Does the Bible forbid wearing multi-fabric clothes?

For some reason, the following passage from the book of Leviticus is often ridiculed today:

{19:19} Observe my laws. You shall not cause your cattle to breed with other kinds of animals. You shall not sow your field with diverse seeds. You shall not be clothed with a garment which has been woven from two things.

This verse is even used, strangely, by persons wishing to nullify or contradict other passages, which teach good morals to the faithful. The argument proposes that a rule forbidding wearing clothes made of two different types of fabric is foolish, and then goes on to conclude that some other passage of Scripture, usually a teaching on moral doctrine, is similarly foolish and to be ignored.

First of all, the argument itself is faulty, in its very structure. Suppose some other book, not the infallible Word of God, contains two assertions. And suppose further that we stipulate the first assertion is foolish and false. In no way does this imply that the second assertion must also be foolish or false. So the conclusion does not follow from the premise, and all the more so in the case of the Bible, which is infallible. Nothing asserted by the Bible is foolish or false, for God is the Author of that holy work. If the works of God seem foolish to you, who is the fool, God or you?

Why then does the Bible forbid wearing clothes made of multiple types of fabric?

Catholics understand that the Church has two types of authority:
1. authority over doctrine
2. authority over discipline

Doctrines are teachings on matters of faith, morals, and salvation. Disciplines are not teachings, but practices and judgments of the prudential order (rules, rulings). The prohibitions against murder, theft, lying, and various sexual sins are doctrines on morality. The teaching that Jesus died for our salvation is a doctrine on salvation. The teaching that God is three Persons yet one Divine Nature is a doctrine on faith. Examples of discipline include the specific form of the Mass, rules within Canon Law, rulings by Bishops and the Holy See on various cases and controversies, rules for religious orders, and the various practices used to express our faith. Discipline is changeable and doctrine is not.

The Jewish faith in the Old Testament includes both doctrine and discipline. The Ten Commandments are doctrines. The practices and rules for animal sacrifices and dietary restrictions are discipline. Doctrines are truths, and so they cannot be changed. Disciplines are practices expressing faith, and these can be changed, for we can express our faith in a myriad of different ways.

According to the infallible teaching of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, all the Old Testament disciplines (also called ceremonial precepts) have been dispensed by Christ. Thus, Christians do not engage in animal sacrifices, do not follow the dietary precepts of the Old Testament, and may wear clothing made of different types of cloth. These aspects of the Old Testament are discipline, not doctrine.

But what was the purpose or meaning of this Old Testament practice, to avoid wearing clothing made of different types of fabric, not to sow a field with more than one type of crop, and not to permit different species of animal to interbreed?

The Jewish Faith was the first religion on earth to believe that God is One, and that He has a personal relationship with human persons, which includes the requirement that we do good and avoid doing evil. The pagan religions of ancient times believed in many gods, and these gods did not care much how people behaved. An act that pleased one god might nevertheless anger a different god. And the gods behaved in foolish, selfish, and capricious ways. The pagan gods were not necessarily good and moral, nor did they require their adherents to be good and moral.

It was difficult to establish the Jewish Faith within sinful fallen humanity. For God was not willing to take away our free will, and humanity, at that point, had little understanding of morality and the will of God. So the Jewish Old Testament discipline were designed by God to help instill this first true religion within a segment of humanity, so that eventually the fullness of truth of Christianity could spread to all humanity. Thus, the Old Testament disciplines are often living parables, such that the required behavior teaches and also helps to transform the lives of the faithful.

The animal sacrifices prepared us to understand the one true Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. For those Old Testament sacrifices taught by example the ideas of sacrifice, of repentance, of devotion to God, and of expiation for sin.

The dietary practices were a living parable of the constant need to distinguish between good and evil, between what is and what is not the will of God. It is not that eating pork or shellfish is evil. Rather, the practice of daily distinguishing between clean and unclean foods instilled in faithful Jews the habit of continually considering the will of God in daily life.

By the way, this Jewish practice is based on a more ancient, non-religious practice of categorizing foods based on their likely safety for eating. Shellfish was usually harvested from shallow waters, near settlements. Lacking modern sewage systems, such waters were likely to be contaminated with bacteria, making the shellfish unsafe. Similarly, the meat of swine was more likely than other cattle to be contaminated with parasites. So the ancient peoples who preceded Abraham and Moses did categorize foods this way (though not with the specificity of the Jewish discipline). For example, Noah understood the command of God concerning clean and unclean animals (the clean animals could be used for food), even though he lived many years prior to Abraham (Gen 7:2). So the Jewish law starts with a well-known distinction between clean and unclean foods, and extends this practice to become a living parable of distinguishing the will of God.

It was difficult for the ancient Jews to maintain their faith while being surrounded by peoples who practiced the pagan religions. Many times the Jews fell into the sin of syncretism, which merges two or more different belief systems into one. They incorporated pagan practices and beliefs into their practice of Judaism.

{2:20} From ancient times, you have broken my yoke; you have torn apart my bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’ For on every high hill, and under every leafy tree, you have been debased, O harlot.
{2:21} Yet I planted you as an elect vineyard, with only true seed. Then how have you been turned away from me, toward that which is depraved, O strange vineyard?

This complaint by God through the prophet refers to Jews who fell into pagan beliefs and practices, or who combined Judaism with paganism in some way. The pagans worshipped by setting up altars under leafy trees and on high hills.

The Jewish discipline of rejecting clothing made of more than one type of fabric was a living parable, reminding them to keep their religious beliefs and practices pure. A garment made of two or more types of fabric woven together was used as a figure for syncretism, combining the beliefs or practices of two or more different belief systems, thereby adulterating the Jewish faith. It is not that wearing such clothing is sinful. Rather, the practice was used as a continual reminder to keep the faith pure, shunning other belief systems.

The same is true for the other restrictions of Leviticus 19:19 — sowing a field with more than one type of seed, or breeding two different types of animals together. These practices were not moral evils, but rather disciplines designed to teach and remind the faithful to be single-hearted in their religious beliefs and devotion to God.

Christians today would do well to imitate this practice, not by our clothing choices, but by keeping our faith pure and free from adulteration by the belief system presented to us by sinful secular society. For modern society has its own pseudo-dogmas, which it insists everyone accept, and it has its own pseudo-disciplines, which it insists everyone incorporate into their lives. But we must remain single-hearted in our devotion to Christ and His teachings.

As for those persons who ridicule the Old Testament disciplines, including clothing, diet, and religious ceremonies, they ridicule the Wisdom of God. And God himself will punish them for their contemptuous rebuke of glorious wisdom.

Now the Old Testament disciplines are not incumbent on Christians. Even so, the truths taught by these practices remain as good lessons for us all. For none of the truths of Sacred Scripture will ever become false or foolish. Regardless of which disciplines are in use by which set of believers, the moral teachings of the Bible are infallible and unchangeable. For all truths of morality are an expression of the very Nature of God, who is goodness and truth. The truths taught by the Bible on morality cannot change because the Nature of God cannot change from good to evil. All disciplines will eventually pass away. But truth continues forever. And all sins will be condemned by God on the day of Judgment.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to Does the Bible forbid wearing multi-fabric clothes?

  1. patrick mcmanus says:

    That’s an excellent piece, Ron. I really appreciate its context, especially in todays society.

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