Biblical Modesty

Mary, mother of Jesus, as portrayed  in
the film "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977).
An historical example of a 1st Century
Christian Woman.

We live in an age of gross indecency, immodesty, and sexual immorality. The modern person is attacked by images of immodesty in the name of "freedom" on a regular basis. From random internet adds, to mall posters, to grocery store magazine isles, to simply trying to enjoy a day at the beach with your family. The immodesty of modern civilization has increased to staggering proportions.

When it comes to modesty, one thing that should be certain in the mind of every Christian is that YOUR opinion of what is modest or immodest is irrelevant; it is God's opinion, and ONLY God's opinion that matters. You may personally believe that what you are wearing is perfectly modest, but if God's Word says it is immodest, than YOU are the one who is wrong. God is never wrong.

"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety..." -1 Timothy 2:9a (KJV)

In my opinion, the King James Version of the Bible translates 1 Timothy 2:9 (above) with better accuracy than all other translations. It is the only English translation I know of that speaks of "shamefacedness" from the Greek word "aidous," which literally means (in modern English) "a sense of shame."

However, there are several other decent translations of this verse which should also be considered for clarity such as the NKJV, NIV (1984), HCSB, NASB, and YLT.

The Apostle Peter also addresses the subject of modesty when he writes:

"Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of GodFor in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror." -1 Peter 3:1-6

The point of these verses is clear: Women are commanded to be modest, in both apparel and behavior. But in an age of indecency, such as our own, what does the word 'modest' mean? When these verses were written by the Apostles Peter and Paul, what type of clothing would they have considered modest, and what type of clothing would they have forbidden?

Immodesty is an act of sensuality. Sensuality is a sin of sexual immorality and those who practice it are mockers that walk according to ungodly lust and lack the Spirit of God. As it is written:

"But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit." -Jude 1:17-19

Do you remember the Word of Christ Jesus? It is written:

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." -Mark 9:42

Ladies: If you are causing others to stumble by the way you act or dress, it would be better for you to tie a large stone around your neck and throw yourself into the ocean!

Do you not realize that "whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt 5:28)? If you cause a man to look upon you with lust because of the way you are acting or because of the way you dress I solemnly warn you now that you are committing sin. In fact, you are not just committing a sin, you are causing others to sin as well.

Dressing in a way that reveals parts of your body that should be covered - such as the legs, the buttocks, the groin region, the breast region, the shoulders and upper arms, the back, or the abdomen - either by nakedness OR by tight clothing - is sensual behavior, which is sexual immorality, and may cause others to be tempted.

Those women who do not care if their brothers in Christ are tempted by the way they dress do not love their brothers and abide in death, as it is written:

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." -1 John 3:14

The average westernized Christian woman has very little sense of modesty or love for her brothers in Christ. Indeed, most western Christian women completely lack any sense of shame (Greek "aidous"). American Christian women even parade themselves around at the beach in apparel that leaves nothing to the imagination. Truly, only women without any sense of shame would wear what people of our day deem standard beach-wear or pool-side apparel.

Indeed, the average American Christian believes that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a bikini at all, at least as long as certain conditions are met, such as the presence of swimming water and/ or sand. But would Paul the Apostle (or God, for that matter) approve of this type of 'dress', even if it were only at the beach? -ABSOLUTELY NOT! Such 'dress' would have been considered the same as public nudity by the Apostles -as well as the Lord Jesus Christ. Even prostitutes of New Testament days would blush with shame at the sight of an average American woman at the beach. Paul would have never approved of a Christian woman wearing a bikini or one-piece anywhere in public, including the beach, and neither does the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 2:9 commands Christian women to dress modestly. It is not a suggestion. Those who know this commandment and fail to heed it fall under the curse of 1 John 2:4, as it is written:

"He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." -1 John 2:4

If a woman claims to be a Christian, but continues to dress immodestly after understanding the commandment of modesty, she is a liar and the truth is not in her, as the above verse clearly points out.

The commandment to dress modestly in 1 Timothy 2:9 does not add "except at the beach or local swimming hole" and neither should Christians (Proverbs 30:6). Christian women should never expose their bodies in public in such ways. Bikinis and most other bathing suits are not modest and should not be worn by professing Christian women in public, but neither is most clothing worn by modern cultures.

We cannot just invent our own definition of the word 'modest'. We must define what the word 'modest' means based upon what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote the word 'modest'.

Indeed, in some cultures, such as certain tribes of Papua New Guinea, it is considered to be perfectly modest for women to expose their breasts. Because these tribes consider this to be modest behavior does NOT mean that it is. There is a standard that exists. That standard is the Word of God (2Tim 3:16), and the Spirit of the meaning behind what is written (2Cor 3:6).

So, what is the Bible's definition of the word modest?

What Paul the Apostle meant by 'modest' was for a woman to be covered from NECKLINE TO ANKLE by LOOSE MATERIAL that does not underline certain parts of the body like the chest, the buttocks, or the groin. We know this by studying what his place, time, and culture considered to be modest. That is Biblical modesty.

When Paul wrote the word 'modest' he did not intend for people to invent their own definitions of modesty, he meant what was considered to be modest in his place, time, and culture.
Logistically, what does Paul's definition of the word 'modest' mean to a Christian woman of the 21st century?

-It means that a modern Christian woman must care more about what the Word of God says than what her culture says. It means that a modern Christian woman should "deny herself, and take up her cross daily" (Luke 9:23) and conform to the Word of God rather than bearing conformance to the worldly culture in which she lives (Rom 12:2). It means that a modern Christian woman's appearance should be radically different from a non-Christian (1Pet 2:9). As it is written:

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." -Romans 12:2

Historians know what modesty meant when the Apostle Paul wrote his letter, just look at the way the actresses in the film 'Jesus of Nazareth' (1977) are dressed (such as the photo of the actress who played Mary at the top of this page). Historically speaking, I have never seen a more accurate depiction of New Testament era garb than what is displayed in that movie.

A more recent visual example of modesty in Peter and Paul's day would be a movie called 'The Passion of the Christ' (by Mel Gibson -2004). The women's garb in this movie was also very historically accurate.

Though there are many other movies of Biblical times, some of them are made by people that have absolutely no understanding of history whatsoever, especially Biblical history. The two movies that I have mentioned above were made with a heavy emphasis upon historical accuracy, while both the writers and directors consulted historians of the highest imminence during creation.

I bring up these two films and desire modern women to imitate the level of modesty portrayed in these films because God desires women to imitate such modesty (1Peter 3:1-6; Hebrews 6:12; 3John 1:11).

Both Apostles Paul and Peter make it clear that women should dress modestly, but they also point out that women should not wear jewelry or expensive clothing. In other words, the Apostles make it clear that Christian women should be very plain in appearance. As it is written:

In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothingbut, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." -1 Timothy 2:9-10

And again:

"Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be* outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." -1 Peter 3:1-4  

*Note: Many English translations of 1 Peter 3 add the word "merely" here, but it is in italics because it is not in the original Greek manuscripts.

These two Scriptures point out quite clearly that Christian women should not be wearing jewelry, decorating their hair, or wearing "fine" or "costly" clothing. A Christian woman should dress in a very plain, simple, and modest way.

Christian women are commanded to be "reverent in behavior" (Titus 2:3), "discreet" and "chaste" (Titus 2:5); as it is written:

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." -Titus 2:1-5

This principle of discreetness should not only be applied to a Christian woman's attitude, but should also be applied to what a Christian woman decides to wear. A woman's flesh attracts attention. Therefore, wearing any clothing that exposes the flesh of your body (other than the face, lower arms, or feet) is not discreet. Colors such as red, pink, orange, violet (or other bright colors) attract attention and are not discreet, whereas colors such as black, grey, dark blue, dark green, brown, and tan are very discreet because they are plain colors that blend with the earth.

Christian women should not be in love with worldly fashions and styles, they should be in love with pleasing God, and as God commands:

"Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” -2 Corinthians 6:17-18

I would remind everyone that a person who loves the things of the world, including it's fashions and styles, does not have the love of God. As it is written:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." -1 John 2:15

In fact, Christian women should be so set apart from the world that they should look radically different than the people of this world. So radically different, in fact, that  modern culture will be inclined to revile and persecute them. How blessed are you if you are reviled and persecuted for the sake of righteousness! As it is written:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."-Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12)

Photographic examples of the highest levels of modest dress for Christian women have been included in this article. These photographic examples are meant to help Christians understand what true, Biblical modesty looks like. It is my hope that these examples encourage other Christian women to mimic this level of modesty. After all, Christian woman have been dressing similar to the way the women in those photos dress from the time of Christ until the Renaissance.

It should be noted, however, that every Christian is at a different level in their walk with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). A person's actions, including the way the dress, reflects their heart (Matthew 7:18; 1 John 2:3-4). For Christian women, modesty is one of those actions (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3). If a woman's heart is steadfast and dedicated to the Lord, her level of modesty will closely resemble and mimic (2Thess 2:15) the modesty portrayed by the women pictured in this article (Heb 6:12; 3John 1:11).

God commands that Christian women be modest and discreet. If you truly love God, you will not only obey His commandments, you will love His commandments, as it is written:

"I will delight myself in Your commandments, Which I love." -Psalm 119:47

and again:

"Therefore I love Your commandments More than gold, yes, than fine gold!" -Psalm 119:127

In fact, a woman's level of modesty is a direct indicator of her of love for God; as Jesus Christ Himself said:

"If you love Me, keep My commandments." -John 14:15

Why? -As it is written: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." -1 John 5:3

Christian woman, whoever you are, wherever you are, please accept my humble and gentle correction and clothe yourself in the love of God; clothe yourself in modesty. Crown yourself in righteousness with your head covering, for if you observe these things and remain steadfast in all of Christ's commandments you will receive the crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).

For those who are unaware, there are Christian women all over the world who have dedicated themselves to holiness and modesty. I hope you will be encouraged to do the same for the Name of Christ which you bare as a Christ-ian. Here are some modest Christian women from around the world:

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