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Can Women Braid their Hair? (1 Tim 2:9)
One of the more misused verses in the Bible is 1 Timothy 2:9 and its supposed four-fold prohibition against braided hair, gold, pearls, expensive clothing. Among other things, almost every woman in the ancient world braided their hair, and to do otherwise was seen as a sign of rebellion. Just look at the statues of the time and you can see how women wore their braided hair. So what is going on in 1 Timothy 2:9?
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Let’s start with the KJV. “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.” (“Broided” is apparently an old spelling of “braided.”) Notice the punctuation. Four things are being prohibited.
The problem is that this is not what the Greek says. Notice the conjunctions: “braided hair and (καί) gold or (ἤ) pearls or (ἤ) costly attire.” It would be clearer of Paul had said “and (καί) costly attire,” but nonetheless the following is still valid. It is not “braided hair, or.” It is “braided hair and.”
Here’s the point. The prohibition is two-fold. If I were writing a more dynamic translation, I would say women are not to adorn themselves “with braided hair and gold or pearls norwith costly attire.”
Of the modern translations, the NRSV follows the KJV and misses this one the most: “not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes.” The CSB uses “elaborate hairstyles” but I can find no justification for that meaning; “not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel.” The NIV surprisingly translates καί as “or”: “not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”
Braided hair was the stand hair style, but the problem in the Ephesian church was that the wealthy women were setting themselves apart with all the gold and pearls they would put into their braided hair, and they were also wearing extravagantly expensive clothing. See my commentary for documentation.
Of course, Paul is more concerned with their priorities, and therefore concludes that they should be clothed “with good deeds.” Since good deeds are not technically clothing, the point being made is one of their priorities, their hearts.
It seems that in any culture the wealthy often find ways to set themselves apart. Some of it is natural; they may have nicer cars or nicer homes. But in the gathered church, where all are equal, we should work to remove cultural divides and all be one in Christ. In that case, it would be even harder to disobey James: “My brothers, stop showing favoritism as you live out your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” and this includes not showing favoritism to the wealthy (2:2–7).