So we’ve made it through seven posts, covering different information about modesty than many were expecting. Today’s post is a fair bit longer than my normal length, but I’d love to finish up this series. Here’s the barn-burner finale everyone requested.
In the first post, we introduced the topic and gave a broad look at the categories of women in churches that have concerns about modesty (or a total lack thereof). In the second post, we looked at the biblical terminology. In the third post we looked at the mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture and in the fourth post we looked at what gold, braided hair indicated in ancient Roman culture. In the fifth and sixth posts, we took a look at the main remaining biblical text that was untouched: 1 Peter 3:1-6. In the seventh post (which was called “VI” since the fifth was a two-part post), we summarized the content of the previous posts and looked at how “modesty” relates to expensive handbags. I closed off the seventh post by pointing out the obvious: I hadn’t yet addressed what would be considered standard “modesty” fare…namely talking about women who dress in clothes that flaunt their culturally-afforded fashion rights.
Many women think modesty talk has to do with utilizing the right to bare arms…or more specifically stopping at the arms. When it comes to typical “modesty” discussions, the conversation often runs in one of three directions:
a. Guidelines to help someone determine just what a woman is allowed to bare.
b. Trying to find explicit statements about baring/not baring specific things (knees, thighs, shoulders, etc.) in the Bible that aren’t really there.
c. Grumbling about how men can’t control themselves, no matter what a girl covers up…so the existence of the issue is really the guys’ fault in the first place.
Seeing that my summary of b reveals my opinion about that rather obviously, and seeing that I’ve already taken a rather thorough look at the directly relevant scriptures in the previous posts, I’m going to leave that one as already dealt with sufficiently. The Bible doesn’t directly talk about how many inches above/below the knee a skirt should be, or whether or not women can wear pants. People who claim otherwise are exegetical hacks. The Bible does give direction on issues of what a woman can or cannot bare, but not specific guidelines regarding styles of clothing or units of measure.
That leaves a and c, so let’s take those on full-steam.
The Falling Neckline and the Rising Skirt
This is going to be simpler than you expect.
Point 1: Nakedness is associated with shame in the scripture:
– In Genesis 2:25, the Bible records that “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” which would contrast with the typical situation of “naked and ashamed” in the post-Genesis-3 world. In Genesis 3:7 & 10, Adam and Eve knew that they were naked and covered themselves up, albeit inadequately. In Genesis 3:21, God himself clothes them in garments more fitting for them. After God covers up Adam and Eve’s nakedness in Genesis 3, nakedness is exclusively and consistently something marked by shame in the Bible.
– In Genesis 9:21-23, you turn your eyes away from seeing someone’s nakedness and attempt to cover them.
– In Genesis 9:24-25, the man who exposes someone’s nakedness is cursed.
– In Exodus 20:26, the altar was not to be ascended to via steps lest someone below the priest might see up his garment from below. In other words, any danger of exposing nakedness was to be avoided.
– In Exodus 28:42-43, the priests were to have undergarments “to cover their naked flesh…lest they bear guilt and die.”
– In Leviticus 18:6-19 the Israelites were warned against publicly uncovering the nakedness of anyone they might possible meet or be related to, male or female (also in Leviticus 20:11-21).
– In 1 Samuel 19:24, public nakedness was seen as a public humiliation (also in Isaiah 20:2-4; Amos 2:16; Rom. 8:35; Rev. 16:15).
– In the whole Bible, disrobing someone was to bring shame and disgrace them (Is. 20:4, 47:3; Ez. 16:37; Hos. 2:3; Mic. 1:11; Nah. 3:5; Acts 19:16; Rev. 17:16).
– In the whole Bible, willfully looking upon someone’s naked body was shameful (Is. 57:8; Ez. 22:10; Hab. 2:15). It seems like it doesn’t need to be said, but the whole book of Song of Solomon (along with selections from the letters of Paul) points out that the shame isn’t there between a husband and a wife.
– In the whole Bible, it was the mark of an honorable person to attempt to cover the nakedness of the poor or oppressed (Is. 58:7; Ez. 16:7-8, 18:7, 18:16; Matt. 25:36-38, 25:43-44).
– The term for someone who willfully uncovers their naked body is “whore” (Ez. 16:36, 23:11-19, 23:29). Only a prostitute is brazen and foolish enough to willfully do to themselves what their enemies would attempt to do to shame and disgrace them.
That brings us to the next point.
Point 2: Women who willfully display their nakedness act shamefully.
Ezekiel 16:1-42 has an extended (and amazingly graphic) metaphor where God talks about Israel’s unfaithfulness to him. It starts off with Israel being an infant that is born and immediately thrown into a field where Israel perishes (16:1-5). God then sees Israel, commands her to live, and causes her to grow to sexual maturity (16:6-7). Then, God covered her nakedness and married her, giving her every possible gift he had to offer (16:8-14), but Israel responded to God’s graciousness in ways that were simply breathtaking (16:15-34). God makes the explicit contrast between his treatment of her and her treatment of herself when he states:
“Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, behold…” (16:34-37)
It’s worth pointing out that God states three different horrid sins of Israel in 16:36. God says that wrath is coming because of:
a. Israel’s lust being poured out and her nakedness being uncovered in her whorings with her lovers.
b. Israel’s lust being poured out and her nakedness being uncovered in her whorings with her idols.
c. Israel’s presentation of the blood of her children to her idols.
Now one would think that the sexual promiscuity was the more severe problem than the uncovering of nakedness, but it’s interesting that God mentions the lust and the uncovering of Israel’s nakedness as equal and separate sins. It would seem somewhat unnecessary to point out that someone was sexually promiscuous and naked, right? I mean, the two are somewhat inseparable, but God still makes explicit mention of it. The whole metaphor is one of showing of the vast an unthinkable shame of Israel, and her own willful uncovering of herself is part of that unthinkable shame.
Ezekiel 23 has a similar, and even more graphic metaphor of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.
It’s also worth pointing out that in the third post, I made mention of how in Roman society, prostitutes were recognized by wearing male clothes made of thin silk; silk that would be somewhat translucent and revealing; prostitutes were associated with varying degrees of nakedness (the wealthy ones wore more clothing, but it was still purposely revealing). The connection of revealing clothing with prostitutes is thousands of years old. The more a woman uncovers her body, the more she acts in an way that parallels the unmistakably historic uniform of a prostitute.
Point 3: Don’t bring shame on yourself: avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness.
Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that a women who wants to please God would want to not act shamefully; they would not want to act like Israel did in Ezekiel 16 or 23. I’m guessing that they’d want to stay away from that sort of activity…as far as they could. In other words, flee from the kinds of revealing, sensual or sexually-charged clothing that has become “normal” in contemporary culture. Also, it’s worth saying that fleeing from any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness would involve not wearing clothing that purposefully draws the eye to specific areas.
So then let’s get concrete. What should a woman wear?
Well, I cannot and will not give anyone hard and fast rules for clothing. You all know that with just a little desire and ingenuity, someone could make anything inappropriate.
Avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness, and you will answer to God and your conscience for figuring out what that will look like.
Avoid clothing that exposes or draws eyes toward your cleavage.
Avoid clothing that exposes or draws draws eyes toward your buttocks.
Avoid clothing that exposes or draws draws eyes toward your reproductive parts.
Avoid clothing that exposes or draws draws eyes toward your midriff/legs.
Avoid clothing that is tight and form fitting enough that it reveals rather than covers your body.
When in doubt, don’t do it.
What’s reasonable? Cover up whatever you can without resorting to efforts that are unrealistic (i.e. involves welding).
The way that all plays out will vary from woman to woman as each woman has a different body (i.e. tall, curvy, etc.). Some women have challenges because they have more pronounced body parts that are harder to cover, but that’s why I’m trying so hard to avoid concrete rules. Do whatever you need to do to avoid any degree of self-induced nakedness.
The Unrestrained Boy and the Stumbling Brother
Again, this is going to be simpler than you expect.
Point 1: Teenage boys who are obsessed with sex aren’t your concern:
If you have to stop and wonder “will dressing this way cause a hormonal young man to tempted with thoughts of sexual lust?” the answer is yes.
Yes it will.
Write it down.
Now not all will, and sometimes not even some will, but it’s always true that someone will. Speaking as a guy, I have run across a tsunami of adolescent (and sadly adult) males whose thoughts turn sexual at the slightest provocation. I won’t go into what would be unnecessary and vile discussion, but I’ve learned that many fellows have a hair trigger for that sort of stuff. You cannot prevent contributing to their lusting except by one things:
a) Avoiding any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness.
That doesn’t mean that you’re free to dress however you wish, but rather that you stick with the previous three points above and avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness. If you’re wanting to not cause a brother to stumble, then talk with some married women who have teenage boys and ask them to help you understand where the bar of expectation should be set…and when in doubt, cover it up. It’s not like there aren’t fashionable contemporary options available for girls who want to dress trendy and yet still be covered up. Almost every brand of clothes has multiple options, regardless of your personal style. Let’s be honest: in this digital and global era, everything is “in style” somewhere, and certain classics are always in style.
Point 2: Forget your fears of “causing a brother to stumble”:
In the light of the previous point, I know of girls who essentially take two approaches to the “don’t cause a brother to stumble” problem:
a. They play the “it’s not my problem” card and use that as an excuse for their wounded conscience that convicts them of the fact that they dress in a way that’s self-shaming.
b. They obsess over trying to guess whether or not something will “cause a brother to stumble”. They want to wear this or that, but are frequently frustrated when they try to anticipate the reactions of the fellows in their lives. They try to find some sort of accurate gauge for “what’s modest” but cannot anticipate (with the desired accuracy) the reaction of the opposite sex.
I got some ideas for women in both categories:
a. For the women in category (a) – Avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness.
If a guy is looking at you and seeing things that he shouldn’t, it’s because you’re presenting that stuff to the world. Cover it up and stop the insanity of confusing sexy with attractive. Dressing “sexy” means “dressing in a way that stimulates a desire for sex” and that desire is never stimulated in only the guy you want to notice you…hence girls get bad reputations. Everyone notices when girls dress in ways that bring shame on themselves.
Also, wake up and realize the obvious: the kind of guys you attract by dressing “sexy” aren’t the kind of guys you want. If you’re trying to attract a god-fearing man who’s got some character, try attracting him with the things that will be attractive to his heart. Don’t abandon your physical beauty, but don’t make it the only thing you’re offering and present your physical beauty in a way that doesn’t bring shame on you.
b. For the women in category (b) – Don’t ever participate in any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness.
I’m going to say it again:
If you have to stop and wonder “will dressing this way cause a hormonal young man to tempted with thoughts of sexual lust?” the answer is yes.
Write it down.
Some of the young men out there have self control and don’t turn into donkeys in heat at the slightest provocation, but to many do. Most of them have the wherewithal to not show it…much. Your concern shouldn’t be hypothetical lust, but covering your own nakedness with the Lord and your biblically-informed conscience as your guides, not your own hypothetical suspicions regarding the penchant for young men to think what they shouldn’t.
But wait! What about Romans 14? 1 Corinthians 10? What about the weaker brother, or the passages that talk about causing a brother to stumble?
In those passages, what’s being discussed are matters that are “grey” issues; issues where the Bible doesn’t draw clear moral lines and the conscience of a weaker believer is violated because they don’t follow the same moral standards as the stronger believer. The conscience of a young man is not being violated in this scenario, but rather a young woman is violating her own conscience when it comes to matters of clothing.
The real application of those passages here would be in not judging (as spiritually inferior) a woman who dresses differently than you . The matter of clothing is in fact a grey issue, but it’s a grey issue between women. Guys need to avert their eyes from things that tempt them (i.e. Job 31:1; Matt. 5:27-30) and ladies, both young and old, need to avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness.
But wait again! What about bathing suits?
Avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness. That means “no thorax skin”. I’m TRYING to avoid making a list of rules! But yeah. Wear a t-shirt and a swim skirt over your bathing suit. Wear a wet suit. Wear whatever you need to wear to avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness…Heck, wear under armor or even regular old armor.
But wait AGAIN! What about context? Do different contexts have certain allowances?
Avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness. That means “at church” and “at the beach” and “when you’re in a wedding party”. Do whatever is realistic in order to avoid any reasonable degree of self-induced nakedness. It might involve an uncomfortable conversation, or bystanders may wrongfully assume that you’re ashamed of your body, but don’t violate your conscience for the sake of social convenience.
Do whatever you need to do.
Get a retro 1920’s swimsuit and make a joke of it.
So the bottom line: cover it up.
No, I’m not going to give any more pictures or examples. I’ve given one, and I’m already nervous about that. I’m sure a few people who have got this far in the post have already analyzed and dissected it. I’m sure that a few hearts have been tempted to either judge me for my standards or create a list of rules based on that singular image…so I’m now going to give the most cautious direction I can in looking for examples.
If you want some direction, look at the remaining royalty in the world. Read The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor or even better: the Royal Hats blog. Sure, a blog about royal millinery mainly has photos of royals when they go out on formal occasions. That being said, follow royalty when it comes to looking for general guidelines on how to dress. I say this because the remaining royalty in the world have no shortage of 2 things:
They can afford whatever they want and wear nice/expensive clothes. They don’t just run off to thrift stores and buy whatever is cheap. They buy whatever they want, regardless of price (generally speaking) and they dress respectably and elegantly…or in a “courtly” manner. I believe that word has already come up in a previous post!
b. Personal advisors.
In other words, they never dress shamefully because they represent nations. Royals define the term “class”, so if you want to dress “classy”, keep abreast of how royals dress. They’re generally not unfashionable, but they don’t follow typical Hollywood fashion trends. If you don’t like how they dress, that’s fine. Copy the principles behind their style and make it your own.
We’re at 2,900 words now, so this post has gone on long enough. I hope it’s helpful, let me know in the comments! Also, if you think of questions regarding the 9 million specific scenarios I didn’t address, ask away.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “In fear and trepidation, knowing I probably missed more than I covered” Unger