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Monday, 5 December 2005

This was my 1998 graduate thesis (sorry, 103 footnotes don't show)

The Doctrine of Decentology:

A Basis for Biblical Biculturalism

Table of Contents

Title: The Doctrine of Decentology: A Basis for Biblical Biculturism ....................................... 1

Table of Contents ........................................................................................................................... 2

Introduction: An Absolute Authority ............................................................................................. 3

Prologue: What's A Missionary To Do? ...................................................................................... 5

Chapter 1: The Challenge Of Biblical Biculturalism .................................................................... 6

Chapter 2: The Shame of Nakedness ............................................................................................ 7

Chapter 3: The Divine Design for Decent Dress .......................................................................... 9

Chapter 4: A Dictionary of Decentology ..................................................................................... 11

Chapter 5: Developing the Doctrine ............................................................................................ 24

Epilogue: The Deed is Done ........................................................................................................ 26

Conclusion: The Decent Thing To Do ......................................................................................... 27

Bibliography ................................................................................................................................. 28

Introduction: An Absolute Authority

"But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matt. 15:9
The precise development of a particular doctrine from the pages of scripture is a procedure fraught with potential danger. The Bible is not a treatise on systematic theology -- far from it. One looks in vain to find either a doctrinal heading over a chapter of scripture, or an epistle devoted to any particular doctrine. Jesus and the apostles just didn't teach doctrines in the systematic sort of way preferred by professional theologians, and to develop a Bible doctrine systematically one has to hop and skip all over the scriptures for proof texts. Furthermore, the word doctrine as it is used in scripture indicates the intrinsic nature of a person's teaching on any given topic, and not just on one isolated subject. A short treatise evidently in widespread use among fourth-century Christians, known today as The Didache, carries the Greek title, "The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles." It contains, not any specific doctrine, but a wide variety of instructions on church life. Only as heresies developed, with their various "doctrines of devils", did Christians set about to put down in a systematic way everything that Jesus and the apostles had taught on any given subject. As the variety of heretical beliefs developed, so did the church's list of doctrines, until today there are several dozen thought worthy of development and systematization. It is the observation of this author, however, that one doctrine in particular remains to be compiled from the pages of scripture. Inasmuch as heretical teaching on the subject of decency has taken Christendom by storm within the scope of the last fifty to one hundred years, it is now time to develop the doctrine of decentology, which is here defined as "The systematic study of biblical teaching on the necessity and proper means of covering the nakedness of the human body." This doctrine, like many, touches on other previously developed doctrines. Decentology is dependent on Hamartiology for its understanding that nakedness is only shameful because of sin; on Angelology for its understanding of how angels are clothed, and on Bibliology for its authority.
Whenever one undertakes to develop a doctrine using the Bible as his final authority, it is not very long before the question arises, "Which Bible?" Among the thousands of extant manuscripts of scripture, there are hundreds of thousands of variant readings, and many scholars even take the liberty of proposing even more alternative readings for which no known manuscript evidence exists. To arrive at one definitive, biblical conclusion under such circumstances is virtually impossible. The natural temptation for a scholar to pick and chose from among the various manuscripts only those that support his thesis and the impossibility of arriving at a consensus of all variants drove this author to the conclusion that the only viable option is to select the best manuscript authority and stick to it, textual difficulties notwithstanding. For close to four hundred years, until shortly before this century opened, all common translations of the Bible into the languages of the world were based on widely published texts of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.
These in turn had been compiled from manuscripts that had stood the test of time by remaining in constant, widespread use for hundreds of years.
There is only one English translation of the Bible, based on the traditional text of scripture common to all believers, which has stood the test of time by remaining in constant, widespread use for hundreds of years. This thesis, therefore, unashamedly bases its authority on the mid-19th century American Bible Society Text of the Authorized Version of the English Bible (hereafter referred to as the AV).

Explicitly included in this choice are the introductory and marginal notes of the translators, and the original language texts from which they translated. Furthermore, since the AV was at once both a revision and a compilation of all previous translations into English, the textual decisions of previous translators, insofar as they were allowed to stand by the AV Translation Committee, are considered authoritative. This chain of authority continues back beyond the existence of the Old Testament in English. In fact, it stretches back more than two thousand years, since Hebrew was already a dead language before the first translation of the Old Testament was made around 250 BC. There is little hope today of understanding Hebrew words which passed from use millennia ago apart from the preserved insight of ancient scholars, first recorded before the New Testament was even written. It should come as no surprise therefore, that embedded in the text of the AV are letters, words, and phrases that come down to us from the hands of the earliest Bible translators in a form little changed over the course of church history. Were one to undertake afresh a word study of the Hebrew scriptures, disregarding the accumulated wisdom of two thousand years of scholarship in Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and English prior to the mid-1800's, his ability to settle on the meaning of many Hebrew words would be limited indeed. It is unfortunate to note in this regard, that most reference works published in this century have, to some extent, abandoned two millennia of consensus on the text and hermeneutic of scripture and attempted to give novel, "scholarly" interpretations to the scriptures on which this thesis is based. A prime example of this problem is that the primary source for the usage and meaning of Hebrew words in the Old Testament, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, was compiled by a man whose membership on the American Revision Committee of the Revised Version indicates his disloyalty to the traditional text and exegesis behind the AV. The solution is not so simple as choosing a different lexicon; it is virtually impossible to find a Hebrew scholar of today whose education did not include a steady dose of the same sort of modernistic scholarship that had already permeated the seminary classrooms of the world before he was even born. Therefore, in researching this thesis, primary attention has been directed to reference works published in the previous century, when the sciences of archeology and linguistic philology had come into full flower, but before the epidemic of modernism cast its stifling blight upon biblical scholarship. Indeed, very little has been published in the past fifty years that even relates to the subject of biblical decentology.

Prologue: What's A Missionary To Do?

"The American never takes a bath!" The word was passed from mouth to mouth, and Patricia squirmed when word of the scandalous situation finally reached her. She had entered their tight-knit community seeking to bring the gospel to a nation devastated by losing the first war in the history of their empire. General MacArthur had sent out a call for a thousand missionaries to teach the Japanese the religion of their conquerors, so here she was. But in this small fishing village nestled on Japan's rugged seacoast, the people still held tightly to the "old ways" -- and one of those "old ways" was the source of her present reputation for uncleanliness. Could she help it if White Americans Bodies just naturally had more odor than those of the Beardless Japanese? Hadn't she scrupulously scrubbed with a bucket and sponge every day? The problem, though, was obvious: for reasons incomprehensible to the villagers, she never took a Bath. Oh, she knew all about the Bath; every evening she observed a parade of villagers headed down the path on their way to the expansive building in the center of town. But should she ever be tempted to join them, she had only to recall with a shudder what went on in there. At the door would be an attendant to take her money, which would pay for a cubicle on the wall -- every man, woman, boy, and girl who entered rented one. Then he would stand by to receive her clothes -- ALL of them -- and into the cubicle they would go as she joined the row of naked bodies parading into the Bath. She knew what went on in there, too. First she would have to stand under a faucet and scrub her White American Body, in full view of practically the whole village. At that point she could finally immerse herself in the relative cover of a scalding-hot pool, only to emerge eventually as the Brightest, Pinkest Body in the Bath. Suffering for Jesus on the mission field was one thing, but this was too much ... or was it? Just how much of her cultural value system did she have to leave behind when she went to the mission field? Was there, transcending the differences between her culture and theirs, a reason not to bathe publicly in mixed company? If there was one, what were its implications on the culture of the people she was trying to reach?
What is a missionary to do when the standards of his own culture clash with those of the people he is trying to reach? Dare he impose his culture's standards on people whose culture is probably more ancient and established than his own? Or is there a higher, biblical standard that transcends culture, one that holds both native and missionary to equal account? Although missionaries' cultural values clash with those of natives in many areas, it is mostly in the area of decency that the values of Western Civilization tend to form a stronger basis for cultural change than do the teachings of Scripture. This thesis will demonstrate that a policy of biblical biculturalism offers a solution to the diversity of decency doctrines among the cultures of the world.

Chapter 1: The Challenge of Biblical Biculturalism

It is a recognized cultural phenomenon that when two cultures come into intimate contact, both of them undergo changes, and a separate biculture emerges. Take, for example, a process that began around 1620 in a community called Plymouth along the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where a small band of British colonists struggled to form the first foothold of their culture of the American continent. They soon found that their British way of life was leading to rapid starvation, and adopted a local diet based on foods that the natives of that region had grown for centuries. The agent of this change was Sqanto, a native who left his tribal ways and joined the Pilgrims. Over the course of the next century or two, the various cultures indigenous to the area merged with the cultures brought by various groups of settlers to form a culture that was by now distinctly American. In time, that American culture spread to cover the continent, and is still being carried to the remotest parts of the earth. As it encounters other cultures, it leaves its mark on them, and they leave their mark on it. As recently as the 1990's, American culture imported the African cultural saying, "it takes a village to raise a child", as the motto for new government programs. In turn, the saying will likely make its way back across the Atlantic as the motto for an Americanized version of government welfare in African countries, taking over some of the former roles of clans. Such is the nature of biculturalism.
A missionary facing the reality of biculturalism will recognize that in bringing to the natives the message of salvation, he will unavoidably bring along with it many aspects of his own culture. Many of these will be embraced along with his message; some will not. Meanwhile, the missionary will find himself reevaluating his own culture. Which trappings of his culture should he leave behind; which should he transmit to the natives? The answers lie in building on a biblical foundation the biculture that emerges. A biblical biculturalism demands that the missionary examine both his own and the native culture in the light of Scripture. The challenge a missionary faces is in determining which aspects of his either culture are biblically negotiable, and which are not. Taking a close look at scripture, the missionary will find that many aspects of his own culture are no more biblical than those of the native culture. It is a simple fact: No living culture is identical to the cultural environment in which the Bible was written and the Church of Jesus Christ began to grow. The area of decency is no exception. A close look at the topic as found in the Bible shows a cultural environment that no longer exists. Assuming that now is no time to try to reconstruct the biblical culture in a foreign setting, how can the missionary evaluate the relative merits of his own and the native culture in view of biblical teachings? The first step is to examine every biblical reference related to the topic of decency and draw some conclusions that can be used to formulate a biblical, bicultural, doctrine of decentology.

Chapter 2: The Shame of Nakedness

"Indecency: That which is unbecoming in language or manners; any action or behavior which is deemed a violation of modesty, or an offense to delicacy, as rude or wanton actions, obscene language, and whatever tends to excite a blush in a spectator." The words "decency" and "indecency" are not found in Scripture. We find instead, from Genesis 2:25 to Revelation 16:15, the twin words "shame" and "naked(ness)", and it is the relationship between these two words that will form a framework for developing a biblical doctrine of Decentology.
Decency originated with God himself, who has never suffered the shame of nakedness. God created life on an earth pre-adorned with inherent beauty, yet none of his creatures have ever gone so far as to adorn themselves but the one created in God's image: man. But it was not always so; in the beginning, man was the very image of his Maker, who is covered with thick clouds and a garment of light. The angels, who behold his glory, are clothed in light, and men who caught but a glimpse of it shone like the angels. In the beginning, before sin brought into the world lust and shame, there was no need for further clothing. Adam and Eve had none, and it is reasonable to conclude that God himself, as he walked through the garden with them, was clothed in the same brilliance that they were. This garment of light was extinguished at the Fall, leaving mankind truly naked for the first time. Man, in his fallen state, could no longer look upon God.
No one else was around; it was just the man, his wife, and a snake. The snake himself was unabashedly naked; yet suddenly the man and his wife were ashamed of their nakedness. Why were they ashamed? Of what had they to be ashamed? Who was to see their shame? The answers to these questions strike deep at the heart of the whole issue of decency. Leaving the snake out of the equation (for he had already observed their newly discovered nakedness), it is obvious that our progenitors were embarrassed to be seen naked not by each other -- for they were already married -- but by their creator, who was even now approaching to walk the garden paths of Eden with them. Note carefully: there was something about their nakedness that was intrinsically embarrassing, and they must needs keep it covered, with or without a human audience around to view it. Furthermore, the flimsy figleaf aprons they hastily constructed were wholly inadequate -- they still dove for cover when their creator approached. So God provided "coats of skins" to cover them. Adam and Eve cast aside the fig leaves, and although many of their descendants would eventually relapse to a genital covering only, generally humans would henceforth wear clothes to cover their bodies. No one would never again be decent without clothing.

One does not have to read much farther in Genesis to again encounter the shame of nakedness. Again, no one was around but immediate family members; yet it was still scandalously shameful when Ham saw his father's nakedness. Many of Noah's descendants would eventually become comfortable with nudity amongst family members or even strangers, but while man still held a consciousness of God, nakedness and shame were synonymous. Note carefully: for some two thousand years after the fall, mankind still universally regarded nakedness as shameful, and righteous men did their best to cover it.
Continuing through the Pentateuch, we stop again at the foot of Mt. Sinai. God is at the brink of declaring a special set of commandments applicable to his chosen people; but for the moment, they are still under the universal laws of the Noaic code. Down the mountain comes Moses, the two tables of the testimony in his hands. And what does he find? "The people were naked, for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies." The Law God had just given to Moses did not forbid nakedness, or even describe it; the Law assumed a knowledge and abhorrence of nakedness from its first mention. The Israelites were guilty of gross rebellion against God, and their nakedness was just as much a part of that rebellion as was their idolatry. Inasmuch as it was God who had prescribed an acceptable level of decency, and in the hearing of the ancestors of all men that Noah had pronounced a curse on beholding nakedness, decency can be seen as not only biblical, but universal in its application. All men are bound by common laws of decency, and the question to be addressed is not, "Should nakedness be covered?" but "what exactly constitutes nakedness?" and "what are the consequences of indecency?" To answer these questions, we shall first take a look at God's highest standard of decency, and then see how it can be applied to sinful man.

Chapter 3: The Divine Design for Decent Dress

"I counsel thee to buy of me ... white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear." These words from the ascended Christ to the angel of the church at Sardis are no doubt intended as a spiritual admonition; but without a biblical reality to the shame of nakedness, such an application would be meaningless. As long as the shame of sin remains, nakedness remains shameful, and the need remains to cover it with clothing.
After the Fall, Adam and Eve instinctively tried to cover their newly discovered nakedness, and the science of fashion designing was off to an ignoble start. When their original "fig leaf" design failed to pass muster, God himself stepped in, and it is safe to assume that the pattern he used to provide their first set of clothes would remain valid for the covering of sinful human bodies as long as they exist. Inasmuch as no culture in recent or even ancient history has ever mandated "coats of skin" as a divine dress code (cave-man legends notwithstanding), it seems that clothing styles and materials have continued to change throughout history as each culture develops its own distinctive dress (or lack of it). How then can we say that there is any one divine design for dress? A close look at the whole of scripture does not leave us without clear evidence that there is one "culture" that has remained faithful to one dress code throughout time. Before we dismiss the possibility that any divine dress code could stand the test of time, let's look at one that is several thousand years old and still going strong, with one hundred per cent compliance.
Genesis chapter 3 closes with the Bible's first mention of angels, visible guardians of the gate of Eden. It would be consistent with God's unchanging uniform code for angels if they appeared to those first humans dressed in shining raiment of pure white -- the visible raiment of their creator, the Ancient of days. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, every description of angel apparel includes words like "white" or "shining". Compare the following account with Daniel 10: 5,6: "Behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass." Rebecca Brown, in her first-hand account of spiritual warfare in modern times, provides a detailed description of her guardian angel:
Suddenly, I felt a "presence" on the couch next to me although no sound had been made. I jumped and looked up. There on the couch next to me sat the tallest and most powerfully built young man I had ever seen. I knew immediately that this man was not a human. He had shining golden hair, deep blue eyes and the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. He was clean shaven and deep creases slashed his cheeks as he smiled at me. He was dressed in shining white with a golden belt and a huge sword at his side. His tunic-like top was trimmed with gold braid which I had no doubt was made of pure gold. He also wore loose fitting white pants and golden sandals. His skin was bronzed as with a beautiful deep suntan. Light radiated from him with a power that I have never experienced.
If factual, this account demonstrates that the shining white garments of angels haven't changed much in over 2000 years! In fact, Revelation looks all the way forward to the end of time, when angels will still be dressed in pure white linen with golden belts.
But, particularly when on a mission to earth, angels don't always appear "in uniform". In fact, generally in the Old Testament and sometimes in the New, heavenly beings were often taken for mere mortals initially based on their outward appearance. From this it may be concluded that they tend to appear in whatever clothing is customary to their audience. Examples include Abraham's three visitors, Jacob's opponent, the captain of the LORD's host, the angel of the LORD, and Jesus himself in his resurrected body.

Chapter 4: A Dictionary of Decentology

If God himself invented clothing, and the holy angels still conform to his divine dress code for them, it stands to reason that God's people have universally worn clothing that likewise conforms to a trans-cultural standard, or suffered the shame of nakedness when they didn't. To determine whether this is indeed the case, it is necessary to make a study of decency throughout the whole Bible, determining as precisely as possible the meaning of the words themselves, and drawing conclusions based on sound principles of linguistics and archaeology. What follows is a study from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, beginning with the approximate first mention of each in the Biblical Hebrew, of every word referring to clothing and nakedness in the Old Testament, as each relates to the study of decency. Reference is also made throughout to New Testament equivalents, of which there are far fewer. Transliterations are given without case endings and follow standard English pronunciation when possible.

?Arom - Always translated "naked", this word, and its New Testament equivalent gumno can refer to full or partial nudity. In Adam's case, he was fully nude; in subsequent occurrences of this word, we have to look to the context to determine "just how naked is naked." This is not always easy, but fairly crucial to developing the doctrine of decentology. To a great extent the conclusion will depend on a precise identification of body parts and the articles of clothing that covered them.
Khagor - Adam and Eve's "apron" (the only place this Hebrew word is thus translated), the root word means "to fasten around" and is elsewhere usually translated "girdle." The meaning of this word and its New Testament equivalent, zonay, can be understood as "belt" or "sash" (words not used in the AV) when it is worn over the tunic. In such cases either the waist ("loins") or the chest ("paps" or "breasts") could be so girt. When it is used in connection with the word "sackcloth", the word "gird" implies a single wrap-around cloth that covers the hip region. There is only the tiniest shred of linguistic evidence that any sort of loincloth as is worn today by tribal people existed in biblical culture, and it is explored under the headings khalatsay and ?ayfowd.
Keton - This is the word usually translated "coat", and indicates a "tunic" (the word used in Latin Bibles) or a shirt reaching at least to the knees. There is good evidence that women's tunics could be sleeveless. Apparently it represents the minimum of decency, for it is what God provided for Adam and Eve to replace their indecent girdles. It was also worn as the outermost garment by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. The NT word Khiton is derived from it; Hebrew loan-words in Greek generally consist of proper names or religious terms, but interestingly enough, several of them instead refer to clothing. It seems to have been worn right next to the skin, except when holy linen breeches were worn under it. Of special note under this heading is the "coat of many colors" mentioned in Genesis 37 and 2 Samuel 13. The AV translators, although they followed the example of the earliest translators in the text, give a marginal alternative, "coat of pieces," showing that they themselves were unsure of the Hebrew meaning. Strong gives the meaning, " a coat extending to the palms and soles." Apparently this was a richly embroidered long-sleeved shirt worn by the heirs of nobility that came all the way to the feet, thus indicating that they did not have to do manual labor as those who "girded up their loins." Extending as it did to the extremities, it obviously showed beneath whatever was worn over it, and may have been worn as the outermost garment in hot weather.
Labash - This is the verb, "to clothe," literally or figuratively. The passive form "clothed" is the opposite of "naked". The related words labush and malbush are collective terms for clothing in general.
Galah - The primary meaning of this word is "to uncover or disclose", but the connotation is a shameful one, especially when it is used in the sense of "to exile," exiles usually being stripped.
?Ervah - This word, and to a less definite extent its NT equivalent gumnotace, always translated "nakedness", carries a more specific meaning than the usual word for "naked." Shameful nudity of the genital area is the usual implication. This was Noah's condition as he lay uncovered in his tent. Ham looked, and apparently liked what he saw, thus inviting a curse on his descendants who would follow his tendency to perversion. From now on, even when someone inadvertently beheld the nakedness of a family member, it would always be shameful and under duress: Lot and his two daughters, Zipporah and her son; and Mary at the Cross.
Simlah (and a variant, salmah) - This is a general term for any garment that covers one's nakedness; Shem and Japheth used it to cover Noah's. It usually, but not exclusively, refers to the outer garment. For more information, see under the synonym beged.
Yarek - This is one of four Hebrew words translated "loins" in the Old Testament. Its Aramaic equivalent is yarka'. As we begin with this word, usually translated "thigh", to study the specific parts of the body associated with decency, it is important to remember that many terms in modern English no longer carry the same range of meaning that they did in 1611; many, in fact, are nowhere found in the AV, often resulting in a different range of meaning for the same English word: one range of meaning for the word as it was used in translating the Bible, and a different range of meaning for the same word as it is used today. A classic example of this is the word "loins". It survives in modern usage only as a constituent of the word "loincloth" -- from which it naturally follows that the word "loins" refers to whatever it is that a "loincloth" covers. As it turns out, it is difficult to narrow that word's meaning any farther in Biblical usage.
The English word is itself from the Latin word lumb, from which we also get "lumbar" indicating the two sides of the back below the ribs, and that is in fact the only meaning still carried by the word "loins". That is also the meaning of the word mothenay, which it usually translates. Lumb, however, like the "loins" of the AV, carries the same range of meanings as the Greek word osf, which is used in the Greek Old Testament to translate both mothenay and khalatsay, which see under their headings below.
Another meaning of "loins" has been more or less replaced in modern usage by the word "crotch", but that word would not adequately translate yarek, which carries an even greater range of meaning than any of the words used to translate it into Greek, Latin, or English. This shade of meaning in the Hebrew opens up an interesting study in paleolinguistics. Strong, drawing from cognate languages, gives it a base meaning of "soft part". This is not very helpful in determining a biblical meaning of yarek, as it often is used to refer to the side of buildings and artifacts. In all anatomical uses, however, yarek is translated in the Greek Bible by the word mayro, the lexical meaning of which is "thigh". There is also a feminine form, yerekah, which is always used in the architectural or geographical sense of "side" or "extremity". It is always translated by Greek words appropriate to those meanings.
It is only in the scriptures that these two words yerekah and mayro share a common meaning element. In II Kings 16:14, both yerekah in the Hebrew Bible and mayro in the Greek Bible refer to the side of the altar. And in Exodus 26:22, referring to the westward side of tabernacle, yerekah is translated by the Greek noun mero. The lexical meaning of this apparently unrelated word is "portion" (from the verb meiromai, "to partition"). Both mayro and mero are used in scripture to refer to the side of a structure or region only as it can be described locationally in terms of a compass direction or similar directional word. Is it possible that mayro and mero derive from the same word? If so, what is their shared meaning element? Can we find the answer by looking at the cognate sets of both words?
Mayro has no cognate words in English, and it is only on the basis of Biblical usage that we can include it as a member of the same cognate set as mero. To do so, we will have to include both words as subsets in the same cognate set as our English word mural, meaning "a large picture on the surface of a wall". It is derived from mur, the Latin word for "wall". This, in turn, is linguistically related to maer, the Old English word for "boundary". Both are probably derived from a word that referred to an upright post cut from the trunk of a tree. Boundaries, of course, could be delineated by walls made of such posts. The similarity in shape to a human thigh is striking, as is the linguistic similarity in range of meaning between the cognate sets of yarek and maer. Both can refer to something whose upright sides are delineated by name. Mero, a word strikingly similar to the Latin word for "bare", refers to one of the specific sides. Therefore, we hypothesize *mei(r) as a common root for both mayro and mero. Perhaps "upright flat surface usually seen from the outside only" would be a more justifiable base meaning of yarek.
As it is used of human bodies, yarek generally defines an area extending from the crotch downward along the entire inside of the thigh; the inseam, as it were. Although it does not exclude the outer thigh, where swords were customarily carried, in one scriptural reference it is hard to imagine that the outside of the thigh could be implied: the account of Ehud assassinating King Eglon in Judges chapter 3. A cubit-long dagger on the outside of the thigh would reveal its shape through a garment worn over it, and would be very difficult to quickly access. But it is easy to imagine Ehud concealing a dagger strapped upside down to the inside of his thigh where it would be virtually undetectable, and then lifting his right knee to draw it. The foregoing should suffice for the use of yarek as "thigh" and "side". But the word has an even broader range of meaning .
Yarek is translated once as "body" and once as "loins" when it refers to generative capacity -- in which case its range of meaning overlaps khalatsay, which see at its heading below. The use of yarek to indicate generative capacity in Genesis 46:26, the only place it is translated "loins", indicates a range of meaning not apparent in the word "thigh". The AV translators were obviously aware of this, as they relegated "thigh" to the margin. Looking closely at the first mention of yarek in Genesis 24, it becomes clear that the word "crotch" (not used in the AV) would approximate in modern English the meaning of this usage of "thigh" in the AV. Abraham, and later Jacob, asked his respective heir to "put... thy hand under my thigh... and... swear." This solemn custom is obviously of great antiquity, and has served to puzzle many modern Bible commentators. The Jewish rabbis of Jesus' day may not have practiced the custom, but it is fairly certain that they did at least understand it; the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel gives as the meaning of the above phrase "put your hand upon the area of my circumcision and swear." This may seem to be a gross violation of decency, but a closer look through the eyes of an ancient Jew shows the logic of such a symbolic act. There are times in the life of every person when it is possible to maintain an airtight modicum of decency, and there are other times when it is not. Beginning at birth, when every person emerges stark naked from the womb, and ending at death, when the body is washed for burial, all men and women must endure a time of having someone else behold their nakedness. For a Jew, circumcision is such a time; the procedure is carried out with great solemnity in a public ceremony. For Abraham, the conquerors of Canaan, Timothy, and others, this ceremony occurred in adulthood. It would have done little good for Timothy to be circumcised if no one had been able to see it! This solemn "oath under the thigh" hearkened back to the first ceremony performed on that part of the body, and derived its solemnity from it. A person would no more go back on such an oath than he would go back to being uncircumcised.
Motheney - This word, like the words that translate it, is never found in its singular form. It is typically translated "loins", but it should be understood as meaning "waist" (in the dual form) or "waists" (in the plural form). Implied in the word is the whole pelvic region in general, but specifically the waist. Thus a "girdle about the loins" was a belt or sash fastened around the waist but often hanging down over the hips. Sackcloth, which is almost always identified with its being girded about the loins, probably extended to the knees -- see shesh.
To "gird up the loins" involved tucking the long outer robe into the belt to allow greater freedom of movement. This is the only one of the four Hebrew words translated "loins" that has such a narrow range of meaning. It is largely because speakers of modern English have transferred only this particular meaning to the word "waist" that such confusion now exists over the range of meaning for the word "loins". An African interpreting for a missionary once used the phrase "tie up your trousers" -- an apt modern phrasing of the archaic expression. The idiom "tighten the belt" would not be good choice as it carries a different connotation than the original.
Khalatsay - This word is always translated "loins" except when in poetic parallelism with mothenay. It is distinct in meaning from mothenay, and overlaps in meaning with yarek only once, when the latter refers to generative capacity. In these uses, however, it seems to distinctly refer to the genitals, as it is always found in the dual form. It is in the study of this word that we first encounter the possibility that the khagor, usually a belt around the waist, could also refer, as it did to Adam and Eve's genital coverings, to a sort of "athletic support undergarment" as seems to be indicated by the phrase "gird up thy khalatsay like a man", used in the Old Testament only when God spoke to Job, whose waist was already girded with sackcloth. If there was such an undergarment, it was never intended to be worn as the only garment once God had provided the tunic. Typically, when someone "stripped naked" in scripture, it was to the tunic, the girding of sackcloth, or the bare skin. Since a loincloth would leave the thighs bare, it could not cover one's nakedness. For a possible example of this, see ?ayfowd.
Kassah - This word, meaning "to conceal under," is usually translated "cover." It is always used in the phrase, "cover (one's) nakedness. It is not always used in reference to decency, however; it is also used of clouds, frogs, water, etc. covering the land. When Rebekah covered herself with a veil, it was apparently an act of symbolism, not of decency, as even today in some cultures brides symbolically cover their heads with veils as they go to meet their grooms. A related noun is kesuth, a covering (for nakedness).
Beged - This general word for "garment" is usually found in the plural collective form, begediy, referring to a person's clothing in general. Its first mention is of Esau's goodly raiment which Rebekah put on Jacob. This is a very common word, occurring in its two forms over 180 times in the Old Testament. It often refers specifically to the outer garment, where it is translated "lap" or "robes." In this sense it is equivalent to the New Testament word himati ("cloke"), the plural forms of which are, like begediy, collective. This outer garment could be taken off to sleep at night, as Peter's was in prison; it could also be removed to place beneath the feet of royalty, or set aside by one working in the field.
Apparently, then, it was clothing worn over the tunic for weather protection, not decency. For this reason the law forbade holding it overnight when it was taken as a pledge. This was the garment typically torn when someone "rent his clothing" in mourning. One could, however, as Tamar did, rend an inner garment if that was all he was wearing. The high priest at Jesus' trial rent his tunic, perhaps due to the hem on the robe of his ephod being specifically designed to prevent it from being rent.
Saq - This is another word that has been borrowed from Hebrew, not only into Greek but into many other European languages as well, including English. It literally means "sack", but almost always refers to the material from which sacks were made. Sackcloth, mentioned from Genesis to Revelation, is one of the aspects of Semitic culture universally associated with mourning. It is essential to this study of decency to understand just what mourning entailed in biblical culture. Typically, the process began at the moment a man heard the news of a devastating loss. He immediately tore his clothing -- at the least his outermost clothing was rent, and apparently he removed all his clothing -- replacing it with a single strip of coarse black goat-hair cloth fastened around his waist. In extreme cases, he shaved all the hair off his head, threw dust on his head, and smeared his body with ashes. On every one of these points it can be demonstrated that a woman would do the same thing, with the added point of sometimes sitting around on sackcloth, something men are not mentioned as doing. Furthermore, it was customary for widows to wear sackcloth under their clothing . Men, on the other hand, might cover their upper lips - something women are not specifically mentioned as doing. At this the question arises, why would someone deliberately strip practically naked and sit around in public display? This is a notion totally foreign to western culture, but then the idea of stripping practically naked and sitting around in public display at a beach is totally foreign to biblical culture. Simon Peter, in fact, who was already undressed, put on his fisherman's cloak to go swimming!
The intrinsic shame associated with public nakedness, now rapidly disappearing in western culture, was in biblical culture a crucial part of the grieving process. Stripping in public, already mentioned as the fate of captives, added a powerful emotional message to the situation. It was the fate of a woman accused of infidelity in the trial of jealousy. Edersheim describes the scene: The priest "tore off her dress to her bosom and disheveled her hair," removed her jewelry, draped her in black and placed a rope around her neck. It was the fate of Paul and Silas before they were beaten in Philippi, and, of course, it was the fate of Jesus to hang totally naked on the cross. In doing so he fulfilled to the ultimate his own advice: "And him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also."
Rakhats - This verb, "to bathe", first occurs in Genesis, but only in connection with travelers washing their feet. It is used in Exodus of Pharaoh's daughter, who came down to the river to bathe. It is at this point that we have recourse to "original autographs" on determining the exact meaning of biblical words: referring, of course, to the countless paintings, sculpture, tablets, and papyri that have escaped the ravages of time buried beneath the sands of the Egyptian desert. These present a rather shocking picture of the rampant indecency apparently prevalent in ancient Egypt. Theatrical and informal nudity was not uncommon, and even formal dress was indecent by biblical standards; the women, for instance, often wore dresses of translucent gossamer linen. In the midst of such an erosion of biblical standards Joseph found himself, the chief servant to a married eunuch. There is no reason to suppose that he ever compromised his native standards of decency, even when he fled from the presence of the seductress, leaving his beged behind. It seems clear from the words used that Joseph was wearing some sort of tunic underneath.
The Pentateuch is replete with fairly detailed instructions on ceremonial bathing. Exodus 29:4 contains a command to Moses, speaking of the first priests, to "bring [them] unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and... wash them with water." Is this the same sort of public bathing that Egyptians practiced in the river? The scripture passage seems to take for granted that it isn't. Edersheim has discovered in the rabbinical literature of Jesus' day an assurance that although the priests did undress and bathe in front of the congregation gathered at the tabernacle, a linen cloth was always hung between them and the people. So it was that the decency maintained by the God's people down to the time of Joseph was generally retained throughout their sojourn in the decadent environment of Egyptian culture. Thus the open idolatry and nakedness at the foot of Sinai was all the more shocking, and worthy of the capital punishment it engendered.
There came another time in history when the decency of God's people stood out from the decadence of their cultural environment -- the second and third centuries of the Christian church. The Greek and Roman culture of that day bore an uncanny similarity to that of the modern western world. Business attire was formal and modest; even hard-working slaves covered their bodies, but when it came time to head to the beaches --that is, the baths -- modesty standards no longer applied. Men and women alike cast off all their clothing and lounged around together in the nude. Actors and athletes exhibited their naked physiques with pride, and houses were adorned with paintings and statues that can only be described as obscene. In the midst of this rampant surrender to sensuality, Christians universally taught that men and women should not bathe publicly in each other's presence, and one even reprimanded women who shunned the public baths in a pretense of modesty but allowed servants to massage their nude bodies in the privacy of their homes.
Shesh - The word itself means "bleached", and can be translated "marble" or "silk", but usually refers to a kind of fine-weave material made in Egypt and usually translated "fine" or "twined" linen. It may well refer in most cases to fine cotton, as the word "cotton" is of Egyptian origin and is not used in the AV. God specified this material for the four priestly garments: the tunics, the turbans, the breeches, and the girdles. The breeches are further defined as miknassi ha-baad. Baad is the basic word for linen (implying a fine-weave linen), and the dual form of miknass indicates the nature of these "instruments of hiding" the nakedness of the priests: they were two-legged trousers. They clearly extended from the waist to (the bottom of) the thighs, thus giving a good indication of the area defined under "nakedness". All these white linen garments were priestly apparel and were not to be worn by unconsecrated Levites.
Ra'ah - This little word becomes a big problem whenever nakedness is exposed. Micah saw King David dancing indecently, and despised him in her heart. Not long after, David, probably having spurned his wife for doing so, saw a woman bathing and burned with lust for her. When the dust finally settled from the storm that ensued, five close family members were dead. Clearly the consequences of seeing someone's nakedness are more serious for a man than a woman, but both can be tragic.
?Ayfowd - "Ephod" is a mystery word; it does not occur in the New Testament, and is left untranslated in the Old. In the divine dress code of Exodus 28, the ephod is specified as part of the high priest's uniform. Like all priestly garments, it was made of "linen", with several colors woven throughout. The apparent description is of a poncho-like outfit of front and back pieces joined at the shoulders, and girt at the waist with a sash of the same material. Gideon made an "ephod" of gold, which ensnared Israel in idolatry; Micah the Ephraimite made an ephod for the purpose of setting up his own priesthood. Thus it seems that the ephod was some sort of universally identifiable religious garment. The word has cognates in Assyrian and Ugaritic, and was translated for the Greek Bible as ependutace ("outer garment") or stolay ("robe").
In Leviticus chapter 8 the high priest is clothed as follows: "And he put on him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the curious girdle of the ephod, and bound it unto him therewith." Thus the priestly ephod was worn over the outer clothing, and girt over all with its matching girdle. Samuel and David, however, are depicted as being "girded with a linen ephod," which would seem to indicate a loincloth of some sort, as is still worn in Asia. Young Samuel's mother annually made a me'eel for him to wear over his ephod. Me'eel, typically translated "mantle", has the base meaning of "instrument of covering". It is always used of an outer garment specially made to be worn as a sign of authority. Samuel continued to wear one for the rest of his life, and was so identified by Saul at the apparition in Endor. Tamar's long tunic was referred to as a me'eel. It is possible that David removed the ornate me'eel he was wearing over his ephod to dance. If so, his ephod was probably a skirt-like garment that only came to his knees. This scenario, however, seems less likely than the following.
What does it mean, that David "uncovered himself... in the eyes of the handmaids" while dancing "girded with a linen ephod"? Josephus mentions two different types of ephods worn by priest - obviously the word itself did not define a particular pattern. Apparently there was a sort of ephod that could be worn as a sort of diaper-like loincloth -- which may still have, under normal circumstances, covered him to the knees -- and when David danced around so hard that his ephod -- or more -- showed underneath his robe , it struck Michal as decidedly undignified exposure for the King of Israel. Why he was reprimanded only by Michal, and why she was ostracized for it, remain mysteries to this day. At any rate, ephods as a part of the sacerdotal system no longer exist, so we can let these mysteries lie until the time all mysteries are known.
Maad - From the verb madad, "to extend", comes an interesting word akin to ones translated "measure" and "stature". Linguistically, it would appear to mean a long garment, but contextual usage does not bear that out. It is first used of a special garment the priest was to wear over his linen breeches only while engaged in removing the ashes of the burnt offering from the altar. Since the stated purpose of the breeches was to avoid indecent exposure, it is doubtful that they would be specifically prescribed for wear under a long robe. The second mention of this article of clothing is in I Sam 4: 12, when a soldier broke from the ranks of the defeated Israelites to bring news of the ark's capture back to Eli at Shiloh. He arrived with both his clothes torn (the word is in the dual form here) and dust on his head -- signs of extreme mourning. Soldiers in battle don't wear long robes! This dual form, indicating both his inner and outer garments, specifies what Ehud wore over a hidden dagger to his premeditated assassination of King Eglon. Again, the dual form maaday indicates what of Saul's David was unable to wear: all his war clothing. Apparently, this word is used in the dual form to specify all a person's visible clothing, not just the inner or outer garment. Strong is not very helpful on this point as he makes no distinction between at least three ways of pointing the consonants in the root word.
Pashatt - This verb has as wide a range of meaning, as the words "strip" and "stripped", which are used to translate it when clothing is the context. It usually refers to the outer clothing, being removed, but begediy and himati can also apply to all the clothes on a person. This word is used of Jesus in both senses in Matthew 27; in both cases, the New Testament equivalent, ekdu, means "to strip bare". In the first case, all his clothing was confiscated, and replaced with an officer's cloak; in the second, the cloak, being at the time his only clothing, was removed from his naked body, and his clothing (plural) replaced. In Joseph's case, he would have been stripped of his tunic, probably not having anything on underneath, as slaves were typically sold naked. This was also apparently the case with Gomer, Hosea's adulterous wife. The custom survives in totalitarian regimes, where prisoners are tortured or interrogated nude. In the dramatic imagery of Ezekiel 23:34, even the very breasts of a woman were torn off, as if tearing off all her clothing were not enough -- a means of torture endured by Christian women from Roman days to the present. Stripping to the skin, or beyond, were obviously reserved for extreme cases; it should, however, be clear that even if his genitals were covered, a person stripped of all his other clothing would have felt such a shame of nakedness, it apparently was not even considered worthy of mention in most cases to specify if that one small area was still covered.
?Arar - This adjective, "bare", is found only once as a modifier of the above verb "strip". Isaiah 32:11 reads as follows: "Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins. The italicized words were supplied from several of the earliest translations. This is the only time khalatsay (loins) is used in reference to sackcloth or women; the verse seems to indicate that even in such extreme mourning a woman would still cover her genitals with sackcloth; no one would ever be stark naked voluntarily. Women, of course, would have periodic need to bind cloth about their khalatsay anyway, so there is little question physiologically that such an undergarment did exist. An important corollary to this passage is Isaiah 20:2-4: "Spake the LORD ... saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot ... So shall the king of Assyria lead away ... young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt." Isaiah was already in mourning, with a sack wrapped around his waist. God told him to take it off, and go about with bare buttocks. The wording used does not exclude the probability that his genitals were covered with the sort of underwear mentioned earlier; but with his thigh area showing, he experienced the shame of nakedness all the same. How like Adam's situation this was -- he was covered enough to demonstrate some acknowledgment of the instinctive need for decency, but not covered enough to avoid the shame of nakedness. How like the situation encountered by missionaries the world over, America not excluded!
Qalown - This is the word for "shame" in Jeremiah 13:26, and indicates what is revealed when a woman's skirts are pulled off over her face. The word picture is that of the bark being peeled off a vine. In this and parallel passages God singles out a woman's nakedness as being the epitome of shame when uncovered. Evidently the nakedness of a woman is more intrinsically shameful than that of a man, and that much more to be avoided.
Zimma - This is the word translated "lewd". It is from the verb zamam, "to plot", and projects a vivid word picture of premeditated evil. Again Strong errs, this time in listing a form that doesn't exist in the Hebrew, while leaving out six that do. In so doing he fails to indicate the distinction in meaning between the plural and singular forms of this word. In the plural, it means simply "plans", as Job said, "My purposes [plans] are broken off" in chapter 17 verse 11. In the singular, it is almost always in a context of evil and wickedness. Most of these contexts are in Leviticus, prohibiting incest and harlotry, and Ezekiel, where they are figurative of Israel's spiritual adultery. The word used for "adultery" in the Ezekiel passages is the same as the one for "harlotry" in Leviticus.
The first mention of this word is in the infamous account of Judges chapter 19. At first glance, it is an instance of unparalleled barbarism in biblical culture. The host, his guest, the sexual predators, and even the concubine herself seemed bound to no standards of decency whatsoever. Reminiscent of some cultures that endured to this century, they considered hospitality the supreme, if only, virtue. Only under such circumstances could occur the barbarous act of sectioning a human body and sending the pieces by messengers to places several day's journey away. But even under such circumstances, there is reason to believe that he retained the bulk of his concubine's body, sending out only such pieces as the hands, forearms, arms, feet, calves, and thighs (two of each, twelve in all). Verse 29 states that "he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones." The word translated "with her bones" could be understood to mean that he divided her body at the joints between the bones, i.e. the ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. It is highly unlikely that he would not have kept back at least part of the corpse to bury, as was done in other cases of dismemberment.
To conclude this chapter, a few words will be handled together, as they relate to decency only when considered in toto. They are neither Hebrew nor Greek, but occur in a passage of scripture originally written in Aramaic. In this they reflect a culture foreign enough to the main culture of the Bible as to give us a very useful glimpse at how a few godly men handled the challenge of staying faithful to a biblical standard of modesty in the midst of an unbiblical culture. Let us look briefly at these men, and how they dressed.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego -- these idolatrous names bestowed upon them by their heathen king are much more familiar to us than their Hebrew names of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The reason is obviously that in the account of Daniel chapter 3, only their Babylonian names are given - as hand-picked protégés of the Emperor of Babylon, they had thoroughly assimilated into the Babylonian culture. This is all the more evident when we carefully read the list of clothing they were wearing when cast into the fiery furnace: coats, hosen, hats, and other garments. None of these Aramaic words occur outside this passage, so the AV translators had a bit of a time deciding how to translate them, as evinced by the marginal alternatives for half of them. The last word is easy enough -- lebuwsh, like the Hebrew word with which it is synonymous, is a collective term for clothing in general, hence the implied adjective other. For "coats", the alternative reading is "mantles". Earlier translators had despaired of determining the meaning of the word, and left it untranslated. More recent translators have suggested a kind of footwear is indicated. At any rate, this clothing item was virtually unknown outside of their adopted culture, yet it served to cover them, and the three young men were quite willing to wear it.
For the other two words we are on even shakier ground, and translators have had a heyday trying to pin down their meaning. The earliest Greek translators gave names to them that described what they knew Persian warriors to wear: tiara and periknaymis for karbela ("hats") and pattiysh ("hosen"). A tiara was a Persian headdress, a meaning implied by the AV margin "turban", and a periknaymis was something worn around the lower leg, that is, some sort of trousers, as the Persians wore, as suggested by "hosen". So it appears that the Hebrews were wearing clothing of a very different nature than their native culture dictated, yet insofar as it met the requirements of modesty they, and we, could feel free to conform to local usage. They obeyed the king in all they were able to, right down to the royal dress code, and God protected from burning not only their bodies, but the foreign attire that covered them as well.
This foreign attire that the Hebrew men were wearing raises an interesting question that has not yet come up in this word study: Is a dress more decent for a woman than trousers? The question assumes that trousers are decent wear for men. Intrinsically, there is nothing in trousers to make them uniquely appropriate for men to wear. Trousers, however, have served since the domestication of horses as the most appropriate wear for those in the saddle all day. Since only men have historically gone to war on horseback, it was through such warriors that the custom of men wearing trousers spread along with the use by men of horses. There is no need for men or women to wear trousers unless engaged in an occupation in which the long skirts of dresses or robes present a hazard. Trousers have, however, become the universally recognized epitome of clothing unique to men, a custom not likely to go away. A man may very well be offensive in a decent dress; a women likely never will. Apparently by the time of Daniel, Persian horsemen (the Arabic for horseman is faris, the Aramaic word for Persian) had spread their fashion of trousers as far as Babylon. There was no reason for the Hebrew men to wear trousers, other than to conform to an apparently well-entrenched international clothing style applicable to their local situation. As did they, men today can continue to conform to this cultural universal.

Chapter 5: Developing The Doctrine

The definitions of the foregoing chapter provide a framework upon which to flesh out the Doctrine of Decency. In the process of so doing, several questions arise, which will be answered in turn.
Q: If everyone wore divinely designed dresses in the beginning, how did the various native costumes of the world come about?
A: As mankind was dispersed after the Confusion of Tongues, clans and tribes soon found themselves in a wide variety of climactic conditions. In the tropical regions, where dark-skinned peoples settled, high temperatures and humidity made clothing very uncomfortable. Not needing protection from the mild weather, most people abandoned all outer clothing, retaining only Adam's "apron" made of leaves, grass, or bark. Farther north, temperature extremes in desert regions required loose-fitting, wrap-around clothing of woven material such as that mentioned in the previous chapter. Still farther north, and in the mountainous areas, people wore snug layers of wool or fur, and made up for the lack of sunshine in their regions by light skin or a diet of fish.
Q: Is there any reason biblically for men and women to dress differently?
A: One need not base a sex distinction in dress on anything more that the created order. Man was created as the provider and protector of the family; woman as its nurse and nurturer. Even in the Arctic, where the climate requires men and women alike to dress in snug fur pants and parkas, the sexes have vastly different roles. Men need to spend hours out in the weather, hunting; women spend most of their time inside, around the fire. Thus Eskimo women could be distinguished by early Arctic explorers based on the distinctive cut and thickness of their parkas and pants. No matter what the climate, women have the universal need to breastfeed their children, and therefore have features built into their clothing that would seem ridiculous if worn by a man.
Q: What about Deuteronomy 22:5?
A: On the one hand, this verse is often quoted in defense of dress codes that prohibit dresses and trousers for men and women respectively. On the other hand are those who insist that in Bible times, men and women wore virtually identical clothing. Both are wrong. As explained above, there is nothing intrinsically masculine about trousers, except as they impart a distinction to sex roles. There is nothing intrinsically feminine about dresses, other than the nursing slits in their bodices! Men and women dressed very differently in Bible times. Men wore armor during a battle; women had no use for it. Isaiah 3:18-24 lists over two dozen articles of clothing and jewelry unique to women. For a man and woman to deliberately trade clothes with each other would be tantamount to denying the roles God created them to fill, and an abomination in his sight.
Q: Is it biblical to impose any guidelines whatsoever beyond just what the Bible stipulates?
A: Every culture has its own set of rules for living together. Should these be violated, even by an outsider to the culture, confusion or chaos can easily result, unless the offender is dealt with according to custom. Some cultures have standards that go beyond the biblical minimums, especially for women.. The American culture, for example, moves the exposure of a woman's nipples from the realm of indecency to the realm of nakedness. Others move the exposure of a woman's calves to the area of indecency or even nakedness. Missionaries would be well advised to avoid needless shame and offense to the gospel by learning each culture's way of doing things and following them as closely as is possible, while maintaining a consistency to scriptural standards.
When Daniel and his friends followed this philosophy, it resulted in the God of Heaven being praised and promoted by a heathen king! What would a missionary of today give for a government proclamation like the one in Daniel chapter 4!
Q: Is it biblical for different codes of decency to apply in different situations, even in the same culture?
A: There's no question about it; dress codes do vary, even within the same culture. What is seen as appropriate for business wear may cover more of the body than what is typically worn for sport or entertainment. Rarely do dress codes remain constant in a culture over time. One series of college yearbooks shows the women in a school singing group of 1968 in uniforms with hemlines that would have gotten them expelled from school in 1978! The need to avoid nakedness is certainly universal; beyond that, situations can allow for a wide variety of clothing and covering. Elijah girded up his loins to run; Peter took off his cloak to fish. Jesus even stripped down to his inner garments to wash the disciple's feet. None of these situations occurred in mixed company, implying a two-tiered standard, depending on whether or not one's relative indecency would be an offense to the audience. As much as women may not like it, the Bible, as do many cultures, does hold them to a different standard than men. On a related note, the Epistles' teachings on modesty (a related topic, but not under consideration here) focus almost exclusively on women.
Q: Hasn't Christ's death freed us from the decency regulations of the Old Testament?
A: All descendants of Adam and Noah are bound by the universal regulations God gave their progenitors. The need for decency was not initiated in the Law, but preceded it. In the New Testament, as in the Old, the need for decency is assumed. Before he could cut his filthy, matted locks or allow his bodily mutilations to heal, the first visible sign that the Gadarene demoniac had become a disciple was the clothing that now covered his formerly flaunted nakedness.
Q: Does hair have anything to do with decency?
A: Hair length is tied in with shame in I Corinthians chapter 11, but it is not the shame of nakedness. Shaving and haircutting are related to mourning, a different topic than decency.
Q: What about the young man who fled naked from the site of Jesus' arrest?
A: It is important to note that for whatever reason this young man was originally naked, he had adequately covered himself with the sheet he was wearing. Once the soldiers stripped it off of him, he headed back to his clothes-press just as fast as he could to re-dress!
One explanation yet remains to conclude this chapter. It is not a word in particular, but an entire verse that at first glance does not seem to square with all that has been said heretofore about the need to cover the "thigh" -- that is, that area from the knees to the crotch never disclosed to the eye lest the shame of nakedness appear. The verse is Revelation 19:16: "And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." How is a Bible story book illustrator to picture this scene of the triumphant Christ? For an answer we are indebted to the research of Adam Clark, who has described several statues from that era of warrior figures, each with an inscription on either the thigh, or the clothing that covers the thigh, consistent with whether or not the thigh itself was bare. These inscriptions ran from top to bottom along either the inside or the outside of the thigh. Thus an artist can in good conscience depict the scene with a longitudinal inscription on the garment of the conquering Christ, leaving to the reader to realize that an identical inscription lies concealed below.
Epilogue: The Deed is Done

What happens when a missionary does conform to the unbiblical customs of a heathen people in an attempt to achieve a biculturalism apart from the universal teachings of scripture? Will it bring up the standards of the one culture, or bring down the standards of the other?
Over one hundred years ago, when American missionaries first headed for the fields of the world with the message of salvation, American standards of decency -- still firmly based on the Bible -- stood as an example to the rest of the world. Unwilling to abide by the nakedness of the natives, but unaware of the biblical basis for their own standards, many missionaries in those days simply attempted to impose an American dress code on their converts. Being as unaware as the missionaries were of the biblical teaching on Decentology, native converts just assumed that missionaries dressed the way they did because they were Christians, when in reality it was only because they were Americans. Such a contrived Decentology could not long survive. Many a missionary returned to America only to find that the dress code he had been rigidly enforcing on the field all those years was long since out of style back home. Not knowing how to explain the difference to the natives, he gradually allowed the old standards to fade away, but without anything to replace them. As he did so, he saw his own standards, and especially those of his children, likewise fade away. Eventually any missionary who insisted on retaining the old standards was considered a prude both on the field and at home -- hopelessly behind the times and out of touch. The differences in decency standards between home and field just simply weren't what they used to be. Who can escape this deterioration of standards? When it comes right down to it, can any culture escape the consequences of an ignorance of Decentology? When it comes right down to it, is a biblical doctrine of Decentology any less needed on the home field than on the foreign field?
Trying not to appear too eager, Patricia snatched the key to her cubicle from the attendant's lazily outstretched hand. Pulling out her clothes, she shuddered one last time and began hurriedly replacing them on her naked body. "There," she thought, "I finally did it. I sure hope they're happy! But to think that I'll have to go through this every single week..." Walking back to her house amid the happy greetings of impressed villagers, she consoled herself with the thought that she just might be able to eventually get used to taking a bath with them. Then her next thought was, "But one thing's for sure -- it will be a long time before anyone back home will be hearing about THIS "quaint native custom"!" No one would understand why she had to go through with it. They just didn't understand what it took to reach these people for Christ. Surely, though, once the villagers became Christians, someone would be able to persuade them to forsake this hideous custom. Already, with American troops occupying the country, the American way of doing things was making rapid inroads among the more educated Japanese. In the cities, she'd heard, the presence of lustful troops had already led to sex segregation in the baths. By the end of this term, or surely by the next, this new way of getting clean would have spread to her village, too. Maybe by then, her supporters back home would be ready to hear her relate the humorous story of this hardship she had endured for the sake of the gospel. Maybe by then, they would even laugh. Maybe by then, even the folks back home wouldn't be clinging to the old ways quite so hard. Maybe changes would come to the way Americans thought about public nakedness. Maybe someday they would no longer be such prudes about modesty.

Conclusion: The Decent Thing To Do

"But we are not going to have our wives dress like prostitutes [by wearing dresses to church]!" So begins Customs and Cultures, Eugene Nida's book on missionary anthropology. At issue was whether or not women in an African church should be required to cover their breasts. Nida does not give a resolution to the dilemma, but he states his philosophy two pages later with the stock phrase, "this does not mean that the ... people are queer -- no, they are just different." Such a philosophy of "to each his own" fails to take into account the worldwide effects of The Fall and the confusion of cultures at Babel. Yes, people in cultures the world over have countless ways of applying or ignoring the need to cover their nakedness, but above all the babble the biblical standards of decency sound a clarion call to dealing with Adam's legacy, the shame of nakedness.

They can be summarized as follows:

1. Nakedness is the exposure to public view of any part of the body between the waist and the knee. It is shameful and simply must be shunned in any choice of clothing style. This is especially true for women, who are responsible for protecting the eyes of men from the lustful temptations that result from seeing their nakedness. If for some reason the thigh does need to be exposed, the genitals must still be protected from public view whenever possible. The only times there is no intrinsic shame associated with nakedness are when a person's genitals themselves are the focus of a procedure such as childbirth or circumcision. This exemption from the usual prohibitions against beholding nakedness is common to any in the audience, and not exclusive to the ones performing the procedure. A man, however, should be the one to perform any procedure around a male's genitals, and a woman likewise around those of a female.

2. Indecency is the exposure to public view of the body from the neck to the waist, and should be reserved for specific physiological or sociological activities that cannot be performed without it. To avoid temptation, as with nakedness, this standard must be held to even more stringently when in mixed company.

3. Individuals can feel free to follow the dictates of the local cultural dress code so long as it does not compromise decency or cause temptation. Dress codes change between social strata, situations, and points in time. Some occasions call for a higher standard of decency than the biblical minimum to avoid temptation. Christians in any culture can be flexible as long as all biblical minimums are met.

4. In heaven, we will all be everlastingly decent without even trying. There will never be any reason to take off our white robes! The best we can do here on earth is make our practice the perfection of heaven and by so doing bring glory to God. Remember, the angels are watching what we wear -- so should we.


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1 comment:

  1. I like 'Doctrine of Decency' more than 'Doctrine of Decentology'!


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