What does “modesty” refer to in 1 Timothy 2:9?

I have seen some debate recently about what “modest” means in 1 Timothy 2:9. Some say it addresses extravagantly expensive clothing while others claim that it addresses sexually provocative clothing. Here’s the text:

“Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire…”1 Timothy 2:9

I just did a round-up of major commentaries on the question. By and large, they don’t treat the term as an either/or but as a both/and. In general, they argue that in the ancient world ostentatious dress was often for the purpose of appearing “enticing.” So to dress in a “modest” way would be to avoid both extravagance and seduction.

You can read what I found in the quotations below.


aidos, ‘modesty, respectful fear, discretion, propriety’… It became used for individuals’ attitude to themselves and thus developed the idea of ‘shame’ or ‘modesty’. Here it refers to the modesty or decency with which women should behave. This includes the avoidance of clothing and adornment which might be both showy and extravagant as well as sexually enticing.”

I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles


“Women are as responsible for the integrity of God’s people at worship as men are. If men may imperil that integrity by misplaced zeal, women may do so by undue attention to how they look… Women in any locale have ways of assuring by their intentional appearance that they will contribute more to the sensual consciousness of people around them, or simply to awareness of their beauty real or imagined, than to a consciousness of holy God.”

Robert Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus


“He tells women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety… The general impression is clear, that women are to be discreet and modest in their dress, and not to wear any garment which is deliberately suggestive or seductive.”

John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy


“He wishes therefore that their dress should be regulated by modesty and sobriety; for luxury and immoderate expense arise from a desire to make a display either for the sake of pride or of departure from chastity.”

John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy


“The rest of verses 9—10 elaborates on proper deportment. It consists of modesty and discretion with respect to dress instead of enticing and ostentatious clothing.”

Thomas R. Schreiner, Women in the Church


“A particular dress code was in effect because, with her outer dress, the woman would signal either modesty and dignity or promiscuous availability.”

Philip H. Towner, The First Letter to Timothy


“The exhortation of verses 9-10, in which Paul encourages Christian women to ‘dress modestly, with decency and propriety,’ with ‘good deeds’ rather than with elaborate hair styles and ostentatious clothes, might also be directed against the impact of the false teaching in Ephesus. For ostentatious dress, in the ancient world, sometimes could signal a woman’s loose morals and independence from her husband.”

Douglas Moo, “What Does It Mean Not To Teach or Have Authority over Men?”


“The description of the clothing, hairstyle, and jewelry suggests two reasons why they were improper. (1) One is inordinate expense… (2) The other is traditional association with immoral behavior… In sum, they are to avoid what exudes wealth and what suggests immorality.”

Walter L. Liefeld, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus


“There is evidence from antiquity that these particular adornments—elaborate braiding of hair, gold, pearls, expensive clothing—while not evil in themselves, could be marks of sinful motives: ‘It is the excess and sensuality that the items connote that Paul forbids (cf. Jas. 5:1–6), not braids, gold, pearls, or even costly garments in and of themselves’ [George Knight, p. 136]. It is not that all braids and gold and pearls and clothing were wrong. It is only those that express seduction or ostentation.”

Denny Burk, “1 Timothy,” in Ephesians—Philemon, ESV Expository Commentary