So we’ve made it through eight posts, covering different information about modesty than many were expecting. I won’t do another summary of what’s come before, except to say that I’ve argued at length that “modesty”, in the Bible, has more to do with general demeanor and flaunting wealth than it has to do with dressing inappropriately. For a more in depth summary, I’ll refer my readers to the previous post.
I closed off the last 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. Today, that’s where we’re going; starting with the American Constitution.
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 before she crosses the line into “immodest”
b. Trying to find explicit statements about baring/not baring specific things (knees, thighs, shoulders, etc.) in the Bible that are questionably there.
c. Talking about frustrations related to how men can’t control themselves, no matter what a girl covers up…or how girls constantly get blamed for someone else’s sin.
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 (and yes, I know about Deuteronomy 22:5). 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 regarding clothing length.
That leaves a and c, so let’s get rolling.
The Falling Neckline and the Rising Skirt
This is going to be simpler than you expect.
I’m going to give you three points that should provide a (hopefully) wide framework for addressing these questions:
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. There is a proper context for the celebration of nakedness, but fashion definitely is not it.
– 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).
That brings us to the next point.
Point 2: Women who willfully display their nakedness act shamefully.
– The term for someone who willfully uncovers their naked body is “prostitute” (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 them in order to shame and disgrace them.
Let’s dig a little deeper into that idea.
– 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 and separate mention of both, and both together make up what is considered “whorings”. 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, and the whole “you acted like a prostitute” is rather boldly articulated in detail.
It’s also worth pointing out that in the fourth 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, and Romans 7:8-11 suggests, that with just a little desire and ingenuity, someone could twist a set of rules and make anything inappropriate.
So, instead of concrete rules I give a general principle that needs to be applied by wisdom and conscience:
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 parts that you don’t want to uncover.
Avoid clothing that exposes or draws eyes toward parts that you don’t want to sick/creepy/gross folks ogling.
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 or absurd.
The way that all plays out will vary from woman to woman as each woman has a different body (i.e. tall, curvy, etc.). Woman all have different bodies and therefore different challenges, 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.
Next, we’ll deal with the final issue: the whole question about “causing a brother to stumble”.
You won’t want to miss that.