MODESTY INTRODUCTION There are some rather serious debates among Christians over the issue of “modesty” and “adornment”. Some groups have divided over this issue. This is especially true in some groups called the Church of God. The motive for this study is to examine the principle of modesty in the Bible and to clarify and define it as precisely as the scriptures will allow. The primary reference for this study will be the New King James Version of the Bible. As is my practice, the issue of modesty/adornment leads to a few questions: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
How much skin is a man or woman allowed to show? How much skin is a man or woman allowed to show in the view of the opposite sex? Does it matter where this exposed skin is located on the body? If so, what areas of skin it is permissible to expose and which areas are not? Does the location (environment) of the individual influence the permissible amount of exposed skin? Does the activity being engaged in affect the amount and/or location of permissible skin exposure? Are certain articles of clothing immodest? Are certain kinds or styles of clothes more acceptable than others? What makes certain kinds or styles of clothes more acceptable than others?
Closely related this issue is the topic of “adornment” – meaning the type, appearance and function of articles of clothing and/or jewelry. And ‘adornment’ has a negative connotation in some groups. For them, it means the putting on of something that has no other function other than to attract attention. And some groups include the length of the hair on men and women in this topic. I shall deal with all of it. DEFINITION Modesty has several definitions depending on the perspective and source. Dictionary – Observing conventional proprieties in speech, manners, or dress. Quiet and humble in appearance; unpretentious. Greek –
“Modest”, kos’-mee-os, (Greek), orderly, proper, tidy arrangement. “Shamefacedness”, ah-hee-dose’ , (Greek), literally, downcast eyes; bashfulness, modesty toward men. Awe toward God.
Interestingly, these terms do not address the AMOUNT of clothing a person has on, only the appearance of the clothing, and the attitude or demeanor of the wearer. MEN MAKE THE RULES February 26, 2003
MODESTY It is clear from the few Bible passages on this subject that men have made the rules concerning acceptable manner of dress for both men and women. Interestingly, most of the rules apply to women. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 1 Peter 3:3-5 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands… Note that neither of these passages put any restrictions on men. And generally, there are but few. However, few Christian men today would argue that there are no constraints on men. Many would say that the same general rules that govern the manner of dress for women apply to men as well. The overall motive for the rule appears to be to offset the general tendency of men to become tempted or aroused by the sight of female shape and skin. The more skin that shows, the more tempting the woman becomes. There is plenty of validity to this notion, both in the Bible and in virtually any society in the world. What do strip clubs, pornography, and some overt forms of advertising have in common? Female skin. The more, the better, in their view. The notion that ‘sex sells’ is generally true. But more precisely, “female skin and/or shape sells”. It is the non-too-subtle message of the inferred promise of sex that gets the attention of the male audience. This has been proven in scientific studies. And in modern American society, it is common to see and hear women express interest in the physical appearance of men. 2 Samuel 11:2-4 2 Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. 3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. This passage supports the idea that men are attracted/tempted by exposed female skin.
February 26, 2003
MODESTY What message appeals to women? Good feelings. How does a particular product make one feel? The implication being that a particular product will make you feel good. In addition, the physical appearance of a male will attract the attention of most females. But I digress. The effect of these rules of adornment/modesty by men on women is to force women to modify their manner of dress to compensate for the natural tendency of men to be tempted or aroused by just the sight of a portion of a woman’s anatomy. While this tendency for visual stimulation is common in women, it is generally less pronounced, thus, there is no complimentary accommodation for the women on the part of men spelled out in the Bible. WHAT THE BIBLE ACTUALLY SAYS Observing the nakedness of family is forbidden. Leviticus 18:6-19 6
‘None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the LORD. 7 The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 8 The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness. 9 The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or elsewhere, their nakedness you shall not uncover. 10 The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness. 11 The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father—she is your sister—you shall not uncover her nakedness. 12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is near of kin to your father. 13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is near of kin to your mother. 14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law—she is your son’s wife —you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. 17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness. 18 Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive. 19 ‘Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity.
February 26, 2003
MODESTY The Hebrew word for “Uncover” is, “gaw-law”, means to “denude” in a shameful sense, or reveal, to uncover. The Hebrew word for “nakedness” is “er-vaw”, and means, literally, the exposure of the male or female sex organs. Thus, “nakedness” in the strict Old Testament context does not mean the general exposure of skin, but rather, the exposure of genitalia. While some may object that this is too strict an interpretation of these scriptures, it is a clear starting point. So, at one extreme, public nudity is forbidden. And for the sake of clarity, we can assume that “public” means exposure to anyone outside one's husband or wife. Ornaments associated with idolatry, commanded to be taken off. Exodus 33:5-6 5
For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiffnecked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’” 6 So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb. THE LENGTH OF THE HAIR ON YOUR HEAD IS AN ISSUE WITH SOME GROUPS. Long hair is a part of the Nazarite vow. Numbers 6:1-8 (1–21) 1
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazerite, to separate himself to the LORD, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. 2
‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6 All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. 7 He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the LORD. A shaved head is a symbol of captivity. Deuteronomy 21:10-12
February 26, 2003
“When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. Do not wear clothes of the opposite sex. Deuteronomy 22:5 5
“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God. Judgement on chains, bracelets, rings, earrings, and on aggressive behavior. Isaiah 3:16-23 16
Moreover the LORD says: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet, Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, And the LORD will uncover their secret parts.” In that day the Lord will take away the finery: The jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents; The pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; The headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands; The perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; The nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; The outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; The fine linen, the turbans, and the robes.
Vanity of ornaments. Jeremiah 4:30 30
“And when you are plundered, What will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson, Though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, Though you enlarge your eyes with paint, In vain you will make yourself fair; Your lovers will despise you;
February 26, 2003
MODESTY They will seek your life. Painted eyes and ornaments used by adulteress. Ezekiel 23:40-43 40
“Furthermore you sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and there they came. And you washed yourself for them, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments. 41 You sat on a stately couch, with a table prepared before it, on which you had set My incense and My oil. 42 The sound of a carefree multitude was with her, and Sabeans were brought from the wilderness with men of the common sort, who put bracelets on their wrists and beautiful crowns on their heads. 43 Then I said concerning her who had grown old in adulteries, ‘Will they commit harlotry with her now, and she with them?’ 44Yet they went in to her, as men go in to a woman who plays the harlot; thus they went in to Oholah and Oholibah, the lewd women. Earrings and jewels used by adulteress. Hosea 2:13 13
I will punish her For the days of the Baals to which she burned incense. She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, And went after her lovers; But Me she forgot,” says the LORD. LONG HAIR IS A SYMBOL OF A SUBMISSIVE SPIRIT Men should have short hair. 1 Corinthians 11:14 14
Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? Of all people, Paul should know that part of the Nazarite vow included allowing a man's hair to grow long. It is interesting that he makes no mention of this exception in this discourse in chapter 11 concerning the acceptable length of hair on men and women. Women should have long hair. 1 Corinthians 11:15 15
But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. Women should wear modest clothing. 1 Timothy 2:9-10
February 26, 2003
in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Women should not wear flashy clothes. 1 Peter 3:3-5 3
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, Most of the Old Testament references deal with jewelry or length of the hair. The inference from these passages is that long hair is a sign of submission (especially on women), thus, by implication, short hair is a sign of rebellion or aggression. The Nazarite vow requires that one not cut his/her hair and is an exception since it applies to men. There are examples of men taking the Nazarite vow (Samson) but no examples of women doing it. Jewelry is associated with adultery, prostitution, or idolatry in the Old Testament, thus, discouraging its use by any woman who does not want to be construed with practitioners of those activities. Somewhere in the last two thousand years, western society has lost its aversion to the wearing of jewelry – even by men – so the weight and constraints of these verses have largely faded. I am not saying this is a good thing, just stating a fact. These practices vary from society to society. Many believers adapt their manner of “proper” dress to the society in which they find themselves. Conforming to such a fluid and inconsistent pattern requires that each believer be especially attuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they adopt certain styles of dress.
February 26, 2003
MODESTY CONCLUSION MODESTY- ATTITUDE OR BEHAVIOR The scripture references in 1 Peter and 1 Timothy have a subtle thread that is missed by most readers. Here they are again to refresh your memory: 1 Timothy 2:9-10 9
in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 1 Peter 3:3-5 3
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, They state that immodesty is demonstrated by the ADDING of jewelry or clothing or fancy hair-dos. Thus, the less someone wears the more modest he or she is. Of course, this can be taken too far. Few would argue that a bikini is more modest than a full dress, but there is a principle here. It is that certain kinds or styles of clothing or adornment can serve to call attention to oneself. This, I believe, is the key point. “Modesty”, (Greek), “kos-mee-os”, orderly, proper arrangement. So, rather than limit our attention to what a person is wearing – or not wearing – let us also observe how they behave. Do they appear to seek the attention of those around them? Does their clothing reveal parts of their body that are considered provocative or stimulating to the opposite sex? My personal view is that modesty is primarily a spiritual issue. It is an attitude. A person can have all the right things on – or off – and still call inappropriate attention to themselves. A person can have quite a bit of skin showing – a runner or a swimmer in a race, for example – and have a very modest demeanor. Contrary-wise, someone can be dressed in less revealing clothing but display themselves in a way that seems to beg for attention. I have seen some females that profess to be believers, who have dressed themselves in revealing clothing and, when questioned about the appropriateness of their attire, state that the problem is in the eye/mind of her male beholders, not her. This attitude is completely immodest and selfish. The principle stated in 1 Corinthians 8:9-12 cautions us to restrain our personal behavior so that we do not provide a path of temptation for other believers around us.
February 26, 2003
MODESTY The 1611 King James term of “shamefacedness” says it well (1 Timothy 2:9). We are not to behave or dress ourselves is such a way as to call attention to ourselves. The Greek word, “ahhee-dose”, means, bashfulness toward men (literally “downcast eyes”) or awe toward God. The same word is translated “reverence” in other places. The point of being modest is to bring as little attention to oneself as possible. This is impelled by a state of mind or attitude of submission to God and the desire to honor and lift him up. This is the coordinate principle to doing “all to the glory of God”. Thus, the motive is the less others see of us the more they will see God. 31
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) So now back to the questions at the beginning of this study. THE QUESTIONS AND THE ANSWERS 1
HOW MUCH SKIN IS A MAN OR WOMAN ALLOWED TO SHOW?
The Bible gives no specific instructions. I believe less is better, generally. This could be influenced by the society and the styles of the time. Specifically, if the popular clothing style of the society is the exposure of the abdomen, for example, that would be a style that a Christian would NOT follow. Thus, the definition of modesty would be defined by the social setting but the application would be the REVERSE of the accepted style. 2 HOW MUCH SKIN IS A MAN OR WOMAN ALLOWED TO SHOW IN THE VIEW OF THE OPPOSITE SEX? Again, no rules from the Bible, but I believe less is better. But the circumstances or the activity may mitigate the manner of dress. There are no specific scriptures that state that exposing one’s skin is wrong or sin, nor are there any principles which explain how much exposed skin is too much, or in what context. Motive plays a big role here. WHY is a person exposing their skin? 3
DOES IT MATTER WHERE THIS EXPOSED SKIN IS LOCATED?
Yes, the Old Testament defines improper nakedness as exposure of the genital area. But, short of this extreme the Bible is not specific. Again, the circumstances and activity may mitigate the manner of dress. 4 IF SO, WHAT AREAS OF SKIN IT IS PERMISSIBLE TO EXPOSE AND WHICH AREAS ARE NOT? It is common to see the hands, arms, ankles, neck, and face of many males and females who profess to conform to a standard of modesty. A few others show less (long sleeves, longer dresses, pants, etc.), still others show more (more of the lower legs or shoulders). Some girls and women show more of their legs and torso than seems appropriate or acceptable. It is difficult to accept that these people are not aware that the exposure of their bodies is without purpose, or that no response by those who see them is expected. February 26, 2003
MODESTY 5 DOES THE LOCATION (ENVIRONMENT) OF THE INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCE THE PERMISSIBLE AMOUNT OF EXPOSED SKIN? The Bible makes no distinction regarding location of the person or activity. Thus, some could interpret this to mean NO location is permissible. Others interpret this to mean it is open to the conscience of the individual. Obviously, one could wear more abbreviated casual clothing around the house and apart from the opposite sex than in public and still conform to the strictest interpretation of the Biblical principle. And some could go to the absurd length of questioning nudity while bathing in private or using the toilet because God sees everything. This last extreme needs to recognize that God sees through our clothing anyway, so what is the point of going to absurd lengths to cover ourselves? The point of physical modesty is for the benefit of other people – not God. He sees the motive as well as the skin and clothing. Clothing is for three purposes, 1) for physical comfort of the wearer, 2) for the protection of those who look at the wearer, and, 3) to show respect for an occasion. When the weather is cold we wear as much clothing as we need to be comfortable. Most of the time, this clothing is not intended to impress anyone else. In other less frigid circumstances, we dress in a manner that is both comfortable and similar to others around us or appropriate for the activity – assuming the others are not dressed in a provocative or temping manner. Dressing in a manner that is similar to those around us conforms to the principle that we do not stand out from them in a way that calls attention to us. If others are exposing more skin than we are comfortable with, then we will choose to cover more of our skin in spite of standing out from the crowd, to please God rather than conform to social custom. And finally, one way we show respect for someone or some place is by the way we dress. Thus, we “dress up” for church, weddings, funerals, graduations, and similar occasions. Again, the purpose is not to display oneself but to express honor for the person, place or event. 6 DOES THE ACTIVITY BEING ENGAGED IN AFFECT THE AMOUNT AND/OR LOCATION OF PERMISSIBLE SKIN EXPOSURE? The Bible gives no clues here. Some leave manner of dress up to the individual, others make rules to govern clothing for all activities. Somewhere in between seems to be the ideal of spiritual logic, compliance with the spiritual principle, and the standard of moderation. In some situations wearing more clothes than everyone else will make you stand out more than if you were dressed like them. A final general guideline I use for myself: If what I am wearing (or not wearing) is for the purpose of attracting attention to myself, then I am immodest. February 26, 2003
MODESTY If I am acting in certain ways for the purpose of attracting attention to myself, then I am immodest, no matter what I am wearing.
February 26, 2003