Christian Churches of God

Blue Ribbons (No. 273)

(Edition 1.0 19981212-19981212) Audio

The Bible commands as a reminder of the Law of God that we wear blue ribbons placed on the fringes or borders of our garments.


Christian Churches of God




(Copyright ã 1998 Thomas McElwain, John and Theresa Simons, Wade Cox)

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Blue Ribbons


The remarks following intend to propose applications of the legislation set out in the following verses:

Numbers 15:38 Speak unto 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 upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:

Numbers 15:39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring.

Deuteronomy 22:12 Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.

This paper is appropriately an appendix of the First Great Commandment and derived from the concepts of the First Commandment.

In order to understand the verses adequately, the original, contextual sense of the words used is necessary. In Matthew 9:20; 14:36; 23:5; Mark 6:56; and Luke 8:44 the word hem or border is mentioned. It is the Greek word kraspedon (Strong’s Greek Dictionary (SGD) 2899) which is defined by Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as the extremity or prominent part of a thing, edge, skirt, margin; the fringe of a garment; i.e. a little appendage hanging down from the edge of the mantle or cloak, made of twisted wool; a tassel, tuft.

The word mentioned in Zechariah 8:23 and 1Samuel 15:27 is kanaph, which is Strong Hebrew Dictionary (SHD) 3671 and which defines as an edge or extremity; spec. (of a bird or army) a wing, (of a garment or bed clothing) a flap, (of the earth) a quarter, (of a building) a pinnacle.

The KJV translators used the following expressions for kanaph: border, corner, end, feather(ed), overspreading, quarters, skirt, uttermost part, wing(ed), as well as functions of birds, flying, one another, and sort. Kanaph is defined in Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon as 1) a wing, 2) edge, extremity - (a) of a garment, the skirt; fully the skirts of a mantle 1Sam. 24:5,12; Num. 15:38; Deut. 22:12 - also without the name of the garment. Zech. 8:23, ‘the skirt (of a mantle) of a man who is a Jew.’… b) the extremities of the earth (just as the inhabited earth is often compared to a cloak spread out). Is. 24:16 ‘the extremity of the earth’. Especially in pl. Job 37:3; 38:13, ‘the extremities of this earth’; and Ps. 11:12; Ezek. 7:2, ‘the four quarters,’ or ‘extreme bounds of the earth.

The term four quarters of the earth does not imply a literal four square sided earth, nor should it be so literally applied to the garment.

The word fringe mentioned in Numbers 15:38 et al. is SHD 6734 (tsitsith), which Strong defines as a floral or wing-like projection, i.e. a fore-lock of hair, a tassel. The KJV translators chose the words fringe and lock. Gesenius defines it as fringe, properly something like a flower or feather… (1) the forelock of the hair (2) the borders, the fringed edges, which the Israelites wore on the corners of their garments, Numbers 15:38,39.

The word fringes mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:12 is SHD 1434 (gedil) which Strong defines as from 1431 (in the sense of twisting); thread, i.e. a tassel or festoon. The KJV translators chose the words fringe and wreath.

The word ribband in Numbers 15:38 is SHD 6616, pathil, which Strong defines as from 6617; twine. The KJV translators chose the words bound, bracelet, lace, line, ribband, thread, and wire.

The word blue, SHD 8504, tekheleth, is defined as prob. For 7827; the cerulean mussel; i.e. the colour (violet) obtained there or stuff dyed therewith. The KJV translators consistently translate this as blue. Gesenius remarks a shell fish, specially one so called (helix ianthina, Linn.), i.e. a species of mussel found in the Mediterranean sea, with a blue shell, from which the cerulean purple is made,… hence cerulean purple, and garments (wool, thread), dyed with this purple, Ex. 26:4,31; Numbers 4:6, seqq.; Ezekiel 23:6; 27:7,24.

The word tekheleth, translated blue is used for the Mediterranean mussel which is the origin of the dye in question (no Biblical example), for cloth so dyed (Ex. 25:4; 26:1,4; et al.), and for the colour itself (only in Est. 1:6). Although the texts refer to the dye substance rather than the colour specifically, as shown by many joint references to blue (tekheleth) and purple (argaman), both of which include a variety of hues, the words can be used as distinct terms of colour. Song of Solomon 7:5(6) implies that argaman/purple is a term of colour which is much darker than tekheleth/blue. The fact that words for dye substances rather than separate colour words are used does not imply that only the specific dye substances are intended, since no other specific colour words are found in Biblical Hebrew. In sum, the Hebrew word is best understood to apply to a blue colour distinguishable from purple in being recognisably lighter. Jews have interpreted these texts in such a way as to completely negate them and wear white thread on their prayer shawls, under their garments.

The word kasuuth is translated vesture once and raiment once. In all other cases it is translated cover. This is in accordance with the verb root from which it is derived, which basically means to cover.

The word beghed is much more common, and is most often translated garment. It also comes from a verb meaning to cover. It is clearly an outer covering used both as clothing in the day and as a cover at night. It is graphically described in the story of Joseph in Genesis 39:12-18.

The outer covering or blanket in many cases seems to be the only possession of value. It is therefore often taken as pledge, so often that the very word is almost synonymous with pledge, as in Job 22:6, Proverbs 20:16; 27:13; Ezekiel 18:7,16; and Amos 2:8. It is the most common pledge mentioned in the Bible.

Exodus 22:26 If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? And it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto Me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

The same is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:10-17, especially 13: that he may sleep in his own raiment and bless thee. This is the normal word used in the Bible for what we would think of as a sleeping blanket. A number of other words are used for tailored and even untailored articles of clothing.

The content and purpose of the command

There are two applications of the command. The first is that the command relates to the fabrication of the kasuuth and beghed in such a way that the warp and woof are not bound or woven, but left as fringes on all four sides of the cloth, upon which they are secured by means of a blue thread or band around all four sides in such a way that the blue thread remains visible when in use. Neither length of fringes nor width of the blue band are stipulated, only that they be visible as a reminder to the individual. The commandment is a personal thing as we see from the fact that there is no punishment prescribed and hence it is not a matter of legislative jurisdiction.

The purpose of the command is varied. Firstly, the fringes and band of blue are to be seen and therefore visible but the legislation is directed to or at the individual. The sight of these is to serve as a reminder of all the commandments of the Lord. The reminder has the purpose of fostering obedience to the commandments. Finally, the command has the purpose of fostering obedience to God rather than dependence on one’s own desires or concepts of right and wrong.

Application of the commandment

The question of application turns on whether or not the command is of abiding relevance, and if so, how it should be applied in modern circumstances. An opinion on these two issues will be determined by two presuppositions. The first is that the covenant with Israel is binding on all descendants of those present at Mount Sinai at the giving of the law and not merely on the descendants of Judah. The second presupposition is that legislation should be interpreted as literally as contextually possible.

The phrase "throughout their generations" clearly states the greatest possible time period for the validity of the command. Furthermore, the Gospels refer to the example of Christ in adhering to the command. Matthew 9:20 "And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment." Matthew 14:36 "And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole."

The purpose of the command is also of abiding importance. That is, a reminder to keep the commandments is as useful today as when the command was given. Furthermore, people are still inclined to rely on other criteria of right and wrong besides the divine legislation. Therefore, the necessity of the command remains. This command stands and as a command in biblical legislation it cannot be reduced in importance or made light of in its application. This is also the view of R. J. Rushdoony in his work The Institutes of Biblical Law. He says the Blue Thread required cannot not be spiritualized away although he incorrectly holds that it was superseded by new signs of the covenant as were the Sabbath and circumcision. However, he denies Calvin’s views and says Calvin mars the legislation. (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973, pp. 22-23)

The next issue is in modern application. A literal keeping of the commandment restricts the use of the blue thread between the cloth and the fringes to the beghed and kasuuth, that is, to a textile covering used both as a sleeping blanket at night and an outer covering by day. Any other application would then be argued as going beyond the literal command and risks fostering legislative innovation.

The fringes and blue band are mentioned only for the beghed and kasuuth, whereas there are many other articles of clothing mentioned in the Bible. The clear command is to place the blue band on the beghed and kasuuth. The implication is then argued that the blue band is not to be placed on other articles of clothing. Since the use of the beghed and kasuuth is extremely limited in modern practice, the literal application of the command seems entirely inadequate.

One opinion is that a shawl in the form of the beghed/kasuuth acquired and used as a sleeping blanket and as a shoulder shawl (or poncho), on any appropriate occasion, fulfils the commandment, and that blue bands and fringes attached to any other garment do not fulfil the commandment. Such a view requires that the law does not mandate continual and constant use of the garment. Such a garment might then be seen as a shawl, roughly square (from an absurd literal interpretation of the word) and untailored, woven so that the warp and woof form fringes on all four sides. A blue thread or band should then be sewn between the fringes and the body of the cloth. In view of the admonition of Deuteronomy 22:5, there should be a clear difference between a man’s fringed garment and that of a woman. On the other hand, without tailoring, the difference between a masculine and feminine blanket is difficult to maintain without legislative innovation. Therefore, by another verdict Deuteronomy 22:5 should be applied only to tailored clothing and not blanket coverings.

The texts of Deuteronomy and Numbers can then be held to confirm the distinction and the ribbons of blue thread are personal bindings on hems which for countless centuries have been bound back into the body of the garment. Thus the ribbon is placed on them as a reminder in conformity to the legislation.

Since the legislation does not relate to time, place, or corporate activity, it remains a matter of personal practice. Furthermore, no penalty is stipulated for neglecting it. As a personal reminder, however, it certainly expresses a desire to remember, love, and fulfil the commandments of God.