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Should a New Covenant Christian Wear Tassels?

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Should a New Covenant Christian Wear Tassels?

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In a related article, we learned about the Jewish customs of phylacteries and prayer shawls , that those practices are extra-biblical and therefore are not a requirement for Christians today. Another custom that makes an appearance occasionally today is that of wearing tassels. In this article, we will learn about the Old Testament instruction to wear tassels and discuss whether or not New Covenant Christians are still required to observe it today.

Tassels are small, knotted cords of strings, usually about six to 10 inches in length, worn about waist high. Often they are attached to a shawl or waistband, but can adorn any article of clothing.

There are two places in the Books of Moses that give instruction on tassels to the Israelites. The first is Numbers 15:38-40 Numbers 15:38-40 38 Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of the borders a ribbon of blue: 39 And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look on it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: 40 That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
American King James Version×
: “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.”

Almighty God knew that the Israelites would forget His laws. So did Moses. After giving them the Ten Commandments and knowing that their heart was not right, God said, “Oh , that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
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).

Before Moses died God told him that He knew that Israel would forget His laws and Covenant in Deuteronomy 31:16 Deuteronomy 31:16And the LORD said to Moses, Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
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. Moses also knew and warned them (Deuteronomy 31:29 Deuteronomy 31:29For I know that after my death you will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.
American King James Version×
). So is it any wonder that God gave them some physical ways to remind themselves of His laws?

New Covenant Fulfillment

Paul called these reminders a schoolmaster—or in some translations a tutor. “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith”(Galatians 3:24 Galatians 3:24Why the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
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). The tutor has now brought us to Christ. We understand that we are to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 Romans 6:4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
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), and have “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10 Colossians 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
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).

Galatians also teaches us that the ceremonial laws, given 430 years after the covenant with Abraham (which was based on his obedience to God’s commandments, laws, statutes, and charge—Genesis 26:5 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
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) did not change the covenant, but were added because of the record of disobedience of Israel, and would be binding on them until the coming of the Messiah.

In Hebrews we are given a kind of short list to determine just what laws we are talking about: “It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience—and concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances [physical rites] imposed until the time of reformation. But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:9-11 Hebrews 9:9-11 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
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).

In agreeing to the covenant with God in Exodus 19-23, the Israelites twice solemnly swore to obey God and abide by His laws. However, they very quickly disobeyed and demanded a golden calf to worship. This began a long series of sins breaking their promise. This proved to God that Israel did not understand the gravity and their commitment or fear God in the proper way. The purpose of the physical rites and sacrifices was to teach the people of Israel the importance of obeying God’s laws and the seriousness of transgressing them.

“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19 Galatians 3:19Why then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
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).

As a result of Jesus Christ being seated at the right hand of the Father and sending the Holy Spirit to be our helper, we now are to have the laws and commandments of God in our heart and mind. This is the most consequential change made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33 Jeremiah 31:31-33 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
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), then reaffirmed by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 8:8-10 Hebrews 8:8-10 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version×
).

Deuteronomy 22—Judgments

The second chapter that gives instruction on tassels reveals that it is an application principle. This chapter is Deuteronomy 22 and contains judgments. Judgments are not commandments or statutes. They’re instructions on how to apply those laws to given situations. We make judgments every day of our lives as we let God’s laws lead and guide our decisions. Read the first 12 verses, and you will see that these instructions illustrate ways to apply the second great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
).

In this chapter the Israelites are instructed to return lost animals and garments, to give assistance to others when needed (Galatians 6:10 Galatians 6:10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
American King James Version×
), not to cross-dress, not to sow mixed seed, not to plow with unequal animals, or mix specific types of fibers. They are instructed to have mercy on mother birds and to always build a parapet on their house so as to prevent falling off.

While these are all instructions from God and have a spiritual basis, not all apply in a physical way today. Most of us do not live in a house with a parapet (a vertical wall extending past the roofline), however we keep this in principle by making our houses as safe as possible for residents and guests.

The original scriptural intent behind the fringed garment was to remind the Israelites of God’s commandments to them. They were slaves of sin because, lacking the Spirit of God, their human nature and Satan’s influence caused them to resist doing what was right. God intended they be a model nation for the world to take note of, but they weren’t able to do so for very long—they gave in to the base human instincts we are all very familiar with. But that charge to overcome our nature has now been made possible with the giving of the Holy Spirit. We can now obey from the heart. Paul wrote: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18 Romans 6:17-18 17 But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
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).

The instruction to make tassels to remind Israelites not to forget God’s law is now applied by worshipping God not just outwardly, but in spirit and truth. Jesus Christ told the woman at the well, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 John 4:24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
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).

Spiritual Reminders Supercede Physical Ones

Since the coming of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to kill or mortify sin (Romans 8:13 Romans 8:13For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
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), we are to be constantly reminded by spiritual means of our covenant with our God and our need to live righteous lives. God’s written Word is the first and foremost way of doing this.

Peter wrote that his epistles would be one reminder (2 Peter 1:15 2 Peter 1:15Moreover I will endeavor that you may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
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, 3:1-2). We also are to be reminded regularly by our ministers at Sabbath services, at Bible studies, and in fellowship and conversation with God’s people. Paul instructed Timothy to be careful to do this (2 Timothy 2:12-14 2 Timothy 2:12-14 12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: 13 If we believe not, yet he stays faithful: he cannot deny himself. 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
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).

Paul understood that believers were to admonish each other, and he was to remind them constantly of their calling, future, and need to obey God. He wrote, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14 Romans 15:14And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brothers, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
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).

One of the functions of the Spirit of God is to help us remember the teachings of Jesus Christ. Before He was crucified, Jesus promised His disciples: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
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).

Jesus’ Teaching on Pharisees, Phylacteries and Tassels

Many people believe that Jesus wore a garment with tassels, and the biblical record seems to affirm that He did during His human life. Matthew 14:36 Matthew 14:36And sought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.
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and parallel verses give accounts that people in need of healing “begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.” The Greek word translated “hem”— kraspedon —can mean border, hem or fringe.

That same word is also used in a very strong sermon Jesus gave denouncing the scribes and Pharisees. “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders [ kraspedon ] of their garments” (Matthew 23:5 Matthew 23:5But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
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). The thing that’s very clear is His condemnation of doing religious-looking things in order to be seen by others. Over and over again, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their approach to their religion—stating that it was hypocritical (Luke 12:1 Luke 12:1In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, so that they stepped one on another, he began to say to his disciples first of all, Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
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), that their father was Satan the devil and they were doing Satan’s bidding (John 8:44 John 8:44You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
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), and that they had made the law of God of no effect in their lives due to their traditions (Mark 7:7-8 Mark 7:7-8 7 However, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things you do.
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). Their worship was vanity because their motive was wrong.

Jesus powerfully made the point in His sermon on the mount:

Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 Matthew 6:1Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×
, American Standard Version).

Those who wear tassels usually do so out of a sincere desire to obey God. But all too often there have been examples of individuals who have made their observance of this issue (or any other countless number of issues) a cause for division in the Body of Christ. Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for obeying the physical commands to the smallest degree while neglecting the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23-24 Matthew 23:23-24 23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
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).

Likewise we should not make any physical command of which we are personally convinced into an issue that causes division. Paul tackled similar issues in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, where he instructed that, if there is a disagreement between people on a matter regarding a physical observance, let each be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5 Romans 14:5One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
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), and that each should give preference to the other in order not to cause them to stumble before God (1 Corinthians 8:9 1 Corinthians 8:9But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your’s become a stumbling block to them that are weak.
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). Instead, he wrote, let us pursue things which make for peace and which edify one another (Romans 14:19 Romans 14:19Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another.
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).

We are now called to seek those things that are above, where the Messiah reigns from on high (Colossians 2:20-3 Colossians 2:20-3
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:1). We now have a “better covenant based on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6 Hebrews 8:6But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
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). Let us not pursue the vain religion of the Pharisees that seeks recognition from other people. Instead, let us pursue those things which edify the Body, joining and knitting it together by what every member supplies (Ephesians 4:16 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
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).