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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