Question: Your magazine often describes the Ten Commandments and other Old Testament teachings as still applicable to Christians today. So, are Christians supposed to follow the command in the Law of Moses to wear "fringes" or "tassels" on their garments (Numbers 15:38-41; Deuteronomy 22:12)?
Answer: First, we need to understand what tassels signified. Ancient Israel transgressed the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai (see Exodus 32). As a result of that transgression, another law was added to what God had previously given (Galatians 3:19). That added law is sometimes referred to as the "Mosaic Law."
Not to be confused with the timeless provisions of the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law contained statutes and judgments involving an elaborate sacrificial system and its associated ceremonies— much of which was a physical foreshadowing of Jesus Christ's ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind (Hebrews 9:1-14). A number of the statutes also gave the Israelites physical symbols that hinted at the role of the risen Christ in the lives of true Christians (Galatians 2:20).
The statute prescribing the wearing of tassels, in effect, instituted a physical symbol that stood in place of the Holy Spirit, which God would give to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). The tassels were put on the four corners of a cloak or outer garment as a reminder to keep God's commandments.
By Jesus' day, the Pharisees had already devised basic rules for the shape of the outer garment or cloak (square) and the tying and wearing of the tassels on its corners. This outer cloak was the ancestor of the prayer shawl worn by many who practice rabbinic Judaism today. Rabbinic sources described five of the articles of clothing a Jewish man would wear: his shoes, his head covering, his square outer cloak, his girdle, and his undergarment.
Many Christians do not realize that the New Testament clearly demonstrates that Jesus wore essentially the same clothing that any observant Jewish man would have worn. Scripture describes that the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus gambled to determine who would receive his seamless undergarment (John 19:23). Four times in the Gospels, the Greek word kraspedon refers to the tassels on Jesus' garments, which people sought to touch that they might be healed (Matthew 9:20; 14:36; Mark 6:56; Luke 8:44).
So, since today's Christians are to follow Jesus' example in their personal lives (1 Peter 2:21), does this mean that we should wear tassels as He did? To answer this question, we first need to understand what those tassels signified.
Ancient Israel showed a consistent "track record" of disobedience to God, displaying both weakness and stubbornness. Drawing on a well-documented custom of the time, God ordained the use of tassels by ancient Israel as a reminder (Numbers 15:38-41). Had ancient Israel proved itself able to obey one of the very first commandments which God gave to mankind—"Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat," including the tree of life, but not including the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17)—then tassels would never have been needed as a physical reminder. God's commandments would have been written on the hearts and minds of all the ancient Israelites, just as they are presently written on the hearts of true Christians (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-13).
In order to preach in the synagogues of His day, Jesus followed the custom of wearing the traditional attire prescribed by the Jewish authorities. He looked rather "average"—like other Jews of His day, such that the authorities needed Judas' help to identify Him in a crowd when they sought to arrest Him (Mark 14:45). However, while Jesus wore the tassels commonly used in His day, He never personally needed the "reminder" that the tassels were intended to be (John 2:25; 3:34).
And the symbol of the tassels became unnecessary—redundant—as soon as Jesus Christ had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to His Church. One who has God's Holy Spirit indwelling is "wearing" the spiritual fulfillment of what tassels were intended to picture!