Published: 13 June 2022

Unholy Hands And Braided Hair

Unholy Hands And Braided Hair

Church is messy. How can it be anything else since the church is a bunch of flawed people. A lot of Christians, myself included, advocate for a return to the practices of the church of the first century AD. In recent years I have realized the modern church has achieved this goal. I know this because churches today are just as messy as the ones the apostle Paul was trying to corral. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul has some words for those with unholy hands and braided hair.

8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim. 2:8–10 ESV)

Angry Ephesian men

“I desire then,” or “therefore I desire” (depending on translation) signals that Paul is shifting thoughts to a new topic, but one that is related to the preceding text. Again, Paul’s concern here is not about prayer directly, but about attitude in prayer.

“First and foremost, he wants the Ephesian church to pray for the salvation of all people. While they are praying, they must do it properly, not colored by anger or disputing, but characterized by holiness.”1

Why were the men’s prayers tainted by anger and quarreling? Perhaps it was from disputes about vain discussions over matters that are speculative at best (1 Tim 1:4, 6). Church members fight best when they fight over matters of personal opinion. I’d wager there was some of that going on in Ephesus. Throw a little false teaching onto the mix and the situation was primed for anger and division amongst the Ephesian brethren.

How to utter a useless prayer

It’s possible to do the very things in worship which God commanded while at the same time worshiping unacceptably. Jesus taught that reconciliation must precede worship (Matt 5:23–24; 6:12, 14–15; Mark 11:25). Isaiah 1:12-17 teaches us that God doesn’t want our acts of worship if we are mistreating those around us. 

The Ephesian men were praying with “unholy hands.” Their anger for one another tainted their relationship with God. “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20 NKJV). 

God wants us to pray in the serenity that comes when we are at peace with one another. Earlier Paul had instructed the Ephesians to pray for those in authority so that they “may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Tim. 2:2 ESV). It hardly does any good to have peace with the ruling authorities if we waste it by squabbling with one another. Paul is emphasizing the lifting of “holy hands.” Paul is not giving directions about the posture of prayer.

“The standard posture of prayer in Judaism is standing (Matt 6:5; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11), arms raised, with palms turned upward (1 Kgs 8:22, 54; Ezra 9:5; Pss 28:2; 63:4; 134:2; 141:2; Lam 2:19; 3:41; Isa 1:15; 2 Macc 3:20). Other positions, such as kneeling and lying prostrate, are also described in Scripture (1 Kgs 8:54; Ps 95:6; Dan 6:10; Matt 26:39; Luke 22:41; Acts 9:40; Rev 11:16). But the emphasis here is not on the posture of prayer but on the hands being ὅσιος, “holy,” meaning that the conduct of the person praying should be acceptable and appropriate to God (cf. Ps 24:3–5).”2  (emphasis added)

This is a picture of men of pure conscience lifting their hands toward God as opposed to angry men shaking their fists at one another. 

The immodest Ephesian women

Just as the men were causing a commotion by their anger and quarreling, it seems the women were also guilty of disruption. They caused a stir by their apparel and extravagant adornment. Opposite a lot of modern claims about Ephesian society, this is probably not a problem that originated from local culture:

“Seductive dress and excessive ornamentation with an accompanying lack of emphasis on character and doing good deeds find expression almost everywhere, both in Paul’s culture and throughout the centuries. Many have pointed out that vv 9–10 parallel much of ancient society’s teaching about women’s clothing and the primacy of character over dress (Scholer, Daughters of Sarah 6 [1980] 3–6; Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives, 103–5). We even read of the connection between seductive dress and its suggestion of marital infidelity.”3

Contrary to Ephesian culture gravitating toward such adornment, the values of these ancient Mediterranean societies encouraged good character above outward adornment. For a woman to do otherwise suggested that she had loose morals.

Modesty is out of style

Immodesty can manifest itself in at least two ways, both of which are designed to attract attention. One can be immodest by wearing clothing that is too revealing. A second way is to adorn oneself in luxurious and costly clothing. We don’t know which of these two extremes the Christian women in Ephesus were indulging in. Probably both since Paul speaks of “respectable apparel” as well as “costly attire.” Hair styles (braided hair, v. 9) and expensive jewelry (gold and pearls, v. 9) can also contribute to immodesty.

Beauty in burlap

Fashion trends come and go, but in the West modesty is a virtue which is often ridiculed and made fun of. Near nudity is on public display everywhere and society condemns those who advise women to cover up accusing them of being old fashioned and judgmental. It is trendy right now to criticize men who blame women’s revealing attire for their lust and temptation. It is certainly true that men, especially Christian men, need to exercise self-control. We cannot always avoid seeing what we ought not to see. Nevertheless, we can choose not to let our gaze linger. God requires every godly man to have pure thoughts even if every woman on the planet dresses immodestly.

It is also certainly true that women, especially godly women, should dress in such a way that they don’t become a temptation. It has been said that some men would lust for a beautiful woman even if she covered herself head to toe in burlap sacks. In many cases, this is true. However, the weakness of some men is not an excuse for women to think men will lust regardless so therefore she can just wear what she wants. God requires every godly woman to dress modestly regardless of men’s ability (or inability) to exercise self control.

How much skin is too much?

When God clothed Adam and Eve, Genesis says He made tunics for them. The word translated tunic is the Hebrew word ketonet (כְּתֹנֶת). This word’s definition is “an inner garment next to the skin; also worn by women; generally with sleeves, coming down to the knees, rarely to the ankles.”4

If God made a garment for Adam and Eve which covered them from the neck to the knees, I suggest this is a good guideline for us to follow today. Christian men and women would do well to cover the parts of the body that God covered.

Costly attire

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he scolded those who were wealthy for flaunting their affluence in front of those who had nothing (1 Cor 11:22). He said they were shaming their needy brethren. This seems to have also been a problem in Ephesus. How would the penniless Christians in Ephesus feel when they saw the prosperous Christian women wearing all of their finery? Would they not feel shamed? Would they not wonder why their rich sisters were not sharing with those who were in need? 

James said, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15–16 NKJV). Then, as now, opulent wealth and abject poverty lived side by side.

Sunday best

While 1 Timothy is not specifically concerned with the church assembly, it is interesting how past generations of Christians viewed “dressing up” for church. It has been the custom over the last century for Christians to wear the very finest clothing we own to church services on Sunday. It might surprise you to learn that in prior centuries this was a no-no. 

“Dressing up for any occasion was only an option for the wealthiest nobility. From medieval times until the eighteenth century, dress was a clear marker of one’s social class. In places like England, poor people were actually forbidden to wear the clothing of the “better” people! 

This changed with the invention of mass textile manufacturing and the development of urban society. Fine clothes became more affordable to the common people. The middle class was born, and those within it were able to emulate the envied aristocracy. For the first time, the middle class could distinguish themselves from the peasants. To demonstrate their newly improved status, they could now “dress up” for social events just like the well-to-do. 

Some Christian groups in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries resisted this cultural trend. John Wesley wrote against wearing expensive or flashy clothing. The early Methodists so resisted the idea of dressing up for church that they turned away anyone who wore expensive clothing to their meetings. The early Baptists also condemned fine clothing, teaching that it separated the rich from the poor.”5  (emphasis added)

It seems that our ancestors may have been more sensitive to the needs and feelings of the poor than we are today.

Unholy Hands And Braided Hair

What were Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24? What did He say we should do when approaching God in worship, but then remember that we have wronged someone? Did He say to go ahead and worship, but then go immediately and make things right? No! He said forget about worshiping God until we reconcile with our brother. Paul’s desire for the men in Ephesus (and for us) was to stop being angry and quarreling with one another. Men who worship God must also be right with their fellow man.

Likewise, Paul is teaching that women should not dress in such a way as to encourage improper attention to themselves. The attention they draw should be because of their good deeds and not their costly, fashionable, or seductive appearance. This is what God desired of the Ephesian sisters, and it is what He desires of Christian women today.


  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 361.
  2. Ibid., 366.
  3. Ibid., 368.
  4. Gesenius, Wilhelm, and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, 1990. 420.
  5. Frank Viola;George Barna. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (Kindle Locations 1557-1564). Kindle Edition.