The act or desire of 2×2 females to improve their outward appearance to be more in line with their culture is sometimes denounced as vanity and vexation (abbreviated V&V). This phrase comes from Ecclesiastes and is intended to provide a scriptural reason why they should not wear cosmetics, slacks, jewelry, cut their hair or wear it down, etc.
Used in this context, the V&V phrase contains the not so subtle innuendo that doing so is succumbing to vanity, pride and/or conceit, which are not becoming to a woman professing godliness.
Unfortunately, this ambiguous explanation has been passed down in many generations of 2×2 families, mother to daughter, worker to worker, etc. Many brother workers have instructed the female friends in and out of meetings, conventions, special meetings, etc., to model their appearance after the sister workers. Plainness and appearing au naturale are viewed as godly virtues.
Because Queen Victoria preferred the natural look, it became the style during the Victorian Era (1837–1901). It was during this Era that the 2×2 Sect began. Through the years, the Workers have continued to promote the natural look for 2×2 women as though it was a standard and command of God. It was not—it was Queen Victoria’s preference.
Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, uses the phrase vanity and vexation seven times. This phrase is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Ecclesiastes is unique in Scripture. It is the only book that reflects a human—rather than a divine—point of view. Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s autobiography of his investigation into the meaning of life. It records his experiences, discoveries and observations from his human perspective.
The Five Ws and One H
Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?
Researchers have generally concluded that an investigation is incomplete unless it answers six questions: who, what, when, where, why and how (commonly referred to as the Five Ws and One H). This method is used below to study the meaning of V&V at the time Solomon wrote the phrase. It is the right and duty of Christians to not blindly follow the interpretations of others.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).
Replies to honest questions presented with holy-sounding language, such as V&V, may give the impression that God spoke, confirmed or authorized the statement as being applicable to women’s appearance. Is this really true? Let’s dig deeper and investigate Ecclesiastes using the Five Ws and One H method.
Who? Surprise! It was NOT God who spoke the phrase vanity and vexation—it was King Solomon presenting his personal observations about the meaning of life from the viewpoint of a natural man who respected God. He began the book with: The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. He refers to himself as the preacher (aka teacher) seven times. The word Ecclesiastes means preacher.
Notice that he didn’t call himself a prophet. Prophets were appointed by God to deliver to men a divine message. Notice also that Solomon issued no commands from God. He refers to God 41 times and not one is a commandment. He uses the word commandments only three times; two regarding the king’s commandments and one regarding God’s commandments (the Mosaic Law).
Solomon was not putting into words a heavenly vision or divine insight. In his great wisdom, he embarked on a pilgrimage to evaluate life and to consider the work of God (7:13) under the sun (i.e. on planet Earth), a phrase he used 29 times.
Because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth (Ecc.12:9).
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, examined and journaled life from the view of a natural, human—apart from divine revelation. He respected God, believed man’s spirit would return to God (12:7) and that God would judge man’s works. Five times he encouraged man to Fear God.
What is the phrase vanity and vexation. What do the words refer to? What was the intent or meaning of the author, King Solomon, at the time he used this expression? Was he referring to female appearances?
When? Sometime during Solomon’s 40-year reign of Israel (971–931 B.C.). His age and the date are unknown.
Where? In Ecclesiastes. This is the only place in the Bible that the V&V phrase is used in the Old Testament. It occurs seven times (Ecc. 1:14; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 4:4; 4:16; 6:9).
Dictionaries tell us what a word meant at a particular time—not what it meant before that time, after or today. So, clarity will not come from consulting current dictionaries, as many word meanings have changed since 1611 when the KJV was translated.
The Old Testament (and these seven verses in Ecclesiastes) has been translated from ancient Hebrew manuscripts into many Bible versions, the KJV being one of many. How do other English Bibles translate V&V? Bible Gateway online provides translations of 36 English Bibles.
VANITY. Most frequently, the Hebrew words vain and vanity in these seven verses are translated as that which is futile and foolishness; other translations are: vapor, useless, empty, meaningless, pointless, senseless, waste of time, transitory, fleeting, passing by quickly, and not lasting. In other words, life is nothing but a vapor that soon evaporates.
The books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon all present the Hebrew words vain and vanity as nothing more than a fleeting breath, a vapor. Some other Bible translations for vain in Proverbs 31:30 (Beauty is vain) are fleeting, fades, can vanish, disappears, doesn’t last, is passing or comes to nothing.
VEXATION. In the same 36 English Bibles, the Hebrew word vexation is translated in these seven verses most frequently as grasping for the wind, pursuing the wind, striving after wind; other translations are: feeding on the wind, trying to catch the wind, chasing the wind, and trying to embrace the wind (some show these alternate translations in their marginal notes). Some of these translations are:
NIV: I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecc. 1:14 NIV).
NASB: I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is futility and striving after wind (Ecc. 1:14 NASB).
CSB: I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind (Ecc. 1:14 CSB).
Notice that in Ecclesiastes, the word vanity did not hold the connotation of being conceited or desiring to appear attractive. Likewise, the word vexation did not hold the current meaning of frustration, perplexity, exasperation, confusion, stressed, etc.
A brother worker corroborated this meaning of V&V: The thought came in his [Solomon’s] mind, What are we getting out of this? He said, ‘Life is vexation of spirit and all is vanity.’ Vexation of spirit is the pursuit of wind, just chasing the wind. Trying to get something out of this life materially is just vanity and vexation of spirit. Trying to get something that is going to be yours forever is just vexation. That is what Solomon was seeing in all of this. (Dan Henry, 2003, Boring Oregon)
Why? What was the context? What precipitated Solomon’s writing these words? In the introduction to Ecclesiastes, he stated that he went on a personal mission to discover what life is all about and recorded his process and observations. He explained:
I gave myself to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven (1:13).
I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness (7:25).
His explanation is similar to Paul in the New Testament epistles who prefaced some of his comments with the caution, I say, not the Lord (1 Cor. 7:12, 7:25, 2 Cor. 11:17).
As the King of Israel, Solomon had plenty of time, opportunity and resources to pursue his quest. Furthermore, God had gifted him with a keen, logical, discerning mind which had gained him the reputation as the wisest man in the world.
Ecclesiastes begins with Solomon’s observation, drawn from his personal experience, that everything in this life upon earth is meaningless, fleeting and unprofitable.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher [Solomon], vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? (Ecc. 1:2–3).
Solomon shared details about his journey to find meaning and purpose in life. He looked for fulfillment in frivolity, pleasure, wine, great works, wealth, and fame (Ecc. 2:1-10). He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:29–34). He had everything any man in his wildest imagination could ever dream of having. But…
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me (Ecc. 2:17–18).
Ecclesiastes reflects someone looking back on a life that was long on experience but short on lasting rewards. Solomon bemoaned the brevity of life on earth and the transience of existence. He considered wisdom, knowledge, pleasure, work and time, and came away disappointed that human life and labor are empty, useless, pointless, purposeless, worthless, i.e. meaningless and as futile as chasing the wind (vanity and vexation).
Notice that the phrase V&V in this verse is referring to Solomon’s work/labour and has nothing to do with outer appearances, pride or what is considered vain or vanity by today’s definition.
Similarly, Paul warned against legalism: “Why…are ye subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Col. 2:20–23).
Solomon highlighted the rapidity of man’s days on earth and advocated enjoying life to its fullest—in one’s work, doing good, eating, drinking (including wine, 9:7), and being merry (8:15, 9:7); that these pleasures are God’s gifts to men.
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw that it was from the hand of God (2:24).
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also, that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God (3:12). See also 3:22; 5:18–19; 9:9.
Solomon balanced the theme of enjoying life with that of divine judgment. Life moves quickly and grey hair is on the horizon for everyone, so it’s best to posture one’s life toward God. Security of life beyond the grave will only come from obeying God’s commandments and remembering that He will judge man’s actions.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Ecc.12:7).
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Ecc. 12:13–14).
THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament, the word vanity is mentioned 3 times. The word vain is mentioned 35 times; 16 of them are found in the phrase in vain, meaning futile, good for nothing, worthless, unprofitable or useless. The other times, vain is used to describe the words repetitions, thoughts, words, conversation, man, talkers, babbling, jangling, imaginations, deceit and glory. The expression, vainglory and vain glory are mentioned two times:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory [for selfish ambition or conceit]; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves (Phil. 2:3).
Let us not be desirous of vain glory [margin: conceited], provoking one another, envying one another (Gal. 5:26).
The Biblical phrase vanity and vexation do not pertain to conceit, pride, or enhancing one’s appearance, etc. There is no scriptural support forbidding or discouraging professing women from grooming their bodies attractively. God did not command or intend for 2×2 women to be deviants in their appearance from the general norms of society. This burden is due to the Workers’ manmade traditions or preferences.
A God-card, such as the vanity and vexation label, is sometimes disdainfully supplied when there is no supporting applicable Scripture. Holy-sounding, ambiguous language may be used to put down, embarrass, humiliate and shame others into conforming to various 2×2 traditions of men, e.g.thefemale dress code.
The holy jargon V&V may render a person speechless and stymied, as though they have been hit with a club or had ice water poured over them—just for asking a sincere question. The underlying implication is that God spoke this phrase and your question reveals your spiritual immaturity or misplaced values.
Some people just parrot the phrase vanity and vexation because it’s what they have heard workers preach, or it is what they were told when they asked the same question. Those who use V&V regarding women’s appearance have not studied what Solomon meant when he used it.
The V&V explanation commits the Etymological Fallacy when the stock V&V phrase (also the word peculiar) are used to support 2×2 women’s appearance. This fallacy is the assumption that the present-day meaning of something is the same as it was when it was originally written in the Bible. As can be seen above, V&V has nothing to do with women professing godliness via their outward appearance. To use it to support this tradition of men is abusing Scripture, rather than rightly interpreting it. Peculiar meant possession.
Likewise, the workers’ interpretations and requirements for professing women to wear their hair long, no jewelry, cosmetics or slacks are all taken out of context and do not reflect the author’s original intent.
Jesus defined and despised legalism, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?…Thus, have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition…But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:3–9, Mark 7:6–13).
The term legalism means teaching or following men’s commandments or rules as if they were commandments of God. Christians use the term legalism to refer to the concept that salvation is earned through good deeds/works and by following certain behaviors, methods and traditions. Legalism is the belief that salvation comes through Jesus’ sacrifice plus human effort and obedience to extra-biblical traditions and rules.
Legalism usurps the Holy Spirit’s role as the believer’s inner guide to truth and replaces it with rules of men. The Holy Spirit is well able to personally guide Christian women in areas of modestly, appearance and fitting in with their cultural norms of respectable dress. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13).
Specified, fixed dress and grooming are peculiarly distinctive to some religious sects, (Amish, Mennonites, some Pentecostals, Catholics, etc.) who cling to a stylized version of what was common and decent at the time the sect was instituted.
This is true of the 2×2 Sect that was founded in the Victorian Era (1837–1901). Their peculiar practices of expecting their women and children to be walking advertisements to the world for their church is backfiring. This is not witnessing for Jesus—it is what the world calls branding. Branding is what identifies a product or a service and sets it apart in an easily recognizable manner.
True witnessing is telling somebody about Jesus. Deviating from cultural norms frequently creates negative first impressions that shuts down further interaction. Intentionally calling attention to oneself by wearing out-of-style apparel and deliberately not wearing makeup is not dissimilar to the Pharisees Jesus scorned who “disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:16).
Summary: The Holy Spirit is far better able than workers are in guiding women in dressing that is pleasing to the Lord. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13).
Possible responses when vanity and vexation of spirit is given for a reason:
Would you please define V&V.
Not sure what you are trying to say. Could you rephrase it in other words?
Please explain further what you mean by that phrase, V&V.
Give me a Scripture for why I should believe that….
In the context of women’s outer appearance, how does the V&V phrase apply?
Don’t you believe the Holy Spirit can guide women in their dress? (Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13).
I want to be able to provide the reason if someone asks me. Can you give me the Scripture for God’s standard for 2×2 women’s dress code? (If not, could you get back to me with it?)
That phrase, V&V, doesn’t apply to women’s appearance. When Solomon wrote it, vanity didn’t have the current meaning of conceit or pride. What other scripture is there regarding the restrictions on women’s appearance?
V&V is used ONLY in Ecclesiastes Have you studied the entire book? “No?” Then I suggest you do so and be sure to consult other Bible translations. Pretty sure you will find you are taking the phrase out of context. It has nothing to do with women’s outer appearance.
The only 7 places vanity and vexation are mentioned in the Bible are all in Ecclesiastes by King Solomon.
Ecc. 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Ecc. 2:11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
Ecc. 2:17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Ecc. 2:26 For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Ecc. 4:4 Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Ecc. 4:16 There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Ecc. 6:9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Eat, drink & be merry passages in Ecclesiastes
Ecc. 2:24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.
Ecc. 3:12–13 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.)
Ecc. 3:22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?
Ecc. 5:18–19 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
Ecc. 8:15 Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
Ecc. 9:7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
Ecc. 9:9 Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
Compiled by Cherie Kropp-Ehrig
November 22, 2022