A number of years ago, I took a group of undergrads on a Holy Land Tour; I had a great time, and I think that most of them did as well, but there’s a slight problem of going on a tour like that with a theology professor: everything gets turned into some kind of a lesson. One such lesson happened entirely by chance on the day that we visited the Dead Sea. Many of the students were looking forward to swimming in the Dead Sea; it’s legendary for swimming because the water is so heavy you can’t sink; the students said they felt almost weightless. When the bus pulled up, many of them rushed over to the changing rooms to put on their swimming suits, but I didn’t join them, for the idea of swimming in a huge lake of poison water has never appealed to me. Instead, I walked over to the shore and stuck my finger into; it felt kind of oily, and then I touched it to my tongue. The water tasted like throw up! Confident that I had made the right choice, I remained on the shore, enjoying the amazing scenery of the mountains and the sky.
While my group was enjoying the poison water, another bus pulled up, and people emerged from it. A great many of them walked directly to the shore, took their clothes off, and waded into the Sea. I was a little surprised, thinking that it might not be strictly legal, but no one stopped them. A man from the other bus walked up to me, and said, “You must be Americans,” in a strong German accent. With a chuckle, I admitted that we were, and over the next 20 minutes or so, we had an amusing conversation about both ”silly” Americans, and the “silliness” of swimming in poison water, half in English, half in German. Yes, both are a little silly. In due course it was time to go, and the students changed back into their regular clothes and struggled to figure out what to do with their wet suits…
Back on the bus, the students were all talking about those “crazy” Germans just taking their clothes off and jumping into the water where everyone could see them, when I mentioned that they were a church group, my students were shocked; “they can’t be a church group!”
I had been chatting with their pastor.
“Professor, they were sinning!”
Enjoying myself, I asked for a show of hands: “how many think what they did was a sin?” About two thirds said they were sinning, the rest weren’t sure, so I asked another question, “What was their sin?”
“They were naked” was the response of the two thirds.
I took a twenty dollar bill out of my pocket and held it for all to see, “The first person who shows me a passage containing an imperative voice command, in context, that tell us that being naked is a sin, owns this 20.” There’s nothing that gets seminary students into their Bibles faster than an extra twenty bucks on a road trip!
While my students were busying themselves in a little research, I went up to the front of the bus and sat on the step by the driver; we had a nice chat… I knew I wouldn’t be giving the money away that day.
When we arrived at out next destination, nobody had come up with the command, since there isn’t one to be found anywhere in Scripture. The best anyone could come up with was that they sinned because they hadn’t been modest. I had to admit that modesty hadn’t been on display as most Americans think of it, for what we had really learned that day was that what constitutes modesty differs from culture to culture; for the people on the other bus, jumping into the Dead Sea naked wasn’t particularly an issue, and for most of my students, it was an issue.
Late that afternoon, the issue came up again after we had returned to the hotel: Modesty; hadn’t those people been immodest? Several of my students were really quite concerned about this question, so we all got together in the hotel courtyard for a discussion centered around 1 Timothy 2:9-10:
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
This passage falls within a larger context (1 Tim. 2:1-15); a context of general instruction regarding worship. He speaks of how women should dress obviously, with decency and propriety.
Since my word count is mounting, and I always try to respect you time, I’ll tell you how the rest of the conversation went next time. Until then, here are a few questions to consider:
- Shouldn’t the context have a bearing on our understanding of this passage?
- Did Paul tell us what he meant by “decency and propriety”?
- How did he say men should dress?