Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 1 Page 15 January 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles
By Louis Rushmore

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 shorts.
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 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.

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
And Contemporary Application

By Louis Rushmore

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 constitutes sin.

Modesty Defined

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 is kosmos.

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 hindered, outwardly.

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 lust.

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).

Application Today

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 modestly.

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 corrupts others.


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.

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Louis Rushmore, Editor
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