Volume 41, Number 4
One of the growing concerns that comes to serious followers of Christ, is the increasing evidence of immodesty in dress. As summer arrives once again, we almost cringe at the near public nudity in the world around us. That God expects people to wear sufficient clothes is clear from Genesis 3:21. When Adam and Eve became conscious of their nakedness, “They sewed fig leaves together” and made a kind of loincloth for themselves (Genesis 3:7). But God-took skins of animals and made clothes for them so that they could cover their bodies. It is instructive to note that the Hebrew word translated “coats” or “tunics” or “garments” (Genesis 3:21), means literally “covering robes.” The clothes that God made for Adam and Eve were not primarily for adornment, nor even for keeping warm; their chief object was to cover the nakedness of the body. God clothed the first human pair in the Garden, and it seems like the devil has been trying ever since to get men and women to unclothe.
Modesty implies that clothing must provide enough covering for the body so that others are not embarrassed or tempted. Jesus clearly condemned the lustful glance, and while we are admonished to “flee youthful lusts,” there is no question but that the revealing clothing worn by men and women today, contributes to the depravity of our time.
The Scriptures always condemn nudity and commend modesty. In the New Testament, it was the demon possessed man who wore no clothes (Luke 8:27). The Christian woman is to wear “modest apparel, with propriety and moderation” (1 Timothy 2:9). Certainly the man (who has leadership responsibilities) is not free to dress as he pleases. Nudity is a calamity to be avoided; immodesty is a sin which God hates.
The days of the miniskirt are not over. Thousands of women are deifying the fashion experts, and are determined to continue exposing their bodies and showing their breasts and legs. Men appear without shirts and display their knobby knees. The April 7, 2006 issue of USA Today describes the “new short shorts” as “high fashion hot pants,” and says that “people are just going crazy over them” during the 2006 season.
Modern fashions are designed to catch the attention of the male, and to concentrate that attention on the female body. In fact, one of the major intents of the current fashion in dress is to accentuate sexuality. Many garments suggest nakedness; they convey the impression of full exposure of the body, without actually doing so—and thus are even more provocative than total nakedness.
Women who are poured into tight jeans, and wear short skirts, revealing blouses, and tight sweaters—are wearing such garments to.work and school, and in many circles, even to church services. Maybe they hope it will attract a future husband; perhaps their egos are boosted by noticing the turning heads and cat calls; possibly they choose to show off parts of their bodies to compete with other women; but most likely it is done merely because “that’s the way everybody is dressing these days.” The Scripture does promise God’s favor upon those who are willing to “come out” and “be separate” from those who are walking in darkness (2 Corinthians 6:17).
It is important for all to be reminded that in God’s order of creation, men and women have been “wired” differently. It doesn’t take much stimulus for men to become sexually aroused. The sight of the female body (even just a little bit, and even if she is a total stranger) can trigger sexual desire very quickly. This is often difficult for women to believe and accept.
Women, by the way of contrast, appreciate handsome and well-built men. Women are not “turned on” visually in the same intense way that men are. Women find words of tenderness and sincere appreciation much more stimulating than mere physical images of men. Because of these differences, “sexy” clothes on a reasonably attractive woman will get a man’s attention immediately. The mere sight of a woman’s body is so powerful for men, that unless men are highly disciplined, it is difficult for them to abstain from impure thoughts.
The message in this issue of the Witness is presented with the hope that more and more Christian women will recognize their dignity before God, and make it their aim to appear in becoming attire. It is also our intent to thank those women who put forth an extra effort to dress modestly. We likewise commend the multitudes of Christian men, who by the grace of God discipline their emotions, and maintain a high moral standard in the midst of all the visual images of half undressed women.
Modesty In Dress: A Vanishing Virtue
By Kenneth Nell
Those who search in the Bible for God’s directives on the matter of dress will not find a list of specific requirements, but there are general principles which determine the standard for attire. The scope of this article is to list only those elements that can be stated with certainty. There are in addition some guiding principles in the Bible that can be applied individually and more specifically as a matter of conviction and common sense. We will look at facts which are based on God’s unalterable principle of modesty, regardless of the activity or the location—whether at church, at Wal-Mart, on the beach, or at the gym.
What are some Bible principles on dress?
1. Designed by the Creator
If we believe God is the Creator of humankind as the Scriptures declare, then it follows that we should submit to the directives of our Maker. It would be preposterous for a lump of clay to say to a potter, “You really didn’t know what you were doing when you made me and adorned me as such. Your requirements are much too stiff; therefore I will choose to resist your purpose.” God’s answer to those who in effect doubt His authority is found in Romans 9:20-21 a: “But indeed, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay?”
Since God made the man and woman differently, the careful Bible student will note that God tailored His dress code to match those differences. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them.”
Men are sexually stimulated (aroused) by sight, and women are stimulated by words of endearment. Therefore God has given certain commands to women regarding their dress and appearance. In 1 Timothy 2:9 we read, “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.” The passage does not imply that men may dress improperly or immodestly. The command is directed to women since they are more commonly given over to enticing dress that affects men in a visual way. The Scriptures speak about “the attire of a harlot,” but we never read about “the attire of a whoremonger”—one who frequents the company of a harlot.
On the other hand God has given different commands to men on how they should conduct themselves. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:1 says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The word “touch” in Greek means “to kindle or light a fire.” Hugging a family member or relative is not what is implied here. Touching that lights a fire refers to any physical contact that stirs emotions and desires. That command is given to men. God also gives warning to men about controlling their eyes. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus says, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
These verses do not imply it is all right for women to lust or to touch inappropriately. The command is directed to men because of their nature—requiring that they guard their eyes and their actions. So if it appears like women receive most of the admonition about dress in the New Testament-—it is for a significant reason that relates to God’s original design. Who are we to argue against the design of the Potter?
2. Requires that nakedness be covered
What was the first thing that Adam and Eve realized after they sinned in eating the forbidden fruit? They saw that they were naked. What was their first response to this realization? They attempted to cover themselves. Eve “took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:6-7).
The Hebrew word translated as “coverings” means a “girdle” or “belt.” Some translations use the words “loin coverings.” The fig leaf coverings were not adequate and did not remove the sense of nakedness felt by Adam and Eve. Notice Adam’s answer to God’s inquiry about his place of hiding. This was after he and Eve were wearing the fig aprons. In answer to God’s question, “[Adam] where are you?” Adam said, “I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself (Genesis 3:9-10).
Even the partially clothed bodies caused Adam and Eve to avoid God’s presence, and Adam said he was naked. Other verses in Scripture refer to partial dress as nakedness. Does that say something about the warm weather wardrobes and swimming suit styles of today? I am guessing that the fig leaf aprons worn by Adam and Eve might have covered more of the body than do many of the garments that are worn today.
What was God’s solution to the problem? In Genesis 3:21 we read, “For Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” The word translated “clothed” means “to wrap around.” The term implies that the coats or robes supplied by God enveloped the body.
The Hebrew word for “coats” (KJV) means “a tunic” or “long coat.” The same Hebrew word is used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors, and also to describe the clothing of the priests. Did you ever see a depiction of Joseph in his coat of many colors, or a Jewish priest with his garb? If God were to make clothing, like He did for Adam and Eve—for people who are often dressed insufficiently today, even many professing Christians would have different wardrobes.
God gave special instructions to the priests, who were to enter the presence of God at the tabernacle. In Exodus 20:26 we read, “Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.” Exodus 28:42 gives a clue as to what part of the body, if exposed, is considered by God to be nakedness. God said that for the priests, “You shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the the thighs.” The NLT says “to cover their flesh from their belts to their legs.” From this we learn that the “waist” and “the thighs” are to be fully covered; otherwise, God considered them to be naked.
The “thigh” is defined in an English dictionary as the limb extending from the hip to the knee and supported by a single large bone. The minimum requirement to avoid nakedness (related to the lower extremities of the body), is that the knee and above should be covered at the very least. Adam Clark in his commentary on 1 Timothy 2 points out that some immodest Greek women wore their garments open on each side, from the bottom on up above the knees, so as to discover a part of the thigh. These women were called “show-ers (discoverers) of the thigh.” God wants us to cover our nakedness in every aspect.
3. Eliminates improper focus on the body
What are the basic requirements in the New Testament concerning dress, to avoid undue focus on the body? We consider first of all the instruction in 1 Timothy 2:9. “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation [shamefacedness and sobriety, KJV]; not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” There are a number of qualifications just in this one verse.
First of all, clothing is to be modest. The Greek word, kosmios, translated “modest” carries the essential meaning of “order,” When applied to dress it has the meaning of being well-ordered, proper, and decent. It derives its meaning from the root word kos-mos, often translated as “world,” as in God’s creation. God’s well-ordered adorning of His creation is a role model for us to follow in outward appearance. Modest apparel for the woman then should reflect God’s design and order, and compliment the grace and beauty of womanhood.
There are two other words used in 1 Timothy 2:9 which further define proper dress—the words “shamefacedness” and “sobriety.” The word shamefacedness comes from a Greek word which means literally “downcast eyes,” but it is meant in a good sense and refers to one who is ashamed to overstep the limit of womanly reserve. The other word, sobriety, is “self-control,” especially over sexual passions. Women are to exercise self-control so that neither their passions nor anyone else’s are aroused.
There is a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract attention. Modesty is dressing attractively. Dressing “to attract attention” is a violation of the Bible’s expectation on dress. If a woman dresses in such a way that others can’t help but notice her bodily form (even if done unintentionally), she is likely to arouse carnal desire. Paul warned against causing others to stumble because of our freedom (Romans 14:13). In 1 Corinthians 8:9 he says, “Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” Granted, the man is held responsible for his lust, but the woman is not free of guilt or accountability. Both are guilty. Jesus refers to this principle in Matthew 18:7, “Woe to the world because of offenses! Offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”
It is imperative that parents train their children, especially daughters, in proper conduct and modesty so as not to cause offense. It will be most effective to have them wear when they are small what we would like them to wear when they start making their own choices. Husbands and fathers have the greater responsibility, in that they know firsthand what causes their eyes to focus wrongly on the body of a woman. That information must be conveyed to our wives and daughters who may not be fully aware of the danger.
Melody Green in her book, Uncovering the Truth about Modesty, says, “Many Christians are…either oblivious or uncaring about the effect they have on others. They may even appear to have a real excitement and love for the Lord, [yet at the same time their bodies are] sending out a totally different message.” Beware of clothing that is- designed for looks and not for proper covering. Today’s fashion designers come up with attire that is planned to have a calculated effect. Just because the body is “covered” does not mean it is modestly covered. The female form is just as provocative as is a lack of sufficient clothing. Tight or clinging attire (and sheer materials) reveal by suggestion rather than by fact. Beware also of eye traps that direct the eye to slits in skirts, low necklines, and shirts or blouses with buttons open. Words and pictures at inappropriate places on clothing also become eye traps.
The Christian woman’s primary desire is not to put her body on exhibit, but to reflect the selflessness of Christ. Her appearance and dress should not say, “Look at me, admire me,” but rather, “Christ lives in me and has changed me from the inside out.” If that change has occurred, then there is no need to draw improper attention to the outward appearance. We read in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—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.”
4. Sex-distinctive in pattern of attire
What does the Bible say about the need for apparel to differ between the man and the woman? Israel was given the following command in Deuteronomy 22:5. “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 abomination unto the LORD your God.” This Old Testament command is a guiding principle that is reflected in nature, and is consistent with God’s intent and order in creation.
Even though (in Bible times) both women and men wore robe like garments, they were different in pattern and use. The women wore a long flowing garment, which was an indispensable article of clothing. The men on the other hand wore a shorter and tighter outer garment that was more like a long overcoat and was a dispensable article of clothing worn for distinction or position. Whenever a man had to work, run, or go to war, he would pull up his garment and tie it around his loins or waist. In the Bible it was called “girding up your loins.”
In Job 38:3 and 40:7 we read the expression “Gird up your loins like a man” (see marginal reference in NKJV). Nowhere in Scripture do we read of women wearing breeches or girding up their loins. At times a man laid aside his outer robe garment (such as Jesus did in John 13:4) when He washed the feet of His disciples, or as Wind Bartimaeus did in Mark 10:50 when he threw aside his garment and came to Jesus.
Distinction between the sexes is a biblical principle supported in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul deals with headship. So, is it acceptable (according to the Bible’s dress standard for women) to wear pants, slacks, shorts, skorts, or culottes that look like baggy shorts? First Timothy 2:9 speaks of apparel marked by sobriety and moderation—that which is in harmony with good taste. And the word translated apparel cannot mean anything other than a long, loose, flowing garment. The Greek work katastole is an exact and precise word, used only at this one place in the Bible. There are lots of words for clothing, attire, etc., but God inspired Paul to choose this word to state a dress requirement for Christian women. The word is a combination of kata meaning “down” in reference to a garment let down), and stole meaning a long loose fitting outer garment often reaching to the feet. In fact, “stole” is an English word which the Webster’s dictionary defines as “a long loose garment.”
The minimum requirement is for Christian women at the very least—to wear a long, loose, flowing dress. Lest we consider this out of the question or archaic, check the history books and you will find that from the time of Christ until the middle 1900s in civilized societies—women, with the exception of harlots, wore long flowing dresses or the equivalent. In fact it is only within the last sixty years that God’s design for distinction between the sexes has been generally laid aside.
The universal symbol for designating a men’s bathroom is a stick figure wearing a pair of pants. The universal symbol for designating a women’s bathroom is a stick figure wearing a dress. That is hardly coincidence. Even society recognizes that there should be a distinction in clothing even though for the most part the distinction is not practiced.
I read an article that told about a woman who made a decision to restrict her wardrobe to dresses and skirts, as a result of lessons learned in a lady’s Bible class. The speaker said, “Let me demonstrate something to you.” She asked the ladies in the audience to close their eyes momentarily. She held up a large picture of a woman in a modest skirt and blouse. She asked the ladies to open their eyes. The she inquired, “Where did you eyes first fall naturally?” The audience agreed that their eyes were first drawn to the face of the woman in the picture.
She once again asked the ladies to close their eyes. When they opened their eyes they were looking at a large poster of a woman in a sport shirt and blue jeans. She asked, “Now, be honest and tell em where your eyes first fell naturally when you looked at this picture?” Many of the ladies in the crowd were surprised that their eyes first focused on the hip area before they ever noticed the woman’s face. The point was made. If this happened in a crowd of ladies, how much more is it true of men? God does have a purpose for His dress requirements.
5. Stresses inward adornment not outward display
The key verses are found in 1 Peter 3:3-4, which admonishes believers not to put the emphasis on the outward adorning “of arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart…even the ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the in _ sight of God.”
Allow me to explain these verses with an example: How much time is invested in dressing up, fixing up, making up, and beautifying the body which is corruptible and soon grows old? Compare that to the amount of time spent beautifying the inner person which is incorruptible and will never grow old. How attractive can you make a 90-year-old woman look, according to the world’s standards of beauty? How much carnal lust can be generated for a body that is bent and wrinkled with age? During life’s final footsteps, outward beauty tends to fade.
I’ve been in the presence of elderly people whose bodies were anything but attractive, but they caused the room to radiate with the beauty of their character and their godliness. I went away encouraged and challenged. The Christian woman has the greatest potential for true beauty, by developing the inner qualities of a gentle and quiet spirit. It is definitely true that a woman of character (one who loves the Lord), will enhance her outward appearance and beauty. There will be a glow on her countenance and a light in her eyes. Her modest dress will compliment that radiance and beauty. A woman’s true adornment is seen in the loving service and character she demonstrates to others. Sisters who follow God’s design for beauty are a compliment to womanhood. Colossians 3:12 encourages the people of God to “put on” mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering.
A believer who is truly committed to the Lord will not ask, “How little can I do and still remain a child of God?” Rather, the question will be, “How much can I do to show my faith, love, and commitment to Christ even through my outward appearance?”
Kenneth Nell is an ordained Church of the Brethren minister, serving on the ministry team in the Pleasant Hill congregation (Southern PA District). Kenneth is principal of the Pleasant Hill Christian School and moderator of the congregation.