects her husband from cheating and will heal sick children if it touches them.

We weren’t planning on publishing an article about women’s hair on Berean Holiness because we realize it’s not a clear issue and there’s room for differing perspectives. But after receiving dozens of requests for this article (and all the personal stories they come with), I now realize that the doctrine of uncut hair has not been propagated through careful study of 1 Corinthians 11. It’s not a case of individual believers genuinely disagreeing with mainstream Christianity and Church history. Instead, the idea that it is a sin for women to cut their hair has been perpetuated through fear, superstition, false promises, and threats of God forsaking His children. That ends today.

In the following article, Nathan lays out a summary of research regarding the evidence surrounding 1 Corinthians 11 and its plausible interpretations. Our desire is that you will use his resources and examination of the text as a springboard for your own study. No matter what conclusion you come to, hopefully we can agree that 1 Corinthians 11 has more than one reasonable application and uncut hair should not be made a matter of disfellowship or wielded as a salvific requirement.

Natalie Edmonson

 

Evidence for Interpreting 1 Corinthians 11 (by Nathan)

While we can have confidence in God’s Word, the precise meaning and application of some passages is less than clear. To evidence that point, I can submit the words of none other than the Apostle Peter, who says of Paul’s letters “in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Pet 3:16)

When we arrive at these passages, the proper attitude should be one of careful study and humility. If Peter had to slow down to read them, so should we. We should strive to apply the clear commands of Scripture, such as love and unity, and realize that everyone will not arrive at the exact same conclusion. 

In fact, if everyone in a substantial congregation arrives at the exact same conclusion on a difficult passage (but at a different conclusion from a studious church across the street), it suggests that the majority are not thinking or studying at all. On the contrary, they are blindly following a few leaders and trading the approval of their peers for the approval of the God who commanded them to study diligently. I think this is a poor trade.

In that spirit, allow me to lay out an analysis of a Holiness movement standard in a different format than my typical fare. Normally, I lay the burden of proof at the feet of the party imposing the rule, find their case, and respond to it on a point-by-point basis. However, since the first part of 1 Corinthians 11 is a truly difficult passage of Scripture, my objective in this article is not to convince you of any single interpretation. 

Rather, my objective is to show that there are multiple feasible interpretations, all with strengths and shortcomings. Regardless of which one you end up on, there are still multiple ways to apply each view to the modern believer. Though I think some interpretations can safely be dismissed for lack of evidence, that will still leave us with more than one reasonable view. If you have been told that there is a single obvious interpretation of this passage that leads to a single obvious conclusion, you have been misled.

There are two basic questions at issue in this passage. 

1) What practice is Paul talking about (head coverings, hair styles, relative hair length, untrimmed hair, or some combination of the four)? 

2) To whom does it apply (the men and women of Corinth specifically, all the believers in the first century, or to all believers universally)?

First, I will provide some general context, then I will lay out multiple answers to each question, with both evidence and counter-arguments on each view. As books have been written on each of these views, I will not be able to provide a truly comprehensive synopsis, but I will get close and link relevant sources for each view.

 

Evidence from Historical Interpretations

Throughout nearly all of church history, leaders have believed this passage is about supporting physical head coverings for Corinthian women. They saw that Paul uses observations about hair as supporting evidence, and that is the only extent to which it is addressed – not as the main point of the passage.

Quotations are laid out in this reference, but Irenaeus (100-200 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (153-217 A.D.), Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.), Ambrosiaster (mid-late 300s), John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), Severian (d. 408 A.D), Jerome (345-429 A.D.), and Augustine (354-430 A.D.) all understood that Paul was referring to a material veil, which women should wear and men should not.1

Very significantly, Tertullian, writing around 150 years after Paul, records that the Corinthians themselves understood Paul’s message to have been about veils. Tertullian writes a long treatise addressing whether the veil applied to unmarried women (he argued it did) and referenced that the Corinthians agreed with him on this issue. “So, too, did the Corinthians themselves understand him. In fact, at this day the Corinthians do veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, their disciples approve.”

There seems to be a little dissent from Epiphanius (315-403 A.D.) who perceived at least that the covering was hair itself, at least for men. John Chrysostom and Augustine explicitly held that the passage provided guidance on both veils and hair. There was plenty of debate about the issue, but their debates ranged around not whether women should wear veils, but which women (married only or all women) and when (only when praying or all the time).

It’s notable that just because an early church father said something doesn’t make it so. In one of the aforementioned quotes by Clement, he dictates that men should shave their heads bald unless they have curly hair. Various church fathers disagreed with each other on many issues and sometimes their interpretations were self-evidently incorrect. However, if we see a clear trend of interpretation over the centuries, it is sensible to give that interpretation special weight over a more modern view. They lived much closer to the times and culture in which the Bible was penned. The majority position and earliest recorded position is clearly that this passage is primarily about veils. 

Furthermore, this view carried along more or less unbroken through the time of the reformers. Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther, and John Calvin all either explicitly or implicitly stated that this passage was about the veiling of women. 

Most modern Bible scholars agree with the historic Christian position on this passage. A quick search of the available commentaries on BlueLetterBible.org shows that every single commentary I checked holds this view (Matthew Henry, David Guzick, Adam Clarke, A. R. Fausset, Chuck Smith, Gordon Fee, John MacArthur).

The view that this passage has nothing to do with head coverings (i.e. that hair itself is the covering) doesn’t appear until at least the mid 1800s, and then not by orthodox theologians. The first scholarly defense of that idea did not occur until 1965.2  It’s possible that someone earlier held this view (such as Epiphanius, referenced above), but it was never exposited fully enough to be sure.

 

Evidence from Contemporary Culture

On Veiling

The Mediterranean culture generally supported the veiling of women for modesty’s sake. As far back as 1400 BC, written Assyrian law codes mandates that women wear veils unless they are slaves or prostitutes. Those women were not allowed to veil, because veils were considered a symbol of rank and authority.

This article explores the history in depth, but it is fair to say that the veiling of married women was common in Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture. In 166 BC, a Roman consul is recorded to have divorced his wife because she left the house without a veil.3

The Arab culture is the progeny of these traditions. To this day, Muslim women nearly all cover their heads to some degree, as they have been doing since the founding of Islam in the 7th Century. Though they have frozen this practice in time, it originated long before them.

According to an 18th century Bible commentator, Adam Clarke: “because it was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils. And if a woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonour her head-her husband. And she must appear like to those women who had their hair shorn off as the punishment of whoredom, or adultery.”4

The catacombs record that Christian women veiled during prayer as a norm in Rome. Note that prayer in the first few centuries was represented not by folding hands, but by outstretching the arms to the side and pointing the palms upward. See this walkthrough of the recently restored catacombs of Priscilla (100’s-300’s AD) for several examples.5

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

Source: BBC

Can Godly Women Cut Their Hair? Examining 1 Corinthians 11

Source: Reuters 

 

On the Significance of a Woman’s Hair

In addition to the general trend of women veiling throughout the Mediterranean world, the Greek understanding of anatomy attributed special significance to women’s hair and would have provided additional reason for a modest woman to cover it.

To make a long (and weird) story short, Greeks believed that long hair was a part of a woman’s reproductive system and that long hair on a man would undermine his ability to reproduce by making his system function more like a woman’s. Their science was “hair-brained” at best, but it does have a bit of explanatory power. The link between hair growth and puberty and the lack of hair growth in eunuchs (common in their day) was sufficient to convince them of an elaborate connection between hair and reproduction. 

This was not an obscure view – it was popularized by the Einstein’s of the Greek world – Hippocrates and Aristotle. On this view, women without long hair could not effectively reproduce and thus hair was functionally considered genitalia.6, 7

The primary Old Testament significance of women’s hair was that shaved heads were a sign of mourning commanded as a temporary reset for the captured women of foreign nations (Deuteronomy 21:12). 

 

On the Reputation of Corinth

Corinth had a reputation as a particularly loose city. Some evidence comes from historical accounts like the first century historian Strabo. He records a temple of Aphrodite that employed 1,000 prostitutes and made the city wealthy with the earnings of the sailors in the two ports it controlled. This general observation is supported by Scripture directly. Paul spends much of his epistles to the Corinthians speaking out against sexual immorality of all types as well as drunkenness and prostitution specifically.8 

More evidence for the licentious nature of the Corinthians is provided by this quotation from the philosopher Epictetus. In this passage, Epictetus, a stoic, was arguing why men should have beards because beards were a “natural” part of manhood.9

“Whom do you wish to please? The women? Please them as a man. “Well, but they like smooth men.” …Were you born for this purpose, that dissolute women should delight in you? Shall we make such a one as you a citizen of Corinth and perchance a prefect of the city, or chief of the youth, or general or superintendent of the games?”

Note the allusion to Corinth as a city known for blurring the distinction between men and women. When Epictetus thought of effeminate men, he thought of Corinth, and he knew everyone would catch the reference. His logic regarding beards is also interesting because it is reminiscent of some of Paul’s language in 1 Cor. 11. Epictetus, a pagan, argues that it is “the nature” of man to have a beard and that someone ought to do what is in their nature and not attempt to change it. 

 

Evidence from The Passage

(I have built a paragraph structure that aids understanding and added some notes in brackets. Take the time to read through this passage slowly.)

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

[Note the word play with the literal and metaphoric sense of “head” in the subsequent verses.]

 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head [Christ]. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head [her husband]: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

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.

For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

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

But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

[It’s also worth noting that the structure of the passage is a chiasm, but I don’t think that mandates any particular conclusions.]10

 

Possible Interpretations

 

What is the Primary Instruction of This Passage?

A) The Veil Interpretation: This Passage is Primarily About Head Coverings

Given the cultural prevalence of veils for both Jews and Greeks, it is easy to imagine that the Corinthians would have seen head coverings as Pauls’ primary focus in verses 4-13. Indeed, Tertullian’s account, referenced above, records that this is exactly how the Corinthians did understand it – at least 150 years later. It is much easier for a modern reader to imagine this passage has nothing to do with head coverings, because they are rare in our times and do not come readily to mind.

If Paul had meant to talk about hair exclusively, he picked a confusing way to do it. He didn’t mention the word “hair” until verse 14. Contrast this with the back half of chapter 11 (17-34), which chides the Corinthians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. In this case, he mentions his topic explicitly by the 4th verse – he doesn’t expound on the Lord’s Supper at length before telling them the point.

It seems sensible that the point of the first half of the chapter is about “covering the head,” which Paul also addresses by the 4th verse of that section. While not used elsewhere in Scripture, this word “cover” is defined by Strongs as “to cover wholly, i.e. veil:—cover, hide.” Given his word choice and a cultural context where veils were common, his readers would have read verses 4-13 with veils foremost in their mind, and if he meant to do a dramatic switch, he would have done so explicitly. “Ha! You thought I was talking about veils – No! I’m talking about hair and you should forgo cloth veils because long hair is the real head covering!”

Paul doesn’t say anything to suggest that the earlier verses are not about cloth head coverings. Rather, he could well be referencing hair as an argument in support of head coverings. In the early verses, he talks about how lacking a head covering should make a woman feel the same as if she were bald or if she cut it very short (i.e. as if it were “shorn”). If his audience already agreed with him on the hair issue, it’s sensible to reference that common agreement as support for the issue of veils. On the other hand, Paul’s argument seems very odd as an argument for long hair. In that case, he would be saying “If you don’t have long hair, it’s just like you cut it really short.” If his audience did not agree with him on the hair issue and he was trying to prove it, proving it with itself seems an odd way to go about it.

He also talks about coverings as something which a woman should have when she is praying or prophesying in verses 5 and 13. Why contextualize the covering as something which is only required during prayer? This suggests the covering was removable. A woman could have it during prayer but not while she was at home, or perhaps while sleeping.

Furthermore, why not just interpret his words in the plainest sense? He says, “for a man indeed ought not to cover his head (11:7).” If he’s talking about veils, that makes sense, if he’s talking about long hair to people he knew would have been thinking about veils – why not just say “for a man indeed ought not to have long hair” or “for a man indeed ought not to cover his head with long hair.”

In later verses (14-15), he uses the argument of “nature” to support a covering (vs. 13). In the same sense as Epictetus, Paul addresses the “natural state” of men and women. This verse always confused me as a child, because try as I might, I could think of nothing from a modern sense of the word “nature” which backed up Paul’s point. Animals do not generally have differentiated hair length among males and females. However, in the context of Greco-Roman physiology, this makes much more sense. If long hair is a part of a woman’s reproductive system (I know it’s not, but they thought it was, see above), then it would seem natural for a woman to have long hair to fulfill her “nature” as a woman. On this view, long hair is unnatural for a man and runs contrary to his nature. 

It would not be unusual for Paul to appeal to a pagan perspective when he felt it supported his argument. He does it in Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12, and 1 Corinthians 15:33. 

Does this mean that Paul believed or endorsed this pseudo-science? On the question of belief, we have no reason to think that Biblical authors were given special revelation on topics which they did not record in Scripture. I doubt Peter or Paul knew that Jupiter was a gas giant or understood the nature of radio waves or germ theory. Consequently, they would have generally believed what their culture taught them, even if they had reservations. I personally have never been to Jupiter or proved much experimentally about radio waves or bacteria, yet I consider myself to have at least a basic understanding of the topics, because of things I have learned from the scientific institutions of our day.  

As a Roman citizen and regular visitor to Greece, it seems Paul would not have been ignorant about basic physiology like how the reproductive system “worked.” It was already old knowledge by his time and supported the pre-existing tradition of veiling women. The Corinthians most certainly knew what was being taught in Athens (only 50 miles away). This passage does not promote or even record this flawed physiology and in so doing the Scripture does not err. However, it is likely that a Corinthian would have read Pauls’ words in light of the scientific understanding of their time, and Paul makes no effort to preclude them from doing so. It is also not unreasonable to go along with a cultural practice that is attempting to promote modesty, even if the rationale is a bit off. If I visited a country where people believed you should wear earmuffs, I would probably wear earmuffs.

There’s more evidence for this view in 1 Corinthians chapter 12:22-24. In these verses, Paul is talking about the church, and using the human body as a metaphor. His general point is that every body part has a purpose, and they are all honored in some way. The presentable parts of the body are honored in the way we show them off. The unpresentable parts of the body are honored in the way we take special effort to hide them. Most translations render verses 23 and 24 similar to this: “and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,

The King James version says the same thing but requires a closer reading. “And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:”

Paul is pointing out that we take special effort to cover our private parts. In light of Greco-Roman physiology, a woman’s hair was a part of her reproductive system (but a man’s was not). As such, it was a private part, and seemed sensible to cover it. We can’t say for sure whether that was Paul’s logic, but it has a lot of explanatory power and connects nicely with Paul’s appeal to nature. 

Alternatively, if Paul personally rejected the Greco-Roman understanding of physiology, he may have been referring to the related idea that women have relatively longer hair in almost every culture in human history. Perhaps this is because men are generally more interested in a low maintenance functional appearance and women are generally more interested in beauty. The trend is strong because it leans upon the “nature” of men and women. 

Paul says that since the nature of a woman is to have long hair, this is nature itself backing up his argument that women ought to have a cloth head covering. Nature has given women one head covering, and decorum demands they have another. In the words of John Calvin:  “Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it.”11

If the church fathers are right, it does lead to a question as to why this practice is not supported elsewhere in Scripture. First off, we know they weren’t worn all the time in all the churches, because Peter and Paul both advise against braided hair as flashy adornment (1 Tim 2:9, 1 Pet 3:3). This shows us that hair was visible sometimes – and since Peter’s instructions are to married women, we know that’s true for them too. It wasn’t that their hair was visible under their veils because the style was to cover the whole back of the head and leave the face exposed. Most modern head covering movements would be considered “indecent” with their handkerchiefs for coverings. It could be that the expectation Paul was creating applied only to times of worship and prayer or that it applied only to the Corinthians.

What possible reason could Paul have had to care about head coverings in Corinth, while not preaching about them anywhere else? 

The most common understanding is that some of the Corinthian women were rejecting head coverings, which had the cultural effect of rejecting the authority of their husbands. Matthew Henry holds this position and summarizes it as follows: “The misconduct of their women (some of whom seem to have been inspired) in the public assembly, who laid by their veils, the common token of subjection to their husbands in that part of the world. This behaviour he reprehends, requires them to keep veiled, asserts the superiority of the husband, yet so as to remind the husband that both were made for mutual help and comfort.”12

An alternate theory is that Paul was calling the Corinthians to equality. We look at veiling as a burden, they saw it as a symbol of rank and privilege (you could say “a symbol of power on their heads”). Married women and chaste widows were allowed to wear a veil – slaves and prostitutes were banned from wearing veils. Veils were symbols of virtue. Paul could be telling the Corinthians that every woman is entitled to wear a veil, because it is a symbol of God’s order of authority, and that order is grounded in creation, not Roman law. So, in Christ, a married slave has just as much right to a symbol of authority on her head as anyone else. This makes sense in light of the gap between rich and poor that we see in the second half of the same chapter (11:18 “when ye come together in the church, I hear that there are divisions among you”).13 

A bonus theory is that the women were embracing head coverings, but the men were attempting to get them to stop wearing them, and Paul was siding with the women. The language in the passage makes this view possible, but not certain.14

 

B) The Hair Style Interpretation: This Passage is Primarily About Loose Hair

An alternate view which leans on some of the arguments I’ve made above is that the covering is not a physical veil, nor is it the mere existence of hair, rather, it is the styling of the hair. Namely, if a woman’s hair is styled and worn up on her head, her head is “covered.” If the hair is allowed to hang loosely behind her, her head is “uncovered.”

Similarly, if a man wears long hair in the style of a woman, his head is disgracefully “covered.”

This view is not very common but is attested by multiple scholars; I will refer primarily to the argumentation of Dr. Philip Payne. His analysis does have some significant advantages over the other contending views.15

It is true that respectable Greek women always wore their hair up, as evidenced by art and statuary. Veiling is evidenced, but not nearly as universal. It could well be as Payne claims, that wearing the hair down was a symbol of sexual debauchery. 

Another benefit to this view is that it better explains how a head covering is a “disgrace” to men. It certainly cannot be that cloth head coverings or hats are universally disgraceful for men to wear while praying, because God commanded priests to wear caps and turbans for leading his people in worship (Exod. 28:4, 40). It is easier to see how we should understand that it is disgraceful for a man to have a woman’s long hair and hair style. Payne also provides ample evidence that men styling their hair like women went on in Pauline times, and that other conservative Greeks and Romans strongly opposed the practice as debase. He also points out that the specific words Paul uses are the same that he uses in other places to attack homosexual practices, which would support the idea that the men who adopted feminine hairstyles were doing so in a sexualized way.

This view also has a bit of biblical support from the passage in Numbers 5:18, where a priest would “uncover the head” of an accused adulterer, which most translators take to mean loosing the hair to let it hang down.

It also capitalizes on one of the best arguments from “the hair length interpretation” (below), by agreeing that in verse 15, hair is the only thing explicitly identified as a covering, but that the point at issue isn’t the length of the hair, but the style. 

For all the advantages of this view, it is that it is also not clear how one was supposed to derive it from the text alone. The text says nothing explicit about hair styles. To my knowledge, none of the church fathers at any point in history are recorded to hold this view, which is a significant disadvantage.

 

C) The Hair Length Interpretation: This Passage is Exclusively About Relative Hair Length (i.e. Veils Are Not Addressed)

This passage most certainly addresses relative hair length of men and women to some degree, but the question is whether that is the primary thing Paul intended to refer to by “covering.” It is possible that Paul was using hair as an argument to defend a cloth head covering, but this view holds that Paul did not intend to call to mind cloth head coverings in mind at all, but rather meant to talk exclusively about hair.

In defense of this view that the length of hair is the only thing at issue, the word “veil” does not appear in this passage. However, that could just be because Paul was trying not to be overly prescriptive. He’s saying, “cover your head,” but not specifying the exact article of clothing that must be worn to do that. Quotes from Irenaeus in the 2nd century reveal that some early versions of verse 10 did use the word veil. “A woman ought to have a veil upon her head because of the angels.” While this is probably not the original text, it is possible given that it was circulating in the 2nd century. Regardless, it is a point of evidence that this word made sense to Irenaeus in light of his understanding of the passage.16 

Another simple refutation of this argument is that Paul talks about coverings as something which a woman should have when she is praying or prophesying in verses 5 and 13. Long hair is not the sort of thing women put on to pray and take off to sleep. If a woman has long hair, she has it all the time. Why would Paul bother to talk about specific circumstances under which the covering was needed, if hair was the covering he had in mind? 

The strongest argument that defenders of this view give is that verse 15 specifically says “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

As noted above, there are two ways to view this. Either the hair is one covering, which evidences the need for another, or it is the only covering Paul intends. Let’s look at the strength of his arguments under either condition.

If Paul’s main point is that women need to veil (and his audience already agrees on the hair issue), here is his argument outline for the whole passage:

 

Verses 3-6.

Premise A. (common ground). There is a chain of authority in creation.

Premise B. (initially disputed by the Corinthians). That authority structure is honored by women’s head coverings, but not men’s.

          Sub-Premise B1. (common ground). Short-haired women and bald women are shameful.

          Sub-Premise B2. (new idea, probably not disputed). Hair is similar to head coverings.

          Sub-Conclusion. If women shouldn’t forgo their hair, they shouldn’t forgo their head coverings. (Premise B is now proven)

Conclusion. Ergo, women should wear head coverings to honor the authority chain in creation.

 

Paul then reiterates and rewords these arguments in 7-12 (with the bonus evidence that “angels” benefit from this head covering in some way).

 

In verses 13-16, he unpacks a similar argument.

Premise C. (common ground). “Nature” teaches you that men should have short hair and women long.

Premise D. (previously introduced, implied) Long hair is similar to head coverings.

Premise E. (common ground, implied) We ought to do what is natural.

Conclusion. (asked rhetorically in 13). Ergo, it is improper for a woman to forgo a head covering.

 

If Paul’s main point is not about veils at all, but rather merely that women need long hair (and his audience thus does not already agree that women need long hair), here is his argument outline: 

 

Verses 3-6.

Premise A. (common ground). There is a chain of authority in creation.

Premise B. (disputed by the Corinthians). That authority structure is honored by women’s long hair, but not men’s.

          Sub-Premise B1. (disputed by the Corinthians). Short-haired women and bald women are shameful.

          Circular Conclusion. Since short hair on women is bad, not having long hair is bad.

Conclusion. Since premise B is still disputed, Paul proves nothing with his argument, but merely asserts that women should have long hair to honor the authority chain in creation.

 

Paul then repeats and applies the conclusion which he has made no real effort to prove (with the bonus evidence that angels approve of this long hair in some way).

 

In verses 13-16, he reiterates the dispute:

Premise C. (disputed by the Corinthians). “Nature” teaches you that men should have short hair and women long.

Premise E. (common ground, implied) We ought to do what is natural.

Conclusion. (disputed by the Corinthians). Ergo, it is improper for a woman to not have long hair.

 

By comparing these two lines of logic, one looks like a case that builds from common ground about hair, angels, and the order of creation to reach a conclusion. The other looks like a rambling circular assertion of the point to be proved (that long hair is good) with the thing to be proved used as the primary evidence of itself. To be fair, Paul had the apostolic authority to assert something without proving it, however, that doesn’t explain why he would go through the effort to build a logical argument that was so unconvincing.

The first argument looks like Paul’s style—the other looks like Paul was having an off-day at best. 

If you had a hard time following that, let’s try looking at it in miniature. Take verse 6. The words the KJV translate “shorn” and “shaven” mean “to cut short” and “to shave” respectively, so I will replace them with their definitions.

Watch what happens when I replace “cover her head” with “long hair.”

“For if a woman will not [have long hair], then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her [have long hair].”

It feels strange and circular because it is strange and circular.

Now let’s try replacing it with the word “veil.”

“For if a woman will not [wear a veil], then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her [wear a veil].”

It is no longer circular, and if the audience already agrees on the hair issue, it moves into the territory of being a solid argument.

The Hybrid View (The first part of this passage is about veils, but the second part offers an alternative to veiling)

One interesting hybrid view is that while the early part of the passage is about veils, long hair is offered as a substitute for veils in verse 15. On this view, Paul is telling Corinthian women to wear veils, but offering an alternative to those who do not wish to veil, of which modern women can also avail themselves.

This view has the advantage of resolving the circular reasoning that the “hair only” view creates in the first part of the passage. It also has a bit of textual support in minor translations.

The majority of translations, including the KJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB, all say that hair is given “as a covering” or “for a covering.” A few minor translations, like the ISV and Young’s say that hair is given “as a substitute for a covering” or “instead of a covering.” By volume, the split here is 37 in the “for” camp and 9 in the “instead of” camp.

Here’s why this matters. If hair is meant “as a covering,” which is to say, “hair is a covering,” it means a covering is required. If a covering is required, then hair is either the only covering required or Paul is using it to evidence the need for an additional covering (as in the veil or loose hair interpretation). But we can safely rule out that it is the only covering, because that interpretation would make the first part of the passage circular and nonsensical (see all of the analysis above). If hair is a “substitute” for a covering, it means that though cloth coverings are normally required, when hair is long, they are not required. This would seem to resolve the issue.

A quick search of the how the Greek word “anti” is used in other parts of Scripture reveals that either view could be correct. Since the word can be used in either sense, the question comes down to one of context, which we can assess for ourselves.

The immediate context is one of a rhetorical question in verse 14. “Does not even nature teach you…?” A rhetorical question is typically how you would find some common agreement, which you would then use to support your primary argument. This is what most translations think Paul is doing when he says that a head covering is supported by the fact that women have longer hair than men “by nature.” It would be very odd logically for him to use this rhetorical question to introduce a completely new point and waste the easy opportunity to support his primary point.

Imagine I write an essay about why busy professionals should prefer cats as pets. Towards the end of the article, I ask a rhetorical question, and use the agreement to tie it back into my main point. “Can’t we all agree that while dogs are friendlier than cats, cats are more independent than dogs? That’s why a busy professional would be better off with a cat.” How odd would it seem, if I asked this rhetorical question, and used it as a springboard to make a completely new claim, unexplored in the rest of my article. “Can’t we all agree that while dogs are friendlier than cats, cats are more independent than dogs? That’s why a busy professional could get a wombat instead of a cat.”

The broader context is also one in which most of the Corinthian women already had long hair. We know this for reasons historic, as well as the implication in the early part of the passage (where the audience seems to agree that a woman with a man’s haircut is shameful) and the fact that the question was asked rhetorically. If they already had long hair, and long hair is a substitute for the head covering, then there is no point in writing about the covering at all. They would all be exempt from Paul’s rule.

While the Greek could support either interpretation, the context significantly favors the view that the bulk of translators chose. A woman’s hair is not a substitute for a covering. It is a covering.

If it is the only covering, then Paul’s logic is nonsensical in the first part of the passage. If it is one covering that evidences another, then his logic is sound.

 

What Does This Passage Definitely Say About Hair?

So, perhaps proving that a woman’s hair ought to be long is not Paul’s main point. But he does certainly address hair length as a supporting point. Here are things Paul plainly says about hair:

  • It is a shame for a woman to have very short or no hair (vs. 5-6)
  • It is a shame for a man to have long hair (vs. 14)
  • It is glorious for a woman to have long hair (vs. 15)

A few observations. We know that long hair on men is not universally morally wrong, or God would not have commanded it for the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6). For some reason, Paul himself took a similar vow for a period. In Acts 18:18,“Paul … sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.” 

The word translated “shorn” is the same word in 1 Corinthians 11 regarding the type of haircut that Paul says is shameful for a woman. Essentially, this means that at Cenchrea, Paul got a short haircut, to close out a vow (other translations support this interpretation as well). If a haircut closed the vow, that implies that he had grown out his hair to some length. We don’t know how long Paul’s hair got, but it would have to have gotten longer than normal, or there would have been no significance to him having grown it out. In other words, it is likely that Paul would have been disallowed to preach from the platforms of many conservative churches during his vow (I dare say that would be their loss).

This doesn’t undermine Paul’s point that long hair can be shameful for men. The fact that it was abnormal in their time is what gave the vow significance. The bottom line though is that while Paul says long hair is a shame on men, it is clearly not a sin under all circumstances in the way that something like blasphemy would be. Consequently, one would have to evaluate a particular man’s long hair with an eye toward motive, or else you would stand in judgement of Paul himself.

By the same token, Numbers 6 explicitly says that women could take the Nazirite vow, which mandated shaving their heads at the end. Ergo, even shaved heads are not universally wrong for women.

Some argue that the shame of men’s long hair in this passage is contextual. According to Dr. Payne, who’s broader view was explained as “the hair style interpretation,” Paul’s philosophical contemporaries were disdainful of men’s long hair. Homosexual practice in Corinth was associated with men styling their hair as women, and Paul uses the same three Greek words to describe men’s long hair as he does for homosexual practices (“a shame”- atimia, against “nature” – physis, and “shameful” – kataischynei). On Payne’s view, this shame is primarily due to the intended sexuality of the wearers in Paul’s day, and thus a man with long hair is not necessarily in violation of this passage depending on intent and style. Paul would not have styled his hair like a woman during his vow and therefore would not have “shamed” himself.

On the other hand, it is also rather remarkable that two millennia after the words were penned, in nearly every culture, women have longer hair than men. Even when women have very short hair, they tend to style it differently than men. Clearly this hairstyle distinction between the sexes is very intuitive to people everywhere and provides a cultural nod to God’s distinction between the genders.

Note that taking the view described above does not actually prohibit Corinthian women from trimming their hair. Even if you see this whole passage as being about hair length, with no reference to veils or hairstyle, a Corinthian woman could still have indisputably long and feminine hair even after cutting off a few inches.  In the same way, to the degree that this passage is forbidding a Corinthian man to have long hair, if a long-haired Corinthian man were to trim an inch off, it is hard to fathom that Paul would then commend him for making his hair masculine once again. Even if you embrace the hair length interpretation as the best one, this view would still allow Corinthian women to trim their hair, provided it stayed notably longer than a man’s.

 

D) The Untrimmed Hair Interpretation: This Passage is Primarily About Untrimmed Hair

One attempt to fix the poor logical flow created by the assertion that this passage is not about head coverings is to give a special meaning to the word “long.” On this view, the Corinthians would have agreed that women should have long hair and men short (providing common ground), but the Corinthian women were trimming their hair slightly. Thus, Paul is telling them that trimming is just the same as cutting their hair in a masculine style.

This view asserts that the Greek word “komao,” used in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 to refer to “long hair” should actually be translated “uncut hair.”17  Thus, the “covering” of the previous verses is uncut hair, not merely “long” hair, as in the hair length interpretation (C). A possible exception is granted for women who have cut their hair previously, if they never do it again. In the words of the author of the Holiness Handbook: “How long is long? I think that it is long enough for God as long as it’s not being trimmed or cut.”18

I am always skeptical when someone’s argument rests on the idea that the true meaning of a Greek word is unknown to any Bible scholars. No English version of the Bible translates the word “komao” to suggest uncut hair, rather than merely “long” hair. Look at the verse in parallel. Here we have ~25 separate translations, which represent the opinions of anywhere from 100 to 300 biblical scholars, and not a single group of scholars concluded that the translation should express the idea of uncut hair.19 

The best way to determine what Greek words meant at the time, is from context in other parts of Scripture. Since this word only appears here, that doesn’t help us. The next best thing is to look at ancient literature (which doesn’t suggest the idea of “uncut”) or perhaps the root of the word. The root word “kome” refers to having “tresses” or “locks” of hair. It doesn’t say anything about whether those tresses are shoulder length or waist length. And there is nothing in the word itself that refers to cutting or trimming. 

It is sensible to believe that respectable Corinthian women trimmed their hair. Hair cutting for women was practiced in ancient times for purposes including mourning, trimming split ends, bangs, and even the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:1 explicitly says a woman could take this vow to leave her hair uncut for a time and then shave it).20 Egyptian women had short, bobbed hair at various points in history21 and Roman slave women also kept short hair.22 

Given the likelihood that the Corinthian women trimmed their hair, if Paul wanted to condemn this practice, he could have just said “women should not cut their hair” or “women should not trim their hair.” In 16 verses, he doesn’t come close to saying this and he uses the word for “long” when he could have used the existent Greek word for “uncut.” If he’s trying to make that point, he picked a fantastically obscure way to make it.

This author, provides much more analysis and evidence in opposition to this view.23 

Additionally, instructions to not trim hair are listed nowhere else in Scripture, including in the two other passages that address women’s hair in the New Testament.

The view of the untrimmed hair interpretation is that Paul wrote a 16-verse diatribe against women trimming their hair, with only one reference to trimming, which was a single Greek word which doesn’t refer to trimming anywhere else in Scripture or in any ancient text known. On this view, we could essentially rework any passage in the Bible to mean anything we want, by choosing one word and asserting without evidence that it means something different than it says.

To make matters worse, redefining the word “long” to mean “uncut” also creates another problem for holders of this view. The corollary would be that it is acceptable for a man to have waist-length hair, provided that it had been trimmed at some point in his life. If waist length hair, less a trimmed inch, violates a woman’s mandatory “covering,” then a man in the same condition must logically be fulfilling his mandate to be “uncovered.”

 

Which of the Four Interpretations is Right?

In summary, this is a confusing passage, and reasonable people can differ. But not all positions are equally substantiated by the evidence.

There is a decent case for each of the first three views (veils, hairstyles, and hair length). The “uncut” view leans very heavily on poor Greek and I think can safely be dismissed.

The hair length view seems to force Paul to make rather unconvincing arguments by making his reasoning largely circular. This view can be defended, perhaps better than I did, but it doesn’t seem very strong against the remaining two views.

Both the hairstyle and veil view are comparably strong from the text. In my estimation, the strong bias of the church fathers to the veil view gives that position the edge.

I have also seen proposals of hybrid views, in which Paul is addressing multiple of these issues at the same time.

 

Do These Instructions Apply Directly to Modern Times or Are They Specific to Corinth?

Now that we have addressed the evidence for and against the four basic views of this passage, that still leaves us with an additional question. Regardless of which view is correct, we still have the question of how we ought to apply it in modern times. 

The Bible plainly commands New Testament believers to greet one another with a holy kiss – in four different books (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:26). Despite the clarity of this command, I don’t know of a single Christian who believes this command is applicable today. If you tried to write an essay on why we shouldn’t kiss each other, it would actually be quite difficult. There is nothing in the passages that provides an easy out. Yet, every Christian I have ever met thinks we can apply the spirit of that command without following the letter. We can greet each other in a friendly and holy way in the spirit of the command but limit the expression to a hug or handshake as prescribed by our culture.

This is meaningfully different from say a command not to commit adultery. There is no way to keep the spirit of that law without also following the letter.

The bulk of the passage is clearly not about Corinthian specific issues. Paul alludes to the order of creation, not the order of their times. However, the thrust of most of Paul’s argumentation is to establish a spiritual authority hierarchy, with head coverings, hair styles, or hair length as a specific outworking of it. 

To judge the modern application, it’s helpful to consider the point of the practice. There are a few specific reasons why a woman ought to have her “head covered” (whatever we think that means). We’ll start with the part affecting women, then look at men separately.

 

What Was the Point of This Practice for Women?

1) To honor her husband (v. 5)

2) To have a symbol of authority because of the angels (v. 10)

3) To pray properly to God (v. 13) 

The precise interpretation of these three points is largely dependent on how we define a “covered head,” however, I will do my best to provide application that would work regardless of the covering.

 

1) Honoring a Husband

It is sensible for women today, as then, to do their best to honor their husbands. Just because a veil or an “updo” hairstyle was associated with respecting husbands in 1st century Corinth, doesn’t mean the culture has that association today. From this passage, wives should honor their husbands by their appearance, but the form that takes could vary based on cultural norms. This may have varied by location even in their time, which is why these instructions were given to only one body of believers.

 

2) A Symbol of Authority for Angels

This is a difficult verse to decipher, and there are at least four completely different theories on who the “angels” are – and many more for why they care about hair. In brief:

  • The “angels” could refer to unbelievers who reported on the conduct of the church (if the word angels means human rather than divine “messengers” as in Matt 11:2-6).
  • The “angels” could refer to church leaders or “bishops” as in Rev 2.
  • The angels could refer angels in the usual sense.
  • The angels could refer to demons or “fallen angels.”

Without building a complex tree of possible answers to each of the four types of angels and why they might care about hair, the simplest general interpretation is that the symbol of authority honors the next link in the authority chain, namely a husband. Thus, insofar as a wife is honoring her husband in her appearance, it may be possible to do it in a way other than with a “covered head.”

 

3) To Pray Properly

This too can be tied to the same authority chain linkage as the other two. If a woman is actively dishonoring her husband, how can she simultaneously be smiled upon by God? However, if a woman can honor her husband in a more culturally relevant way, then it seems sensible that she can be in right standing with God, regardless of her covering status.

 

What Was the Point of This Practice for Men?

1) To honor God (v. 4)

2) To not disgrace himself (v. 14)

In general, both points require a man to evidence his right standing with God through his embrace of his role as a man and as a husband. It also requires him to not reject his gender by adopting distinctly feminine appearance as some of the effeminate men of Corinth were wont to do. It is logically possible to do so even if cultural norms about precise acceptable hair length and/or hats change over time.

 

Applying the Passage Today

In my view, a localized understanding makes sense, because it is possible to fulfill the intent of this passage without following the prescription Paul gives to the Corinthians. It’s no different from how Titus 3:9 says to “avoid genealogies” and provides the context of avoiding argument about meaningless things. Since fights over genealogy don’t divide our church like they would have the early one (with Jews’ historic concern for lineage causing the problems), I can learn about my family tree without fear of causing a church split. Thus, I can study my genealogy without conviction that I stand in violation of this command. 

Like the Titus passage, this is also limited to a one-time command for a single body of believers, with a clear explanation of the “why” behind the command. Since we can obey the spirit of honoring the authority structure of creation without the command of veils or updos, I think it is reasonable to do so. 

However, I do think the belief that this passage offers a current command for coverings is reasonable as well. If you hold that view, I wouldn’t degrade your position, but neither should you degrade the view that some commands have limited application, even if you don’t think this passage is one of them. You cannot feasibly hold the extreme position of applying every New Testament command without regard to the fact that it may be limited by context. If you try, not only will you have to go around holy kissing everyone, but in accordance with Matthew 10:8, you are also obligated to “raise the dead.”

Furthermore, this passage may have principles that apply in specific ways in our culture that they did not in Paul’s time. That’s the point of the passage. Paul teaches a general principle about headship and makes a specific application to the Corinthian time and place to provide an example of what right can look like. Thus, we should take the principle and not merely strip the Corinthian application but also look for applications for our time and place.

In Paul’s example, the head covering (be it a veil, an updo, or long hair) seems to have been a way that Corinthian cultured honored the institution of marriage and the authority chain of creation with a physical symbol. Our culture has something similar as well—the wedding ring. The wedding ring is a symbol that announces the wearer is happily married, intends to be married until death, and even has a gender variation in design to show that the wearer is also embracing his or her married role. People generally take their wedding rings off when they are discontented with their marriage, are rejecting their spouse, or intend to be unfaithful to him or her. The wedding ring is a cultural acknowledgment of the value of a divine institution. If Paul wrote this passage today, he might well admonish Christian women to put on their wedding rings to “honor their heads.” Of course, this passage isn’t about rings, so I won’t say it’s a commandment, but it does seem like a fair application of the same principle.

 

Conclusion

There you have it. There are more ways to understand that passage than you might have known.  I think that reasonable people can disagree on the answers to both of the key questions raised, because there are multiple segments of the passage that can be interpreted differently. 

While I cannot provide you with complete confidence, I hope I have provided good information and analysis that can assist you in your own processing of this passage. There is no reason to be dogmatic about a passage so difficult. Overconfidence merely blinds us to contrary evidence and fair points which can be made by opponents of our favorite view. Healthy dialogue among the saints and scholars will lead us to better understanding.

Confidence is a poor substitute for truth.

—Nathan Mayo

 

Find this interesting? Check out our article, “Can Godly Women Wear Pants?” For a full list of our articles tap here.

We love reading your feedback! Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts and kind words below.

 

Resources:

  1. A. Philip Brown II, PhD, A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Aldersgate Forum 2011.
  2. Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple a Study with Special Reference to Mt 19:3 [fejlagtigt trykt: 13] – 12 and 1. Cor
    11:3-16, 1965.
  3. Wikipedia, “Veil,” Accessed 3/18/22. 
  4. Adam Clarke, “1 Corinthians 11:5” in Adam Clarke Bible Commentary, BibliaPlus.org.
  5. Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome,” YouTube, Uploaded by Smart History, 2014. 
  6.  Hippocrates, Generation. Nature of the Child. Diseases 4. Nature of Women and Barrenness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).
  7. Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals (The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project).
  8. Strabo, The Geography of Strabo, book VIII, chapter 6, published in vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927, penelope.uchicago.edu.
  9. Branson Parler, “Hair Length and Human Sexuality: The Underlying Moral Logic of Paul’s Appeal to Nature in 1 Corinthians 11:14,” in Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 51: 112-136. 
  10. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” NewHumanityInstitute.org.
  11. John Calvin, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Regarding Headcoverings,” Covenanter.org. 
  12. Matthew Henry, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11,” BlueLetterBible.org.
  13. Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time (New York, NY: Image Books, 2010).
  14. Les, “A Difficult Verse: 1 Corinthians 11:10,” BibleBridge.com, 2018.
  15. Phillip B. Payne, “Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” in the Priscilla Papers: The Academic Journal of CBE International, Cbeinternational.org, 2006. 
  16. A. Philip Brown II, PhD, A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Aldersgate Forum 2011.
  17. Raymond Woodward, “Because We Are His: Biblical Studies in Practical Holiness,” RaymondWoodward.com.
  18. The Holiness Handbook, HolinessPreaching.org.
  19. 1 Corinthians 11:15, Parallel Versions, BibleHub.com.
  20. “The Meaning of ‘Komao’ or ‘Have Long Hair’ in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15,” StudyHoliness.com. 
  21. Rachael Funk, “Egypt’s Hairy History,” Greatvaluevacations.com.
  22. Sarah Lewis, “Romans Haircare,” Coriniummuseum.org, 2016.
  23. “The Meaning of ‘Komao’ or ‘Have Long Hair’ in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15,” StudyHoliness.com. 

The Problem with “The Problem with Pants”

The Problem with "The Problem with Pants"

Why write a book response to The Problem with Pants? Why not just accept that some Christians choose to wear skirts? Isn’t that their prerogative? Of course it is, and we have nothing against that. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to only wearing skirts. Our issue lies with the fact that books like The Problem with Pants were not merely written to say, “Here’s why I prefer skirts.” Instead, they claim that women wearing women’s pants is morally wrong, an abomination, even anti-Christian. This not only causes confusion, it causes division. We have seen the Body of Christ tear and break as Christians who believe women’s pants are inherently evil continually disfellowship and even shun those who disagree. (In contrast, we have never heard of a case where Christians are disfellowshipped or shunned for wearing only skirts). This behavior results in church hurt and conflict that is completely needless; it distracts from the gospel and hinders the work of Christ. This must end. In an endeavor to see positive change, we have decided to respond to some of the arguments at the root of the tension.

We want to be abundantly clear that the following book response is in no way intended as a personal attack upon the book’s author. We respect Rev. Carter and his family. We view him as a brother in Christ, we appreciate the work He does to spread the gospel, and we agree with him on all the essentials of Christianity as well as many secondary issues. The author of our article (Nathan Mayo) has never met Rev. Carter, and addresses him with the same courtesy and bluntness with which he would engage any other stranger. It is not the author we take issue with but rather his arguments. We ask that this is where you, our readers, would focus your attention as well.

Without further ado, here is Nathan’s response to The Problem with Pants.

 

Introduction

Rev. Jamie Carter’s book The Problem with Pants is the most comprehensive argument we are aware of from a Pentecostal Holiness perspective. When polled, the majority vote of Berean Holiness readers asked us to respond to it. Even though it is not widely read, its mere existence has provided some reassurance to those who believe women’s pants to be sinful. For my part, I would encourage you to read Rev. Carter’s book for yourself if you’re interested in the topic, and read my article on pants as well

Note that this is not my logical and comprehensive case as to why I believe a godly woman can wear pants. That exists here and I will not attempt to recreate it. This is a deconstruction of the most cited anti-pants document. We would also welcome Rev. Carter if he wished to write a rebuttal to my article – we would gladly publish it on our site.

 

The summary of my previous argument is as follows:

1) The passage in Deuteronomy 22:5 may actually be referring to women wearing armor.

2) The Old Testament law would have permitted women to wear pants if that was the custom of men at the time – men and women wore slightly different garments, not fundamentally different ones.

3) The New Testament references that men and women are different and that they must embrace their respective roles, but says nothing about a particular distinction being required in their clothing.

4) There is no effective link that can resurrect the verse in Deuteronomy without also resurrecting dozens of other Old Testament laws which address principles repeated in the New Testament (such as stoning your children).

5) The origin of pants for men was a matter of practicality, not rebellion. The origin of pants for women was fundamentally a matter of practicality, not rebellion.

6) Rebellion from some individuals that wore women’s pants does not taint pants any more than it taints any other clothing we wear (such as the “pagan” skirt and the prodigal suit inventor).

7) If pants are inappropriate for women for reasons related to their original, biblical, or current use by men, this would rule out socks, stockings, hose, t-shirts, boots, hoodies, belts, skirts, button down shirts, many styles of hats, and much more.

8) If some pants are modest enough for men, then there are some modest enough for women.

9) Restricting women from wearing pants precludes them from participation in many wholesome activities and from many forms of exercise which would help live longer, healthier lives.

Although I cannot respond to every line in this book, I will layout a response to the core arguments made in each section – all of which will sound familiar to those acquainted with the issue.

 

Argument 1: Some Bad Women Pioneered the Wearing of Pants

Rev. Carter opens his arguments by working through a list of sixteen individual women and associations who wore and/or allowed women’s pants in their early days. His lists ranges from Amelia Earhart to the Oneida community—a perfectionism cult. One by one, he points out their flaws and erred beliefs, not regarding pants per se, but things remotely related as well. For instance, he highlights the fact that some women who wore pants did not use the word “obey” in their wedding vows. Why mention this? The explanation is found on the first page, “Most of the women who popularized pants and promoted dress reform were women who had questionable character, and were not God-fearing people.” (pg. 1)

The only argument Rev. Carter gives us to explain how the actions of bad people make a thing bad is
“the principle of first mention.” (pg. 1) This is the belief that when a subject is first mentioned in Scripture, it generally carries with it the same theme throughout the rest of Scripture. The problem with this hermeneutic is that almost no one uses it because it is completely unworkable. The exceptions to this principle are so wide and numerous that it provides no insights on Scripture. Additionally, the English order of the Old Testament is different from the one used in Jesus’ time – so which first mention do we go off? 

Regardless of the validity of this principle in Scripture, there is no logical link between it and history. If we were to apply it, then democracy would need to be rejected, because it was first mentioned by the Greeks (a godless society). Algebra would need to be rejected because it was pioneered by Muslims. Plumbing would need to be rejected because it was pioneered by Romans. In fact – almost everything we do has its “first mention” in the pagan past. 

I don’t dispute that some bad women wore pants. In fact, some bad people been involved in the pioneering of most new things, because people who deviate from social norms are most interested in trying new things. The inventor of the suit and the popularizer of the clean-shaven look was a dreadful womanizer – Holiness preachers now demand the clean-shaven look and encourage suits.  A common and grotesque practice by many early supporters of the American Revolution was covering British sympathizers in boiling pitch and feathers. Does this barbarism mean that the American Revolution was without merit, and its resulting country should be rejected as the work of Satan? Paul spoke to Corinthians and did not forbid the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Clearly, if anything could taint the meat, it would be actively using it in pagan rituals. This general “guilt by association” or even “guilt by first mention” principle is both unbiblical and logically untenable.  

If Rev. Carter wishes to maintain his logic regarding why pants are bad due to their promotion by bad people, he will have a much longer list of things to get rid of. For instance, his first reference to pants comes from the failed utopian experiment of Robert Owen in New Harmony, Indiana. Carter points out that the architect of this proto-Marxist town encouraged practical clothing that promoted equality among classes and sexes, such as women’s pants. I would agree that New Harmony is not a great model for a society, but does that mean every new thing they tried was wrong? Other things popularized by Robert Owen was the eight-hour working day and the idea of universal education for children. 

The next protagonist of pants Rev. Carter cites is Fanny Wright, whom he summarizes as “a very wicked woman.” While he does fairly point out that she opposed religion and advocated for sexual freedom, Rev. Carter also shares with us that she promoted many other causes which were novel and outrageous in the early 1800’s. She spoke publicly from a podium, freed slaves, and attempted to build a community of them – failing that, she sent them to another country where they could retain their freedom. She promoted abolition, birth control, women’s suffrage, and legal rights for married women. 

If we are to follow Rev. Carter’s logic, then we should view with deep suspicion every countercultural stance that Owen and Wright took.  Thus, we should decry the eight-hour work day, universal education for children, birth control, abolition, women addressing crowds of any sort, women’s voting, and legal rights for married women. But surprisingly, Carter doesn’t take this stance. He picks a single thing out of the long list of “firsts” that these trailblazers initiated, and only says one – women’s pants – is the thing we should cast out.

This doesn’t seem like an intellectually honest study of history. It seems like finding what you are looking for. I could do this analysis with all the subsequent lineup of “bad women who wore pants” that Rev. Carter trots out before us – essentially all of whom promoted the freedoms that his own family enjoys. I would love to see his pamphlet on why women should not have the right to own property, divorce under any circumstance, vote, work among men, or any of the other “outlandish” ideas these women pioneered. It would be a better position to say that each of these women promoted some ideas that were good, some that were bad, and the ideas will have to be distinguished on their merits. It is also worth noting that a lot of the harsh criticism of these women came from contemporaries who had an axe to grind with these women over their views that we all now share. Consequently, the critics that Rev. Carter cites were very biased at the time and inclined to exaggerate the transgressions and negative perception of these women in order to discredit their “shocking” ideas, like the notion that women should be allowed to vote.

 

Argument 2: The Real Reason Women Started Wearing Pants

In this historical exploration, he also stumbles upon the real reason why mainstream women eventually adopted pants: practicality. He quotes Susan B. Anthony, “I can see no business avocation, in which women, in her present dress, can possibly earn equal wages with a man – and feel that it is folly for us to make the demand until we adapt our dress to our work.” (pg. 8)

He also quotes a segment from Elizabeth Stanton (pg. 6), which I will expand. “In the spring of 1851, while spending many hours at work in the garden, I became so thoroughly disgusted with the long skirt, that the dissatisfaction – the growth of years – suddenly ripened into the decision that this shackle should no longer be endured. The resolution was at once put into practice. Turkish trousers to the ankle with a skirt reaching some four inches below the knee, were substituted for the heavy, untidy and exasperating old garment…  

“I wore the short dress and trousers for many years, my husband, being at all times and in all places, my staunch supporter. My father, also gave the dress his full approval, and I was also blessed by the tonic of Mrs. Stanton’s inspiring words: ‘The question is no longer, how do you look, but woman, how do you feel?’” 

She goes on to express the advantages of the outfit in “its lightness and cleanliness on the streets, its allowing me to carry my babies up and down stairs with perfect ease and safety, and its beautiful harmony with sanitary laws… All hail to the day when we shall have a reasonable and beautiful dress that shall encourage exercises on the road and in the field – that shall leave us the free use of our limbs – that shall help and not hinder, our perfect development.” (See the original quote here)

Even this list of women, women of “questionable character” whom Carter brings forth to make pants abhorrent to us, are giving only practical reasons for adopting pants. The ability to work in occupations that require manual activity, exercise, bicycling, and to avoid carrying dung around on the hem of a long skirt were all cited as primary reasons. Elizabeth Stanton in particular did this with the full support of the men in her life, in part so she could easily carry her babies down stairs more safely. This hardly seems like radical rejection of femininity to me. This seems more like sensible improvement of women’s condition in keeping with biblical values.

It is an interesting historical footnote to ask why pants, if they are so practical, were not adopted thousands of years prior by both sexes? While pants were occasionally worn by men and women in the pre-modern era, they were never common. The reason for this is quite simple. Prior to the industrial era, the most labor consuming part of making clothing was spinning the thread. According to Virginia Postrel, author of The Fabric of Civilization, a pair of jeans has about six miles of thread in it and required 13-15 eight-hour days to make. A bandana would take about three working days to create. Because textiles were so precious, popular fashion always favored clothes that required the minimum amount of thread. This meant clothing that allowed a rectangular piece of cloth to be stitched together with minimal cutting. The robe, tunic, sari, and kimono all accommodate this well, but pants require a lot of tailoring and discarding of cloth, which would entail snipping off literal days of work. Because of this, they were more labor intensive, expensive, and generally impractical for all but the rich until the industrial revolution made fabric cheap and readily available. Once pants became a feasible part of a wardrobe, men adopted them first and it was only a matter of time before women would follow suit. 

 

Argument 3: Pants as a Slippery Slope

“As with anything, you have to look at the end result.”, Rev. Carter stated (pg. 16), and he then goes on to announce that the end result of women’s pants is “short shorts, barely covering anything at all.” This is essentially a “slippery slope” argument – an argument that once we start down the road of reforming 19th century women’s dress, we may slide farther than we wish.

Slippery slope arguments are not illogical per se, but they are often framed as a unique harm on one side of an issue, when in fact they exist for both sides. So why restrict the argument to pants, when it is present in so many other aspects of life and fashion? Holiness women do not wear the same clothes as the women in the 1800’s. The modern skirt or dress can also slide down the slope into indecency. I’ve no doubt that I could present images of skirts and dresses that “barely cover anything at all.” Does this mean it was wrong to abandon the corset and hoop skirt for the maxi skirt and denim jacket? And don’t men’s pants live on the same slippery slope? Surely, if some shorts are too short for women, then some are too short for men – not to mention Speedos. Does this mean that Rev. Carter would like men to go back to the robe and tunic, in an effort to stay out of this danger zone? Modesty is not a problem that is unique in any way to pants, and if some pants are modest enough for men, then some pants must be modest enough for women.

The good news is that God doesn’t leave his children slipping down a thousand slides into destruction. As I have lain out in “Where Do We Draw the Lines?” – God gives us plenty of tools to navigate a world full of pitfalls and the capricious dictates of church leaders isn’t one of them. We cannot opt out of slippery slopes in our life. For even if we make a thousand hard and fast rules about life, then we have slidden down the slope of legalism.

 

Argument 4: Women’s Pants as a Central Factor in Moral Breakdown

There are many allusions throughout the book to the pitiful situation we find ourselves in because of pants. Divorce rates, gay marriage, and moral decline are all attributed to pants. Rev. Carter says, “As pants have progressed where they are today, we find that the morals of ladies have also taken a downward spiral to where many talk and behave in a manner much worse than men.” (pg. 22)

A few problems with this statement. First, he assumes that the morals of women have uniformly degraded, without providing any evidence. People tend to view the past through rose colored glasses, which is not justifiable. Slavery, eugenics, racism, warmongering, Indian displacement, and many other ills are in our not-too-distant past, all supported by some or most of the women in dresses. Second, he assumes that women are inherently more moral than men and by extension infers that men have more excuse for debauchery and vulgarity than women, since they are not equal moral agents. Most importantly, he arbitrarily identifies pants as the culprit, from a lineup with many more likely suspects.

But why pick pants? Why not choose another modern trend and say: “as women have started having fewer children, we find that the morals of ladies have also taken a downward spiral to where many talk and behave in a manner much worse than men.”

You could attribute moral decline to rising prosperity, the sexual revolution, the decline of church attendance, the expansion of the welfare state undermining the family, the church’s turn from outreach to being more inwardly focused, conservatives abandoning the entertainment industry, media, and arts, the rise of state-run education systems. There are thousands of possible explanations for moral decline, ranging from the obvious to the absurd. Pants are not on the obvious end of that spectrum. Yet, Carter addresses no other possible reasons for moral decline, which he doesn’t even bother to prove exists.

 

Argument 5: New Testament Evidence for a Difference between Men’s and Women’s Clothing

The author offers a handful of passages from the New Testament to make his case. 

First, he references the Corinthian teaching on hair (pg. 23). This is certainly inadequate alone because it literally doesn’t address the topic at issue.

The second passage is from 1 Cor. 6:9, in which Paul denounces the “effeminate.” The Greek word here is referring to a specific homosexual act, that has nothing to do with clothing. Nearly every other translation makes this clear, but the King James translators tended to be a little more squeamish about referring to homosexuality in direct language. Regardless, the Strong’s concordance backs up this meaning to the Greek. It is true that the word has an alternate meaning – a literal meaning of “soft to the touch.” This literal sense of the word is clearly the wrong translation in the context of a list of sexual sins. But it is to this interpretation that Rev. Carter refers, to say that the point of this verse is to denounce (at least to some degree), men in feminine clothing. The problem is that this is not what soft clothing refers to. The term is used in one other context in Scripture (Matt 11:8 and Luke 7:25). In both places, Jesus is talking about John the Baptist and the fact that he did not wear soft clothing, because the people that wear soft clothing live in kings’ courts. Soft clothing refers to luxury, not femininity. This passage is useless to his argument.

Subsequently, Carter makes a classic KJV early modern English error in his interpretation of 1 Peter 2:9 (pg. 25). He uses the KJV word in the phrase “a peculiar people.” The problem here is that Carter uses a modern definition for peculiar (e.g. special). He should be reading Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, in which he would find that peculiar means “Exclusive property; that which belongs to a person in exclusion of others.” I provide more evidence for this in my article on respecting the original language. But the point of the verse is that Christians are the possession of God, as every other translation shows. The King James agrees with the other translations on this point, but modern readers do not understand the 18th century vocabulary and thus misinterpret verses. This verse has nothing to do with the appearance of God’s people to outsiders.

Finally, Carter also cites the directive to women to wear modest “apparel” in 1 Timothy 2:9 (pg. 34). He then shows through the etymology of the word, which appears only once in the New Testament, that apparel referred to a flowing garment – which could not include pants. He also references that this word appears in an early Greek translation of Isaiah 61:3. This verse refers to God metaphorically clothing his people with a “garment” of praise. As this usage refers to both men and women being clothed in such a garment, any claim Carter makes that the usage of this solitary word in 1 Timothy 2:9 is revealing some unique dress code for women disintegrates.

Even more telling is how Carter introduces his appeal to 1 Timothy 2:9. He writes, “Does the Bible give any hints as to what women’s attire is?” (pg. 34) He neglects to address the obvious question this raises. Why should we need to go searching the Bible for “hints” as to what God wants all people throughout all of time to do? If this is a universal moral imperative, why didn’t God think to state it plainly in the exhaustive tome of the New Testament cannon? It can’t be because He didn’t know it would ever be an issue.

All the specific argumentation that Carter makes throughout this section on how appearance can be used as a witness would make far more sense if he were advising us to display t-shirts, tattoos, and bumper stickers with biblical messages. Surely, that is a more direct way to share the gospel through appearance than the creation of a denominational dress code, which I can assure you communicates nothing but an unattractive dogmatism to most people.

 

Argument 6: The Old Testament Argument

The Old Testament argumentation feels a bit stale. We have the classic address of Deuteronomy 22:5 (pg. 23), with no analysis of the scholarly evidence that this passage may be forbidding women from wearing armor (Carter’s own Hebrew definition hints at this interpretation). He also makes no argument as to why the differences between men’s and women’s pants today would not have been acceptable in Old Testament times, given the only slight distinctions between the men’s and women’s robes of the day. 

He makes no argument about why Christians are still bound by elements of Mosaic law unsupported in the New Testament – he merely asserts it. It is true that his view of the partial fulfillment of Old Testament law is common in many circles, but it is a view that inevitably leads to people presenting arbitrary and unbiblical standards for which elements to pluck from the law. The verse Carter then cites in Colossians 2:14, to explain why “ceremonial laws” are no longer applicable makes no such distinction. It merely says that Christ’s death “blott[ed] out the handwriting of ordinances that [were] against us.” This passage refers to the law as a monolithic unit – not to some subsection of the code. I have previously provided a far more biblically consistent standard for applying Old Testament commands to modern life. 

As to why this particular verse should be one of the cherry-picked laws we preserve, he pronounces this based on his typical commentary on the word “abomination.” I have addressed this claim at length elsewhere. Rev. Carter adds the new twist that “abomination to God” is a special category of unchangeable ills. In his words, this phrase signifies “a gross moral sin, something inherently and obviously wrong, and equally condemned in the New Testament.” (pg. 28)

The obvious question is, how do we know that it is this special phrase that identifies a “keeper” law, and not some other phrase or code word? Carter goes painstakingly through each law in the chapter of Deuteronomy 22 and neatly labels for us which laws are ceremonial and which are moral. But when he labels the law to have a safety fence around the roof of your house a moral one (pg. 30), what are we to do with that? I understand the rationale of building codes, but does Carter really preach on this every time he sees a Christian that owns a potentially dangerous horizontal surface?

Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 25, a long list of things is given which are proclaimed to all be “abomination unto the Lord thy God.” These are things listed in that category – a man who refuses to marry the wife of his deceased brother (unclear what he is supposed to do if already married) and a wife who intervenes in a fight on the side of her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man (for which the recommended solution is to cut off her hand). Another practice decried as an “abomination before the Lord” is a man remarrying his own ex-wife (Deuteronomy 24:4). Or maybe we are supposed to infer a different meaning from “before” rather than “to” the Lord. It seems to me that Carter has not found a secret key to Old Testament interpretation – rather he is resorting to creating arbitrary rules of interpretation that support his pre-existing conclusions.

Carter frames two contradictory opinions on Old Testament clothing. First, he states that there was clear difference based on the silhouette of men’s and women’s clothing in the Old Testament – how, he does not make clear (pg. 30). Second, he cites a biblical commentary that says, “a few articles of feminine clothing carried somewhat the same and basic pattern; yet there was always sufficient differences in embroidery, and needlework so that in appearance the line of demarcation between men and women should be readily detected” (pg. 31). So, he simultaneously presents evidence to prove that there was often no difference between the basic form of men’s and women’s clothing and at the same time asserts that there was. As evidence, he cites Rebekah’s identification of Isaac as a man from across a field in Genesis 24:64. He doesn’t address the numerous possible ways Rebekah could have Identified Isaac as male besides his clothing silhouette – including the fact that he almost certainly had a bushy black beard

Carter raises the valid point that long-distance identification of gender is more difficult than it was when women only wore dresses. I will concede that this is true, and as a former Army scout, I know how important long-distance identification is. However, the main reason I needed to be able to identify someone at a long distance, was so I could determine whether we needed to kill them. This is not something that comes up in my daily life as much. When did long-distance identification become a crucial factor in clothing? If it is, why not just have women wear neon orange? That significantly improve our ability to identify them. And why not with LED lights for easy identification after dark? I don’t think this is a particularly important point.

Carter refers to the KJV “breeches” as though they are one and the same as pants. However, we can tell from the biblical description that they are not. Exodus 28:42 describes, “And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:” The Hebrew word “miknac” is a derivation of a word for hiding (as in, to hide the private parts) because these were not “pants,” they were underwear. The Bible makes it clear that they were worn under robes, by priests, for the purpose of hiding “nakedness.” 

They went from the waist to the thighs (they did not necessarily cover the thigh completely), which makes them equivalent in length and usage to modern boxer shorts. Carter asserts that they went to the knees, but this is not what the passage says. They went to the thighs. As a side note – he also imagines the “girding of loins” never exposed above the knees, but since the distance from the knee to the top of the waist is longer than the distance from the knee to the ground, his theory would require that men wear garments which drag along the ground in regular use (because tucking the bottom of the garment into the top necessitates its length being divided in half). This is certainly not what they did, as we know from the depictions of Jewish dress engraved by the Assyrians.

Additionally, the Bible puts no restrictions on who else could wear such attire. In fact, other than a few pieces like the ephod, all of the priestly garments were of the same basic style worn by all men and women at the time. There is no reason to believe that the wearing of miknac was banned to men or women any more than it was banned to wear the robes, sashes, coats, and belts all described in Exodus 28 as the garments of priests. Yes, they probably couldn’t have worn the exact colors and styles as the priests, but the basic garments were all the same. There are other garments which only men are recorded wearing in Scripture, such as the “girdle” or belt – and it is mentioned far more times than breeches (38 times). If the author’s logic is true, he should be quick to decry women’s wearing of belts of any kind – the biblical case is much stronger. Proving that mosaic priests wore boxers is a far cry from proving that pants are a universally and irrevocably masculine garment.

 

Miscellaneous Arguments

The author concludes his work with a series of softball questions and answers, followed by a smattering of quotations from people who agree with him, as well as a set of anecdotes about prostitutes and lesbians, and even a poem. Though most of this section just repeats previous arguments with less analysis, there are a few notable additions.

In response to how women are to ski, climb, swim, ride horses, etc. in skirts, Carter’s position is that women simply ought not do anything that cannot be done in a dress. “If a woman is participating in an activity that she cannot be modest in a dress than it is not a feminine activity; it is a masculine job or activity.” (pg. 37)

In response to the charge of legalism, Carter cites that legalism means adding to the plan of salvation – since he isn’t saying women must wear a skirt/dress in order to gain salvation (but rather to keep it), he believes he is exempt from this charge (pg. 40). By this logic, one can add literally any rule for Christians to follow, as long as you don’t claim that the rule is required to gain salvation. 

He says that a women’s silhouette is indecent, but a man’s is not (pg. 35-36). This is completely an arbitrary appeal to his own authority. He cannot possibly infer that from Scripture, because no men in Scripture wore anything resembling pants, except as an undergarment.

What Carter doesn’t do in this section is take on the tough questions, such as “what of the numerous articles of clothing originally designed for and worn by men, such as T-shirts (originally invented for men’s military use), boots, tennis shoes, baseball style hats, belts, socks, sweaters, stockings, and hoodies?

 

A Woman’s Perspective

Natalie also has some thoughts to share on this section. Here is her perspective:

On page 37, Rev. Carter shares an article about giving up women’s pants written by Bethany Vaughn. It was originally published on the Beautiful Womanhood website (formerly called Ladies Against Feminism). When I visited the site today, I found it interesting that her article has since been taken down. Instead, I found the following paragraph on their Start Here page:

“There is no uniform for women in Scripture, and there is a lot of room for creativity and freedom within the commands to be modest, pure, and feminine. We cannot hold others to a man-made standard of dress. If we have personal convictions about clothing, they must be grounded in God’s Word, and we must treat others with charity and grace. Not everyone has reached the same conclusions that we have, and we don’t shun women based upon outward appearances.”

On pages 41-42, Rev. Carter addresses the fact that the great majority of Christian woman have no conviction against women’s pants. In response, he quotes a man by the name of Bro. Potter who dismissively replies, “Big deal. Does that give you permission to rebel against the Word of God?” (pg. 41) Rev. Carter then elaborates in his own words, “The reason many claim to not be convicted is because they never study it or seriously pray about it.” (pg. 42) As a woman who did seriously pray and study Scripture and history regarding women’s pants, not for a few days but rather several years, it’s hard not take this assertion personally. Because Rev. Carter believes his interpretation of “hints” (pg. 31) in the Bible is correct, he simply assumes women like myself are lying regarding our own careful study. This is somewhat frustrating because how can I prove I genuinely came to a different conclusion when I am dismissed as dishonest? Far from half-heartedly looking over Scripture with the intent of “justifying” women’s pants, I studied the topic because I wanted to prove to Nathan that Scripture teaches women must only wear skirts. The more I studied, the more I realized I was the one in the wrong. After many years, I’m finally willing to admit that.

Another quote Rev. Carter shared to support his position was this one by a Mrs. Cathy Corle,

“So what do your pants say about you? ‘I’m my own boss. I’m taking the reins and my husband or my parents have no right to tell me what to do. I refuse to obey my God-given authority.’ Rebellion: plain and simple.” (pg. 45)

Really? And who ascribed this meaning? In my experience, the only people who believe pants say “rebellion” are the handful of people who claim women must wear skirts because pants say “rebellion.” And what about women like myself who have husbands that prefer us to wear pants in certain circumstances? In those situations, wouldn’t wearing a skirt be rebellion? Ironically, the same people who claim I’m a bad, rebellious wife for wearing pants would also tell me to continue wearing skirts even when my husband asks me not to. In other words, they don’t actually care about whether or not I’m a godly spouse. Their accusations of “rebellious wife” are all about pressuring me into fitting their dresscode, not improving my marriage.

The next quote that caught my attention was this one by Walter Isenhour (pg. 36),

“…It certainly doesn’t look womanly and ladylike to see a girl, or woman, wearing slacks. She looks ‘slack’ all right. She looks slack in her dress, slack in her walk, slack in her manners, slack in her womanhood, girlhood and motherhood. Many who wear men’s breeches and slacks are slack in their conduct, slack in their morals, slack in their character, slack in their spirituality.”

There’s no argument to this quote, it’s entirely insults based on assumption. Can you imagine if a man preached that women who wear jean skirts are “slack in their conduct, slack in their morals, slack in their character, slack in their spirituality?” It would never be tolerated. So why are these insults not only tolerated in regard to pants, but published in defense of “holiness living?”

Further into the miscellaneous argument section, Jack Hyles is quoted saying the following,

“If many of you were to tear up all your ‘britches,’ you would have to wear a barrel to the store to get something else to wear. The way you look in them, a barrel would fit you perfectly too! There’s not a man in this room tonight who wonders why it’s wrong for a woman to wear slacks, unless he thinks it’s okay to examine you like he would a pig at a county fair. You know it’s true!… This pant-wearing crowd is sapping the femininity out of our girls. That’s why they show their thighs when they put on a skirt; they don’t know how to sit because they wear pants most of the time. I’m saying, ‘Go home and burn your britches!'” (pg. 49)

In case you think we’re taking these quotes out of context, here are Rev. Carter’s exact words following the section written by Jack Hyles, “I really like this article. I believe the author summed up this whole study rather precisely and concisely.” (pg. 49) How someone cannot see that Jack Hyles, Walter Isenhour, and Cathy Corle’s words are little more than demeaning accusations, I have no idea. All I know is that I’m so grateful to be in a healthy Christian environment surrounded by godly men who honor me, value me, and treat me with respect and dignity. They don’t assume I’m a rebellious wife because I clean my house in capris, they don’t accuse me of having no morals because I show up in flowy palazzo pants, they don’t call into question my womanhood, femininity, or prayer-life over taking a run in joggers, and they never would tell me to wear a barrel or compare me to a pig. To all my sisters in Christ surviving in churches where such insults are dished out without qualms, please know that that’s not holiness. I pray you will find a church community where you will be cherished as the daughter of God you are, and never again beaten down or manipulated with careless, rash accusations.

Back to Nathan.

 

Conclusion

I am not averse to conceding when my intellectual opponents make valid arguments. In fact, I prefer it, as it generally leads to the discovery of more truth. Unfortunately, I find no compelling arguments in the 60 pages I read in The Problem with Pants, which begin to undermine my understanding of the issue.

While my response to this work is not intended as a comprehensive argument for women’s pants (that is here), it is worth noting that this issue does not stand alone. In contrast to reoccurring theological arguments (such as the extent of eternal security) upon which many people disagree across a variety of denominations, believing women’s pants are an abomination is part of a package. People like Rev. Carter are not bringing us an isolated argument, they are bringing us a worldview. It’s a worldview against evangelism, outreach, and fellowship with anyone who doesn’t wear their preferred garments. They offer a method of biblical interpretation that assumes that the 1950s in America were the high point of morality and then seeks to justify every standard that the American church held at that time (as well as many standards they didn’t hold). It is a worldview that strains at gnats and swallows camels. It is a worldview that it is high time to move on from.

—Nathan Mayo

 

Book Responded to:

Carter, Rev. Jayme D. The Problem with Pants. 2nd edition. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2015.

 

Find this interesting? Check out our article, “Can Godly Women Wear Pants?” For a full list of our articles tap here.

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The Standard We Let Slip: Effective Charity

The Standard We Let Slip: Effective Charity

When I grew up in the Holiness movement, if you had asked me to list off the top practices of a healthy Christian, I would have listed off the need for daily prayer and Bible reading, regular church attendance, and adherence to a list of standards. Perhaps the need to witness would have occurred to me. What almost certainly would not have crossed my mind very high on the list is the requirement to serve the poor, sick, and vulnerable.

Serving others as a church, which I will refer to interchangeably as charity, was simply not a part of our practice. It was rarely addressed and opportunities were never formally organized. We had revivals, camp meetings, homecomings, youth camps, fall festivals, prayer meetings, and church workdays galore. In 15 years, I would have attended nearly 3,000 church gatherings – but I don’t believe I ever once attended a church service project of any sort. I’m sure individuals would occasionally do something that constituted an act of charity, but this was not a part of a routine, and opting out of service to the vulnerable would never raise eyebrows in the way that say, opting out of a Wednesday night church service would.

This reticence to actively engage in physical service is not typical of the church throughout history. The early church was widely known for their provision for the outcasts of society. The last non-Christian Emperor of Rome noted that “it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase [Christianity] … For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”[1] It’s worth noting that Julian’s reference to holiness was not to an outward standard of appearance that differed notably from their culture – there was none – rather it was a reference to virtue, integrity, and love. Throughout all of church history there has never been a period when significant portions of the church were not actively involved in social issues and in service to the vulnerable, particularly the poor.

Interestingly enough, the Holiness Movement used to be known for being very active in charity and social reform. In the late 1800’s, Holiness Christians were involved in everything from women’s rights to making church available to the poor (it was the era of pew-renting).[2] One branch off the Holiness Movement became entirely centered around charity work; today we know it as the organization “Salvation Army.” [3] Sadly, this Holiness emphasis on serving has faded over the years, if not altogether disappeared.

This article will establish both that charity to the vulnerable is still required of the church today and that the Bible gives us significant guidance in a manner that is empowering and impactful.

 

Charity is Required of the Church

It is biblically obvious that we have a mandate to share our faith. However, this mandate is distinct from an additional requirement to meet the physical and relational needs of others. Very often, the two things are closely connected. Providing for someone’s physical needs is often the first step to addressing their deeper spiritual needs. This is exemplified by Jesus’ ministry – he met physical needs for health and provision as well as sharing his good news. He shares his philosophy in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Good works” can include personal behavior, but it also surely includes acts of love for others – which is just another way of saying charity. While God’s people are called to show love for everyone, they also have a special call to serve the vulnerable. In the Bible the vulnerable usually consists of the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants – with “the poor” generally covering all of the subcategories.

The Old Testament is replete with commands to serve the vulnerable, but Jesus establishes that this applies to the church with his sermon in Mathew 25. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” In context, Jesus is teaching that these acts of service will be one of the crucial visible factors which show the difference between those headed to judgement and those headed to everlasting life (not as earned righteousness, but as the fruit of a transformed heart). The story he tells assumes that all of the righteous serve. There is no category in the story for the Christians who just like to look after themselves.

This duty is also plainly taught in James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Best wishes and spiritual platitudes are inadequate to care for others – action is required.

John intensifies the command in 1 John 3:17, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his [heart] from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

The early church took this to heart. In Acts 6, we see the apostles had a feeding program, which they had need to delegate to others in the church (like Stephen). James 1:27 goes so far to say that service is exactly as necessary for pleasing God as separation from worldliness: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Don’t miss that. If you keep yourself “unspotted from the world,” you have not pleased God unless you also “visit the fatherless and the widows.”

In 1 Timothy 6:18, the rich are instructed to be especially generous: “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to [share].” Given that we are 90 times richer than the average historical person, every American would certainly meet the criteria of “rich” that Paul had in mind.

 

Objections to Charity

In the modern era, many in the church no longer feel an obligation to assist the poor because they believe that the government has already taken on that responsibility. One thing this argument misses is that government programs tend to be especially bad at the sort of relational assistance that effective charity requires. For instance, no one becomes homeless just because he lost his job. Anyone who sleeps under an overpass has also lost all his friends and family too. Even if the government provides him with a check or some housing, usually that person still has no support structure to prevent future homelessness. No law or entitlement program can build a strong family and a circle of friends.

But even if all the government programs suddenly became wildly effective, that still would not alleviate the church from its responsibility. If the government created a Department of Evangelism and started preaching the gospel on through public service announcements, would the church stop preaching it? Clearly not, and I believe we would be rather suspicious of the evangelism that the government was offering. By the same token, simply because the government is attempting to assist the poor does not mean we are alleviated of our Christian responsibility.

Another common objection people cite to serious service to the poor is Jesus’ remark that “the poor will be with you always.” The obvious problems with this is that the back half of Jesus’ same sentence is “but you will not always have me.” This makes sense in context, but hardly seems like a statement that is intended to apply to all future readers. Unless we are willing to hold that Christians will lose access to Jesus in the future, we must admit that Jesus’ statement about his imminent departure applied only to his first-century hearers. If the back half of the sentence is not universal, it stands to reason that the first half of the same sentence would also not be universal. Regardless of this bit of exegesis, Jesus is alluding to a passage in Deuteronomy 15:11, which follows the observation with a command. “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

God’s logic in Deuteronomy was that the fact that the poor would always be in the land of ancient Israel should motivate constant generosity. Even if we should understand Christ’s words to apply to our time, that should serve as a call to persistent action – not an excuse for self-indulgence.

 

The Church in Action Today

The good news is that there are still parts of the church where this sense of service is still taken seriously. Take this salient example from pastor and bestselling author David Platt:

“One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and adoption needs that we have in our county?”

The woman I was talking to laughed.

I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?”

She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.”

When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families signed up to help with foster care and adoption. We don’t want even one child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.”

This sort of exemplary behavior is even more common in poor countries, where people cannot lean on the government to provide the social services. In my time working in Haiti, nearly all local churches served their communities in multiple ways – independently of foreign funding. They routinely provided primary schools, adult literacy classes, farming co-ops, adoptions, and support for the elderly.

These examples of modern churches putting ancient commands into action also raises an important point. There is more than one way to serve the vulnerable and not all are equally helpful.

 

Effective Charity – More than Good Intentions

The Bible’s admonitions to serve are so clear that most readers will catch on to it eventually. Once they catch the idea that service is mandatory, they usually begin their acts of service in the ways that are the simplest. This consists of giving tangible goods out to people who are readily accessible to receive them. While these good intentions are a good place to start – they’re not a good place to end. If we would truly follow the example of Christ, we must concern ourselves with the long-term needs of the people we serve. This means not only meeting the immediate need, but helping people flourish. A flourishing life includes elements like spiritual growth, strong families, healthy lifestyles, education and career advancement, character development, and wise stewardship of finances and other resources.

 

A Framework for Charity

While we do not completely control the long-run outcomes for any individual we seek to help, this situation is very analogous to medicine. A heart surgeon cannot guarantee that his patient will survive, but a heart surgeon should expect to improve the average outcomes of his surgery over time. This is exactly what happens – you would certainly rather receive open heart surgery today than 50 years ago. So even though they do not control the outcome for each individual patient, they can still learn to grow and identify more effective methods. Charity works the same way.

An excellent book entitled When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett lays out a particularly useful framework for understanding different kinds of charity. This framework is grounded in the Christian notion that the most important thing in life is relationships – with God, with others, with one’s self, and with the rest of creation. When all these relationships are healthy, people and societies flourish, when they break down, some form of poverty prevails. Our job as Christians is to restore these relationships in our own lives and in the lives of people around us. Regarding helping others, Fikkert and Corbett distinguish three types of charity: relief, rehabilitation and development.

Relief is any assistance offered in a temporary crisis. the good Samaritan’s assistance to the beaten man on the road to Jericho is a good example. The characteristic of relief is that it usually involves one-way giving and the recipient is rarely in a position to contribute anything in return.

Rehabilitation is the process of moving from crisis back to a previous level of life – it typically follows relief. A characteristic of rehabilitation is that it requires some effort from the one rehabilitating. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man on the road to Jericho would have had to exercise and tend his own wounds as he recovered. Eventually, he would leave the financial support of the Samaritan. People recovering from a job loss or drug addiction will have a similar active role to play in improving their own situation.

Development is the process of improving your condition to a level not previously attained. Personal development is a part of everyone’s life as we strive to grow spiritually, increase our careers, and strengthen our families. For people in poverty, development is often a process that can be facilitated by charity. However, development always involves significant effort on the part of the person developing. Like rehabilitation, development is not something you can do “to” someone. They have to do it, and you can merely assist. If they are unwilling to work and grow, development is not possible until they have a change of heart.

This distinction is more than just semantic, if you attempt to provide continuous relief to people who need development, you will not solve their underlying problems and you will merely enable an unhealthy situation to continue unresolved. For instance, imagine a young woman who grew up in a dysfunctional home and has difficulty holding down a job. The root problem in this case could be a lack of knowledge, experience, or character due to her troubled upbringing. No amount of food or financial assistance would address this issue. If she is willing to improve, these root problems can be addressed by compassionate volunteers either through friendship/mentorship, a job skills class, or someone giving the woman an employment opportunity in which she is given grace to learn. There are many levels at which a local church can serve this woman – through formal programs like classes and job fairs, through informal connections, and perhaps through temporary financial assistance to help her get established. Because there are so many options and layers of assistance required to move this woman from dysfunction to flourishing, the church will almost certainly need to work with other churches and community organizations in the process.

This process is complicated and very specific to the individual served. But who is better equipped to deal with a messy relational process like development than the Church? It is there that people from many walks of life are connected to serve a common purpose. It is there that we all acknowledge the redemptive power of God. The church is well suited to facilitate development – a powerful form of charity which makes a world of difference in the lives of the poor.

 

Biblical Guidance on Effective Charity

Unfortunately, development is not very intuitive to most people taking a first step into charity work. When we see someone hungry, we default to trying to figure out a way to feed them indefinitely. While feeding the hungry would seem to be in step with the Bible’s commands, the Bible also elaborates whom we should feed and how. These commands are not incidental – they are central if we want to see the poor flourish. You will note that they meld nicely with the relief vs. development framework outlined above.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the children of Israel to provide for the poor by leaving some grain in the fields (Deut. 24:19). The poor could come and collect grain in the fields, mill it themselves, and provide their own bread. Farmers were not expected to make bread and give it to the poor – the poor had an active role to play. This work requirement diminished the chance of unhealthy dependence and combined with the Mosaic system of land distribution, meant that over the long run, each family was equipped to provide for itself.

Jesus did miraculously feed thousands, however he only gave food to a particular group of people who had listened to him all day long before he fed them; they were committed to a form of spiritual development and the food was just a bonus. Furthermore, it was not an ongoing occurrence. The only example of continuous food provision in Scripture (for the widow of Zarephath) took place entirely during a famine – a short term-crisis that called for relief. The idea of requiring recipients of charity who are not in such an exceptional crisis to work, contribute, or demonstrate commitment to growth is the Biblical model.

In keeping with this model, in 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives explicit instructions for how to discern between widows who the church should help and widows who the church should not help. Generally, if widows were in a situation where they could take care of themselves or where their family could provide for them, then that was the means required. The church was not the first stop for assistance. Furthermore, by his admonition that “he who does not work shall not eat,” Paul specifically taught that if a person was unwilling to solve his own problems then the church should refuse to solve that person’s problems for him. Assistance was conditional not only on need, but also on willingness to do one’s own part before asking the church for assistance.

This concept is called subsidiarity. Subsidiarity means to solve a problem at the most local level possible: the individual, his family, his church or community, then the government from the most local levels to most distant. In accordance with this principle of subsidiarity the Bible also teaches that our levels of responsibility as servants varies – we serve God before family (Luke 14:6), we have more responsibility for our family than strangers (1 Tim 5:8), and we owe aid to Christians before unbelievers (Gal 6:10). These teachings help us realize that God’s intent is not for us to run ourselves ragged in serving others. While we are called to love and forgive unconditionally, we are not called to continually provide for the material needs of those capable of providing for themselves.

The final biblical perspective to share on the needs of the poor comes from Jesus’ assessment of his own ministry. “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matt 11:5)” In this passage Jesus lists the solution to a number of ailments. When he gets to the poor, he does not say “the poor have money given to them.” Jesus identifies the root problem of as lack of hope, a lack of the knowledge of God’s redemptive plan. Jesus met some physical needs, but mostly he provided things of eternal value. And while everyone needs the good news, he had a special place in his heart for sharing it with the poor.

 

Conclusion

Service to the poor and vulnerable is a central responsibility of the church. Furthermore, it does require some discernment and education to do it effectively. The perpetual handout model that seems so intuitive at first glance is neither biblical nor impactful. While this article only scratches the surface of effective charity, I hope that it provides you with some inspiration to get started or refine your current work.

Charity is a topic that requires both study and action. Maybe that action begins with a family member or acquaintance whom you can assist. Maybe your church has service opportunities you can participate in or lead. If your church doesn’t facilitate something, there are almost certainly nonprofits in your area who are in great need of your help. There is room for everyone’s time, treasure, and talent in this field. As ransomed sons and daughters of God, serving the vulnerable is both the least we can do and the most we can do.

—Nathan

P.S. My day job is equipping churches and nonprofits with tools and best practices to implement more effective charity. You can see some of my articles on the topic, as well as other resources, at TrueCharity.us

 

Sources:

  1. Letters by Julian: Letter 22,” Translated by Emily Wilmer Cave Wright
  2. The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century by Melvin Dieter
  3. Holiness Movement: American History” in Encyclopedia Britannica

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Can Godly Women Wear Cosmetics?

Woman studying Bible

Growing up, I (Natalie) often overheard conversations about “those girls” who no longer attended Holiness churches. The assumptions made about them stuck with me, things like, “It’s such a shame she would compromise and wear makeup just to get a boyfriend…” It was as if the only reason a girl would condone cosmetics was because she was so desperate for love that she would compromise Scripture. This put me in a awkward predicament. After years of studying Scripture, I couldn’t pretend that the Bible teaches cosmetics are a moral sin. But at the same time, I knew my views would be dismissed as romantic desperation. I made up my mind that even if I wore makeup for other social events, I wouldn’t wear it on dates in order to avoid such accusations.

In February of 2020, a young man from Oregon, Cole Edmonson, flew out to Colorado to visit me on Valentine’s Day. This was not only our first date, it was our first time to meet in-person. I still stuck with my notion not to wear any makeup. The same went for our second date, and our third, fourth, etc. One evening, I asked Cole on what type of makeup he found attractive. He looked at my plain face, thought a moment, and said he really liked the way I did mine, it was “perfect,” but added that he’d personally prefer I not wear anymore than I already did. I gave him a funny look then laughed out loud. I explained that I had never worn makeup around him, so “no more” meant none at all. In the time since our early dates, my now-husband has seen me wear makeup and appreciates it for what it’s worth. However, he’s affirmed his opinion that he finds me more attractive without it.

My personal experiences have forced me to reconsider my assumptions. I was told makeup is wrong because it attracts men. Yet the man whose attention I desired informed that I am more appealing without it… So, when we were dating, should I have worn makeup in order to be less attractive? And, if the rule of thumb for morality is, “If it makes you more attractive then it’s wrong,” then what about flattering dresses and pretty hairstyles? Several years ago, an older man told me he knew I had started wearing my hair down in curls in order to catch the eye of another teen. I squirmed with embarrassment, but couldn’t deny it. But was my crime actually sinful? Is it wrong for a lady, the crowning jewel of God’s creation, to put some effort into looking as nice as possible (whether her motive is to be attractive or not)? To be clear, I take time to curl my hair even when I don’t want male attention. Sometimes I just want to come across as polished for a job-interview, or boost my confidence in order to make better first impressions. Cosmetics are no different. I am blessed to have skin with few defects and natural blush, but not every girl shares these traits. Is it wrong for them to conceal a mole, smooth their skin tone, or add some color to their cheeks? Maybe they apply makeup because they’re self-conscious about how pale their face is. Is that anymore wrong than me curling my hair when my hair isn’t naturally curly?

As much as I appreciate your consideration of my experiences, the most important question is, “What does the Bible say about cosmetics?” Some Christians claim that the Bible condemns them as sin. Is this so? We need to know. I hope you will carefully consider the arguments against cosmetics, as well as the cross-examination done by my brother, and weigh both perspectives carefully in light of Scripture.

—Natalie Edmonson

 

The Burden of Proof

It is important to refresh the idea of the logical principle of “burden of proof.” This is the simple idea that the person making the claim, holds the burden to prove it. If I claim the Bible forbids zippers, you’re not going to immediately take a pair of scissors to your favorite jacket “just to be safe.” No, you would rightly demand that I provide evidence for my claim. Even if you can’t think of a single argument in favor of zippers, it doesn’t matter, because you are not making a claim which you have to prove, only I am. And the burden of proof would be mine.

In this case, some in the Holiness movement say, “God doesn’t want you to wear makeup.” They have the sole burden to prove this claim. So let’s hear their case, in their own words. This article was taken from “The Holiness Handbook.” I cite this document, because it is the only Pentecostal Holiness objection to makeup that I have found on the internet. I will keep their words in red, with no alterations, and my responses in black. I will attempt to fairly understand and respond to what they have to say, without taking them out of context or misrepresenting their arguments.

……

The Case Against Makeup, Examined

Cosmetics or makeup

The real problem with the use of cosmetics is that it represents pride and rebellion against God and his creation.

This first sentence is their main claim, but at this point it’s just an assertion. Let’s see how they defend it.

Proverbs 6:16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: Pro 6:17  A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, (see more verses on pride under the jewelry section)

I agree on this entirely. However, Solomon is not referring to physical traits here, but actions and attitudes. Saying that a proud look is wrong does not prove that wearing makeup requires a proud look, any more than it does that using a tooth-whitening toothpaste involves a proud look.

1Timothy 2:9  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. 2:10  But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

The Greek word for modest is kosmious, which means orderly, well-arranged, seemly, or modest. In other words, “modest” refers to clothing that is neat and appropriate for the occasion. The Greek word that is translated shamefacedness is aidos, which means having a sense of shame, modesty, and reverence. The Greek word for sobriety is sophrosuna. This is a person of sound mind, with self-control, of good judgment, and moderate in all that he does.

I have no reason to disagree with the author on any of these points. I think it is a fair interpretation of this passage to say that it teaches to dress appropriately for the occasion with a sense of respect for others. Nothing in this passage suggests that makeup could not be worn modestly, and its application to jewelry and clothing is addressed at length here.

Early church writings (less than two hundred years after Jesus was born) condemn the use of face painting (see below).

Early church writers did have some wisdom, like thought leaders from any age, so there is nothing wrong with consulting their writings. However, proving that dead people share your opinions is inadequate to prove the validity of your opinions. Opinions from any age must be held up to scrutiny.

“Those women who wear gold imitate the Egyptians. They occupy themselves with curling their locks. They are busy anointing their cheeks, painting their eyes, dyeing their hair, and practicing the other pernicious arts of luxury. The truth is that they deck the covering of their flesh in order to attract their infatuated lovers”. Clement of Alexandria (circa 195 AD), 2.272.

This is a particularly interesting quotation to use, because Clement is attacking jewelry (defended in depth here) and the curling of hair. Clement would have been shocked to see the hours that Pentecostal women put into the curling and teasing of their hair. Additionally, when Clement refers to “anointing their cheeks.” This would be a reference to anointing with oil, which would be most analogous to using lotion or Chapstick – something Pentecostal women are also allowed to do. The Holiness Handbook author gives no defense of why he is willing to accept Clement’s position on makeup but ignore it on hair dos and skin care regimens.

What is even more interesting than the passage the author quotes is the context he cuts. The same document in which Clement rails against makeup, he also rails against the pernicious influence of “bathing for pleasure,” men’s shaving, soft fabric, and colored fabric. We address this passage in more detail here. In short, most of what Clement says in this context is downright laughable to the modern reader – including the modern Pentecostal Holiness reader. His biblical justification is nonexistent, and his conjecture defies good sense. To pluck one reference about makeup out of a diatribe about the evils of bathing, shaving, skin care, soft fabric, colored clothing, and hair styling is not very intellectually honest.

“Whatever is born is the work of God. So whatever is plastered on, is the devil’s work…. How unworthy of the Christian name it is to wear a fictitious face — you on whom simplicity in every form is enjoined!  You, to whom lying with the tongue is not lawful, are lying in appearance”. Tertullian (circa 198 AD), 4.21.

Citing Tertullian in this matter is particularly troubling. While we have addressed his writing in more depth here, this was his basic premise regarding women.

“[speaking to Christian women] And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert — that is, death — even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?” (“On the Apparel of Women,” Book One, Chapter One)

Essentially, Tertullian believed that women continue to bear unique guilt for sin and the death of Jesus. Therefore, they ought to reject care of skin, hair, jewelry, colored clothing, and anything other than “tunics of skin.” If this sounds extreme and unbiblical – it should.

To address Tertullian’s specific point that “whatever is born is the work of God,” let me say first that it is not found in Scripture. Second, if we were to follow it to its extreme, we should embrace all things natural. Body odor is more natural than soap and matted hair is more natural than combed hair. Cleft palates are more natural than surgically reconstructed ones. Raw wood is more natural than painted wood. On the contrary, God does not share this opinion. The temple he prescribed was full of sumptuously dyed cloth, woven patterns, and synthetically blended metals.

Philippians 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Moderation is a fine biblical principle. This could certainly apply to moderate use of makeup along with many other fine things. No issues here.

Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of cosmetics (makeup) being used in Egypt dating back to the fourth millennium BC. They found ancient artifacts of eye makeup and objects used for the application of scented unguents. The people of Egypt were typically considered to be wicked and ungodly in the Bible. Leaving Egypt is a symbol of leaving a sinful life.

Revelation 11:8  And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 

Exodus 5:2  And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.

Cosmetics originate independently in several places in history. Japan, China, Egypt, and Greece – essentially all the oldest complex cultures with significant preservation of their history. Nearly everything that predates Abraham was created by a pagan culture; this includes most clothing fashions and basic technology. The Egyptians are the first culture known to have used toothpaste, breath mints, high heels, and men’s shaving. Interestingly, the Holiness Handbook points out that along with eye makeup, the Egyptians were also the first to use “scented unguents.” Depending on context, this could either mean a kind of salve or perfume. Why isn’t the author attacking perfume and burn cream with the same charge of “Egyptianess” that he levels against eye makeup?

I have written extensively about this here, but suffice it to say that God commanded the children of Israel on their way out the door from Egypt to put Egyptian jewelry on their children (Exodus 22:22). Clearly, God didn’t abide by the principle that everything from Egypt was bad.

Wicked women of the Bible wore makeup

2 Kings 9:30  And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window.

This is the most interesting argument raised – though not developed – by the Holiness Handbook. Jezebel was clearly one of the worst characters in Scripture, I wouldn’t want to emulate her. So, why was Jezebel painting her face and what is the significance?

First, let’s look at what else she did. The King James records her second action as “tiring her head” or adorning her head. Most other translations relate this as “fixing her hair.” Even if it referred to adorning her hear with some sort of headpiece, it definitely entailed the arrangement of hair. So, if Jezebel arranged her hair, maybe we shouldn’t?

In 1 Kings 21:11, Jezebel is the only woman in Scripture who was recorded to have written anything. The particular thing she wrote was not innocuous, but was related to the conspiracy to murder Naboth. Never once does the Bible record women’s literacy in a good context. Does this mean that women shouldn’t learn how to write? If we want to use a “guilt-by-association” principle to discard makeup on these grounds, then we will also need to discard hair styling and women’s literacy.

Additionally, the admonition against makeup would not apply to many types of makeup. The word that the KJV translators chose to render “face” is rendered “eye(s)” 495 times throughout the rest of Scripture. A simple cross reference suggests that “painted her eyes” is the most precise translation. Consequently, one could only use this injunction to ban eye makeup. This would allow lipstick, foundation, blush, and fingernail and toenail polish.

Furthermore, why was Jezebel so concerned with her appearance here? Most Bible scholars believe that she knew she was going to be executed, so she wanted to look her best as a show of pride (or possibly to intimidate Jehu). She was showing she wasn’t afraid of Jehu – she would die like a queen. The Bible contrasts this haughty intent with the fact the Jezebel wasn’t buried at all; she was eaten by dogs. In any event, but Jezebel’s attire wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. Sack cloth and ashes is the right uniform for divine judgement, but Jezebel showed up in her royal finest. However, this is not an indictment of looking your best by fixing your hair or applying makeup.

This story is similar to when King Belshazzar holds a great feast in Daniel chapter 5 to celebrate the sacking of God’s temple. Belshazzar is gorging himself when fasting and mourning is the appropriate course of action. God judges him for his pride, but not for the act of eating or feasting. It was the context that was the problem, not the action itself. It’s easy to tell whether it’s the action or the context that is the problem, because when it is the action (like idolatry), God forbids it directly. When the action isn’t wrong, like feasting or makeup, God doesn’t forbid it.

Ezekiel 23:39 For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house. 23:40  And furthermore, that ye have sent for men to come from far, unto whom a messenger was sent; and, lo, they came: for whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments.

This verse about a metaphorical uncouth woman from Ezekiel is significantly less interesting than the Jezebel argument. The phrase that immediately proceeds the “painting” is “thou didst wash thyself.” The Holiness Handbook offers no reason why we should dispense with painting and not with washing. Furthermore, the subsequent phrase “deckedst thyself with ornaments” is used nearly verbatim a few chapters earlier. In the context of Ezekiel 16:11, God himself is putting the jewelry on a metaphorical Israel. “I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck.” God is bedecking a woman with jewelry as a sign of grace and favor. Thus, makeup appears sandwiched between two things that are specifically Biblically justifiable, and it is difficult to pry it out of this context and categorize it as a unique evil.

History tells us that the use of cosmetics began in Egypt to look more like the false gods and goddesses that they worshipped. In various cultures it was typical for the harlots and prostitutes to use cosmetics to draw attention from their potential clientele.

As I have addressed the observation about Egypt above, let’s consider the matter that prostitutes are more likely to have worn makeup historically. Since prostitutes are selling themselves, anything they can do to improve their desirability and noticeability is to be expected. This would include makeup, along with bathing, and arranging their hair (note that this does not make those things wrong). Furthermore, this is not the only modern common place item to have been historically associated with prostitutes. Most forms of pre-modern birth control were also associated with prostitutes, but I have never heard a Holiness preacher condemn birth control on these grounds.

Makeup is certainly not a way to recognize a prostitute in the modern era, so there is no concern about a Christian woman creating an appearance of evil. Even in older times makeup was never exclusively for prostitutes. Throughout the middle ages, women lightened their skin, most famously Queen Elizabeth. Italian women pioneered the use of lipstick in the same time period. Makeup was more a feature of the upper class, as are most of our modern luxuries like indoor plumbing, wrist watches, and eye-glasses.

Until the 1940s, the use of makeup was considered sin by most Christian churches.

An appeal to the opinions of the early 20th century American church is not much an argument without some justification of their position. Most Christian churches prior to the 1940’s had a lot of standards for women. There was a time when it was considered unseemly for a woman to vote or have a legal title to property. College and working outside the home were largely forbidden in conservative circles. And as we have covered at length, many of these churches in the Holiness lineage taught against buttons, lace, ribbons, ruffles, hair curling, colored clothing, patterned clothing and numerous other things. I think it’s fair to say that most American churches prior to 1940 would have forbidden interracial marriage as well, which is not biblically justifiable. Ultimately, the teachings of Scripture must take precedence over the opinions of dead people.

Having arrived at the end of this argument – I was honestly a bit surprised that there weren’t more interesting arguments against this. The whole argument amounted to some uncontroversial admonition for moderation and against pride. There were some cherry-picked Early Church quotations that lump makeup with the evils of men shaving their beards and bathing for pleasure. There were some tired historical arguments that everything associated with Egypt is bad, an allusion to Jezebel, and an appeal to the morality of the 40’s.

 

The Case for Cosmetics

While it is up to you to determine whether the Holiness Handbook adequately met their burden of proof, I will also submit some positive arguments for makeup for your additional consideration.

 

The Bible Never Forbids Cosmetics

I have addressed this topic at length elsewhere, but the simple question deserves to be posed in this context. If God doesn’t want his children wearing makeup, why didn’t he ever say so? Makeup clearly existed at the time of the writing of Scripture. The Bible refers to it. Yet, it doesn’t get a single prohibition in any one of the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. It isn’t mentioned at all in the New Testament. We are given many principles about how to love others and dress in a manner that respects others, but nary a command or suggestion about makeup.

Even if we are to infer from the story of Jezebel that eye makeup is bad (which is a major exegetical stretch), that still leaves face makeup, nail polish, and hair dye completely unaddressed by Scripture.

 

The Bible Promotes the Use of Several Cosmetics

One cosmetic that is promoted in Scripture in is anointing oil. Putting aside the ceremonial use of anointing oil for kings and priests, there was also a use for the sake of appearances. Oil has both scent and an appearance. It is certainly used in Scripture as a cosmetic on to the faces of men and women and in portrayed as a positive in no uncertain terms.

Ruth uses it to attract Boaz, “Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: (3:3).” David uses it to worship God, “Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped (2 Samuel 12:20).” God uses it to bless metaphorical Israel, “Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. (Ezekiel 16:9)” Jesus commands his disciples to use it, “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face (Matthew 6:17).” The only time it wasn’t used, was when there was a problem, “And Joab … said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead:” (2 Samuel 14:2)

Additionally, scent-based cosmetics are referenced in many positive contexts as well. Perfumes are very similar to makeup in that they make the wearer more attractive to others, and unnaturally so. They also tend to draw some level of attention to the wearer and can be used to show wealth. One attracts the eyes, the other the nose, but in all other respects they are nearly identical.

Perfume of one sort or another appears over 200 times in Scripture, mostly in positive contexts. They were used in the worship of God in the temple and tabernacle (Exodus 30:23). They covered the clothing of king David and Queen Esther (Psalm 45:8, Esther 2:12). It was used to anoint the righteous dead (2 Chronicles 16:14). It was used to great effect by the lover in the Song of Solomon (1:3,12 4:10). It was given to Jesus as a gift at his birth (Matthew 2:11). It is praised metaphorically in the writings of Paul (2 Corinthians 2:15, Ephesians 5:2, Philippians 4:18). Most famously, it was used to anoint the Son of God – an act which Jesus praised (Mark 14:8).

It’s also worth noting that God and godly people used these perfumes and oils despite the fact that the Bible also associates them with prostitutes (Proverbs 7:17) the worship of pagan gods (2 Kings 12:3), and the judgment of haughty Israel (Isaiah 3:24). God clearly is far less concerned with the “guilt-by-association” ideal than the Holiness Handbook.

 

The Holiness Movement Allows Many Cosmetics

The Holiness Handbook used a general sense of cosmetics as makeup for the face (with the Bible verses they cited referencing only eye-makeup). A broad definition of a cosmetic is “anything that attempts to improve the beauty of the human body – most often the face.” Outside of traditional makeup, there are several other cosmetics that have largely been embraced by the Holiness people.

Braces are the most obvious example of this. Braces cost thousands of dollars, are medically unnecessary for the vast majority of people, and are completely about improving appearances. Yet Holiness youths flash them without shame (often with colored decorative bands as well).

Tooth whitening (either through procedures, home treatment, or regular toothpaste with whitening components) is also a cosmetic modification to the face for the sake of appearances.

Skin care regimens such as lotion and anti-aging cream serve the same basic purpose of improving the appearance of the face and are worn and used without concern by Holiness women.

Intentional sun tanning (or avoidance of the sun) is another way to alter the pigment in your skin. Insofar as time is worth money or crowds out income earning opportunities, it is also not free.

Perfumes, scented soaps, and deodorants – let’s call them olfactory cosmetics – are used very frequently by Holiness men and women.

While hair styling isn’t a cosmetic per se, it serves the identical function of improving a man or woman’s physical appearance. Spending half an hour on hairstyling (and using ample hair products for volume, sheen, and stiffness) is extremely prevalent in the Holiness community of today and was banned in the Holiness camp of yesteryear. These chemical products and the effects they achieve are not logically different from applying products to marginally improve the appearance of the face or nails. Also, my personal experience is that it takes my non-Holiness wife less time to fix her hair and apply her minimal makeup, than it did for my Holiness kin to simply fix their hair.

For men, the Holiness approve of and even mandate facial shaving – a modern practice designed to improve appearance at the expense of a more “natural” look.

Colored, tailored, and patterned clothing is also an unnecessary feature designed to accentuate the outward appearance of the wearer. It is associated with evil people in Scripture and banned by many early church fathers, civil laws, and the founders of the Holiness Movement. The parallels to makeup are obvious. Yet, we embrace these styles in our churches without a second thought.

 

Makeup Is a Celebration of Femininity

The Bible generally promotes the idea that men and women are different and tend to have different group characteristics. While not all women are the same, a general characteristic of women is that they are more attuned to appearance and beauty then men are. If your personal experience doesn’t attest to this fact, I will submit the statistic that the interior design profession is approximately 90% female. I think this is something that should be celebrated, and tactful makeup is one way that women can accentuate their feminine appearance.

This is why second-wave feminism of the 60’s and 70’s rejected it. At the famed Miss America Pageant protest of 1968 that gave us “bra-burning,” makeup was also one of the objects derided. While I think Christians can make common cause with the protestors over the fact that our culture should not objectify women, we would disagree with them about their desire to eliminate the distinguishing factors between the sexes.

Makeup is one of those distinguishing factors in both the modern era and ancient times. The cosmetic industry also opened a lot of opportunity for women as entrepreneurs, distributers, and promoters. It even provided many women with the opportunity to earn income who choose to stay home with their children.

 

Where Do We Draw the Line?

The fact is that the lines are already blurred in the Holiness camp – with people spending hundreds on tooth whitening while decrying others for changing the colors of their toenails. Or women spending long afternoons in the sun with the intent to darken their face, while tut-tutting other women for spending a few dollars applying bronzer.

Certainly, there are ways that one can displease God in the wearing of makeup. Biblically though, this would have more to do with the attitude and intent of the wearer than any absolute standard of what constitutes “proper” makeup. Additionally, every ill-intent a makeup wearer could hold (pride, self-absorption, seduction, etc.) could be held by a non-makeup wearer to the same degree. Cosmetics are neither necessary nor sufficient to commit sin.

Can men wear makeup? In general, when men wear makeup in modern culture, they are intentionally defying God’s design for gender. This intent is wrong, so the actions that accompany it would be as well. However, the nice thing about following broad biblical commands and principles is that it gives us guidance in areas in which legalism just has to scratch its head. I have worn a good deal of makeup in my life, and much of it was applied to the eyes, in violation of a legalistic rule. I’ll admit that I applied the makeup a little too ostentatiously and I would have made quite a show if I had walked through the mall with it on. As it was, my green and black camouflage stripes were for military operations and therefore violated no biblical principles. If we are to believe that the Bible forbids face painting with no regard to the intent of the wearer, then military camouflage would be out as well.

The fact is that biblical principles are a much better guide for a fast-changing world that trying to apply a list of regulations developed in a bygone era. (See “Replacing Rules with Discipleship“).

 

Conclusion

I would never say that one must wear makeup in order to be a good woman. However, makeup is just one of a broad range of cosmetics, most of which are already embraced by the Holiness movement. If your heart is right, there is no biblical prohibition against makeup anywhere in Scripture. Furthermore, cosmetics (including products for men like cologne) can be used as a celebration of God’s complementary design for gender. The fact is that the loss of makeup has largely been substituted with more time spent on hair. This doesn’t make the women more holy, but it may leave them feeling self-righteous.

My personal tastes in makeup are strongly on the conservative end. I routinely tell my wife she doesn’t need it, and she wears it only for social situations. However, my opinions are just my opinions. We would do well to separate our opinions from the Word of the living God.

—Nathan Mayo

 

Resources:

http://studyholiness.com/doc/makeup_3.pdf

http://studyholiness.com/make-up_5.html

 

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Entire Sanctification: the Doctrine the Holiness Movement Discarded

PhoebePalmer

The Pentecostal Holiness Movement prides itself on its firm maintenance of tradition. Despite the constant admonition to keep to the “old paths,” the Holiness Movement has almost completely abandoned its core, foundational doctrine. This doctrine was once a fairly clear teaching, but has since become so vague that few, if any can explain what it means at all, much less justify their explanation with any biblical evidence. 

This doctrine, originally called the “Holiness Blessing,” is where the Holiness movement derived its name and identity. Today, it is better recognized as the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. “Entire” or “Perfect” Sanctification teaches that at some point in your life, whether after a single experience or after a process of time, you will be sanctified completely. It’s unclear how easy it is to lose your sanctification (is it after one error or only after some pattern of sin?), but one assumes you can.

This doctrine has been generally rejected by the broader church, in favor of “Progressive Sanctification.” This is the understanding that sanctification is not something that finishes at any point on earth but is ongoing until death.  

 

What is Entire Sanctification?

When Holiness people say, “I’ve been saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost,” what do they mean? Let’s look at the proposed evidence and definitions the Holiness movement uses for all three conditions (setting aside the biblical justification for the moment).

Status Definition Evidence
Saved Your sins are forgiven A specific experience of sincere repentance
Filled with the Holy Ghost You have the power of the Spirit An experience of speaking in unknown tongues
Sanctified You never sin again?

You are no longer tempted?

You have the capacity to never sin again, but do anyways?

You sin 37% less than you would have otherwise?

You are tempted 82% less than normal?

You feel like you are sanctified?

You had an altar experience where you felt like you were sanctified? 

You observe that you sin less than normal? 

You observe that you have stopped sinning?

 

These conditions are quite different in their clarity. It is easy to know whether you are saved and filled with the Holy Ghost in Holiness doctrine, and it is relatively easy to understand the definition (although I point out elsewhere that the implications of post-salvation receiving of the Holy Ghost are actually not that clear). However, with sanctification, there is no clear evidence of its completion and no verbalized, much less agreed upon, definition of what it means.  

Sanctification can get confusing fast. So, allow me to try to define some camps with this series of questions.

1) Is sanctification a state that we can attain (perfect/ entire) or a process that ends when we die (progressive)?

2) If it is a state, is it attained through an single experience or a process?

3) If it is a state, what are the implications of existing in that state (what does it mean in regular life)?

This doctrine has also evolved and softened over time. Let’s trace the modern origin of this doctrine and see how it has become a less tightly held and less meaningfully defined belief over time. 

 

The Evolution of the “Holiness Blessing”

Like all doctrines, believers in Entire Sanctification attempt to justify their belief biblically and assume that church has always held it. However, the fact is that there is no unbroken linage of this doctrine prior to the 1700’s when the doctrine was either revived or originated in the teachings of John Wesley. In Wesley’s mind, entire sanctification was primarily about the fruits of the Spirit, particularly love, becoming completely prevalent in a person’s life. In Wesley’s view, this was a state that could be achieved through a process, but one also had to actively maintain it. Many misunderstandings surround Wesley’s views, so here’s his own explanation in a question and answer format:

 “Q. When does inward sanctification begin? A. In the moment a man is justified. (Yet sin remains in him, yea, the seed of all sin, till he is sanctified throughout.) From that time a believer gradually dies to sin, and grows in grace.

Q. Is this ordinarily given till a little before death? A. It is not, to those who expect it no sooner.

Q. But may we expect it sooner? A. Why not? For, although we grant, (1.) That the generality of believers, whom we have hitherto known, were not so sanctified till near death; (2.) That few of those to Whom St. Paul wrote his Epistles were so at that time; (3.) nor, he himself at the time of writing his former Epistles; yet all this does not prove, that we may not be so to-day…

Q. What is Christian perfection? A. The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions, are governed by pure love.

Q. Do you affirm, that this perfection excludes all infirmities, ignorance, and mistake? A. I continually affirm quite the contrary, and always have done so…we cannot avoid sometimes thinking wrong, till this corruptible shall have put on incorruption.”  – John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection [1]

John Wesley’s teachings were foundational for Methodists, and it was out of Methodism that the Holiness Movement was born. 

In 1843, a woman named Phoebe Palmer, later known as the “Mother of the Holiness Movement,” wrote a book called The Way of Holiness. This book riffed on Wesley’s teachings and created the basis of the Holiness movement. Wesley thought that entire sanctification could be attained and maintained only through constant spiritual striving. Palmer countered that there is “a shorter way.” Essentially, she understood sanctification or “the blessing” to be achieved by an experience similar to conversion. By seeking an singular experience of sanctification, you could attain righteousness on earth through what she called “the shorter, the one and the only way.”

Palmer knew this was a new doctrine. She claims to have discovered it herself and says that God told her “if you would retain the blessing… you will be called to profess this blessing before thousands. Can you do it?” This sanctification experience led to “the Way of Holiness,” whereby the Holiness movement received its name. According to Palmer, the attribute of holiness was a result of a specific and dramatic experience of sanctification – not a result of “growing in grace,” salvation, or of any Pentecostal experience. It was this special, one-time experience that enabled them to “live above sin,” when others could not.

Here’s how Palmer explained her holiness-blessing/sanctification experience, which she believes was a supernatural encounter – complete with full conversations with both the Holy Spirit and the Devil (written in third person):

Phoebe Worrall Palmer

Phoebe Palmer (also pictured in header)

“Immediately the Spirit suggested, ‘If God has enabled you to bring it [your surrendered life], will he not, now that you bring it and lay it on His altar, accept it at your hands?’ She now, indeed, began to feel that all things were ready and, in thrilling anticipation, began to say, ‘Thou wilt receive me! Yes, Thou wilt receive me!” And still she felt that something was wanting. ‘But when and how shall I know that Thou dost receive me?’ said the importunate language of her heart. The Spirit presented the declaration of the written word in reply, “Now is the accepted time.” Still her insatiable desires were unsatisfied; and she continued to wait with unutterable desire and long expectation looking upward for the coming of the Lord; while the Spirit continued to urge the scriptural declaration, ‘Now is the accepted time, I will receive you. only believe!’… She saw that she must relinquish the expression before indulged in, as promising something in the future, ‘Thou wilt receive me,’ for the yet more confident expression, implying present assurance ‘Thou dost receive!” It is, perhaps, almost needless to say that the enemy who had hitherto endeavored to withstand her at every step of the Spirit’s leadings, now confronted her with much greater energy. The suggestion that it was strangely presumptuous to believe in such a way, was presented to her mind with a plausibility which only Satanic subtly could invent. But the resolution to believe was fixed; and then the Spirit most inspiringly said to her heart, ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.’ (Matt. 11:12) And now, realizing she was engaged in a transaction eternal it its consequences, she here, in the strength and as in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and those spirits that minister to the heirs of salvation, said, “O Lord, I call heaven and earth to witness that I now lay body, soul, and spirit, with all these redeemed powers, upon Thine altar, to be forever THINE! TIS DONE! Thou hast promised to receive me! Thou canst not be unfaithful! Thou doest receive me now! From this time henceforth I am Thine, wholly Thine!” The enemy suggested, “Tis but a work of your own understanding, the effort of your own will.” But the Spirit of the Lord raised up on a standard which Satan, with his combined forces, could not overthrow…” – Pheobe Palmer, The Way of Holiness [2]

In the minds of the early Holiness teachers, the sanctification that Palmer described became the critical doctrine which separated them from other church movements. After having their experiences, they saw themselves as separate, special, and holy, because they had received the Spirit which enabled them to live in perfection, whereas other Christians had not. “In 1896, Crumpler [Holiness authority in N.C.] boasted that he had not sinned since his 1890, ‘second blessing,’ giving him six years of sinless perfection. The Quaker Evangelist Amos Kenworthy had even Crumpler bested. By 1891 he counted twenty-one years without sin.” [5]

Entire Sanctification and the Conservative Holiness Movement

People still hold to this teaching in the way that Palmer originated it. The best explanation I could find of this view in modern times was from the Conservative Holiness Movement. This movement traces its roots back to these early days and rejected the Pentecostal Holiness Movement which broke off from their ranks in the early 1900’s.

Here are some relevant statements from their flagship website HolinessMovement.org (emphasis added).

“The two works of grace [the first being Salvation] are clearly distinguished in James 4:8 – 1st work: “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners;” 2nd work: “and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” This remedy for the double-minded condition enables the believer to live out the injunction, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). This cleansing from inherited sin is known as entire sanctification

To be entirely sanctified, one must first know that they are saved … Second, one must confess their need … Third, the believer must surrender the carnal self to be crucified, … This involves one abandoning themself in full consecration to God as a life which from now forward is at God’s disposal …Finally, one must exercise faith in God to sanctify the consecrated life, for, as with the first work of grace, entire sanctification is a work of God’s grace: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). Indeed, sanctification is effected by the Holy Spirit, who as the promise of the Father empowers the Christian for victorious life and effective service (see Acts 1:4, 8).”

In general, while this site offers much scriptural support for their position about the life God calls us to, I would counter that all their scripture is in reference to salvation and the ongoing process of surrendering to God (i.e. progressive sanctification) that it opens. I do not see how James 4:8 “clearly distinguishes” two works of grace any more than James 4:9 clearly distinguishes two separate judgements for sin. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.” The Bible uses repetition as a common way to emphasize a single point. 

However, the purpose of my piece isn’t to rebut this view thoroughly, merely to show how it has evolved and largely been abandoned by the Pentecostal brand of Holiness. It’s worth noting that the Conservative Holiness Movement, in keeping with the teachings of Palmer and others, associated this sanctification blessing with the filling of the Holy Spirit/Ghost.

 

Entire Sanctification and Receiving the Holy Ghost

Prior to the Azusa Street revival, the Holiness movement dubbed the entire sanctification Palmer taught as receiving “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” [3]  Meaning, sanctification and receiving the Spirit were one in the same, a single, second work that occurred after salvation. This new wave of thinking was possibly the first time that receiving the Spirit was separated from receiving salvation in church history. At the turn of the 20th century, Charles Parham began teaching that the Holy Ghost (which was still thought of as synonymous with sanctification) was received with the evidence of tongues at the Topeka, Kansas Bible School. The students became confused. Many were from the Holiness movement and believed they’d already received the Spirit when they had experienced what Palmer described – yet Palmer’s experience didn’t include speaking in tongues. Parham came up with a solution and here’s how it is summed up in the Apostolic Faith, a newspaper published by William Seymour, 

Pentecostal tongues newpaper 1901

St. Louis Post, Jan 27,1901, Page 32

“Most of the students had been religious workers and said they had received the baptism with the Holy Ghost a number of years ago. Bro. Parham became convinced that there was no religious school that tallied up with the second chapter of Acts… On New Year’s night, Miss Agnes N. Ozman, one who had had for years “the anointing that abideth,” which she mistook for the baptism, was convinced of the need of a personal Pentecost. A few minutes before midnight, she desired hands laid on her that she might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. During prayer and invocation of hands, she was filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance.” [3]

In other words, in order to convince his students that, yes, receiving the Spirit was separate from salvation, but no, their baptism wasn’t legitimate, Parham had to create yet another label for the experience Palmer taught. He called it, “the anointing that abideth.” (What exactly that means and entails we’re not sure; this label was quickly dropped.) No one at that time denied that Parham’s doctrines were new, even the Apostolic Faith article above which opened like this, “All along the ages men have been preaching a partial Gospel. A part of the Gospel remained when the world went into the dark ages… Now He is bringing back the Pentecostal Baptism to the church. ” [3]

It’s worth noting that Agnes Ozman later recanted Parham’s doctrine of evidence, writing, 

“Some time ago I tried but failed to have an article printed which I wrote calling attention to what am sure God showed me was error. The article [I intended to publish] maintained that tongues was not the only evidence of the Spirit’s Baptism. When that article was refused I was much tempted by Satan, but God again graciously showed me He had revealed it to me, and satisfied my heart in praying that He might reveal this truth to others who would spread it abroad. For awhile after the baptism I got into spiritual darkness, because I did as I see so many others are doing in these days, rested and reveled in tongues and other demonstrations instead of resting aIone in God.” [4]

Despite testimonies like these, Charles Parham’s doctrine quickly spread. He had successfully added a third work of grace to Holiness doctrine, “Baptism of the Holy Ghost (with tongues).”  Around this time, Benjamin Irwin claimed his own incredible experience and added a fourth work “Baptism with Fire,” and then came baptisms of “dynamite,” “selenite,” and “oxynite.” [5]  Various permutations of two, three, four, and even more works of grace split the Holiness movement into subcamps that gave us the modern movements, (along with many denominations which disbanded). But it all started with the original “additional work of grace” – entire sanctification.

 

The Abandonment of the Experience of Sanctification

In the Pentecostal Holiness Movement, sanctification as it is understood now is a mere shell of its former self. As I pointed out in the beginning, it’s not clear what people mean when they refer to sanctification. I’ve even heard some Holiness people say that they felt like sanctification was an ongoing, life-long process. That is a biblically defensible position, but that is not the doctrine of entire sanctification. This is no different than when a Catholic classmate of mine once said “I believe in transubstantiation, but I understand it figuratively.”

A Holiness scholar (original Holiness, not the Pentecostal subcamp) from 20 years ago proclaimed that Holiness Movement was on a sure path to ruin because, “Many—perhaps most—in holiness churches no longer really believe that there is an instantaneous, supernatural, second work of divine grace.” 

I couldn’t find any articles on Pentecostal Holiness sites addressing sanctification in depth, but I did manage to find a defense of the doctrine published a decade ago in the Holiness Messenger. Here are some highlights from a gentleman named W.H. Wyatt who recollected the older version of this belief and realized it was on the verge of being entirely forgotten (emphasis added).

“SANTIFICATION This is a word not heard often in today’s church. I came into this world in 1925 so I date from an early day in the last day Pentecostal outpouring. In the 1930’s when a saint stood to testify they almost always said, I’m saved and Sanctified and baptized with the Holy Ghost. This would be repeated by a host of other testimonies. Sanctification was firmly preached, sought for and experienced

You will soon find after that wonderful experience at the altar [salvation], that some things don’t give up so easy and the main culprit is the Adamic Nature you were born with. Ephesians 4:22 speaks of this old man (Adam’s nature). I hear some say, wait Brother Wyatt, I done that when I got saved. Did you? I remind you that Ephesians was talking to Christians. Eph. 1:1 says to saints which are in Ephesus. Paul addressed this book to Christians and in 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” So then why this charge to the Ephesians in 4:22, to put off the old man… What must we do with the Old Man, the Adamic Nature? We must put it to death.

I know in my case that I was saved in May of 1946, and then sought diligently for sanctification. I would fast sometimes from Sunday night to Wednesday prayer meeting without food or water in my desire from sanctification. Finally after about six months in November of 1946 I reached my goal and was ready to seek for the Holy Ghost which came in the following May…

In conclusion may I say, I fear we have a vast number of unsanctified souls in our Holiness Churches today and they may even be Sunday School teachers or even in higher offices. Our churches need a revival of Sanctification before we become as unsanctified as our neighboring Charismatic churches.”

Clearly, Wyatt views sanctification as an experience of putting off the adamic nature, which he believes that many people have yet to receive. In his world, there are some Christians who have a sin nature and some who don’t (those who were sanctified). But most in the Pentecostal Holiness movement disagree with him – the experiential second work of grace upon which the old-time Holiness movement built its power to live a holy life has been scrubbed out of Pentecostal Holiness doctrine.

 

Does Entire Sanctification Mean Anything?

Let’s put aside the issue of how entire sanctification comes about (at an altar or over a course of time). Many Holiness people have some sense that one can end up entirely sanctified – even if it takes a process to get there. People say they have been “saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost.” People joke that a misbehaving child almost made them “lose their sanctification.”

So, when someone is sanctified, what does it mean? Especially now that experiential sanctification has been abandoned it is very tricky to tell who is sanctified. If a church had to make a roster of all the saved people in the church, it could do that fairly accurately. If a Holiness church had to make a roster of all the Holy Ghost filled people in the church, it could do that fairly accurately. If a Holiness church had to make a list of all of the sanctified people in the church … where would they even start?

Usually, we just tack it on as a bonus with Holy Ghost filling – that’s the only way we “know” you’re sanctified. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m saved and sanctified but not filled with the Holy Ghost?” It may happen, but it’s rare. Of course, there is no biblical explanation I have ever heard as to why sanctification would have to precede the filling of the Spirit.  The Bible makes it clear that we have no power to overcome sin without “living in the Spirit” (Galatians 5). So how is it that we are supposed to attain complete righteousness (i.e. entire sanctification) without the indwelling of the Spirit? 

But let’s not worry about this little theological soft spot. Let’s roll with the theory that everyone who speaks in tongues is sanctified and they attained that sanctification at some point prior to their Pentecostal experience. This leads us to the gooiest part of this doctrine. You’re sanctified entirely. What does that mean?

 

Does it mean you are empowered to sin less?

It cannot mean that you are merely empowered through vigilance and the power of God to sin less. Well – it could mean that, but this would essentially be the doctrine of progressive sanctification with a delayed starting point – not entire sanctification. Or if it meant that you achieve perfect righteousness, but then you occasionally sin and mess it up. Then you would be in a perpetual process of re-sanctification. This would also be indistinct from the idea of progressive but not perfect sanctification – only the terms would be changed. If entire sanctification means you only sin less, it is only semantically different from the orthodox view and would hardly be worth forming a splinter group over.

 

Does is mean you lose your inclination to sin?

It could mean, as Brother Wyatt understood it, that when you are sanctified you lose your “adamic” or sin nature. This would be very convenient; it would stand to reason that if you had no sin nature, you would have no more temptation, except perhaps from demonic forces. 

Don’t get me wrong, the Bible does talk about dying to yourself and your “flesh” or sin nature. However, Jesus says that this is a daily thing “take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Paul agrees when he says, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) and “Always [constantly] bearing about in the body the dying [ongoing] of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you…For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-16). 

Wyatt’s own citation emphasizes this when he points out that Paul tells Christians in Ephesus to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man [put off your old self], which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Why would Paul tell Christians this if it wasn’t something he expected them to have to do on an ongoing basis? If he was only speaking to the “unsanctified” Christians in Ephesus, why didn’t he give the slightest implication that his message wasn’t addressed to everyone there?

But let’s say Brother Wyatt is right. He lost his fleshly desires in 1946. Does that mean he had a half-century of essentially no temptation to ever do the wrong thing? He always felt like prayer and scripture reading? He never had an inclination to say an unkind word to his wife or withhold a kind word? This seems unlikely to me. If you’re “sanctified,” is this your experience? No temptation? Because if you simply shift the source of the temptation from your flesh to the devil, the doctrine is once again meaningless in practice and is mere semantics. From my experience with allegedly entirely sanctified people versus Christians in other movements, I have not detected any difference in the level of temptation they experience or succumb to.

 

Does it mean you stop sinning altogether?

What’s the other option? If sanctification doesn’t mean we’re not tempted significantly anymore, it could mean that we cease to sin altogether. We know Paul didn’t when he says in Romans 7:19 “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do,” but maybe Paul wasn’t sanctified at the point he wrote this (which is what John Wesley assumed). It seems that Paul still wasn’t perfect when he wrote in in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Perhaps Paul is being humble here, but he definitely refers to himself as a someone who sins in the present tense.

Paul notwithstanding, who will raise their hand and say the following? “I don’t sin anymore. I committed my last sin on January 3rd, 14 years ago and it is not likely that I will sin again until the day I die. I never omit to do that which I should do, and I never do that which I should not. Every thought I entertain is pure and kind. Every word that I exchange is thoughtful and true.” 

Clearly, if these non-sinners are walking among us, they must be in every way superior to those in other churches and in their own congregations who do not claim this blessing. Their love and kindness must be without bounds, their hospitality above reproach, their witness without hesitation. Their financial generosity and hospitality must be jaw-dropping. Their work ethic must be superb. Since they are without sins of omission, and they always pray, study, and meditate when they should, they must be far closer to God than any of the rest of us. Given the pipeline that sinless perfection and perfect prioritization would naturally open with God, their Facebook postings must be veritable fountains of divine wisdom.

I actually did find at least one fellow who was willing to make this claim “I don’t sin anymore because [Jesus] forgave me of all my sins and now he lives in me to keep me from ever sinning again.” The gent went on to claim that he now regularly heals and performs miracles, has written over 150 divinely inspired works and recommend that “The best thing for a sinner is to throw their Bibles away so they can follow God instead of listening to their own interpretations of the scriptures that deceive them.”

Most of us are suspicious of such claims of sinless perfection. It speaks more to a disconnect with reality than a connection to the Godhead. There is more of denial than of divinity about it. Of course, the apostle John would dismiss it along with us. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9). It seems to me that the author is saying our righteousness comes from Christ rather than works.

When Jesus said “you who are without sin, throw the first stone” – that’s actually not an invitation to throw a stone. Even the Pharisees understood this.

If we can’t defend the idea that entire sanctification means a life without temptation and we’re unwilling to say that entire sanctification means a life in which no sins are ever committed, then what does it mean?

As it is commonly understood in the Holiness movement I grew up in, entire sanctification means nothing. It is no longer an experience, we cannot tell who has achieved it, and it does not result in either a life free from temptation or sin. In all but semantics, it has become completely indistinguishable from the doctrine of progressive sanctification, or the biblical idea that we ought to “grow in grace.”

 

Were we right to abandon this doctrine?

Were we right to shift away from a second experiential work of grace, which was “discovered” by divine revelation to an isolated lady preacher in the 1840’s?  

Not to oversimplify the issue – but yes. We were right to abandon this. The biblical concept of maturity constantly uses progressive language. We speak of the “path of righteousness” not the “place of righteousness.” We speak of spiritual “infants” and adults (aging is not an instantaneous process, and even adulthood does not signify no additional changes). We speak of “walking with the Spirit,” not “arriving with the Spirit.”

Paul is constantly exhorting the righteous to abound more in righteousness. “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; (2 Thessalonians 1:3).” Paul also exhorts Christians to continually root out and kill sin in their lives. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).” James insists believers ought to “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another (5:16).” 

None of these passages divide between the “sanctified and unsanctified” in the churches. They expect all believers to continually fight sin and pursue God.

 

Why talk about a forgotten doctrine?

More than 90% of the Pentecostal Holiness church has adopted the orthodox Christian view of progressive sanctification – in practice if not in name. However, because they have never officially rejected the old view, its effects linger. Unfortunately, this out-of-focus belief in perfection leads its holders directly into clear sin in two ways.

First, the fuzzy belief that we are somehow holier than any other Christians who do not routinely refer to themselves as “sanctified” results in a significant amount of pride and disunity. This is ironic, of course, because pride and disunity are both sins. However, they prevail in any environment where we unilaterally declare ourselves more righteous than others. This pride prevents working with other Christians to further God’s kingdom, and results in an abandonment of our commission to preach the gospel to all nations – yet another sin driven by a doctrine of perfection.

Second, this ambiguous belief that we are somehow beyond sinning leads to a distinct reduction in transparency and accountability. We feel no need to have accountability groups or partners, because we shouldn’t be sinning, and therefore have nothing about which to hold each other accountable. We defy God’s command to confess our faults to one another, because we assume that we will be judged as inferior Christians for obeying God in this matter. When someone does come forward to confess sin voluntarily, they are often judged as immature and made to regret their honesty. We don’t ask God to “see if there is any wicked way in me,” because we assume that since we’re sanctified, there shouldn’t be. We pray instead, “nothing to see here, God. Move along.” 

The doctrine of entire sanctification is unclear, unbiblical, and largely rejected by the Pentecostal Holiness movement. We would do well to purge our churches of the unorthodox approach to Christian maturity left behind by this modern gospel of self-righteousness. And given that we have already seen fit to abandon the foundational doctrine of the Holiness Movement, maybe we can find a way to reconnect with the branches of the church that never fell into that trap.

Nathan Mayo

 

Sources:

  1. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley, London, England; 1767.
  2. The Way of Holiness, Phoebe Palmer, pages 17-18, 21-22.
  3. Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, Number 2, October 1902, p. 1. 
  4. The First One to Speak in Tongues,” by Agnes Ozman, 1909, published in The Latter Rain Evangel, page 2.
  5.   A. J. Tomlinson: Plain Folk Modernist, by R.G. Robins, Oxford University Press, 2004, 42-44.

 

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The Holiness Movement: Are They God’s Special People?

The Holiness Movement: Are They God's Special People?

Chic-fil-a sauce, Wendy’s sauce, McDonald’s special Big Mac sauce. Each of them claims to be completely original. Unique. One of a kind. I like all these sauces and my wife hates all of them. The reason that our preferences are so neatly divided is that these allegedly “original” sauces are all more similar than they are different. They have common ingredients like vinegar, garlic powder, ketchup and paprika. If you only ever ate at McDonalds, you could be forgiven for thinking that their special sauce was completely different from anything else out there. Unfortunately, if you eat at a few other restaurants, you’ll find that it isn’t.

This is my experience in the Pentecostal Holiness movement. I grew up thinking we were completely different from every other church movement – in doctrine, in style, in manifestations of divine power. We were God’s special people, the last Christians remaining in the most perfected version of God’s true Church. After traveling the world, and visiting dozens of other churches from other movements, I learned I was wrong on all counts. Our special sauce turned out to be a very normal mix of some very common beliefs and practices, blended in only slightly different proportions from anyone else’s.

This idea that the Holiness Movement is special, or significantly more mature than other groups of Christianity, is at the root of the exclusivity and isolation that pervades the Holiness movements (yes, there are several Holiness movements). That exclusivity drives unwillingness to work with or learn from other churches, which results in Holiness churches having very little influence on the region they live in. This raises the question, “Is the Pentecostal Holiness Movement so unique in comparison to the rest of Christianity that it merits isolation—even at the cost of less impact for Christ?” What would cause some Holiness Christians to view themselves as particularly special? While I cannot go into detail on all of the reasons here, I’ll list a few highlights from my upbringing from two categories – doctrine and power.

 

Doctrine

The focus on external, universally determined rules of dress and entertainment.

“Holiness Standards,” the rules which define the limits of conduct for Holiness people, played a key role in how we separated ourselves from other Christians. The interesting thing about these rules is that the vast majority apply to what you wear and what you do for entertainment. They also only pertain to older issues; they rarely apply to new inventions like the internet or cosmetic dentistry. This is because the vast majority of these rules were codified in the 19th century (along with many other rules that have since been abandoned – see the article, Which Old-Time Holiness Should We Go Back To?) These rules all have followers outside of the Pentecostal Holiness Movement. The most significant group that follows them today is the Conservative Holiness Movement. They trace their lineage directly back to John Wesley (and then make the 1,700-year skip back to the book of Acts that church movements are so fond of making). They are, as far as I can tell, several times larger than the Holiness movement I grew up in and would dismiss our Pentecostal Holiness movement as an offshoot of theirs. It is fascinating to explore the website holinessmovement.org and learn about a movement nearly identical to the one I grew up in that denies our existence as we do theirs. There are also many movements and individual churches that keep the Holiness/plain dress standards which the Pentecostal Holiness movement has dropped. For example: head veils, hair worn up, no hairstyles, no open-toed shoes, no high-heels, no bright colors, and no patterns. Interestingly enough, I never saw these other groups revered as more special or more mature than us, but rather dismissed as “over the top.”

The belief in the baptism of the Holy Ghost as a separate event from salvation.

When Holiness Christians try to defend their standards as essential doctrines, they often run into difficulty. One common way out is, “I know these standards are required because I’ve seen them work. I’ve seen the people who keep them be baptized in the Holy Ghost.” Thus, the Pentecostal doctrine becomes the way to justify the Holiness doctrine. There’s one problem. Holiness Christians aren’t the only Christians claiming to receive the Spirit, with the evidence of tongues, post-salvation. I have written a separate piece addressing how this view underrates the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer, but right now all I want to point out is that it is not unique to Holiness. First, I have heard several Christians express the idea of the “filling” of the Spirit as a separate event, even though the indwelling occurs at salvation. This view is only semantically different than the way that many Holiness people hold the belief (where some Spirit power is given at Salvation, and more is given later). Furthermore, there are certainly other churches that hold to the belief in the exact same way as the churches I grew up in. A non-denominational church near me has this in their statement of faith. “The baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire is a gift from God as promised by the Lord Jesus Christ to all believers in this dispensation, and is received subsequent to the new birth. The baptism of Holy Spirit is accompanied with the speaking in other tongues as the Holy Spirit Himself gives utterance, as the initial physical sign and evidence.” The church that holds this belief is not at all Holiness, and would be dismissed out of hand because they don’t require the same dress standards.

The belief that Salvation can be lost/rejected.

I was always told to look out for the Baptists as they would teach me I could live a loose life and go to heaven. Now that I have attended dozens of church services in various Baptists congregations, I know for a fact that this is not often the case. Typically, someone who rejects God completely is labeled as having never been saved. Is this a more accurate position? No, not necessarily. I won’t argue that it is, but as far as practical application, it doesn’t differ at all from the Holiness view. People are discouraged from abandoning God with the admonition that if they do, they won’t go to heaven. Furthermore, I’ve spoken to at least one thoughtful Baptist pastor who said that he felt the label “once saved, always saved” was a parody of his position, he also pointed out some difficult passages in Hebrews that he said caused him to believe that there were at least some situations when loss of Salvation was possible. A more toxic version of the Holiness belief was expressed to me by a man who had grown up in the Church of Christ. He described that he had grown up “once saved, never saved.” He lived in fear that one day he might live for God all his life, step out in front of a bus, say a bad word with his dying breath, and be consigned to hell for that error. The problem with this belief is that is it fundamentally assumes that our righteousness is the thing that qualifies us for heaven (as if Jesus wipes the slate clean once, but after that it’s on us to earn heaven). I have also heard this extreme position expressed in the Holiness church, but, thankfully, the extreme version is not the norm. I can’t address this belief in detail, but I will point out that it is unoriginal.

The belief that we can attain sinless perfection on earth.

This belief that sanctification is a destination at which certain people “have arrived” has always been a bit muddled. Very few “saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost” folks will claim that they have not sinned in the past year. Though they will say they are opposed to the view that says “you have to sin a little every day.” But, who holds that view? In over a decade of attending non-holiness churches, some 500+ services at 50+ churches, I have literally never heard anyone say that “you have to sin a little every day.” Even for most Holiness Christians, sinless perfection is at best a hypothetical state. No one will claim to have achieved it. Non-Holiness Christians simply don’t agree that it can be attained – but in my experience they also say we should continuously work to overcome sin and not use our liberty in Christ as license to sin. Consequently, this the argument over sanctification is purely hypothetical with zero practical implications. The Pentecostal and Conservative Holiness Movements aren’t special in its holding this belief, because this belief is not distinguishable in practice from those who deny it.

The belief that we were the only true church.

Unfortunately, the attitude of “we’re the last real Christians” is way too common in Christendom, including in the Pentecostal Holiness, Conservative Holiness, and Apostolic Church movements. I’ve seen it in the Christian Church, Orthodox Church, and the Bethel movement to a moderate degree, I’ve experienced it in the Local Church Movement, and I’ve seen echoes of the idea in many other congregations (Mennonite, some Church of Christ, etc.), though many churches also do a good job of explicitly rejecting it. To be fair, the Holiness movements hold this belief more fervently than any other church movements I have ever interacted with except for generally recognized unorthodox cults. One of the most reliable common denominators of cults is that they all think they are the only ones left of God’s true church, the stronger their conviction that they are the last ones left, the more cultish they are. I am not calling the Holiness Movements “cults,” but I am saying that one should be very cautious about adopting a telltale sign of a cult.

 

Power

I grew up learning that all churches outside of my own Holiness one were devoid of the power of God. How were we to grow in Christ if we didn’t have a preacher with the anointing and the Holy Ghost falling to answer prayers? In the first church I attended post-Holiness, a military interdenominational chapel, I did find some of what I had heard to be true. I did think their worship was not the liveliest and they never had an altar call. However, they had some significant offsetting benefits, like the fact that people loved each other, loved others, and in my sub-group at least, held each other accountable for spiritual growth and maturity. Since I’ve gotten out a bit more, I have learned that everything I have ever seen in a Holiness church is also somewhere else in the Body of Christ.

I observe that what we called “power” is really two things with a fine line between them. The first is Pentecostal stylistic details and the second is clearly biblical signs and wonders. Let’s address these common manifestations of power and I’ll show how I learned they are not unique to Holiness… at all.

Holiness has anointed preachers.

It’s not entirely clear what this means as it isn’t a common biblical term in the context of preaching – it’s an Old Testament allusion to the God-ordained role of a priest or king. The general idea that Holiness people have in mind is that their preachers get special messages from the Lord and special power to present those messages. How can we tell which preachers have this? Some seem to determine anointing based on increased volume and passion, but I submit this is a poor judge of this trait. Apostolic preachers have the exact same style of the pre-microphone era revivalist. They are loud and many rhythmically punctuate their impassioned appeals with guttural “ahs” and “amens?” Yet, we dismissed them based on their non-trinitarian doctrine, despite this completely identical style of preaching. Clearly, style alone is not sufficient to determine “anointing.”

What about that phenomenon when the preacher “must” be preaching to you or is especially convicting? This also is not unique to Holiness churches. I have sat through many non-Holiness sermons in which I found the message particularly relevant to my own life, sometimes to the point of being uncanny. I have heard non-Holiness preachers say things to the effect of “I’m not sure why I’m adding this, but I feel like it’s for someone here.” Some of them even use phrases that I thought were trademarked to the Pentecostal Holiness movement, such as “I’m just going to follow the leading of the Spirit today if that’s alright.” As far as conviction goes, I am typically more convicted by messages that plunge deep into the Scripture than messages which proclaim “new revelation” from God or twist an Old Testament narrative into a spiritual analogy. Personally, my spiritual maturity has objectively improved since I left the Holiness church, because in many places, I have found more convicting preaching, not less. What about that saving conviction that causes sinners to walk down the isle? Look around your local Holiness church. With all due respect, is it filled with new converts? Many churches I attended would wait years for one person to be saved. I have seen many more conversions in non-holiness churches, so it stands to reason that conviction is still happening there.

In short, Holiness preaching is neither unique in style nor effect. It doesn’t offer more conviction, more truth, or more conversions than the rest of Christian preaching. Does this mean it’s all bad? No, of course not. However, the preaching inside the Holiness Movement is certainly not all better either.

Vibrant and emotive worship.

A few weeks ago, I had reason to attend a testimony service which was led by a man from a Pentecostal church. I was immediately transported back to my upbringing. We sang old-time Pentecostal choruses between testimonies and people were admonished to testify with the same phrases and verses I was used to. You wouldn’t have noticed anything out of place if it had occurred in a Holiness church. Except for the fact that the man leading it not only didn’t believe in any of the Holiness dress standards, but he had most likely never even heard of them. His Pentecostal church had grown out of some of the same roots as the Holiness movement and shared much in common culture, but all this “old-time power” was somehow functioning independent of the Holiness doctrine.

As far as contrasting styles of worship in the mainstream evangelical church, there is always room to critique the attitudes or messages of any modern songs and singers. However, I have found many churches that do an excellent job in this department and I have certainly found as much emotive connection to God in non-Holiness churches as in them.

Fervent and effective prayer.

Natalie has had multiple Holiness Christians tell her that they know non-Holiness churches are compromised because they “took the altar out.” First off, prayer altars are not in the New Testament. We don’t see a single church set up by an apostle that had one. They’re a modern, man-made tradition. The Old Testament altar was always a place of physical sacrifice. That doesn’t make prayer altars bad, but prayer is the thing that is biblical, not any particular mode or context of prayer. Prayer services, prayer chains, prayer altars, or prayer phone apps are all just different tools to fulfill our mandate to pray.

I do think that Holiness churches are above average in the promotion of prayer. However, I don’t believe that I ever spent any time studying prayer in a Holiness church. The model of everyone praying out loud at once tends to lead to a lot of thoughtless repetition in many cases. I have spent much more time outside of the Holiness movement approaching prayer more deliberately – studying what the Bible says about how to do it and seeing that modeled in the thoughtful prayers of others. I have also participated I in a 24-hour prayer chains for a man undergoing a surgery with a 10% chance of not leaving him paralyzed (he recovered). I’ve also participated in many non-holiness prayer meetings. Prayer has not been abandoned by the wider Christian church.

Divine impressions, dreams, and revelations.

Holiness Christians often claim to have special words from God on many issues; perhaps they do, it’s not for me to say. Many people justify the dress standards based on special messages from God. “I looked up to heaven and I saw my wedding ring between me and God, so I took it off.” Imagine my surprise to learn that this sort of thing is just as common outside of Holiness. My favorite was when I heard from an ex-Holiness person that his wife was impressed by God that she would have to wear pants, because skirts had become the thing in which she was trusting for her salvation. I was also encouraged by a story I heard about a Christian radio host who felt impressed to play the same (contemporary) song three times in a row on the air – this led to a businessman quitting his job and going into the ministry.

While I am by no means a cessationist, I do find that people throw around messages from God far to freely for my taste. In any event, depending on the theological persuasion of the recipient, I have noticed no reduction in the number of people who deliver a message, thought, impression, message in tongues with interpretation, or dream which they believe to have been of divine origin. This is quite common in certain circles of non-Holiness people. Of course, you can dismiss it all as “not really from God.” And they can dismiss yours with the same statement. But you can’t claim uniqueness in this aspect.

Miracles.

There are a wide variety of miracles that were claimed in my Holiness upbringing. I can’t say that I saw much, but there were occasional references to divine healing or the casting out of a demon. Of course, no matter where you are, not every alleged miracle and manifestation is legitimate – as even the Bible makes clear when it instructs us to test prophesies and spirits, not just believe them. However, I have interacted with just as many miracles outside of Holiness as in. I heard from a youth group who went to a nursing home and prayed for a wheelchair bound man to stand up and walk – he did. Working as a missionary in Haiti, some of the Haitian pastors dealt with (and occasionally exorcised) people who they told me were demon possessed on a monthly basis at least. And of course, there are myriad stories of cancer going into remission or disappearing and the like.

Conclusion

I spent many years thinking that Holiness had a corner on some very distinct doctrines and manifestations of divine power. As it turns out, I have yet to find a single belief or practice of the Pentecostal Holiness church that I haven’t seen somewhere else. Perhaps that myth was sustained because we didn’t fellowship with any other churches and never asked anyone else what they believed. We just sat in Sunday school and told each other what other people believed. We even told each other that you “cannot” visit another church or denomination, not even for one service, because “it’s not worth risking your soul over” (someone actually said this).

When you look into modern church history, you find that Pentecostal Holiness is a splinter group of a split (Holiness Movement) of a split (Methodism) of a split (Anglicanism) of a sub group (Catholicism) of the original church. Once you start to learn about all our denominational cousins, our house blend of the special doctrinal sauce starts to make more sense – it turns out that we’re not unique after all.

But there is some good news. I have spent a fair amount of time in my life examining the teachings of other non-Christian religions and worldviews – I have read the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the writings of atheists. Their beliefs are substantively different from Christian teachings and far inferior in both logical consistency and practical application. The teachings of Christ stand apart in a landscape of competing worldviews like a mountain among anthills. Only one religion can be true when claims are contradictory, and we have good reason to believe that Christianity is that truth. This makes Christianity special, and, according to its teachings, all of us who believe in Christ for salvation become part of God’s special people.

We do well to claim our identity with Christ – to hold “Christian” as our highest title rather than fixating on the superiority of our tribe. In some ways, Holiness was an early practitioner of modern identity politics – which teaches that your beliefs should be completely defined by your racial group, gender, or class. Our Pentecostal Holiness identity was totally defined by our sub-group, with no room for individual thought, action, or conscience.

There is a cure. We should focus on what we have in common as Christians, instead of just what separates us. Perhaps some humility and some “commonality training” would do us all good.

– Nathan Mayo

 

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Are You One of the Sheeple?

Are You One of the Sheeple?

There is a lot of talk circulating around the internet these days about not being sheep. This sense of the word emphasizes that we ought not blindly follow the people in front of us and follow the crowd to our destruction. The corresponding Biblical injunction would probably be Jesus’ command to be “as wise as serpents.”

The problem is that the Bible says we are sheep by nature – we are predisposed to follow a crowd, especially a crowd we already trust. Ironically, a lot of the people on my Facebook feed shouting “don’t be sheep!” are backed up in their comment thread by a dozen adherents who clearly share their identical beliefs. They aren’t brilliant thought leaders; they are just in a different pack of sheep. A study of religious history will reveal no shortage of obscure heretics and cults which flame up and burn out, each fervently convinced that they have truth and all others have lost the true way.

The good news is that there are things we can do to follow the Biblical command to be wise – very practical things that will help us with both our politics and our theology.

1. Don’t be so sure

It’s amazing how quickly we lose sight of the danger of pride. Despite around 50 biblical references to the danger of this sin, we somehow think that humility has no place in theological or political discussions.

The fact is that there is not a single person on earth who holds the correct opinion on every issue, and I doubt anyone is particularly close (I am certainly not close). The Bible gives good examples of people who were open to learning.

Apollos was a great young evangelist, yet Acts records that “[When] he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Apollos was a man on a mission, yet he needed to be instructed. Peter was a man in authority in the early church, and he had spent years learning from the Master himself. Yet, Paul records an occasion where “when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Paul publicly rebuked Peter for racism against the Gentiles, and Peter took the correction.

In some way, we are all like Apollos or Peter, either needing to be taught that we don’t know everything yet or rebuked in that something we thought we knew was dead wrong. In either event, we need to bring humility to table from the outset and acknowledge that in discussing a broad topic, it’s not a matter of “if” we are wrong about some facet, it’s merely a matter of which facet we are wrong about.

How do we do this practically? I personally like to express the strength of my beliefs along a range of confidence.  From my study of economics, I’m nearly certain that free trade results in more wealth for both countries involved, I’m fairly sure the excess wealth will be realized within one generation, and I suspect that economic sanctions on countries we don’t like are a waste of time and a policy we should discard. That is a broad issue on which I shared three beliefs, each with a different level of confidence. If we had a debate about the issue, you would much sooner talk me out of the third belief than the first, though I admit that I could be wrong on any point.

Too many people frame all their beliefs as certainties. They are sure that the man the cop shot was a thug, or that the cop was a racist, after watching a sixteen second video clip. They are sure of what a verse in Daniel means, despite the very confusing context. Certainty should be correlated with evidence – the less evidence you have, the more loosely you should hold a belief.

Given that we hold some beliefs loosely and some tightly, how should we determine whether to believe an idea in the first place?

2. Falsify before you verify

I could expound at length on a wide variety of techniques to identify logical fallacies, analyze a scientific study, or understand statistics. While all of that would be valuable, there is one simple tool that will cut through 90% of the insane ideas that sane people fall for.

Imagine a theft is committed and you are tasked with evaluating one of the suspects. You may search for evidence to see if he committed the crime. He is the right height and build as the figure in the grainy security footage captured at the scene. His shoe is also the same size as the footprint found. His financial situation would give him motive. So, is he the thief? You’ve been looking for evidence that suggest he did commit the crime. You have been trying to verify that he is the thief.

But the fastest way to determine whether he is the thief is to look for reasons why he did not commit the crime. If you find hard evidence that he was in Brazil when the crime was committed in Wisconsin, then you have falsified the claim that he was the thief. This is why the first thing investigators do is look for an alibi – a reason why the suspect didn’t commit the crime – before they waste their time matching shoeprints and looking for motive.

To falsify means to attempt to disprove. You should attempt to disprove any belief that you want to be sure is right. If you can’t disprove it, only then you can look for evidence to prove it or verify it, and after both processes you can be as confident as possible that it is true. If someone tells you that baptism is necessary for salvation, you don’t do a word search in your Bible for “baptism,” you go read all the verses about salvation which don’t mention baptism at all.

You can use this technique on any belief, whether it is widely held or obscure, however, it makes sense to be more skeptical of things that shock your pre-existing beliefs or of a conclusion which few people have reached.  If you learn something which makes you say, “I can’t believe that!” you should probably attempt to falsify it before you share it on Facebook.

Can any belief stand up to a skeptical attempt to falsify it? Of course. The truth holds up quite nicely. When I try to falsify the existence of God by seeing what atheists have to say, I find their arguments unconvincing. When I give the atheists the same skeptical test, I find that intelligent design/ creation accounts for a lot of things in nature that the atheists cannot.

Here are a few more specific ways to use falsification as a tool to evaluate an idea.

A. Choose a sample of straightforward claims to falsify

I was recently handed a document full of anti-vaccine claims to evaluate. Some of them are exceedingly difficult to falsify. It’s hard for me to disprove that big pharma companies are secretly conspiring with the government to infect us. However many of the claims in the paper were of the sort that one could look up. For instance, they cited a scientific study, which they said showed that the flu vaccine was 100% ineffective. This stuck me as rather unbelievable, so I looked up the study. Sure enough, it was from a reputable source, and it was a large study, but the anti-vaxer had completely misrepresented the conclusion. The opening line of the conclusion was to the effect of “We determined that the flu vaccine was effective in preventing the flu.” Either the anti-vax paper was intentionally lying, or just as likely, the author had no idea of how to read a scientific study, and just read the headline. I found five or six such easily falsifiable claims in the three-page document, and with the weight of that evidence, I decided that their unprovable claims were most likely as weakly grounded as their allegedly provable ones.

B. Evaluate the bigger picture

Many times the purveyors of wacky theories are highly focused on minute details, such as the way the flag ripples in the breezeless atmosphere of the first moon landing photos. However, the easiest way to falsify something is often to step out of those details and start to ask questions about the bigger picture. There were six crewed moon landings from 1969-1972. If the first one was faked, were the subsequent five faked? If the subsequent five weren’t faked, and landing on the moon was possible in November of 1969 (the second landing), then why wasn’t it possible in July of 1969 (the first landing)? If all six were faked, why is there almost no analysis of evidence of chicanery in the other five? Why would the government take on the risk of faking the same thing six times? Surely faking it once or twice would be sufficiently risky. Also, there was a failed mission to land on the moon (Apollo 13) which seems like a rather absurd thing to fake if the purpose of faking the moon missions is to create bragging rights vis a vis the Soviets.

Regardless of whether there is a good answer to why the flag appears to be waving in the breeze (there is) in the bigger picture, believing that six and a half moon landings were faked falls apart.

Lots of beliefs can be falsified with this big picture treatment. Nearly two decades after 9/11, the conspiracy theorists can wax poetic about trace evidences of thermite incendiary devices (which could also be evidence of boring old primer paint) but they still can’t give a decent answer to the question “why would the US government attack itself?” The war on terror has been extremely costly, it didn’t require 9/11 as a justification anyways, and it’s difficult to see who benefited from it in the US government if terrorism was never a real threat.

C. Make note of predictions

Another great way to falsify a source is to keep track of its predictions. Keep in mind that a prediction can be right by chance. On any given day, there is someone predicting an economic collapse, a pandemic, an ice age, and an earthquake that breaks California off into the ocean. Eventually, some of these things are bound to happen, and whoever “predicted” them most recently will get the credit for being a sage. However, wacky theories are often tied in with numerous predictions about the future that age very poorly.

When I was in high school, a local talk radio show spent hours and hours convincing its listeners that there were terrorist training camps all across the US, planning a massive attack. 12 years later, nothing materialized. I remember someone who strongly believed (based on some emails forwarded to them) that the Euro was going to dramatically collapse in value any day. I didn’t dispute this claim, I just set a reminder on my phone to check the Euro value in 18 months. Now, nearly four years later, the Euro is still holding steady, and I can dismiss this claim and its source as bunk.

Predictions can be tricky, because a lot of times they are dismantled slowly over time as the evidence reveals the opposite, so that by the time the evidence is in, the prediction has been very deliberately hidden from view and memory. Because of this ability to walk back longer-term predictions over time, short-term predictions tend to be the sincerest. For instance, the stated reason for the US invasion of Iraq was to prevent their proliferation of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs). Upon arrival, it was soon concluded that Iraq did not have as many WMDs as was feared, and the Bush administration was lambasted for that failed prediction (which if we’re getting conspiratorial, why wouldn’t the Bush administration simply fake the WMDs, if faking is such an easy thing?) This can be taken as evidence that the Bush administration was sincerely wrong, but wrong none the less. The prediction you may have long ago forgotten about was the once common knowledge on the political left that the “secret reason” the US invaded Iraq was the oil. How is that prediction holding up now? Simple research about the current Iraqi oil industry reveals that out of 23 active oil contracts in Iraq, US companies only hold two of them compared to five held by the Russians and Chinese. If the US went to war for oil, why didn’t we take any of it?

The same logic applies to biblical matters, especially end time theories. Just to cite one example, a website which calls itself “Prophecy Central (Bible-prophecy.com)” is talking about how coronavirus marks the end of the world. While they are not a Pentecostal Holiness site, they are linked to as a recommended resource by Holiness-Preaching.org and are doubtless used as a resource by many other denominations as well. Maybe they are right about COVID-19; all I can do is mark it on my calendar. But what is far more interesting is to look at the internet archive of their website, which took snapshots of the site over time, all the way back to 1998. When you look at the site over time, you see they did a lot of predicting and conjecturing that they don’t talk about anymore. Stories range from the imminent collapse of the southern wall of the temple mount and subsequent possible apocalypse (in 2002), to the imminent attack on America (in 2005), to the imminent unveiling of the long-lost ark of the covenant (in 2009).

Is the mark of the beast about to be rolled out in a coronavirus vaccine? I would encourage you to put a reminder on your calendar five years from now and see how that theory is working out. You can mark this down as a prediction from me – no, it isn’t. I could provide a dozen reasons for that, but in brief, in order for it to be the “mark of the beast,” everyone must be forced to receive it with no exceptions in order to participate in the economy. We still haven’t figured out how to get the polio vaccine to everyone in the world and it has been around since 1952.  American vaccination rates for most diseases are in the 60-85% range, not 100%. Also, the COVID-19 vaccines will not be administered in the right hand or forehead and they will not be proceeded by worshiping the image of a talking beast as per Revelation 13 … I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

If you want to falsify a new idea, just make a note of the predictions about the future and don’t let the predictor keep burying old predictions and selling you new ones.

3. Leverage bias to find truth

The best way to get you information is not from unbiased sources. You read that right. Don’t look for unbiased sources on current events. It’s like getting your information from leprechauns. They don’t exist, so I’m going to doubt anything you say you heard from leprechauns. The better way is to acknowledge that every source is biased, and to approach each source in full knowledge of its bias and leverage that bias to gain confidence.

This is not to say that all sources are equally valid. Clearly, Chinese state-owned media has a greater willingness to lie outright than the more competitive American media. There are numerous figures in the mainstream media who have lost credibility and their jobs for being caught lying (Dan Rather of CBS and Brian Williams of NBC). However, bias can also show itself in ways besides lying. Bias can also choose which stories are covered and which stories are buried, even if the ones brought to light are covered honestly.

So, if we don’t ignore biased sources, how do we use them? It’s as simple as shooting arrows with a crosswind; you adjust your point of aim to account for the wind. You observe the bias and adjust for it. The nice thing is that if a biased source admits something that goes against its bias, which they often do when the evidence is overwhelming, you can be very confident it is true. When I read in a secular publication that Christianity is growing rapidly in the developing world, I can be sure it is, because they would have no reason to exaggerate it and plenty of reason not to mention it at all.

Consider this practical application. If you search Christian sources for evidence of the Bible in archaeology, you will find long lists of “proofs of Scripture,” some of which are true and some of which are a bit … stretched. If you start with one of those lists and you compare some of those finds against a skeptical source, like National Geographic, you will find that many stand up to scrutiny, a few will fall off, and a few will be inconclusive. But this is good news! Because out of a list of 15 archaeological finds from the Bible, you will find 10 that even secularists also admit are valid. If they thought they weren’t valid, the secularists would certainly tell you. If a Mormon ran the same exercise for a list of “archaeological finds supporting the Book of Mormon,” he couldn’t stay a Mormon for long, because the critical sources would debunk all of the finds as nonsense. This example shows how leveraging biased and critical sources can lead you to truth.

The other nice thing about engaging with sources from a bias that conflicts with your own is that they will often raise an argument from logic. Arguments from logic can be faulty, but they can not be “fake.” I can lie to you about a statistic or an anecdote. I can’t lie with a logical argument. If my argument is invalid, you should be able to point out in what way it is invalid, with no further research. Let’s say your friend is convinced that elections in America have all been rigged for decades. She finds a source that responds with this logical argument: “If elections are routinely rigged, why does power keep changing hands between the Democrats and the Republicans? If someone is rigging the elections, they would have a goal in mind and not vacillate between conflicting objectives. Therefore, no one is routinely rigging the elections.” This argument from logic relies on no facts outside of common knowledge. Your friend can’t simply dismiss it based on the source, because the source of a logical argument is irrelevant to the logic itself, she has to address it to dismiss it.

The key to research is not to find some holy grail of a completely unbiased source. If you think you’ve found it, you’ve been duped. The key is to see the bias and work with it.

Conclusion

The simple ways to not be easily influenced by falsehood are: to keep an open mind, to research new ideas with an eye to finding out why they are wrong, not why they are right (by looking for things you can fact check, exploring the bigger picture, and making a note of predictions), and to realize that you must use biased sources, but you can adjust for their biases to gain confidence in their conclusions.

There are many more research tools you can learn over time, but these will get you started. If you use these tools, you will, at least at the outset, be less certain about all your beliefs. That means that a conversation with you is less likely to devolve into Hitler analogies. It means you’re more likely to change your mind and reject some ideas that are popular in your circles (you might even have to go against the flow). Eventually, you will hold your core beliefs with even more certainty than before, because you have tested them.

“Sheeple” are more concerned about being certain than they are about being right – so they don’t try to falsify any of their beliefs, for fear that they might have to change them. Don’t be a sheep. Finding truth is more valuable than being right in your own mind.

-Nathan Mayo

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Beards: The One Way You’re Not Allowed to be Like Jesus

Confused Beards

It sounds odd to say there is a Holiness standard that Holiness ministers will agree has no biblical basis, but there is.  It’s the rule against facial hair. Back when I asked questions as a teenager, I was told that men aren’t allowed to grow facial hair so they won’t be confused with the hippie movement. The hippie movement – wasn’t that something in my history book from nearly 60 years ago? And didn’t the hippie women wear long flowing skirts? I was told such skirts are godly. The oddest thing of all is, biblical basis or not, the tradition is still enforced.  Preaching in the pulpit, singing in the choir, taking up the offering, or even playing an instrument, are all denied only over facial hair. Anyone who “really gets saved” is expected to shave, while growing facial hair out signifies backsliding.  Facial hair is a litmus test of spirituality; a litmus test that Jesus would have failed. Perhaps it’s high time we evaluate this tradition in light of scripture, rather than dividing the Church over opinion.

-Natalie 

The only independent Holiness writers that I [Nathan] have read are intellectually honest enough not to condemn beards outright, though they caution against them and their alleged pitfalls. The seemingly most hip way to say this is “I would never have a beard, but they are not necessarily sin.” This assumes that beards are fraught with special traps, but acknowledges that there isn’t a shred of Biblical evidence to oppose them. I found a popular Apostolic writer named Martyn Ballestero, who expressed the stronger version of the belief this way. In his words:

“If you are not wearing it out of compromise, rebellion, or from a backslidden state, and you are wearing it just because you think it looks good on you, then would you say it is pride issue with you?

Does Your Facial Hair Tell Others That You Have A Flaming Pride Issue?

If you don’t think pride is involved in wearing of facial hair, just try to preach it off of those who have it. Every wearer I’ve met is fiercely defensive.”

Hopefully, you see some issues with those statements. If not, keep reading.

What does the Bible say about beards?

Old Testament Precedent

Beards were common: The Bible specifically mentions that David (1 Samuel 21:14), Aaron (Psalm 133:2), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 5:1), and Ezra (Ezra 9:3) had beards (among others). Interestingly, Joseph followed the custom of the Egyptians of shaving (Genesis 41:14), and is not condemned for it. Joseph participated in the culture of his day in a way that did not disobey God’s commands (Joseph obviously lived in pre-Mosaic times).

Beards were well maintained and trimmed: In Leviticus 19:27 (and again in Lev. 21:5) the Mosaic law forbids certain styles of beards: “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” Given the context, this was likely a reference to the pagan styles of the day, which were associated with idolatry.

Cannanite

A Canaanite beard style with trimmed corners

Notably, this prohibition on shaping the edges of beards didn’t prevent devout Jews from trimming the length. In 2 Samuel 19:24, the Bible clearly records that trimming beards was normal and considered good hygiene, “And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.”

Removing beards was explicitly allowed under particular circumstances: The Old Testament law didn’t explicitly require having a beard, and sometimes prescribed instances where they were or should be removed. In Leviticus 14:9 shaving a beard is required to prove that you are recovered from leprosy. Jeremiah records that shaven beards were a sign of mourning (Jer. 48:37) and Ezra pulls his out in shock (Ezra 9:3).

Lacking a beard was considered shameful: In 2 Samuel 10:3-5, the Bible tells of messengers who were humiliated by having half of their beards shaven. David’s prescription for their “great shame” was to take them out of action until their beards could regrow.

New Testament Evidence

Did Jesus have a beard? The answer lies somewhere between “almost certainly” to beyond a doubt.

In Isaiah 50:6, Isaiah tells the story of a captive who was slapped and whose beard was plucked out.“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.” Many scholars think this prophecy is Messianic, though the passage doesn’t say that explicitly. If the passage is Messianic, then Jesus certainly had a beard. If it isn’t, the Bible doesn’t say.

As a Jewish man, in light of all the Old Testament evidence he probably would have had a beard, but it depends on the degree to which the Greco-Roman culture (of being clean shaven) had influenced Jewish practice at that point.

Images of a bearded Jesus show up as early as the 300’s to 400’s. The earliest 2 or 3 depictions of Jesus, starting in 235 AD, show him as beardless. However, some of these pictures were of him as a youth and some were showing him attired as was the custom of the time and place of the artist, not necessarily attired as a Jewish man from 200 years prior.

800px Christ Healing the Paralytic Dura Europos circa 232

Christ Healing the Paralytic, Syria, circa 235 A.D.

What did the disciples think about beards?

The earliest depictions of the Apostles do show them with beards, and many others thereafter. Paul is pictured with a  pointed beard in the style of the Turks, which makes sense given his heritage from Tarsus, Turkey. Beards are never mentioned explicitly in the New Testament.

Beards: The One Way You're Not Allowed to be Like Jesus

The earliest depiction of the Apostle Paul

Clearly, New Testament writers did not think facial hair was a problem, because it existed in their day, and they never addressed it. For that matter, they spent almost no time addressing physical appearance and almost all of their time addressing matters of the heart or conduct towards others. 

Pride and Laziness – the contradictory assault on beards

Arguments against beards generally fall into two buckets. These arguments are defended rather half-heartedly in the Holiness blog “Answers in Holiness” by Rev. Jeremy Spurlock. As noted, he acknowledges that one can’t call beards sin, per se, but still makes many of the same remarks about them as the Apostolic writer mentioned in the introduction. He seems to say that beards aren’t the problem, but they are almost certainly the fruit born out of a rebellious heart. In his words:

“There is a trend to cast off the former “traditions” of the holiness church, and to embrace a more relaxed, casual, sloppy attitude in God’s presence.

If the motive of a young man for wearing facial hair stems from an attitude problem, or rebellion – then facial hair is just a little bit of the fruit that is growing on the tree? The root of the problem is a definitely a heart issue!”

It’s actually rather amusing, because opponents of beards call them either “unkempt” or “prideful” to cover all possible versions. If your beard looks bad, it is a sign you are apathetic. If it looks good, it is a sign you are prideful. Rebellion is a related idea to both, with the same responses, so I’ll address that concurrently. Only lacking a beard is considered evidence that you both look respectable, yet are not concerned with your own appearance.

The better question is not, “is a beard prideful,” but rather, “is a beard inherently prideful?” Everything can be prideful if your heart is in the wrong place. I’ve heard people talk about the regularity of their church attendance with evident pride. They have a heart problem, but church attendance is not inherently prideful. On the other hand, publishing a book about why you’re the greatest person in your generation is inherently indicative of pride. While not all actions will fall neatly into one pile or the other, we should be able to make a reasonable determination of where on the spectrum beards fall lie.

Is a beard inherently “unkempt” or “sloppy?”

In Biblical times, the idea that a beard was inherently sloven can be dismissed out of hand. We know from Scriptures cited above that men trimmed their beards and that to be without one was thought a great shame. Throughout most of the past 2,000 years, a large percentage of regular men wore beards. There are exceptional cultures and trends, but beards were normal for most of history. Clearly, beards have not been thought to be inherently sloppy in times past.

Is the beard inherently “sloppy” in the modern era? Perhaps one that isn’t maintained at all smacks of laziness, just like if a man were to never wash, comb, or trim his hair. However, although the hippies of the 60’s did often sport such unkempt beards, that is not the trend with modern facial hair. I did a quick Google image search for “beard” and saw that of the first 50 or so results, all were of trimmed beards, not the ones in the hippie style. Until I got to this one, which I will allow you to judge:

Absurd Beard

You would have to admit that there is a lot of maintenance going on here.

One argument that is occasionally bandied about is that the US military regulations exemplify that being clean-shaven is more refined and professional in modern times. As someone who spent nine years in the Army, I can say that while that belief is held by some in uniform, it is hardly universal among those who serve. In fact, growing a beard for some period of time after leaving the military is considered something of a rite of passage. Furthermore, well-groomed facial hair is allowed by many other militaries around the world and mustaches are allowed in the US military. The primary reason why the US military forbade facial hair in the first place was so that gas masks can seal to the face properly – this is hardly a broadly applicable cultural principle.

Outside of the military, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that a well-maintained beard is unacceptable in the professional world. Beards have risen and fallen in popularity many times over the last 200 years, but currently, they seem to be re-surging. Many top corporate executives have adopted the beard, such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin. While I only counted seven of the world’s top 100 CEO’s with facial hair, by comparison, how many top CEO’s have face tattoos or nose rings?  None, because those things are actually considered unprofessional.

I don’t see any compelling reasons to believe that a beard makes one inherently “sloppy” looking.

Is a beard inherently “prideful?”

I should point out that trimming the edges of a beard into a clean shape is the opposite of being “sloppy.” Trimming beards was the norm in the Old Testament, though they would have trimmed the length and not shaped the corners. For many men who don’t grow facial hair evenly in a perfect beard range, shaping the edges is essential if you want to have a beard and not look unkempt.

Do men express pride through their beards? Some do, certainly. And the exact same men no doubt express pride through their hair. Does it follow that all men should shave their heads? No. It does not. The inference by Ballestero is that if you like the look of something, it must be prideful to wear it. The logical deduction is that we ought not wear anything we like the look of. Which leads you to this little brain teaser. For most of my life, I have been clean shaven, with the exception of one short period in which I experimented with growing a beard. I wasn’t a big fan of the look, and I think I look better without it. If I think I look better without a beard, does that mean that shaving is an act of pride? Perhaps I should grow a beard in humility.

There may be many valid reasons to grow a beard, just as there may be many reasons to wear shiny shoes or try a military “high and tight” hair cut for a little while. Curiosity, personal preference, the preference of a wife, or the desire to look more masculine, are all fine reasons to change your haircut or grow a beard. There are even practical benefits for men working in certain climates, as beards keep your face warmer and help filter dust and allergens. Additionally, some men, particularly black men, are prone to painful inflamed bumps and ingrown hairs if they do not allow their beard to grow (a condition known as pseudofolliculitis barbae or PFB). This reflects a way in which tacking on an extra-biblical rule has an unintentionally inequitable effect among different races.

Why are we even talking about this?

Spurlock finishes his advice this way:

“I know many good Christian men who have beards and facial hair. So I am not saying facial hair is a sin. But you must be careful to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Or, why you want to do what you have been told not to do by your authority.”

It is valid that we should always evaluate our motives. You should have good motives for everything you do, including growing your eyebrows out. However, there is another question left standing. Why do “the authorities” try to prevent facial hair at all? Given the case I have laid out, why was this ever brought up in the first place?

It can’t be because our culture and churches are so moral, loving, unified, sexually pure, and wholesome that we only have small details of extra-biblical opinion left to discuss. For some, it may be honest ignorance, and the unchallenged assumption that Grandpa was as close to God as possible, so everything should be done his way. However, I suspect that the reason that some authorities oppose beards is, ironically, pride.

Pride, in the sense that they think their spirituality is so refined, that even their preferences carry moral weight for other people.

Pride, in the sense that they feel their personal grasp of other people’s motives and hearts is so insightful that they can, like God, see motives deep in the soul.

It is simply human to want people to do things your way. I am guilty of it myself.  But we certainly shouldn’t be turning beards into a moral issue if God didn’t see fit to.

In the apt words of one critic of this belief, “Why would God put hair on my face, and then send me to Hell for it?”

Church is not a place that should be defined by man’s opinion. If you want opinions, look to the media. Only the Church has the living word of an unchanging God to share. And our opinions will not add any value.

 

Nathan Mayo

 

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How Long Do the “Last Days” Last?

End of the World

When I last visited Karlštejn castle in what was once the kingdom of Bohemia, I perused a chapel which had its walls covered with a frenetic mural from some 500 years ago. The mural laid out each scene from the book of Revelation in order. Our guide explained that “people from this era were obsessed with the idea that it was the end of days.” She elaborated that the medieval Bohemians interpreted several contemporary wars, plagues, and an earthquake as signs that they were living in the end times.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse Then?

And of course, they were not alone in that belief. In the churches I grew up in, there was a pervasive belief that we had reached the end of time and that was why our churches were shrinking. Sermons and Sunday school lessons routinely referred to why the world was “gospel-hardened” and used that as a way to explain the distinct lack of fruit our churches were bearing. There was frequent talk about the end of days. Many news events were understood in the light of prophecy.

The mere belief that “the end of the world is nigh” is not a problem. However, the version of this belief that I grew up with was distinctly counter-productive. There were two basic premises to how they understood the last days:

1) Everything has been getting worse.

2) Everything will continue to get worse and there is nothing we can do about it.

As it turns out, belief 1 isn’t factual and belief 2 isn’t biblical.

Is everything getting worse?

As evidence that we were living in the last days, frequent references were made to the state of world affairs. Microchips and the mark of the beast were discussed in hushed tones. News of any tension between nations was sure to evolve into the next world war. Any threats against Israel would inevitably portend Armageddon.

It is very easy to find statistics proclaiming the 20th century as the most violent in history. The reality is the complete opposite. Taken in absolute terms, more people died untimely deaths in the 20th century than any other, however, this is primarily because the world’s population exploded in size. Why did the world’s population explode? Because the 20th century saw tremendous progress in science, reduction in crime, and diminishment of war. Percent terms matter far more than absolute terms.

To understand that, consider this question. If your primary concern was safety from violence and you had two choices to visit on your vacation, would you go to New York City or Ciudad Victoria in Mexico? In the most recent year for which I have data, 318 people were murdered in NYC and 314 in Ciudad Victoria. On face, NYC seems to be a bit more dangerous. However, you won’t be surprised to learn that the population of NYC is 23 times greater than population of our Mexican metropolis, so the rate of homicide is 86 deaths per 100,000 in Ciudad Victoria and a mere 3 per 100,000 in New York City. New York City is far safer. This is an illustration of the world. The ancient world was Ciudad Victoria, the modern world is New York City. A massively expanded population, and better outcomes in per capita terms on almost every metric.

Don’t take my word for it – look it up. The data speaks for itself. This is a great source on violence: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/war-and-violence/#/title-slide

For a sample, look at the reduction in homicide rates over recent history:

How Long Do the "Last Days" Last?

This is just one measure of improvement. There are many others. We can look at health outcomes, as approximated by life expectancy. In the pre-modern world, global average life expectancy was around 30 years, today the average is 72 years, with many countries having an average life expectancy of 80+ years. In 1950, not a single country had a life expectancy of 72 years or better. Even when you factor in such scary things as the Covid-19 pandemic, it must be scaled against the Black Death, which killed between 30% – 60% of the population of the infected regions. Unless at least 2 billion people die from Covid-19, you can’t make the case that things are getting worse.

We can look at human freedom as well, as measured by the type of government that people live under. While no government is perfect, if I offered you a choice between moving to a randomly selected democracy or a randomly selected autocracy, I’m pretty sure I know which one you would choose. Democracies are much better at protecting human rights and improving standard of living. More countries are democratic today than at any point in history.

Democracy

I could go on for a very long time pointing out obvious improvements to our world. Improvements in education, standard of living, access to law enforcement, and many other things. But these are mere temporary matters, what about matters of eternity? Let’s look at the church around the world.

Though I understand that not everyone who claims the name of Christ follows his commands, the percentage of the world that owns him at least in name is at an all-time high. Certainly 0% of the Americas was Christian before 1492, and most of Sub-Saharan Africa hadn’t heard the name of Christ until the 1700’s. The Chinese church was miniscule until the 1800’s, and there are officially 29 million believers there now (and the real number may be as high as 100 million).

For an encouraging read and a lot more well-sourced data, check out “The Myth of the Dying Church” by Glen Stanton. As noted there, in 1776, church attendance in America was only around 17%. While weekly church attendance in America today is around 35%, which is down from 44% in the 1950’s, it is still normal by historical American standards. Furthermore, the denominations that are dying are the most liberal ones, that denied the veracity of Scripture decades ago. Larger conservative denominations and the conservative side of the non-denominational movement are growing notably faster that population growth. I would concede that the American church has less cultural influence than it did 50 years ago, but it is far from dead and even if it was, the developing world is not following our trend.

Just to take an example, in Haiti in the 1950’s, the Protestant church made up only about 12% of the population, today it is 30% – an eight-fold growth in churches when factoring in population growth. Evangelicalism is exploding in many parts the world, and the Church is far from defeated. Weekly church attendance in sub-Saharan Africa is an astonishing 71%! There are many concerns to be sure, but the numbers don’t support the idea that the Church of Jesus Christ is on life support.

Christians by country

Ah, but what about the evils of our time? What about moral relativism, abortion, and gender confusion? Certainly, these are grave matters. But there were evils of other times as well. We got rid of legal human slavery and all of the barbarous exploitation that went along with it. We got rid of mob justice, lynching, and witch trials. We got rid of dueling, a whole lot of racism, and quite a bit of anti-Semitism. Eugenics was incredibly popular in the early 1900’s and is mostly out of vogue now. The once popular beliefs in the divine right of kings and romantic nationalism led to much oppression and many pointless wars. And of course, many practices and beliefs we oppose now, were faced by the earliest church as well. There are evils and false teachings in each generation. The truth never changes, but bad ideas come and go.

In summary, I do not think the evidence in any way supports the idea that world today is objectively a worse place to live or worse for the Church than it was in 1800, 1500, or 500. If you had choice to be born any time between 150 AD and now, I suspect you would choose sometime in the last 100 years – if you didn’t, I guarantee you you would regret that choice. Things have changed, many things have improved, and sinful man is still sinful man. If these are the trends of the world, then the idea that everything is getting worse and there is nothing that can be done about it is patently false.

The fact that many things have improved in the past means that more things can improve in the future. I’m not saying that things must improve, or even predicting that they will improve, but rather pointing out that they certainly can improve. The gospel can go to new regions and flourish there. Governments can improve and the poor can be raised from poverty. Why can’t extreme poverty be eliminated in Africa? It was eliminated in much of South East Asia in the past half-century and eliminated in Europe in the half-century before that. Why can’t a new Christian nation be founded? Why can’t we see the third Great Awakening? It has all happened before. Where did God write that it was time for the church to throw in the towel?

What does the Bible say about the last days?

More significant than what I think or what you think about the end times is what the Bible says about it. The Bible references the subject quite a bit. The basic point the Bible makes becomes clear after reading only a few verses.

One of the first New Testament references to end times come from Christ himself in the Olivet discourse, recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

To take a brief section from Luke’s account, after Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple (a clearly first century event) the disciples ask what the sign is that the destruction of the temple is about to occur. Jesus answers them in verse 10:

Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.

Jesus moves from talking about the destruction of the temple to the signs that it was about to occur. This is the context in which he talks about “wars and rumors of wars” – to a first century audience, telling them the signs that they should expect to see before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. And how can we be sure that he hasn’t transitioned to talking about the distant future here? Simple – he tells his disciples “they shall lay hands on you” and then tells them that they will be delivered up to “the synagogues.” I’ve heard of a lot of persecution in the past century, but I don’t believe that it is taking place in front of kings and in synagogues. This is clearly written to describe something that took place 2,000 years ago. The careful reader might note that this passage says the persecution comes before the wars, famines, etc. However, in Matthew’s account, the persecution comes first. If we combine the two accounts, we understand that the first-century persecution is intertwined with the wars, earthquakes, etc., which also clearly occurred in the first century.

In Acts 2:15-17, Peter quotes the prophet Joel to explain the sight of the disciples speaking in dozens of languages and says:

For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

Peter refers to the day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of a prophecy about the “last days.” This prophecy may still be applicable to today, but it was certainly fulfilled initially in AD 33, because Peter makes that clear.

Starting in 2 Timothy 3:1, Paul gives Timothy some advice about living in end times.

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

In verse 10 he continues the practical advice:

But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;

If Paul only meant these words to apply to people in the distant future, he would not have written instructions to Timothy as to how he should deal with such people. He wrote “from such [people] turn away,” “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” and “but continue thou in the things which thou hast learned.” Rather, he would have said “be glad you won’t have to meet people like this, they’ll be showing up in a few thousand years.” Certainly, Paul writes this passage to Timothy as if he is giving instructions to Timothy in how to deal with these people. Paul looks like he thought he was living in the “last days” and that Timothy would be dealing with these last days kind of problems.

In 2 Peter 3:3, the apostle provides his audience with additional end times instruction.

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

Peter then goes on to discuss how unbelievers would reject God and concludes with a warning to his first century audience in verse 17.

 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.

Peter warns his first-century hearers not to follow the scoffers in the last days. Like Paul, he doesn’t wax prophetic and tell his hearers “Be glad you’re not in the last days yet.” He makes it plain that they are already living in these last days and that these end-times scoffers are already walking among them.

But if my interpretation of Peter is insufficient, Iet’s look at Jude’s interpretation of that passage in Jude verses 17-18

But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.

Jude is clearly quoting Peter here (“mockers” and “scoffers” is the same Greek word, and the only two times it is used in Scripture). Jude is applying Peter’s teaching to his first century audience. Additional reading of the passage emphasizes that Peter’s teaching is not intended uniquely for an audience in the distant future, but applies then, in a time Jude and Peter both referred to as “the last time.”

In 1 John 2:18, the apostle John is so clear to his audience as to remove all doubt. He says:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

In the original language, the word for “time” can also be translated as “hour” and is done so 89 times in the KJV. When is the last time or last hour? Then. Sometime around 60 AD was the last time. John leaves no ambiguity.

Interpreting the biblical sense of the last days

There are two relevant interpretation options for these passages.

1) These passages were written solely or mostly about the distant future. This is the de facto interpretation I grew up with for the bulk of these passages. These passages were read when talking about the book of Revelation and the second coming of Christ. These passages were read to explain perceived changes in American culture from the alleged golden age of the 1950’s. The problem is that the Bible clearly teaches that all of these passages were directly relevant to the first century audiences.

2) These passages were talking about events that occurred in the first century and were either completely or partially fulfilled in that time. While there are many camps for interpreting eschatology, I can find a position sufficiently large enough to find common ground with most of them. These passages are talking about both events that occurred in the first century and events that would occur later. Thus they were talking about the whole final era before the second coming, which we could call the church age, or the “last days.” The window for the use of these instructions opened in 33 AD, stays open for 2, 3, or more millennium, and then closes when Christ returns.

As noted above, possibility 1 is not biblical, because it requires you to distort the obvious first century applications in the texts. If we acknowledge that the first century believers were living in the last days, the takeaway is the simple. Circumstances today are bad, in some sense, but not necessarily worse than they were in the first century.

“The last days” is a phrase God uses to refer to all the time after Christ’s departure from earth. Believing that we live in the last days is not a problem, it is biblical. But how we understand what that means makes all the difference in the world.

How ought we to live?

So what is the point of all of this? Am I trying to lure you into a false sense of security? To think that the world is improving, therefore the end cannot come? No. I think we have been living in the last days for 2,000 years. The Bible says we are.  However, our experience over two millennium of living in the last days shows that the world and church can improve and often does.

I have absolutely no Biblical reason to believe that the last days will not continue until the year 5,000. Some people point to the creation of the secular Jewish state in 1948 as concrete fulfillment of prophecy (despite the fact that the prophecy clearly says that the Jews would return to following God’s commands, not just create a secular state that largely rejects both the Old Covenant and the New – Ezekiel 36:25-27). All of the prophecy referring to the reunification of Israel occurs before its reunification under Ezra and Nehemiah, so it seems more likely to me that the older event (plus the coming of the Messiah) is the one to which the prophecy refers. Even if you believe that the 1948 event is what Ezekiel was talking about, all subsequent attempts to predict the return of Christ based on adding some window of time to the creation of Israel have failed … badly. Many preachers from many denominations have egg on their faces from bad predictions.

What is the point? Jesus wanted us to live like we were in the last days in the sense that we were always mindful of his return – never imagining that this life was all there was. Jesus did not have in mind that we would use our end times theology as justification for abandoning the great commission.

We live in the same last days that the Pilgrims lived in who brought the gospel to a new continent. We live in the same last days as the missionaries who first brought the gospel to Africa. We live in the same end times in which the disciples brought the gospel to Europe.

Think of how the Egyptians under Joseph understood the last days of plenty. They understood those seven years as a time to work hard, before the famine came. Jesus wants us to labor as though the fields are white for harvest (they are). He doesn’t want us cowering in our churches like an abused animal – cringing in the knowledge that the apocalypse is inevitable.

Yes, we have to deal with “lovers of their own selves,” covetous people, and scoffers, but so did Timothy, and you don’t see him using that as an excuse not to evangelize.

Protestantism has grown by 35% from 2000-2019. The Church is on a roll. So, if your local congregation isn’t growing, it’s high time to stop blaming the apocalypse.

 

Nathan Mayo

 

Find this interesting? Check out all of our articles here.

 

References:

Violence trends: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/war-and-violence/#/title-slide

Life Expectancy trends: https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy

Governance Trends: https://www.systemicpeace.org/polityproject.html

Chinese Church Numbers: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/christianity-china

Growth of Protestantism: Status of Global Christianity, 2019, In the Context of 1900-2050.

The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity Is Actually Thriving in America and the World by Glenn Stanton.

African Church Attendance: The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious Than Ever by Rodney Stark

American Church Attendance: The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy by Roger Fink and Rodney Stark

Various other facts like the fatality rate of the Black Death and murder rate of New York city are in the public domain and easily checked.

Can Godly Women Wear Pants?

Bicycle pants

Finding someone who shares my love for the European Church isn’t common, so I was a very happy girl to realize I was speaking to a minister who not only loved Europe, but had done European missions work. There was one city in particular we both had gone too, and I excitedly told him of a Bible-based, missions school, smack-dab in the heart of it.  I shared how their pioneered church ran well over 400, and about their many outreach programs, which had special emphasis on trafficking victims.  He looked totally surprised, “Wow!  When I was there we only found one woman in the whole city who wore skirts, and she didn’t know of any others.”  I cringed as I realized my friend would dismiss everyone I’d just described as unbelievers, or at the very least, spiritually immature.   His assumption that Christian women will all choose to wear only skirts (and that men will require them to do so) caused him to see 97%+ of Christians as sinners, drastically reducing the size of the Body of Christ.

It’s only fair to consider both sides of an issue with such extreme consequences, and this is exactly the purpose of the following article.  Read the argument for pants as moral sin, read Nathan’s responses, think through both and come to your own conclusions.  Ask yourself-biblically, historically, logically-do godly women have a basis for believing they may choose their own garment-type?  Or is this really a Heaven/Hell decision?

Natalie

 

The Burden of Proof

As noted in the article on Jewelry, the restrictors of liberty bear the burden to prove their own case biblically, if they can’t, it falls. Just like we are innocent until proven guilty, we are at liberty unless proven constrained. It is not up to me to prove women can wear pants, it is up to them to prove they shouldn’t.

To provide a fair case against pants, I will quote a full article from the Holiness Handbook. I will quote it entirely in red with my responses in black. This is a fairly in-depth argument and it ends with the thinly veiled threat that if you disagree with the author of the Holiness Handbook, you have a significant likelihood of going to Hell. That represents a pretty high level of confidence on the part of the author that his view is unassailable, so we’ll see if his argument stands up to a biblical cross-examination.

As we evaluate his argument, keep in mind that two distinct things need to be proven. If either fails, then the case for women not being able to wear pants falls apart.

1) Is gender distinction biblically required in clothing?

2) If yes, do women’s pants fail to meet that standard described in Scripture?

Let’s hear his case:

 

Gender Distinctions in Old Covenant Clothing

Women and Men’s clothing

All through history, the clothing used by men and women have been unique so that there was a clear distinction between the genders. Thousands of years ago both men and women wore types of cloaks or types of robes, but even then there were differences that allowed a person to identify the gender.

There a long history of clothing being different for men and women. Some of this is preference based, with women typically preferring more ornamentation, some of this is based on the different body types of men and women, and some is based on the practical needs of men and women in their historic roles. I do agree with this statement, but I would caveat that for almost all of the history that the author references, the difference has not been in the type of garment, but rather slight differences in how the garment was trimmed or decorated. He acknowledges that men and women both wore robes, just with slight tweaks – they didn’t typically have a fundamentally different type of garment. Consequently, this historical claim is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Deuteronomy 22:5  The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a manneither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

Among the Hebrews neither men or women was permitted by Mosaic Law to wear the same form of clothing as was used by the other. A few articles of feminine clothing carried somewhat the name and basic pattern, yet there was always sufficient difference in embossing, embroidery, and needlework so that in appearance the line of demarcation between man & women should be readily detected.

Since the author is quoting Old Testament ceremonial law, he still has a long way to go before he proves that such a commandment applies to New Testament believers. But we’ll save that question for now. Furthermore, there is a good argument from the original language that the verse actually is referring to a woman putting on the armor of a warrior as a part of pagan worship, but that argument isn’t necessary, so I won’t delve into it – I’ll link to another relevant article at the bottom.  Let’s just ask, would Old Testament law permit women to wear pants?

What does the Bible say about how Old Testament women had to dress? Nothing. That’s right, there are no Old Testament laws that specify what the differences between men’s and women’s clothing must exist. There are some allusions in the prophets that suggest women’s robe may have been a bit longer than men’s (which were typically mid-calf), but other than that suggestion, the Bible says nothing. Note that I’m not saying there were no differences, I’m just say that the God didn’t ordain any specific differences – he just said for women not to try to look like men, and the details were left to them to work out.

This “same type of garment” approach meshes with the clothes designed by God himself for the fallen Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:21 tells us that God made the same type of garment for Adam and Eve. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Whether there were subtle differences in the garments, the Bible doesn’t say, but we do know that the “coat” type of garment worked for both Adam and Eve.

So what about the article of clothing below? As the author says, this carries the name and basic pattern as men’s pants, but it is “sufficiently different in embroidery such that a demarcation can be readily detected.” If Old Testament men wore jeans, then Old Testament women would have certainly been allowed to wear these pants. So would the author allow women to wear pants in this style? He should. But he won’t. Let’s see how he justifies the claim that the New Testament gender distinctions are actually more strict than the Old Testament ones.

Womens Pants

Are Pants Eternally Masculine?

What makes you think that pants are a man’s garment?

1) “Breeches” were an article of clothing designed by God for the priests who were all men. The word does not occur very often in scripture, but in every case it’s men’s apparel (Exodus 28:42, Leviticus 6:10, 16:4). According to the Hebrew lexicon, “breeches” means “trousers that extend to the knee, below the knee, or to the ankles.” This would include pants or culottes.

 It seems a little disingenuous for the author to give you a “Hebrew Lexicon” definition of breeches which makes them sound like pants when the Bible describes them in a way that is far less favorable to the author’s case. Let’s look at the definition that the Bible gives of “breeches” in Exodus 28:42.  “And 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…”  The Hebrew word “miknac” is a derivation of a word for hiding (as in, to hide the private parts) because these were not “trousers,” they were underwear. The Bible makes it clear that they were worn under robes, by priests, for the purpose of hiding “nakedness.” They went from the waist to the thighs (they did not necessarily cover the thigh completely), which makes them equivalent in length and usage to modern boxer shorts. The particular need that priests had for them may have been related to the steep steps that they would sometimes climb in the performance of their duties.

Additionally, the Bible puts no restrictions on who else could wear such attire. In fact, other than a few pieces like the ephod, all of the priestly garments were of the same basic style worn by all men and women at the time. There is no reason to believe that the wearing of miknac was banned to men or women any more than it was banned to wear the robes, sashes, coats, and belts all described in Exodus 28 as the garments of priests. Yes, they probably couldn’t have worn the exact colors and styles as the priests, but the basic garments were all the same. There are other garments which only men are recorded wearing in Scripture, such as the “girdle” or belt – and it is mentioned far more times than breeches (38). If the author’s logic is true, he should be quick to decry women’s wearing of belts of any kind – the biblical case is much stronger. Proving that mosaic priests wore boxers is a pretty far stretch from proving that pants are a universally and irrevocably masculine garment.

2) Until Hollywood came along, everyone in our modern western culture (including lost people) knew that pants were men’s apparel and dresses were women’s apparel, and they dressed accordingly. Our culture’s acceptance of cross-dressing has resulted largely from the influence of television, the placement of women in the workforce, and the pressures of twentieth century feminism.

 The author’s basic point is “everybody knows (or did know) that pants are an exclusively and irrevocably masculine garment, therefore it is true.” Do we apply that logic to any of our other beliefs? No. Because it is the bandwagon fallacy. Even if that was the case, it is no longer the case. I suspect that less than 1% of the western world would agree to the statement “pants are an exclusively male garment.” How long dead does the older generation have to be before we can acknowledge that the culture has changed the norm? Is 99.5% inadequate to call it a cultural shift?

John Wesley, the modern source of Holiness ideas of sanctification, had this to say: “As to matters of dress, I would recommend one never to be first in the fashion nor the last out of it.”

The author’s second claim is that the influences which changed the norm were bad and thus the change in culture should be resisted. I will address this claim momentarily, because he brings it up later.

 3) The universal symbol for designating a men’s bathroom is a stick figure wearing a pair of pants. The universal symbol for designating a woman’s bathroom is a stick figure wearing a dress. Even our sinful society recognizes that there is a difference in a man’s and woman’s clothing. 

First off, let me take issue with the author’s use of the word “universal.” The fact is that the modern bathroom symbols did not originate until the 1960’s, and they came from an Anglo-American background. Prior to their widespread acceptance, countries around the world all had their own takes on differentiating gender on bathroom signs, many of which were not based on clothing differences. American inventions from the 60’s do not constitute an ancient tradition – that’s just revisionist history.

Regardless, this argument is essentially a restatement of the bandwagon fallacy. The author is once again saying “everyone agrees with me that pants can’t be worn by women.” This is not an argument at all, but rather an emotional appeal. Ask yourself this, would a bathroom sign designed for ancient God-fearing Jews (if such a thing had existed) show a difference between the silhouette of a man and a woman? No. They would both be wearing a robe with an identical silhouette. Choosing the right bathroom would be very confusing. If the standard God set under Mosaic law wouldn’t have met this rather silly “bathroom sign test,” then what evidence does the author present that the “bathroom sign test” is a brand-new law introduced in the New Testament? None.

But then, if we’re resorting to silly arguments, are you so sure it was a dress? Maybe it was a cape this whole time.

IWNAD graphic HiRes

4) Pants are a symbol of authority, as evidenced by the saying ” I’m the one who wears the pants in the family.” Sadly, most women might as well wear the pants, since they rule their homes anyway!

This saying is the third consecutive appeal to the bandwagon fallacy which the author makes. Let me explain how. Pants are simply not a broadly used symbol of general authority. If you look at a country’s national seal, you may see an eagle, bear, lion, axe, mace, stars, a gavel, or many other things. You will never see a pair of pants displayed as a symbol of authority.

That said, I don’t dispute that there was a time when women did not wear pants. This saying originated in that culture and existed to describe a woman the functioning in a man’s role. The association was never between pants and authority generally, but between pants and men in particular. Does that mean that just because some people in the 19th century observed an association between pants and men, that such an association was firmly grounded in the Word of God and unchangeable? No. That association did exist, but does no longer. It could have been phrased in many other ways even at that time such as “I’m the ones who wears the work boots in the family” or “she’s the one who wears the apron.” Such a phrasing would not have then precluded women 100 years later from wearing work boots nor men from wearing an apron. This saying essentially proves that people agreed with the author 100 years ago, even if they don’t today. I suppose we should call that the dead bandwagon fallacy  – “I’m right because all of the dead people agree with me.”

However, slang phrases like this one are a very ineffective appeal when searching for universal truth, because they are some of the shortest-lived pieces of culture. There are dozens of idioms your parents used which you do not, and many more that we use with no thought to the origin of phrase. We “dial” a phone number even though phones no longer have rotary dials and we “hang up” even though phones no longer have hooks on which to hang them. Phrases like “high on the hog” referred to a time when wealth meant you could afford to eat cuts of meat from the better parts of a pig. We have completely forgotten where this phrase comes from, but we still use it comfortably.

 

The Origin of Women’s Pants

Cross dressing is one of the devil’s clever moves to advance the “women’s liberation movement” and to obscure the Biblical distinction between man and woman. “Unisex clothing” began to show up in the factories during WWII when women first started wearing slacks. At the same time: short hair, cigarettes, swearing became acceptable feminine behavior. Down that same path has come to Abortion, Divorce, Single Parent homes, extreme feminism.

Now the author restates his previous argument that the cultural forces which led women to wear pants were universally bad and, thus, the change in culture should be resisted. This is more interesting argument than his previous ones, so let’s break it down.

Let’s first start with how men began to wear pants and then look at the earliest use among women. During the time the Bible was written and for thousands of years before, men and women both wore robes, which were essentially dresses. The skirt that we would recognize originated in pagan Egypt as a uni-sex garment. Women wore pants as early as the first millennium before Christ in ancient China and they continued to be worn in the East by various Eastern cultures across the centuries. This fact is not irrelevant to the adoption of women’s pants in the West, because many of the earliest designs appealed to Eastern styles.

 

Egyptian kilt

 

Amazon trousers BM VaseB673

 

Men adapted the use of pants slowly over the middle ages. Sometimes this progression looked more like what we would recognize as pants and other times they were undergarments or stockings. In general, this progression reflected the reality that pants are a very practical and appropriate garment. Although they originated with the upper class, sailors soon adapted and spread them as a practical garment for working in the rigging of a ship. Pants allow mobility, are well adapted to horseback riding, and keep you warm more effectively. They were worn almost universally by Western men by the 1700’s. This basic premise, that men adopted pants because they were practical, is accepted without much question. No preachers spend their sermon time researching the origin of men’s pants to find out if there were nefarious roots, or if we should go back to the clothing that the early Christians wore (which would certainly help us distinguish ourselves from the world).

Allow me to introduce an equally sound premise in regards to women’s adoption of pants. Women adopted pants because they were practical. Some of the earliest modern users of pants were the pit brow lasses of the British coal fields. Pants were infinitely more practical than long skirts for their backbreaking labor of separating coal from rocks. They were wearing pants in the 1850’s, along with other practical articles of clothing, such as a head covering to keep coal dust out of their hair.

Pit Brow Lasses

The advent of the bicycle also led to women realizing that voluminous Victorian dresses were ill-suited to their new mode of transportation. There were even reports of women dying due to instances where they couldn’t see their pedals and lost control of their bikes. Many women at the turn of the 20th century adopted clothing that encased each leg separately and was much safer for riding (aka pants).

Bicycle pants

Factory work also played a significant role in adoption of pants, but that trend actually started in the first World War, not the second. Below you see women in an ammunition factory from the First World War wearing early pants. Pants were much safer for working with heavy equipment full of spinning cogs and gears.

WW1

Much more could be said about why women adopted pants – and men for that matter. But there is ample evidence that most regular women started wearing pants for deeply practical reasons, not reasons rooted in rebellion or a rejection of what the Bible says about gender.

 

Aren’t Pants Rebellious?

But what about the observation that the rise of women wearing pants was associated with other sins?

Various evils can coexist without being the cause of each other. During the same “golden age” in which all women wore dresses without question, there was that little problem where millions of black Africans were being kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic as slaves under conditions in which half of them routinely died, often drowning in their own vomit. I wouldn’t actually blame dresses for that evil; that would be irrational – but no more irrational than blaming women’s pants for the rise of popularity in cigarettes. The author’s reasoning is known as the “post hoc” logical fallacy. When the rooster crows and then the sun comes up, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the rooster’s crowing is the cause of the sun’s rising.

Furthermore, at the same time women started wearing pants (and manning the Western factories), the United States defeated the greatest fascist forces in history, started granting rights to second-class citizen minorities, and gave women legal rights and education that were unparalleled in human history. Women in the workforce caused medical and economic advances that helped lengthen our lives and increase the effectiveness of church ministry, wars diminished in frequency and intensity, billions were lifted out of poverty, the gospel reached millions of new people. The 1900’s were by no means an era of unrestrained darkness – good things happened, and bad things happened. To associate pants with the bad but not the good is not particularly honest.

The whole purpose of the adoption of pants by women was inextricably tied to their service in the formal labor force. Women have been working alongside their brothers and husbands in the fields, on the frontiers, and in the family business for all of recorded history. Their adoption of pants to work in the factories is just an extension of the way things have always been. Most Holiness preachers take no issue with women in the modern workforce, so why do they take issue with the clothes that got them there?

Furthermore, the practicality of pants has not diminished since their original introduction. Modest skirts and dresses restrain women from participation in many wholesome activities that men routinely participate in. I remember that my younger sister wanted to be an astronaut when she was young. While the dreams of a child may be far-fetched, it seemed even more far-fetched to tell her that being an astronaut was somehow a special sin for her because she couldn’t wear a skirt in space. Rock climbing, rappelling, parachuting, and many other sports require the wear of a safety harness that can only be worn in pants. Childhood activities like jumping on a trampoline, cart-wheeling, tree-climbing, or sitting cross-legged on the floor are nearly impossible without exposing underwear in a skirt or dress. Factory work, bicycle riding, horseback riding, skiing, and exercise of almost every kind are made much easier by the wear of pants. There is an epidemic of obesity is killing Americans, so limiting your wife’s options for exercise to activities performable in a jean skirt may be taking ten years off of her life.

But what about accusations against some of the particular women who wear the first in modern times to wear pants? What of it? Do you stop to research the moral character of the first person to wear a jacket or the inventor of the wrist watch before you put it on? Do you research the founder of every name brand before you buy an article of clothing in that line? If you do it for clothes, why not every product you buy? The fact is that there are sinners in the history of our world who invented things we eat, wear, or use in everyday life. Nothing in the Bible says that we must cleanse ourselves of any association with sinners, because, in the words of Paul, to do so we would have to go out of this world (if you are going to quote that we should abstain from the appearance of evil, you need to read more about that passage). The nature of fashion is such that people who come up with brand new fashions are often a bit abnormal. Take for instance the suit.

The inventor of the modern suit and popularizer of tooth-brushing, shaving, and regular bathing was a man named Beau Brummell. A self-obsessed playboy, he would spend hours in the morning attending to his appearance and then spend his afternoons and evenings gambling in high society. He eventually fled his country due to unpaid debts, ended up in debtor’s prison, and was released only to die from syphilis. How come nobody ever preaches against suits on this ground? I have made a separate biblical case that the origins of a practice do not preclude our participation, however, if you take issue with women’s pants based on the earliest originators, at least apply your own standard fairly and stop wearing suits (you should probably stop tooth-brushing too).

 

The New Testament Case Against Pants

Arguments against this doctrine

Some people argue that the principle of unique apparel between the man and woman as established in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:5) is not confirmed in the New Testament, thus is not applicable to us today under grace. But if we look at the reference book Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (printed over one hundred years before women wore pants) we see that it cross references Deuteronomy 22:5 to 1 Corinthians 11:3-14. That proves that men that studied the Bible hundreds of years before women wore pants, understood that 1 Corinthians 11 contains the same principle that is stated in Deuteronomy 22:5.

People may also argue that the principle of avoiding mixing certain materials in a garment as shown in Deuteronomy 22:11 should also apply today if verse 22:5 applies. The key to determining if an Old Testament law applies to us today under grace is whether the principle  is repeated in the New Testament or not. In this case the principle of maintaining uniqueness in appearance between a man and woman is well established in the New Testament but that of avoiding mixing certain materials in a garment is not.

Now we get to the author’s New Testament justification. This is critical, because proving that there is a mosaic law forbidding something is a far cry from proving that it applies to believers freed from the law of Moses. I have written about this extensively here. However, I will address the argument in brief.

God has not changed, his character has not changed, and the things he cares about have not changed. However, God’s rules for his people absolutely change to accomplish God’s purposes. Animal sacrifice was once absolutely essential, now it is completely forbidden. The principle of needing to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins was the same throughout both covenants, but the expression of the principle changed. Simply proving that a principle exists in the New Testament does not prove that the expression of the principle now is the same as it was under Moses.

The New Testament expresses the principles of an unchanging God in rules which are sometimes new and sometimes a repetition of the Old Testament. However, the rules in the New Testament stand on their own. Sometimes they are inclusive of Old Testament rules and sometimes they are not. For instance, when Jesus says not to lust after a woman, this includes adultery, because it is not possible to commit adultery without lust. And to make things even clearer, adultery is also explicitly banned in the New Testament as well. However, there are other times where a principle is repeated, but the old covenant rule is no longer applicable. We should expect most of the principles to be repeated, because God hasn’t changed. But the expressions of the principles have changed – that’s the whole point. A few examples should be sufficient to illustrate this.

The Old Testament says that rebellious children should be stoned (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The New Testament makes it clear that the principle of children obeying their parents still applies under grace (Ephesians 6:1). Does that mean we apply the Old Covenant disciplinary approach of execution for disobedience? No. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

The Old Testament forbade the Israelites from making any statues or graven images of any kind (Exodus 20:4). The New Testament makes it very clear that idolatry is still immoral (1 Corinthians 10:14). Does this mean that we apply the Old Covenant tactics of Gideon and destroy the Lincoln Memorial statue under cover of dark? No. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

The Old Testament forbids the charging of interest to someone from your own nation (Leviticus 25:36). The New Testament repeats the principle of not taking advantage of people in need (Ephesians 4:28). Does this mean that we can’t do business with banks that charge interest? No. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

The Old Testament forbids women wearing the same clothes as men (with loose guidelines). The New Testament repeats the principle that men and women should have some outward differentiation (as regards their hair). Does that mean we apply the Old Testament law in regards to their clothing? I’m afraid not. The principle hasn’t changed, the rule to apply it has.

So where do we find how we should express the principle now? The New Testament. What it says, we must do. What it does not say, is left to a matter of conscience (where do we draw the lines).  If we apply the author’s logic uniformly, we would resurrect much of the previously fulfilled Old Testament laws and we would have to start stoning our rebellious children, destroying all statues under cover of dark, and boycotting the financial industry.

But in reality, there are several New Testament verses that confirm that uniqueness must be maintained between sexes. These range from the differences in hair length to the feminine or masculine actions of each. In 1Cor 6:9 we find that effeminate men are not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. How is it that a woman can be accepted when wearing men’s clothing (pants) but if a man wears a dress that they are automatically (and correctly I may add) assumed to be homosexuals? Shouldn’t the question presented in 1Cor 11:14  “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” also make us ask “Does not even nature itself teach you” that for a woman to wear man’s clothing is a shame? As already confirmed by the example of a man wearing a dress, nature does teach us different.

The author now reiterates his New Testament references, so let’s see if they contain any rules in themselves which would make us believe that women can’t wear pants. First, we can address 1 Corinthians 6:9 and say that that verse in the original language is actually talking about homosexual practice, as Natalie explained in depth here: (Separation from the world). Even if it’s not, it addresses men, and tells them in general that they shouldn’t act like women, but leaves the rules entirely up to conscience, not to their pastor.

The only other New Testament reference he has is entirely about hair and probably head coverings too (though, that is another topic). How do we get from hair, to saying that men and women’s clothing has to be more differentiated than it was in the Old Testament? I don’t know. By trying to link this passage to Deuteronomy, the author admits that the rule he’s striving to implement isn’t in the passage at all. On this, I agree with him, and so he leaves me no Scripture to address.

Another argument he raises in addition to the Scripture is “doesn’t nature itself teach us that a woman wearing pants is bad?” In order to make an appeal to “common sense” or “nature,” there has to be some widespread agreement on the issue. In fact, I can make this argument more strongly than he can, because 99% of the Western culture would agree with me when I ask “isn’t it common sense that a woman in pants can be feminine?” “Everyone knows” isn’t a logical proof under the best circumstances, but when you say that, and in fact everyone disagrees with you, it is a very thin argument indeed.

 

Is There a Double Standard?

A more valid argument in this paragraph refers to the perceived “double standard” of men not being allowed to wear dresses, but women being allowed to wear pants. I think this is one of the most compelling arguments the author makes, so I applaud him for coming up with it. Here’s why I submit there is no double standard. The standard is, men and women should embrace their God-given gender and strive to live up to the universal standards as well as the gender specific standards that God set for them in Scripture. I could make a biblical case for that in the New Testament, but as I suspect we are agreed, I won’t spend the time doing that.

If “embracing your gender specific roles” is the standard, how do we evaluate a man who we see in a dress? Well, if he’s Moroccan, he’s probably wearing a jellaba and he’s embracing his gender role. If he’s Indian, he’s probably wearing a dhoti and embracing his gender role. If he’s Scottish, he’s probably wearing a kilt and embracing his gender role. If he’s American, he may be wearing any of the above garments and embracing his gender role, or he may be wearing some sort of apron or lab coat that is relevant to his occupation and embracing his gender role. But if he puts on a cute, floral dress, the author is right that he is almost surely rejecting his gender role. He could also reject his gender role by putting on a cute, floral pair of women’s pants. A woman meanwhile can embrace her femininity in a pair of pants or she can reject it. She can also reject her gender role while wearing a dress or while wearing a type of “dress” designed for men. The standard is clear and even. Are you embracing your gender role that God gave you in your heart? If so, your dress will reflect your heart, but exactly what that looks like cannot be simply prescribed by a third party. And, oh, by the way, tasteful jewelry is one way women can embrace their femininity, as the Bible clearly prescribes.

And let’s be real, if you run your errands today, you will see women in pants as bank tellers, fast food workers, home-schooling mothers, and insurance agents. You don’t really go home and say “you wouldn’t believe it, but I counted 42 lesbians today!” Because you acknowledge that woman can embrace their gender roles while wearing pants.

Furthermore, the author has opened himself up to a double standard charge as well. If God’s Word is so set against men and women wearing “the same” clothing, here are some things that would fall into that category. Almost all of these things were first worn by men: T-shirts (originally invented for men’s military use), boots, tennis shoes, baseball style hats, belts, socks, sweaters, stockings, and hoodies. How come he thinks a “woman’s pair of pants” is absurd, but a woman’s belt, boots, t-shirt, scarf, hoodie, stockings, or socks are completely ok?

No doubt the acceptation of tearing down the clothing differences between the sexes was initiated by Satan to open the door to the homosexual spirits by weakening the conscience of our modern society. The rebellious nature that allows a woman professing to be a Christian to wear pants can also cause them to be lured deeper toward a lesbian desire. Peter stated that “after this manner in the old time the holy women adorned themselves being in subjection unto their own husbands”. Does dressing in equal attire to the husband display that they are under subjection to the man or even to God? The question is how important is it to you to get to heaven? Is rebellion for such a small indulgence of wearing clothing that the Bible prohibits, worth going to Hell?

1 Peter 3:3  Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;  3:4  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.  3:5  For after this manner in the old time the holy women alsowho trusted in Godadorned themselvesbeing in subjection unto their own husbands:

At this point, the author offers the unsubstantiated conjecture that homosexuality came from women’s pants. The only link he attempts to draw to prove this audacious claim is that wearing pants is “rebellion.” My answer to which is – rebellion is bad, don’t be in rebellion against legitimate authority. He does not successfully link pants to rebellion, either historically or in the modern age.

He references the matriarchs of the Jewish faith as evidence that holy women dress in a holy way. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and as I exposited at length, these women wore the same basic garments as their husbands, with only minor differences, and that under the Old Covenant. If they could do that in times past, then their example should be adequate to show that the most conservative women today can wear pants that are styled or embroidered differently from their husbands, and women who don’t think that Old Testament law applies to us should worry more about their hearts and actions than whether there is a rose embroidered on their pants.

 

Abominations and Modesty

I would like to address at least two other arguments against pants which the author didn’t bring up. The first is the issue of abominations being unchangeable. This is a fundamentally arbitrary standard which has no inherent biblical basis other than “the Lord doesn’t change” which doesn’t differentiate how “abominations” are different than any other of the hundreds of other Old Testament rules which our unchanging God definitely changed. I address this in much more depth here for those who are interested. Even if you think that this verse in Deuteronomy still applies, there are still a tremendous number of clothes which women and men could wear which would meet the Old Testament standard. Deciding that pants aren’t distinct enough, but t-shirts are, still makes no sense.

The second is that women’s pants are inherently immodest. A few issues with that. First off, if you a do a Google image search for the word “skirt” you will find that less than 1 in 10 skirts shown would be considered appropriate in a Holiness church. So skirts aren’t inherently modest, but if you shop hard enough, you can find modest ones. Pants are no different. What defines modesty precisely is another discussion, but is certainly related to my discussion on where we draw the lines. But ask yourself this, do men have to be modest too? I think yes. Can men be modest in pants? Yes. Therefore women can be modest in pants, even if they have to look a little harder to find them.

 

Conclusion

I do not see that the author of the Holiness Handbook has fulfilled his burden of proof in restricting our Christian sisters to the wearing of the garments that he has authorized (which do overlap with men’s clothing such as t-shirts and boots, but don’t include pants). In regards to the two things he had to prove, I do not think that there is sufficient New Testament evidence to show that gender distinction is biblically required in clothing. Even if you think he has proven this point adequately, he certainly did not show that women’s pants fail to meet that standard described in Scripture. At least some women’s pants meet the Old Covenant standard for clothing and they must certainly then meet the New Covenant standard.

The author closes with the bold proclamation that those of us who disagree with his assessment of this completely non-essential issue risk going to Hell. To which I respond with Titus 3:9 “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” This whole topic is fundamentally a striving about Old Testament law, or perhaps about a completely unstated hidden rule in the New Testament. That makes the whole topic unprofitable at best, and simply a matter of pride, vanity and control of others at worst.

 

Executive Summary

Allow me to summarize all of the relevant arguments for women’s liberty to wear pants:

1) The passage in Deuteronomy may actually be referring to women wearing armor.

2) The OT law would have permitted women to wear pants if that was the custom of men at the time – men and women wore slightly different garments, not fundamentally different ones.

3) The New Testament references that men and women are different and that they must embrace their respective roles, but says nothing about a particular distinction being required in their clothing.

4) There is no effective link that can resurrect the verse in Deuteronomy without also resurrecting dozens of other Old Testament laws which address principles repeated in the New Testament (such as stoning your children).

5) The origin of pants for men was a matter of practicality, not rebellion. The origin of pants for women was fundamentally a matter of practicality, not rebellion.

6) Rebellion from some individuals that wore women’s pants does not taint pants any more than it taints any other clothing we wear (such as the “pagan” skirt and the prodigal suit inventor).

7) If pants are inappropriate for women for reasons related to their original, biblical, or current use by men, this would rule out socks, stockings, hose, t-shirts, boots, hoodies, belts, skirts, button down shirts, many styles of hats, and much more.

8) If some pants are modest enough for men, then there are some modest enough for women.

9) Restricting women from wearing pants precludes them from participation in many wholesome activities and from many forms of exercise which would help live longer, healthier lives.

Nathan Mayo

 

Want to see someone take me on? Check out this full length rebuttal submitted by a reader.

Want more arguments in favor of women’s liberty to wear pants? Check out my answer to his rebuttal.

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References:

Note that this article makes a lot of references to the history of fashion. I prefer to cite firsthand accounts, and I have done so in part by providing pictures from the times referenced. I didn’t think it was worth the time to write a truly authoritative study on the history of various articles of clothing, but I have seen enough sources to be confident that the facts I cited are true. Feel free to cross check other sources.

In depth commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1010-99192013000100001

John Wesley quote on Christians and fashion: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Wesley

History of bathroom signs: https://infographicplaza.com/the-history-of-bathroom-signs/

An overview of the history of the skirt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skirt

An overview of the history of pants: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trousers

Women’s cycling attire: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/04/how-cycling-clothing-opened-doors-for-women/558017/

Inventor of the suit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beau_Brummell