What does Modesty mean in I Timothy 2:9?

Standing girl in checked dress. Isolated with clipping path

I Timothy 2:9 is probably the most popular passage in all of Scripture that is taught by Christian teachers and preachers regarding how God want’s Christian women to dress.

“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array”

I Timothy 2:9 (KJV)

What is the context of I Timothy 2:9?

Some people interpret I Timothy 2:9 as applying to Christian women at all times, as opposed to being specifically targeted at how women should dress for worship and instruction in the Church Assembly. This a faulty interpretation.

One of the first rules of proper Biblical Hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture) is to take verses within the larger context of which they are written.

I Timothy, was a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a young church planter who was working under him. In the beginning of I Timothy Paul writes to Timothy:

“2 Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine…”

I Timothy 1:2-3(KJV)

In the first chapter, Paul is encouraging to take on false teachers in the churches at Ephesus. In Chapter 2 of I Timothy, in verse 8 Paul moves to instructions for proper etiquette in worship and instruction in the Church assembly:

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. “

I Timothy 2:8-12(KJV)

Verse 8 is a clear jump into worship with men being told “to pray, lifting up holy hands”.

Paul’s ending of I Timothy, after giving the qualifications for Bishops and deacons, clearly gives the purpose for this entire first epistle to Timothy:

“14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:

15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

I Timothy 3:14-15(KJV)

But what about the phrase “every where” in verse 8?

Some in order to apply all parts of I Timothy to all parts of Christian life(not just Church assembly etiquette), have attempted to use the Paul’s phrase of “ever where” to mean this equally applies inside and outside the Church assembly meetings. This is an incorrect interpretation, as this phrase is means for Church assemblies “every where”. Paul makes it clear at the end of his Epistle that this entire letter is aimed at proper etiquette in the Church, taking on false teachers, and the qualifications of Bishops and Deacons.

Four key words in I Timothy 2:9

Now that we understand the context I Timothy, as apply to Church assembly etiquette, we will look at four key words that are found in this passage.

Modest – This is an English translation of the Greek word Kosmios, which means “seemly” or “appropriate”. In modern English, most people think of a woman dressing modest as, a woman dressing in a non-sexual manner. But this was not the meaning of the original word used by the Apostle Paul. Can sexually revealing clothing be “unseemly” or “inappropriate” on a woman in certain situations? But it is not specific to sexually revealing clothing.

With the word Kosmios, Paul is telling women to wear clothing that is appropriate for the given situation.


Apparel – This is an English translation of the Greek word Katastole, which comes from two Greek words, Kata and Stole. This literally refers to a “complete stola”. A stola in New Testament times was a one piece robe with holes for the head and arms. A variety of stolas women might of worn are pictured above. Often times a strap would be worn around the middle below the breasts to give the stola some form around the body. Sometimes a stola had sleeves, other times it was sleeveless.

When peasant women were working they might wear tunics (like men did), similar to this:


The differences would have been in the coloring or extra straps worn by women.

When playing sports some Roman women actually wore bikinis as seen in this ancient Roman painting:



Paul had just told women to wear appropriate clothing for worship and instruction with the Greek word Kosmios. Nowwith the word Katastole, he was telling women what the proper attire for Church worship and instruction was. They were to be fully clothed, as opposed to wearing tunics they may work in, or bikinis they might have played sports in.

Those Christians who still believe it is wrong for women to wear pants (and yes they are still out there and I grew up in Churches that taught this) take the Greek word stole, which refers to the Roman Stola’s that women war, and they go its most literal meaning – which means “long and flowing”. But this is not Paul’s intention in using this word. It was simply referring to what women in that day would understand as the dress that women generally wore when they went out to meetings and gatherings, or special occasions.

Paul is not saying that Christians must be frozen in time with fashion, and literally saying Christian women must wear ancient Roman stolas. If we take it that literally, then men can’t wear pants either, because men back in Paul’s day wore tunics and togas.

All Paul is saying is, it is appropriate and proper for a woman to be fully clothed and covered for Church gatherings.

Shamefacedness – this is an English translation of the Greek word Aidos, which means to show honor, respect or reverence to others. With Aidos, Paul was saying the attitude of a woman’s dress in the Church services was to be one of reverence for God, and respect for others.

Sobriety – this is an English translation of the Greek word Sophrosune, which means self-control. With Sophrosune, Paul was saying woman needed to dress for Church services in a way that showed self-control.

Is Paul forbidding women to have “broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array”?

Paul is not saying it is wrong for Christian woman to have nice hair, jewelry or dresses. What he is saying is, the Church assembly should not turn into a fashion show. Unfortunately in many of our modern Churches today – that is just the case. Paul is not saying women cannot wear nice Sunday dresses, he is just saying women should not go overboard or be trying to compete with one another in what they wear for worship.

So if we take I Timothy 2:9 in its full context, understanding the key phrases in it, this is what Paul was trying to tell us:

“I want men in all church assemblies everywhere to lift up holy hands, and do not be angry and doubt. In these same church assemblies, I want women to wear clothing that is appropriate for Church worship and instruction. Women should be fully clothed, in clothing that shows respect and self-control when they come for worship and instruction. I don’t want you to turn the church assembly into a fashion show with broided hair, fancy jewelry and costly clothing. I am writing all this to you so you will know how to behave when the church is assembled for worship and instruction.”

There is one other place where the Apostle Peter mentions “braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses”:

“In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

I Peter 3:1-4(NASB)

Here Peter makes a similar statement about women’s adornment. The word here translated as “dresses” in the NASB (and “apparel” in the KJV) comes from the Greek word Himation.  Himation simply refers to garments in general. It is a term that could apply to women or men’s garments depending on the context.

The context of I Peter 3:1-4 is not behavior specific to the Church assembly (as I Timothy is) but this is just talking about the general behavior of women as they go about their daily lives. This is not telling women that you cannot have your hair done, or wear jewelry or put on dresses. Even though the word “merely” is not in the original Greek, the NASB correctly adds this for emphasis as to what Peter is saying.

It is interesting to note there is no mention here of “Katastole,” referring to the more full and formal dress that Paul spoke of for women to wear in the Church assembly in I Timothy 2:9. Instead Peter refers simply to garments here.

Peter is saying a woman’s inner beauty is just as important as her outer beauty. Some Christians historically have incorrectly interpreted this passage as well as I Timothy 2 to say Christian women cannot wear makeup, or wear nice clothes. This is not Peter’s meaning, he simply wants to drive home the point, that you can look pretty on the outside as a woman with your outer adornments, but your inside person may still be ugly. God wants both the inside and outside of a woman to be beautiful.

Conclusion on Biblical modesty

While Paul’s Katastole requirement (women to be fully clothed) is confined to the Church assembly, that does not mean that the principle of modesty cannot apply elsewhere, when we understand that modesty means Christian women ought to wear clothing that is appropriate to the occasion.

What a woman wears to church may be very different than what she wears to Church. What a woman wears to beach may be very different than what she wears to work. What a woman wears for a date with her husband, may not be what she would wear for Church on Sunday.

In the end, whatever, we do as men or women, or whatever we wear should all be done in manner that would bring glory to God, and not bring shame to him in the eyes of the world:

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

I Corinthians 10:31(KJV)


11 thoughts on “What does Modesty mean in I Timothy 2:9?

  1. Pingback: 7 Biblical Principles for how to dress as a Christian woman | Biblical Gender Roles

  2. Well I guess my parents have to read this
    They are one of those christians who say girls are not allowed to wear pants (and earrings) even a dress with legging isnt allowed (because they say a legging is the same as pants!?)

    But I’m kinda sure they won’t believe what tou wrote here and they wouldnt let me read this stuff

  3. Genuine question: What are your thoughts on bikinis in general? Before I was saved I used to wear bikinis to the pool/beach etc with both male and female friends, but now I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so as I would feel too naked, and that such a large amount of visible skin should be for my husband. The beach/pool = swimsuit though, in my opinion. What would you advise? May I ask what your wife wears? I haven’t been swimming since I had my daughter. My husband and I feel that a bikini or one-piece would be acceptable within our family (or I would even feel ok with my own sisters/mother) but not on a public beach with men around. What are your thoughts? I’ve just discovered your blog and it is so, SO helpful.
    God Bless

  4. Blackie,

    Your Statement:

    “Genuine question: What are your thoughts on bikinis in general? Before I was saved I used to wear bikinis to the pool/beach etc with both male and female friends, but now I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so as I would feel too naked, and that such a large amount of visible skin should be for my husband. The beach/pool = swimsuit though, in my opinion. What would you advise? May I ask what your wife wears? I haven’t been swimming since I had my daughter. My husband and I feel that a bikini or one-piece would be acceptable within our family (or I would even feel ok with my own sisters/mother) but not on a public beach with men around. What are your thoughts? I’ve just discovered your blog and it is so, SO helpful.”

    Sexual relations with you are reserved for your husband and him alone. The scriptures make it clear the only sexual relations God honors are those between a man and woman in the covenant of marriage.

    “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
    Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)

    Before I give my advice on the bikini – first know that your husband is your spiritual authority. I am simply giving advice that he can consider. If he feels you should only wear a bikini with just him or just your family you need to follow his guidance in this matter.

    Having said that here is my advice on bikinis. While no man may have sexual relations with you(of any kind) nothing in the Scriptures says that your husband is required to hide your body from other men either because it belongs to him or for fear of causing other men to lust. You won’t find that concept that is so often taught today in churches and other venues anywhere in the Scriptures.

    If you or your husband are uncomfortable with you wearing a bikini around other men(that are not close family) you have to ask yourselves why you feel that way. Is it because you are afraid that other men might have sexual thoughts about you? If it is, you have to ask why that bothers you. The scriptures do not forbid men from enjoying the beauty of women that are not their wife – it is not found anywhere despite the massive misuse of Matthew 5:28 and Job 31:1 to try and teach that it does. These passages are talking about lust which is covetousness or the desire to seduce a woman into having sex outside of marriage. It does not mean men cannot enjoy the beauty of women they are not married to or even be aroused by such beauty.

    The fact is men are creatures of variety and polygamous by design as I discuss often on this site.

    I have given this example before about my father. My mother who is a very conservative Christian(and does not agree with all my views such as those on porn) knows very well that my father is aroused by other women. There are times when he watches certain TV shows or perhaps they went shopping together and there was an attractive woman on the show or at the store and then he wants to have sex. She will tease him that she knows it was no her who got his engine running but she is fine with that. She accept his nature as a man in this way.

    So in my view if your husband was ok with it – it is perfectly fine for you to wear a bikini at the beach or some place where that is appropriate to the occasion as long as you are not flirting with other men if they happen to glance and enjoy the view why would you condemn such activity.

    Let me put this another way. If your husband purchased a beautiful painting and he covered it up on his wall and only took the cover off when no one was around would you no think that is strange? But on the other hand if a man has a beautiful work of art he wants to enjoy that beauty at all times and he is proud of this work of art he has purchased. Do you know the Bible calls a woman’s body a work of art?

    “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, The work of the hands of an artist.”
    Song of Solomon 7:1 (KJV)

    Yes if a man owns purchases a piece of art he does not want any other person touching it – but why would he be jealous of others enjoying the beauty of that which is his?

    I absolutely believe men ought to be jealous of their wives in the sense of their wives not being alone with, or speaking inappropriately with other men. But I do not think men need to be jealous of other men enjoying the beauty of their wives as long as they don’t get weird and start gawking and making the woman or others around feel uncomfortable.

    But then we have another issue when it comes to biknis – if you don’t got it don’t flaunt it. Especially if a woman is really overweight or older and has a lot of loose skin it might not always be flattering to her. I think husbands need to make this decision with their wives.

    My wife is a bit overweight and unlike her sister who is not would never feel comfortable in a bikini and I agree it is not right for her body type.

    If my teenage daughter wanted to wear a bikini I would not oppose it. Up till now she has not been brave enough to do it because she has a little bit of a belly and she is paranoid about it.

  5. Love your point of view on this!

    The one thing I have a question about is would it be OK to go to a nude beach? I have NO desire to ever go to one but do you think it would be appropriate for a Christian woman or man to go to one.


  6. Emma,

    Well when we understand that modesty from a Biblical perspective is not speaking of “non-sexual” attire specifically, but rather wearing what is “appropriate” to the occasion then yes I believe absolutely it would be fine for a Christian man or woman to go to a nude beach and be nude. This is by definition an appropriate occasion for nudity when bathing either to clean ones self or even when swimming as long it is understood by the people there. Obviously it would inappropriate to take off your swim suit at a beach that was not a nude beach.

    As to causing men to lust – I have covered that many times throughout my articles. There is no such principle taught in the Scriptures that women must dress in a way that hides their beauty(as Muslim and some other women of various religious sects do) in order not to tempt men to lust. When we understand that lust is not mere sexual arousal – but a conscious thought of how you might unlawfully take that which is not yours to take(in this case a woman sexually) that is lust.

    What I have argued many times on my site is that it is not female nudity or how a woman dresses(or does not does not dress in the case of nude beach) that causes men to lust. It is the woman’s attitude and mannerism that causes a man to lust. If a woman whether fully clothed, or nude at beach flirts with a man this will in many cases cause him to lust. This is what women must guard against.

    One other thing I will add – some people think I am in favor of Christian nudism based on my writings. I am not. There is a difference between exposing one’s nakedness for limited times at appropriate occasions and believing that humans are meant to be nude at all times and all places as Christian nudists believe. It is one thing to be nude by one’s self in their home, to be nude around one’s spouse, to be nude to bathe(whether in tub, shower or at a beach) and also to remove one’s clothes to model for painting or photos or even to make an arousing photograph. In these cases nudity has a purpose and it is for a short and designated duration. But to simply go nude to the grocery store or out to dinner or the way nudists go to nudist colonies and go nude every where they go – this is not right. God meant for man to be clothed – and this was not just because of sin. This is proven by the fact that in heaven(where there is no sin) those who are there wear white robes. They are not nude. Clothing separates mankind from every other creature on earth. Another problem with nudism is that it tries to separate sexual arousal from nudity and this is unnatural and goes against God’s design.

    But again – the short answer to your question is – it is absolutely fine for a Christian woman to go nude at a nude beach.

  7. So in a 100 years if it has become normal for guys to wear dresses just like it is now normal for women to wear pants, it would be OK for a Christian guy to wear a dress?

  8. David,

    There was already many times in history when men did not wear pants. The toga that men wore in the Roman era and robes they wore before that were not pants. In fact this is why God commanded that the priests where breeches when going up the altar to do their duties(Exodus 28:41-43) else their nakedness would be exposed at the altar. But they were not required to where breeches at all times – only at the altar. That means in most cases men were garments that were NOT pants and if they bent over the wrong way might expose them.

    So yes if in 100 years we return to togas and robes for men instead of pants as men used to wear(before about 500 years ago when pants became the norm for men) then yes that would be perfectly fine for men to do. I doubt that will happen – but if it did it would be fine.

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