When you read the above passage, it feels at first that women should all resemble Mennonites or Amish women if they want to remain true to Scripture. No jeans, makeup, nice clothes, attention to your hairstyle.
No normal women (or man!) likes this idea. Women don’t want to be “plain Jane” and men don’t want women to look like they just rolled out of bed. Internally, when passages are read like the one above, Christians either pass it off as “one of those outdated parts of Scripture” and go on wearing what they want, or they just ignore 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and feel guilty about it.
Perhaps there’s a better way. To avoid being a cultural abnormality and thus being repulsive to the general public and yourself, which is not healthy for anyone, but without being “of the world”, which is also not a helpful witness, the only cure is to really look at what Scripture is saying.
1 Timothy 2:9-10 is not a passage about how frumpiness equals holiness. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is a passage about true beauty. Paul says that women should “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” The word “adorn” means make more beautiful or attractive. Paul is saying women should wear modest and respectable clothing not with the intent to be ugly but to be more truly beautiful.
Paul then adds that a woman’s attempt to “adorn” herself, which means to make herself more beautiful, should not be based in things like “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is not condemning women who seek to be more beautiful. In fact 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is actually instructing women to do this very thing. The Holy Spirit speaking through the Bible is not trying to hinder a women’s beauty but enhance it. Paul is telling women them “they should adorn themselves,” (1 Timothy 2:9), just not with outer things like hair, jewelry, or pricing material items (1 Timothy 2:10).
It also important to note that Paul didn’t say women can’t braid their hair. He didn’t say not to wear gold or pearls or costly attire (though a love for money is dangerous, 1 Timothy 6). He said not to use these things as a way of making yourself more beautiful. He said this because outer accessories do not have any power to make you truly beautiful. Paul notes that to be truly beautiful, your profession of faith must match your deeds when he states women should adorn themselves “with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Timothy 2:10).
In other words, if we are known for how welook rather than for how we act, something is wrong.
Whenever a difficult passage of Scripture arises, one must interpret Scripture by Scripture. A parallel passage to 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is 1 Peter 3:3-4, and it states, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Again, this doesn’t prohibit certain hairstyles, jewelry, or clothes. Rather it prohibits certain hairstyles, jewelry, or clothes from being used to try and make yourself more beautiful.
This is not justification to go and wear whatever you want because you think your motivation is good. A dress that shows too much is a dress that shows too much, no matter what motivation you think you have. Whatever a woman wears, it should be “modest and respectable.” God will have to lead each heart each morning when the closet doors open. But he’s not telling you to be frumpy or Amish. He’s just telling you not to base your beauty in how you look. Rather, how you look should be based in the beauty you already have.
The things you wear should be a reflection of how your heart looks on the inside. If you wear skanky clothes, you’re telling everyone your heart is looking for male attention even if it’s abusive and negative because you think that little of yourself. If you wear clothes that scream “slob” then you are telling everyone your heart is so beaten down inside you are embracing the lie that you are ugly.
Paul tells women in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 to dress with modesty and respect because through the costly gospel of Jesus that’s the type of heart a redeemed woman in Christ has – modest, respectful, godly, self-controlled, knowing you are precious to God . . . beautiful.