Who’s to Say
What Is Modest?
Hello. I’ve read what you have to say in
regards to modesty and as a Christian woman, I have to agree with most
of it. However, you have a pretty all-inclusive list here which let’s
not forget, was created by “YOU.” Who’s to say exactly what is modest
and what is immodest? We all have different opinions. In the
early 1900’s it was considered indecent or immodest for women to show their
legs. And therefore shorts were outlawed. Today, women wear
The above statement is a typical response to lessons presented
about the subject of biblical modesty, even among many members of the churches
of Christ for whom I preach. To reconcile the societal norms with
which we have been inundated (which societal norms do change from generation
to generation) with biblical teaching is often a perplexing challenge.
My point is that what was considered immodest in Biblical
times is not considered immodest today. Are you suggesting we stick
to the fashions of Biblical times? If so, you’ll have to throw away
your pants then because modesty is not ONLY required of women, you know.
And men did not wear pants in biblical times.
By the way, there are still some in Christendom who consider
pants worn by women to be immodest. So to say that to wear tank tops,
for example, is sinful is just plain ridiculous in my opinion. . . .
Who’s wrong, who’s right? Who has been called to set the standard?
You? And what EXACTLY do you expect women to wear at the beach if
not swimsuits? ~ Sincerely, Eve Lopez
The “list” of contention to which the querist refers reflects
some suggested examples of modern applications to the biblical doctrines
of modesty and lust. Certainly, biblical doctrines without present
application are empty of meaning and otherwise useless. Believers
are obligated to acknowledge the force of biblical teachings that apply
to the Gospel or Christian age, which doctrines have not been fulfilled
and thus have no force, or in some other way were retired by God.
New Testament teachings regarding modesty and lust, then, are applicable
to mankind today. Preachers and teachers must teach what the Bible
records about these topics and all humanity ought to make God’s application,
irrespective of what the societal norms may be today.
This does not mean, though, that we are obliged to revert
to manners of dress in vogue in antiquity. We must ensure, however,
that we comply with biblical principles of modesty, especially in our era,
that involve the additional subject of lust. Yes, men, through biblical
principles, are equally amenable to the Bible’s teachings about modesty
and lust (which I included in the article to which reference was made).
We cannot secure the favor of God while obstinately refusing his directives
regarding these or any other matters about which he has legislated.
The query above enumerates three types of clothing for
which an exemption in classification as immodest is sought: “tank
tops,” “shorts” and “swimsuits.” A former complaint from another
source also sought respite for sundresses. Really, any manner of
dress, in the discussion under consideration, that exposes a great deal
of flesh and is likely to contribute to lust by others falls within the
bailiwick of immodesty. In this vein, I find the following reference
involuntarily amusing: “And what EXACTLY do you expect women to wear
at the beach if not swimsuits?” This statement by itself betrays
the fact that the one posing the objection fails to grasp the point of
the biblical doctrines of modesty and lust.
The preceding paragraphs did not cite Bible references,
but merely commented on the question above. Instead of essentially
redoing the article to which the querist referred, that article follows
immediately for the reader’s thoughtful reflection. (Incidentally,
the version of the article that appears below is from a recent class book.
References to “tank tops” and “sundresses” do not appear, only because
their inclusion was not necessary to convey the thrust of the teaching
article about modesty and lust. Lest contention regarding definitions
of these two types of apparel needlessly cloud the point of the article,
“skimpy dresses” occurs instead.)
Modesty: Biblical Investigation
The subject of modesty is definitively addressed
in the New Testament. The New Testament is authoritative, which authority
has not diminished with the passing of the centuries. What the Bible says
regarding modesty is binding today. Further, what the New
Testament teaches about modesty is truth, which if violated
And Contemporary Application
The English word modesty appears only once
in the King James Version of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:9). The word modesty
is from the Greek term kosmios. It means: orderly, well-arranged,
decent, modest, harmonious arrangement, adornment. This Greek word also
appears in the Septuagint (Ecclesiastes 12:9) and is translated “set in
order” and is applied to Solomon’s proverbs. Kosmios is derived
from kosmos which means: order, regular disposition, ornament,
decoration, embellishment, adorning and is used, among other ways, of the
world on which we live (Matthew 13:35; Mark 16:15). Kosmos
is used of modest attire and translated as “adorning” in 1 Peter
3:3. “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting
the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.”
Modesty can apply to one’s manner of dress.
The context of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 especially concerns gaudy dress. Also,
the word for “apparel,” in the same verses, is from the Greek katastole
which means: letting down, and is used in the Septuagint in Isaiah 61:3
as “garment” for the Hebrew meaning “covering” or “wrapping.”
Modesty is also biblically applied to one’s
demeanor or behavior. Kosmois appears in the qualifications
of elders as “good behavior” (1 Timothy 3:2). The apostle Peter also taught
modesty and addressed both what one may wear and an internal
modesty (1 Peter 3:1-5). The Greek word for “adorning” in this context
The summary definition of modesty involves
both one’s manner of dress and inward qualities. The well ordering is not
of dress and behavior only, but also of one’s inner life which exhibits
itself outwardly. Biblical modesty starts on the inside and
works its way to the outside of a person.
Modesty In Context
“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 Timothy 2:9-10).
The context of 1 Timothy 2:8-11, in which verses 9 and 10
address modesty, relates first to the public worship assembly. Especially
in the public worship, women are cautioned to be careful lest their outward
adornment pose a distraction both to themselves and others. “Shamefacedness”
is the natural internal moral quality of blushing when sin is viewed as
repulsive. “Sobriety” is soundness or soberness of mind, resulting in self-restraint.
“Not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” refers to
the gaudy show in which women braided their hair with strands of gold and
silver which glistened in the sunlight and layered themselves with jewels
(Isaiah 3:16-23). “But which becometh women professing godliness with good
works” is contrasted with a mere outward display; the inner display is
more precious before God and more representative of Christian womanhood.
The prohibition is on the extreme and otherwise addresses the priority
of adornment, extolling praise on inward over outward adornment.
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your
own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the
word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste
conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward
adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on
of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is
not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is
in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time
the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection
unto their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1-5).
From the first verse of this context, one’s behavior
rather than anything else, such as physical adornment, is commended. Verses
one and two champion chaste or holy behavior as the means for a Christian
wife to influence a husband whose wife’s words are ineffective toward him.
The Christian woman does not rely on lavish outward adornment to secure
and keep the attention of a man; the references to adorning here are the
same as those of 1 Timothy 2:9.
Comparatively speaking, the inward spiritual adornment
is more precious to God and more effective for Christians than outward
physical adorning. The apostle Peter teaches a disposition that was also
practiced by godly women, such as Sarah (verses 5, 6). Peter did not prohibit
wearing jewelry, cosmetics or clothes; he did prohibit extreme adornment
or that adornment which overshadowed (displaced) a holy and referential
behavior. Both Paul and Peter urge holiness that is to be exhibited, not
Is Modesty A Variable?
There is a sense in which modesty is not variable.
God’s Word does not change. There are no special circumstances either then
or now which mitigate or set aside this teaching. It will never be right
for one’s dress or degree of undress to overshadow and displace a Christian’s
holy behavior. God is concerned about Christian modesty (men
and women) in and out of the worship assembly. Men and women should be
modestly attired (inwardly and outwardly) always, especially in public.
There is a sense in which modesty is variable.
Modesty in public worship is equivalent to what constitutes
modesty in any public setting. However, what is biblically modest in public
differs from what is biblically modest in the private setting of a married
couple’s bedroom. The modern day problem over modesty is
not primarily the putting on apparel, but the taking off apparel or clothes.
People, and unfortunately Christians too, have taken modesty
confined to private settings and moved it to public display. This is sinful,
for it discounts biblical modesty, numbs the senses of morality
(shamefacedness), displaces holy behavior and influence, as well as promotes
Immodesty Relates To Lust
The attire of a harlot has always aroused the base nature
of men. The “attire of a harlot” is discernible and has a calculated result
(Proverbs 7:10). Is it reasonable to suppose the dress or lack thereof
which if worn by a harlot encourages men to lust will lead to less lust
if worn by a Christian woman?
Watching a woman bathe has been known to arouse unlawful
lusts in a man. King David saw Bathsheba washing, lusted after her, committed
adultery with her, fathered a child, murdered her husband and brought much
misery upon himself and the nation (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Is it advisable for
women, especially those professing godliness, to bathe in the presence
of men, whether it be sunbathing or swimming?
Lust is a sin which especially men are cautioned in Scripture
to avoid; is it any more praiseworthy for women to dress provocatively
and excite lust? Lust is viewed by our Lord as adultery only not yet enacted
(Matthew 5:28). Lust is a sin for which souls will be lost (Titus 2:12;
Romans 6:23; James 1:14, 15; 1 Peter 2:11).
It is improper and sinful for Christians to dress immodestly
in the worship assembly. The greater context of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 addresses
the public worship. Mini-skirts, skimpy dresses, high-slit skirts and low-cut
blouses have no place in public worship. Especially women should be careful
to wear appropriate undergarments that contribute to modesty.
It is improper and sinful for Christians to dress immodestly
in any public setting. Public immodesty displaces positive Christian influence
and promotes lust, and is, therefore, sinful. Added to the former list,
short-shorts, halter or tube tops, sheer blouses, swimsuits and other revealing
or provocative clothing should not be worn publicly by Christians. The
beach or a swimming pool does not lessen the need for Christians to dress
At home, the modesty of one’s dress varies. What may be
biblically modest in the inner chambers of one’s home is biblically immodest
in the public areas of the house while entertaining guests or out in the
yard. Further, what may be modest between husband and wife can be immodest
in front of the children. What may be modest family dress is immodest when
exhibited to others (e.g., night-clothes).
Persistence in immodesty has serious ramifications. Immodesty
in the face of biblical instruction demonstrates willful lack of subjection
to God and one’s father or husband. Immodesty is not a usual and orderly
arrangement of clothing. Immodesty overshadows and displaces “shamefacedness
and sobriety,” “professing godliness” and “good works.” Immodesty makes
impossible the influence of another with the Gospel “without a word” (1
Peter 3:1-5). Finally, immodesty is sinful, leads to additional sins and
The topic of modesty is taught in the New Testament
and is binding today. Modesty is an orderly arrangement of
clothes that does not hide the inner or spiritual side of man. Immodesty
leads to lust and other sins. Faithful and knowledgeable Christians do
not wear some clothes in public: mini-shirts, skimpy dresses, high-slit
skirts, low-cut blouses, short-shorts, halter or tube tops, sheer blouses,
swimsuits and other revealing clothing. Persistent immodesty is evidence
of rebellion toward God, his Word, the church, fathers and husbands. Immodesty
ruins the Christian influence and impairs the effectiveness of the Gospel.