By Mark Mayberry
The question, “What shall I wear?” usually focuses on subjective preferences regarding style, taste and purpose. However, a more serious concern must also be addressed: What does God think about our choices in clothing? Is there a divine standard of modesty for males and females? If not, then anything goes. If society sets the norm, then no holds are barred. Ditto if my opinion is all that matters. However, in fact and truth, God has spoken on this vital subject.
This study will spotlight four related areas of thought: First of all, we will learn that God wants our clothing to be modest. Secondly, we will find that the Lord is not always satisfied with man’s choice of clothing. Third, we will discover that the Bible condemns all forms of public nakedness. Finally, we will note the distinct relationship between modesty and marriage. If we are submissive and obedient, these principles will impact our choices of clothing and attire. Let us, therefore, show spiritual discretion in this and all other areas of life (Phil. 1:9-10).
God Wants Our Clothing To Be Modest
In writing to Timothy, Paul said, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Tim. 2:9-10, KJV). Three significant Greek words appear in this passage: “modest apparel” is derived from kosmios, “shamefacedness” from aidos, and “sobriety” from sophrosune. An understanding of these terms will help us distinguish between that which is modest and that which is immodest.
Kosmios Defined. The Greek word kosmios is translated as “modest” (KJV, ASV, NKJ), “modestly” (RSV, NIV, NRS), and “proper” (NAS, NAU). Strong defines this word as “orderly, i.e. decorous.”1 Thayer says it refers to that which is “well arranged, seemly, modest.”2 Arndt & Gingrich say it refers to that which is “respectable, honorable.”3 Trench says this proper order “extends not only to dress and demeanor but also to the inner life, which expresses itself in outward conversation.”4
This word appears twice in the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:9; 3:2). The word “modesty” has to do with that which is seemly or appropriate. It is derived from kosmos, which is usually translated “world.” However, Peter also uses it to describe the proper adorning of a Christian woman (1 Pet. 3:3-4). Just as we live in an orderly world, a universe governed by divinely ordained natural laws, so also Christians should dress in an orderly manner, as governed by God’s unchanging spiritual law. The concept of order necessitates the idea of law. Herein lies a fundamental truth: Regardless of the age, dispensation, or covenant, God has always prescribed modesty and prohibited nakedness.
The clothing of a faithful Christian must be well ordered, seemly and appropriate. We must avoid the dual sins of over-dressing and under-dressing. One’s outward attire is a reflection of one’s inner spirit. Instead of announcing our gaudiness and pride, instead of proclaiming our lust and licentiousness, the clothing that we wear should speak of our commitment to that which is respectable and honorable, as befitting those who are sanctified and holy.
Aidos Defined. The Greek word aidos is translated as “decency” (NIV), “decently” (NRS), “modestly (NAS, NAU), “propriety” (NKJ), “sensibly” (RSV), “shamefacedness” (KJV), and “shamefastness” (ASV). Strong says this word carries “the idea of downcast eyes” and describes “bashfulness, i.e. (towards men), modesty or (towards God) awe.”5 Thayer defines it as “a sense of shame or honor, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect.”6 Arndt & Gingrich say it refers to “(1) modesty of women; (2) reverence, respect.”7 Trench says, “Aidos does not refer merely to the avoidance of open and manifest baseness, . . . It refers to complete control over the passions and desires, so that they are lawful and reasonable.” He continues, “In 1 Timothy 2:9, adios refers to that ‘shamefastness’ or modesty that shrinks from exceeding the limits of womanly reserve, as well as from the dishonor that would justly attach to doing so.”8 This Greek word only appears in this passage.
Faithful Christians adorn themselves decently, modestly, sensibly and with propriety. Their dress and decorum reflect a spirit of shamefastness. Just as modest clothing harmonizes with godly character, so immodest apparel suggests a spirit of insolence and impertinence (Prov. 7:10; Isa. 3:16). Instead of manifesting a brazen attitude, the people of God are restrained by a sense of shame that is deeply rooted in their character. While many people have lost the ability to blush (Jer. 6:15; 8:12), true disciples shrink back from anything that would be dishonorable, avoid anything that would leave the wrong impression, and shun anything that would cast doubts regarding their judgment, character and integrity. All that they do reflects a spirit of reverence and respectfulness.
Sophrosune Defined. The Greek word sophrosune is translated as “discreetly” (NAS, NAU), “moderation” (NKJ), “propriety” (NIV), “seemly” (RSV), “sobriety” (KJV, ASV), and “suitable” (NRS). Strong defines this word as “soundness of mind, i.e. (literally) sanity or (figuratively) self-control.” 9 Thayer says it refers to “(1) soundness of mind; (2) self-control, sobriety.”10 Arndt and Gingrich say it means “(1) reasonableness, rationality, mental soundness; (2) good judgment, moderation, self-control.”11 Trench says this word refers to “that habitual inner self-control, with its constant rein on all the passions and desires, that hinders temptations from overcoming the checks and barriers that aidos proposes.”12
This word appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 26:25; 1 Tim. 2:9, 15). It dictates a disposition of discreetness, and mandates a spirit of sobriety, and directs us toward that which is seemly and suitable. Primarily, moderation speaks of soundness of mind or sanity. When Jesus entered the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee, he encountered a demonic who for a long time had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but dwelt in the tombs (Luke 8:26-35). After the Lord cast out the demons that had tormented him, the man is pictured as sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed, and in his right mind. This story suggests a modern parallel: When in the presence of one who is immodestly dressed, faithful Christians are sorely tempted to exclaim, “Are you out of your mind?!” This is especially true when the offender is supposedly a Christian.
The Holy Spirit used kosmios, aidos, and sophrosune to portray the dress and demeanor of a faithful Christian. We need to instill in the hearts of men who profess to be holy and women who profess to be godly an appreciation for the meaning of these terms. Translating their meaning from Greek into English, scholars use the words “decency, discreetly, moderation, modest, modestly, proper, propriety, seemly, sensibly, shamefacedness, shamefastness, sobriety, and suitable.” Taken as a whole, these terms portray an unmistakable sense of moderation and modest reserve. Rather than pushing us toward the brink of indecency and excess, they lead us away from all that is inappropriate and unseemly. Cumulatively, these words make it impossible for us to justify the various forms of immodest attire so prevalent in our culture.
The ancient Roman world was as decadent and immoral as our own time. However, the gospel of Christ had a dramatic effect upon the morals and mores of society. The 1915 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia contains an interesting comment on the changes in character and condition of women wrought by Christianity:
They no longer needed the former splendor of outward adornment, because [they were] clothed with the beauty and simplicity of Christ-like character. They exchanged the temples, theaters, and festivals of paganism for the home, labored with their hands, cared for their husbands and children, graciously dispensed Christian hospitality, nourished their spiritual life in the worship, service . . . of the church . . . Their modesty and simplicity were a rebuke to and reaction from the shameless extravagances and immoralities of heathenism. That they were among the most conspicuous examples of the transforming power of Christianity is manifest from the admiration and astonishment of the pagan Libanius who exclaimed, “What women these Christians have!13
God Is Not Always Satisfied With Our Choices
Certain eternal and unchanging principles are set forth in the opening chapters of Genesis. In the beginning, God created man as a free-moral agent (Gen. 1:26; 2:16-17). In the beginning, God placed man in a position of dominion over all the creation (Gen. 1:26; 9:1-2). In the beginning, God instituted marriage and ordained the proper relationship between husbands and wives (Gen. 2:20-24). In the beginning, God emphasized the gravity and guilt of sin (Gen. 3, 4, 6). In the beginning, God accentuated the difference between authorized and unauthorized worship (Gen. 4:1-7). In the beginning, God stood in judgment of man’s vice and violence, wickedness and corruption (Gen. 6-8). In the beginning, God ordained capital punishment in order to ensure social justice and a respect for human life (Gen. 9:5-6).
Christians recognize that the Law of Moses has been superceded by the Gospel of Christ (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:13-14). Nevertheless, the aforementioned principles predate the covenant of blood that was instituted at Sinai. They are founded in the very character of God himself. Because they express the unchanging will of God, these ethical ideals are eternally valid. Thus, we should not be surprised to discover that they are reflected in the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations. The New Testament repeatedly refers back to the opening chapters of Genesis to emphasize the unchanging nature of certain truths, especially in those passages that relate to marriage, the roles of men and women, and modesty (Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; 1 Cor. 14:34-35; Eph. 5:25-33; 1 Tim. 2:9-15).
Let us give special consideration to how the third chapter of Genesis addresses the issue of modesty. In their original ignorant and innocent state, the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). However, after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and were ashamed (Gen. 3:6-7). Please note that nakedness is not something shameful in the private and personal relationship of a husband and wife (Heb. 13:4). Rather, shame and embarrassment occurs when third parties are present. Adam and Eve were ashamed when God came to visit with them in the cool of the evening (Gen. 3:8-10).
Man’s Choice of Clothing
When Adam and Even realized they were naked, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings (Gen. 3:7). Some Bible versions say “aprons” (KJV, ASV, RSV), while others say “coverings” (NIV, NKJ), “loin coverings” (NAS), or “loincloths” (NRS). Strong defines the Hebrew word chagowr as “a belt for the waist.”14 Brown, Driver & Briggs define this word as “(1) a girdle, a belt; (2) a girdle, a loin-covering, a belt, a loin-cloth, armor.”15 This Hebrew word appears in Genesis 3:7; 1 Samuel 18:4; 2 Samuel 18:11; 20:8; 1 Kings 2:5; 2 Kings 3:21; and Isaiah 3:24. It always refers to a girdle, a belt, a sash, a loin-covering, a loin-cloth, or to armor that would cover the mid-section of the body.
God’s Choice of Clothing
Yet, their original efforts to correct this problem were wholly inadequate. Adam and Eve still felt ashamed at their naked condition even though they had made loin coverings for themselves (Gen. 3:7, 10). Furthermore, the Lord was not satisfied with their feeble efforts. To correct this deficiency, God gave them modest clothing (Gen. 3:21). According to the KJV and the ASV, God made “coats of skins” for Adam and Eve and clothed them. The RSV, NAS, NIV and NRS say that God made “garments of skins.” The NKJ says that God made “tunics of skin, and clothed them.”
Strong defines the Hebrew word kethoneth as “to cover, a shirt.”16 The KJV renders this word as “coat,” “garment,” or “robe.” Brown, Driver and Briggs say it describes “a tunic, an undergarment; a long shirt-like garment usually of linen.”17 Gesenius says the word refers to “a tunic, an inner garment next to the skin (Lev. 16:4); also worn by women (SOS 5:3; 2 Sam. 13:18); generally with sleeves, coming down to the knees, rarely to the ankles.)”18 Wilson describes “garments” as “a tunic, worn next to the skin . . . generally with sleeves, to the knees, but seldom to the ankles.”19 This Hebrew word occurs in many other passages where it is usually translated “tunic(s).” It refers to Joseph’s coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3, 23, 31-33), the priestly garments of the Levites (Exod. 28:4, 39-40; 29:5, 8; 39:27; 40:14), etc.The Revel Bible Dictionary describes a cloak as “an outer garment. In biblical times, this important garment was typically a large square of cloth with armholes. It fell to or below the knee. Even though other clothing was worn under the cloak, and the cloak might be taken off when working in the heat, a man without his cloak was spoken of as ‘naked’” (1 Sam. 19:24, KJV). The cloak also served as a covering at night. There are several different Hebrew and Greek words for cloak in Scripture. These are sometimes translated as garment, wrapper, robe, coat, or merely clothes.”20
How were the God-made garments different from the loincloths of Adam and Eve? First of all, animal skins were more permanent than fig leaves. Secondly, they were more effective in covering the body. The concealment afforded by fig leaves was flimsy and faulty, but animal skins provided an opaque, non-transparent covering. Finally, while the fig leaves covered only the generative portions of the body, the tunics that God made covered the body from the shoulders to the knees. In the third chapter of Genesis, God established clothing — specifically, modest clothing — as a permanent institution among men and women.
It is also instructive to note that God prescribed tunics for the Israelite priests (Exod. 28:4, 40). Jesus wore a tunic (John 19:23-24), as did the disciples (Luke 9:3). Dorcas made tunics for the widows (Acts 9:39). Hence, from the beginning to the end of Holy Writ, God approved of tunics as decent apparel. In fact, they continue to be worn in the Middle East even today, and they still cover the body as they did in Bible times. Of course, the significant point here is not to bind a particular style of clothing, but rather to show the consistent manner in which God required the human body to be covered.
The Bible Condemns All Forms of Public Nakedness
The Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “naked” or “nakedness” can have several distinct meanings: First of all, these words may refer to one who is completely nude and bereft of any clothing (Gen. 2:25; 3:7; Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:15; Amos 2:16; Mark 14:51-52).
Secondly, these words may refer to a state of partial nakedness or inadequate dress. Often these words are used to describe someone who is raggedly, badly, or poorly clad (Gen. 3:10; Deut. 28:48; Job 22:6; 24:7, 10; Isa. 58:7; Ezek. 18:7, 18; Matt. 25:35-44; Acts 19:16; Rom. 8:35; 1 Cor. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:27; Jas. 2:15). On other occasions, they describe someone who, having taken off his mantle, is clad in his tunic only, without an outer garment (1 Sam. 19:24; Isa. 20:2-4; John 21:7).
Thirdly, these words may be used metaphorically. In certain passages, these words carry a figurative and symbolic meaning. Nakedness may express desolation (Jer. 49:10), the soul without the body (2 Cor. 5:1-4), the things that are exposed to the all-seeing eyes of God (Heb. 4:13). It may describe the carnality of a local congregation (Rev. 3:17-18), the degradation of a soul unprepared to meet its Maker (Rev. 16:15), or the utter desolation that would befall imperial Rome (Rev. 17:16).
While it may be difficult to determine which specific meaning applies in a given context, nevertheless, in all cases, except for Genesis 2:25, nakedness carries a distinct sense of shame. Adam and Eve were ashamed to meet with God after they ate of the tree of knowledge (Gen. 3:8-10). Dishonor is clearly manifest when Noah became drunk and uncovered himself (Gen. 9:20-27). Foreshadowing the overthrow of Egypt and Ethiopia, Isaiah said that prisoners from both countries would be led away captive, naked and barefoot, to the shame of Egypt (Isa. 20:3-4). Lamenting over the Chaldeans, the prophet pictures the humiliation of the virgin daughter of Babylon: She sits on the ground, stripped of her skirt, with her nakedness uncovered and her shame exposed (Isa. 47:1-3). Because the citizens of Jerusalem had given themselves over to idolatry, they would experience the humiliation of a harlot whose lewdness and nakedness are uncovered before the eyes of her lovers (Ezek. 16:35-39; 23:28-30). Finally, the shame and disgrace of nakedness is twice alluded to in the Book of Revelation. Jesus admonished the church at Laodicea to “buy from me . . . white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed” (Rev. 3:18). Emphasizing the need for continued watchfulness, the Lord said, “Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (Rev. 16:15). Each of these examples presupposes that nakedness outside the marriage relationship is dishonorable. If such were not the case, then all symbolism and significance is lost.
Recognizing that the biblical concept of nakedness refers not only to complete nudity but also to a state of being partially unclothed, an important question now arises: What parts of the body must be covered to insure that we are not exposing our nakedness? The clothing God provided Adam and Eve reached from the shoulders to the knees. A thorough study of Scripture reveals that, in order for apparel to be modest, it must cover the thighs, the hips, the waist, and the breasts.
Someone might object by saying, “But your citations come from the Old Testament. You cannot refer to those passages without binding the Law of Moses.” No, we quote these passages, not to bind the Old Covenant, but to define and illustrate the biblical meaning of nakedness. Many important concepts are set forth in the Old Testament. Hebrews 11 refers back to the example of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc. Their collective examples illustrate and define the obedient nature of saving faith.
Furthermore, the Israelites were to be unrelenting in their opposition to idolatry. Moses said, “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces” (Exod. 23:24). He added, “You shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire” (Deut. 7:5). These words apply directly to the nation of Israel, a political theocracy. Nevertheless, there is a spiritual application that must be made to the Christian era: namely, we must militantly oppose false religions. Paul said, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). These principles are clearly set forth in the Old Testament and carried forward to the New.
Consider the matter of adultery, which is condemned in both Covenants. God defined this word in the Old Testament (Exod. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; etc.). However, when the New Testament was written, the Lord did not have to go back and redefine the word. The Old Testament meaning was carried forward into the Christian age. Therefore, when someone today gives a new and radically different meaning to the word “adultery” (such as those who redefine adultery as mere covenant breaking), that ought to be a warning signal to those who know and love the truth.
In like manner, God’s assessment of nakedness has not changed. The Bible consistently condemns all forms of public nakedness. The Lord’s commendation of modesty and condemnation of immodesty remains constant from dispensation to dispensation. Yes, the Law of Moses has been nailed to the cross. Yet, let us also recognize that the things that were written beforehand were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11). In affirming that preachers of the gospel could receive financial support, Paul said, “I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?” Then he quoted from Deuteronomy 25:4, which says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (1 Cor. 9:9-10). Was Paul “binding the Old Testament”? No, he was emphasizing a principle that has remained unchanged from generation to generation. The same is true regarding the issue under discussion.
Modest Apparel Should Conceal The Thighs
To this end, the Levitical priests were to wear linen trousers that reached to the knees (Exod. 28:40-43). Please note that the linen trousers or breeches were worn underneath additional outer layers of clothing. Yet, they were required so that, under all conditions, the priest would be modestly clothed. What area was to be covered by the trousers? The text says “they shall reach from the loins even to the thighs.” Does this mean that the garment merely extended into the thigh area? No, they fully covered the thigh. The Old Testament repeatedly uses “from . . . to” expressions that would define a range of things from one extreme to another, including everything in between (Lev. 13:12-13; Num. 6:4; 2 Sam. 14:25; Jer. 31:34). Accordingly, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “breeches” were “a garment, extending from the waist to or just below the knee or to the ankle, and covering each leg separately.”1
Moreover, the altar was to be without steps so as to prevent indecent exposure while climbing up to offer sacrifice (Exod. 20:25-26). This commandment demonstrates that God required a higher moral standard than heathen religions, which were characterized by immodesty and immorality.
Another passage worth considering is God’s description of the overthrow of Babylon, wherein Isaiah likens that cruel northern nation to a woman whose nakedness is exposed. He said, “Take off the skirt, and uncover the thigh” (Isa. 47:1-3). This language clearly implies that a woman’s skirt should cover her thighs. If the thighs are visible, her nakedness is uncovered. Therefore, the people of God should avoid wearing any clothing in public that would expose or accentuate the thighs. Examples of inappropriate clothing include typical high-school cheerleading uniforms, mini-skirts, slit-skirts, shorts, swimsuits, etc.
The point can also be seen in New Testament terminology. In commenting on 1 Timothy 2:9, Adam Clark says, “The apostle seems to refer here to different parts of the Grecian and Roman dress. The stolee seems to have been originally very simple. It was a long piece of cloth, doubled in the middle, and sewed up on both sides, having room only for the arms; at the top, a piece was cut out, or a slit made, through which the head passed. It hung down to the feet, both before and behind, and was girded with the zona round the body, just under the breasts. It was sometimes made with, sometimes without, sleeves; and, that it might sit the better, it was gathered on each shoulder with a band or buckle. Some of the Greek women wore them open on each side, from the bottom up above the knee, so as to discover a part of the thigh. These were termed phainomeerides, showers (discoverers) of the thigh; but it was, in general, only young girls or immodest women who wore them thus.”2
Before moving on to the next point, let us quote from Brother Connie Adams who made the following comments at the Hebron Lane Church of Christ in Shepherdsville, Kentucky on 9/2/97:
I want to say one more thing about Christians and shorts. Brethren often have pot lucks. I’m often hesitant about attending pot lucks in warm weather, because I know before I go that some of my brothers or some of my sisters will show up in attire which, so far as I am concerned, is immodest. They often come in what’s called “walking shorts.” The problem with shorts is that they don’t have as much material in them as a skirt does. A woman can have a skirt down to her knees, and when she sits down, she’s got enough cloth that she can protect herself and not be exposed to everybody. But you don’t have enough cloth with shorts. Those who wear walking shorts are fairly modest when they are standing up. But there is one thing about these walking shorts. Sooner or later, walkers get tired, and they have to sit down. Then when they sit down at a picnic table, and they cross their legs, it all the sudden becomes a leg show. I’m calling it what it is. It’s a leg show, and brethren didn’t used to go to leg shows! Christians used to know the difference between right and wrong on this subject, but somehow, it seems we don’t know the difference anymore.
Modest Apparel Should Conceal the Hips and Waist
We gain some insight into this issue by the harsh actions of Hanun, the son of Nahash, king of the Ammonites. When David sent ambassadors to console the Ammonite king on the death of his father, Hanun dishonored David’s ambassadors by shaving off half of their beards and cutting off their clothes in the middle, thus exposing their buttocks. Upon hearing of this scandalous disgrace, David declared war against the Ammonites (2 Sam. 10:1-4).
Another example would be that of Isaiah, who walked naked and barefoot three years as a sign against Egypt and Ethiopia. This example showed that Israel should not make alliances with such nations because they would also be led away captive, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered (Isa. 20:1-4). Notice again that nakedness is defined as exposing the hips.
Therefore, Christians should avoid wearing any clothing in public that would expose or accentuate the hips. Many modern bathing suits expose more of the hips than they conceal. Tight clothing can also “expose” the buttocks. Many folks wear clothing so tight that the effect is the same as if they were naked. Leotards, Spandex, and tight fitting jeans only change the color of one’s skin. The world understands how men react to such clothing. Conway Twitty once popularized a ribald song about “the angel who was a devil in her tight fitting jeans.” Let’s not foolishly deceive ourselves in this regard.
One other point can be made from Exodus 28:42, which teaches that the priests were to be covered from the loins/waist to the thigh. Recognizing the inclusive nature of this passage, not only does it indicate that an uncovered thigh is nakedness, it shows that an uncovered loin/waist is also counted as nakedness. Hence, the waist must be covered as well. Bare midriffs are condemned based on this principle.
Modest Apparel Should Conceal The Breasts
A woman’s breasts should give pleasure to her husband, not be put on open display for enjoyment of every carnal-minded man who walks along (Prov. 5:15-20). Again the same principle of modesty applies to this portion of the anatomy: A public display of the breasts is equated with nakedness (Ezek. 16:7-8). Therefore, Christians should avoid wearing any clothing in public that would expose or accentuate the breasts. This would prohibit men from appearing in public without a shirt. It would also exclude various kinds of female attire: halter-tops, sundresses, see-through blouses, low-cut styles that reveal cleavage, sleeveless tops with armholes that are too large, and strapless evening gowns.
Some argue that the aforementioned passages cannot be used today to define nakedness because they come from the Old Testament. Since the Old Covenant has been set aside, we are told that it cannot be used to define terms that are used in the New Covenant. However, this is patently false. Yes, the Law of Moses has been removed. Nevertheless, many laws found in the Mosaic standard are repeated in the Gospel of Christ. They are binding today, not because they are affirmed in the Old Covenant, but because they are commanded in the New. When laws are repeated in the New Testament, we may rightly use the Old Testament as a basis for our understanding of those laws, unless something in the New Testament modifies or expands its meaning. Nakedness stands condemned in both the Old and New Testaments. Modesty is commanded in both dispensations.
God created the human body with its assorted appetites, including mankind’s innate craving for sexual gratification. Men have always been stimulated when viewing the form of a naked or inadequately clothed female. The same could also be said of women, though perhaps to a lesser degree. Are we to believe that people in the Old Testament experienced such longings, but today we are not affected by similar desires? Does the fact that we live in the Christian dispensation make us physiologically different? Of course not! The male-female attraction is a universal, unchanging characteristic of human nature. God’s regulations concerning public exposure of nakedness can change only in as much as human nature has changed since the creation. So far, it does not appear that human nature has changed.
The Relationship Between Modesty And Marriage
God created the sexual impulse and ordained that the expression and fulfillment of this desire should occur only within the relationship of marriage (Heb. 13:4). Let us realize that the very concept of modesty is tied to the sacredness of the marriage relationship. Not only is one’s body to be preserved for his spouse in the sexual relationship, but the body is also to be covered until one enters into the marital relationship. Sadly, too many people miss the point of modest dress. When a person exposes his body in public, he is exposing something that belongs to his spouse or future spouse. If you have exposed yourself to others, you have given your mate used goods. You are not giving him anything that hundreds of other men have not seen before. Therefore, we should not dress in ways that would be visually stimulating to members of the opposite sex, except in the privacy of the marital relationship. In all other circumstances, husbands and wives should be chaste and pure in their public dress and demeanor (2 Cor. 11:2; Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-2).
Immodest clothing is wrong for the same reason that dancing and pornography are wrong: They are all lascivious, i.e., sexually suggestive. Smutty movies tend to produce lusts. So does dirty dancing. So does immodest clothing. Each is a different manifestation of the same problem. Therefore, let us resolve to avoid that which is lustful, lewd, and lascivious (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Pet. 4:1-4).
Purity requires a distinct effort by both men and women. Like the patriarch Job, we should determine not to look lustfully at members of the opposite sex. He said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1, NIV). Lecherous and licentious thoughts are just as sinful as overt immorality (Matt. 5:28). However, we should wear modest clothing ourselves, so that we do not cast a stumblingblock in the pathway of another (Rom. 14:13). God will not deal lightly with those who lead others to sin (Luke 17:1-2). Therefore, let us glorify God in our bodies and our spirits (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Our study leads us to an inescapable conclusion: God intends for men and women to be clothed in public. Far too many professing Christians want to see how short, how low, how tight, how revealing they can wear their clothes. They push the limits of modesty and decorum.
How do you distinguish between modest and immodest clothing? If your clothing exposes the thighs, the hips, the waist, or the breasts, it is immodest. If you have to pull it up, tug it down, walk funny, or if your clothing is so form fitting that it only changes the color of your skin, it is immodest.
This matter requires eternal vigilance. One generation may show admirable restraint in their dress and demeanor, but unless parents diligently impress their children with the importance of modesty, the next generation will likely show considerably less reserve. Before long, Christians have moved from being a modest people to a grossly immodest people. Brethren, we are drifting.
- BibleSoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft & International Bible Translators, Inc., 1994), s.v. “Kosmios,” #2887.
- The Online Bible: Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown, Driver & Briggs’ Hebrew Lexicon (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft & Ontario, Canada: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1993, 1996), s.v. “Kosmios,” #2887.
- Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Translated By W. F. Arndt & F. W. Gingrich. 2nd ed. Revised & Augmented by F. W. Gingrich & F. W. Danker, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c1957, 1979), s.v. “Kosmios.”
- Richard Chenevix Trench, ed. Robert G. Hoerber, Synonyms of the New Testament (Reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), p. 364.
- Strong, s.v. “Aidos,” #127.
- Thayer, s.v. “Aidos,” #127.
- Bauer, s.v. “Aidos.”
- Trench, 83-85.
- Strong, s.v. “Sophrosune,” #4997.
- Thayer, s.v. “Sophrosune,” #4997.
- Bauer, s.v. “Sophrosune.”
- Trench, 85.
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915 Edition, ed. James Orr (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft, 1996.), s.v. “Woman.”
- Strong, s.v. “Chagowr,” #2290.
- Brown, Driver & Briggs, s.v. “Chagowr,” #2290.
- Strong, s.v. “Kethoneth,” #3801.
- Brown, Driver & Briggs, s.v. “Kethoneth,” #3801.
- H.W. F. Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, (1857; Reprint ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), s.v. #3801, p. 420.
- Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, 81.
- The Revell Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1990), s.v. “Cloak.”
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Breeches.”
- Adam Clark, Clark’s Commentaries (Electronic Database, Copyright, 1996 by BibleSoft), s.v. “1Ti 2:9.” 1305 Bayou Drive, Alvin, Texas 77511
February 3, 2000