The mention of tassels appeared in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses wrote: “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself” (Deuteronomy 22:12). And he added “that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue” (Numbers 15:38).
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The Old Testament practice
Anciently, the Jews wore “tassels” publicly on their outer garment. As this branded them in times of persecution, they removed the tassels to their inner clothing instead. Later on, they carried on the custom of wearing the tassels, or twisted cords, only on the covering that they wore whey they prayed.
Jesus rebuked the religious leaders
In the New Testament, Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for their hypocrisy saying, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matthew 23:5-7).
The concept of wearing phylacteries was based on the Jew’s literal interpretation of the following verse, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8 also Exodus 13:9). The phylacteries that the Jews wore consisted of little stacks that contained a strip of 30 scriptural verses. These were fastened to the forehead and to the left arms of males.
As for the tassels, the religious leaders used to “enlarge” their fringes to make themselves more noticeable. So, it drew the attention of the people to them. And thus, it identified them as being holy beyond the instructions of the law and more than other people. Jewish law mandated only the minimum measurements.
The New Testament instruction
God never intended that His people would literally wear phylacteries (Scriptural verses) on their forehead and their arms. Rather, He designed that His words will be accepted in the mind and applied in the life of His believers. And He also instructed that the tassels were merely serve as a constant reminder that they belonged to God. For His people were to reflect His principles in their dress and their actions. But the Jews took these instructions literally and lost the purpose for which they were intended.
There is no instruction in the New Testament to wear tassels. However, the believer is admonished to dress modestly and simply (1 Peter 3:3,4 and 1 Timothy 2:9; Matthew 6:28,29). Instead of focusing on the worldly trends that draw attention to oneself, the believer should focus on the “inner beauty” of a meek and quiet spirit. A Christian should not dress or act like the world (Romans 12:2).
In His service,