Do Christians have to wear tassels today?


In our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,” we stated the following:

“Another example [of an injunction which is no longer valid today for Christians] would be a law contained in Deuteronomy 22:12, commanding that tassels be made on the four corners of one’s clothing. The reason is given in Numbers 15:38–40: ‘…that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD to do them… and so be holy to the LORD.’ … Today, God’s Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s law. Ancient Israel needed those physical reminders, however, as the Holy Spirit was not promised or given to them. Under the New Covenant, those physical reminders should not be necessary, as the law of God is being written on our hearts and minds.”

God gave this commandment to carnal people who did not have a heart to obey Him (Deuteronomy 5:29); nor would they have been able to obey God according to the spirit (2 Corinthians 3:1-8). But even obedience according to the letter was not something which the Israelites did; and the original intent of tassels was in time greatly abused and perverted. Today, as mentioned above, a Christian is being led by the Holy Spirit (carnal Israel did not have access to God’s Holy Spirit), and so it is God’s Spirit which reminds him of God’s law and enables him to keep the law in its spiritual sense (John 14:26; Galatians 5:16).

This is why true Christians do not build literal tabernacles or bring animal sacrifices during the Feast of Tabernacles—which were just physical ritual injunctions (Ezra 3:4; Nehemiah 8:14-15)—but they do obey the spiritual intent of the law by keeping the days during the Feast of Tabernacles away from their home in temporary dwellings such as hotels or vacation homes. True Christians do not eat a Passover lamb with bitter herbs and spices, but they keep the Passover with the symbols of bread and wine (pointing figuratively at the abused body and shed blood of Jesus Christ).

It is interesting to analyze how tassels or fringes (Authorized Version) were ultimately used by the Israelites and especially the Jews at Jesus’ time.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary states regarding Numbers 15:38:

“The fringes were not appointed for trimming and adorning their clothes, but to stir up their minds by way of remembrance…”

The tassels were “memory devices to keep the wearer focused on the commandments of God” (Nelson Study Bible, comment to Numbers 15:38). In time, their intended purpose, even for physical Israel, was abused and lost. This reminds us of the brass serpent which at one time fulfilled a godly-ordained purpose (Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14), but which was later idolized so that it had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). We might also remember the record about Gideon’s ephod (Judges 8:27). Having physical “reminders” like these, in connection with the worship of God, can easily become a distraction and border on idol worship. The so-called adoration of the “Christian” cross or the worship of the statutes of “saints” would be additional examples, even though none of these pagan practices were ever permitted in Scripture.

The above-mentioned commentary also expressed that the tassels were used by the people to “proclaim… themselves Jews wherever they were, as not ashamed of God and his law.”

However, today, this is not the purpose of God’s ministers and disciples. They are not to draw undue attention to themselves, but they are to proclaim the message of God’s Kingdom. Ministers are not to be called “Reverend” (a term exclusively used for God; Psalm 111:9; Authorized Version), or “Holy Father” (another term exclusively used for God, Matthew 23:9), and they are not to wear special clothing or robes to lift themselves up as ministers (a custom derived from the Babylonian mystery religion; compare Matthew 23:12).

The Pulpit Commentary states regarding tassels:

“We quote again from the Jewish ‘Class. Book:’ ‘Every male of the Jewish nation must wear a garment [not usually an undergarment] made with four corners, having fringes fixed at each corner. These fringes are called tsetsis, or, memorial fringes. In the synagogue, during the morning prayers, a scarf with fringes attached to it is worn, which is called tollece, “scarf or veil.” These memorial fringes typically point out the six hundred and thirteen precepts contained in the volume of the sacred Law. They are also intended to remind us of the goodness of the Almighty in having delivered our forefathers from the slavery in Egypt.’”

The “sacred Law” was a collection from the Book of Moses and included spiritual as well as ritual laws. While the spiritual laws (the Ten Commandments, as well as statutes and judgments, which define the Ten Commandments) are still obligatory today, the ritual laws (including the sacrificial system and fleshly ordinances of washings) have been superseded by the death of Jesus Christ. If tassels were worn to remind us of all these laws, then the importance of Christ’s sacrifice would be missed.

Friedman, Commentary on the Torah, also recognizes the ritual character of the commandment to wear tassels. He states on page 414:

“Some even feel the need to justify ritual by attempting to connect each ritual act to some ethical value… ‘we wear fringes to remind us to be kind…’ This is misleading…”

In fact, even orthodox Jews do not wear tassels as described in Numbers and Deuteronomy. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states:

“… on this square garment, and the four corners or skirts of it, were the fringes put… and these were to be wore by them throughout their generations until the Messiah came, and they seem to have been worn by him, Matthew 9:20 [but see our discussion below]; however, it is certain they were worn by the Pharisees in his time, Matthew 23:5; at present this four cornered garment is not anywhere in common use among the Jews…”  Instead, some wear it today as an under-garment of smaller size, especially during the morning prayer in the synagogue.

At Jesus’ time, and subsequently, some attached almost superstitious meaning to this temporary law. They went so far as to give tassels a magical importance. Gill explains:

“The observance of this law is of so much consequence with the Jews, that they make all the commandments to depend on it; and say, that it is equal to them all, and that he that is guilty of the breach of it, is worthy of death: they ascribe the like virtue to these fringes, as to their phylacteries, and think themselves much the better for the wearing them; and the Pharisees, because they would appear with a greater air of sanctity and devotion than others, made theirs larger…”

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary alludes to the superstitious feelings of Jews in regard to tassels and states that “Matthew condenses the account [of the healed woman] but notes that Jesus made clear to the woman that faith, not the tassel, had obtained this cure.”

Tassels are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:12. According to Gill, “Though a different word is here used from that in Numbers 15:38, yet the same things are intended… Though there have been some, whom Aben Ezra takes notice of, who supposed that this is a law by itself, and to be observed in the night, as that in Numbers 15:38 was in the day; but these he warmly opposes, and calls them liars.” Regardless, the principles expressed regarding Numbers 15:38 equally apply to Deuteronomy 22:12.

We cannot say for sure that Christ wore tassels because of the directives in Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12. The above-quoted passage in Matthew 9:20 says that the woman touched the “hem” of His garment. Compare Luke 8:44, where it is translated “border,” but the Greek word (“kraspedon”) is the same. Strong, No. 2899, states that its origin is uncertain, and that it has the meaning of “a margin,” and especially of a fringe or a tassel or a border or a hem.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says that this “garment was probably the square garment which was thrown over the shoulders… This was surrounded by a border or ‘fringe’; and this ‘fringe,’ or the loose threads hanging down, is what is meant by the ‘hem.’” Mark 5:27 only says that the sick woman touched His garment.  In another incident, Matthew 14:36 makes further reference to the “hem” of His garment.  As mentioned, Christ chided the Pharisees in Matthew 23:5 that they “enlarge[d] the borders of their garment.”

If Christ wore tassels pursuant to and in compliance with Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12, then He did of course not do so for the purpose of reminding Himself of God’s Law. He—the God of the Old Testament who GAVE the law in the first place—would not have had to have physical reminders to impress on Him the need to keep the Law. He would have just been obedient to ritual prescriptions which had not yet been abolished—they would be abrogated at the time of His death.

He also commanded a cleansed leper to present himself to the priest to fulfill passing ritual provisions in the Law of Moses (Matthew 8:4); and He kept the Old Testament Passover by eating a lamb, before changing the symbols to bread and wine. Further, in wearing tassels, He would have avoided unnecessary offense in an environment where tassels were worn (compare as another example, Matthew 17:24-27).  At the same time, Jesus refused to obey hypocritical human customs which were not based on Scripture (Mark 7:1-13).

The same is true today. Christians are not to participate in man-made (pagan) customs such as Christmas, Easter or Halloween activities. Also, they do not follow and practice superseded ritual laws. Christians are under no obligation to wear tassels today. To insist that they need to do so in an environment where such tassels are NOT worn, would cause unnecessary offense, scorn and ridicule. As Christians, we are to draw attention away from us, but instead direct it towards God and His Word, so that “by all means,” we might “save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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