Biblical Principles of Modesty

This post comes inspired by a recent conversation I had with a friend on Facebook. My friend posted this status message,

I repeat: Christian ladies should not wear bikinis in public.

I asked him why he felt this way, and he told me that it was an issue of modesty. Of course, being the snarky man that I am, I told him not to tell Eve. But the conversation continued and my interest in this subject piqued. I decided to do a little research in what the scriptures actually say about modesty. I was not really surprised by what I found, but you may be!

First, lets talk about the most common verse I’ve found used when it comes to scriptural modesty, 1 Timothy 2:9 – “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel.” In my research on the internet, I found several sources citing this verse. If we take this verse as is, in a modern day scenario, it sounds like Paul is telling women to put on some clothes and quit showing their cleavage. Right? However, the verse actually describes for us what is modest and what is immodest. Let’s read the whole things! 1 Timothy 2:9-10 – “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” So, Paul clearly defined “respectable apparel” as “good works”. Also, he clearly defines immodesty as “braided hair, gold or pearls, and costly attire”. I’m not sure Paul is talking about bikini’s here. Of course, during his time, everyone swam naked.

1 Peter 3:3-4 also discusses modesty in a similar way to 1 Timothy – “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Second, we look to the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and find “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” (verse 22:5). Like the 1 Peter verse above, there is no mention of “modesty” per se, but at least we are getting to a point of what women should wear (or should not wear in this case).

Third… wait, there is no third. Yes, that’s right, these are the only two verses that directly speak to modesty in some way. Now, how did we get from braided hair, jewelry, and expensive clothes being immodest to bikinis. Well, it is quite simple, men like to blame women for their own problems. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus said this, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” You see, if you have a nice figure and you are on the beach, wearing a bikini, it is your fault that I am going to lust after you… right?

In the conversation with my friend, I eventually brought up Burqas. Now, I do not live in a society where women regularly wear Burqas. However, I am a man and I do know how my own mind works. I suspect that Burqas do not prevent a man from lusting after a woman. When we stop blaming women for our own problem, we just might start to see what God sees. It is not the physical dress that determines immodesty, it is our heart and actions.

With all that said, my interpretation of 1 Timothy and 1 Peter is not that braided hair, costly jewelry and clothes are immodest. Paul and Peter were talking to women who thought braided hair, jewelry, and expensive clothes showed how good they were, their worth, and their respectability. Today, Peter and Paul might write the same thing about bikinis, if there are women wearing them to show how good they are, their worth, or their respectability.