Does the Bible Define “Modesty”?
“When talking about modesty in Christian apparel, I have been criticized with the declaration that nowhere the Bible defines what modesty is. Is this correct? Could you help me answering this criticism?”
Today, criticism arguing that the Bible does not define “modesty” is very common, and generally, this idea of “lack of definition” is used to suggest that no one can say what is modest or not; simply, “this is up to each person.”
This criticism is false and self-contradictory. First, if the Bible does not define what is “modest,” then, as Christians who consider the Bible as our guide of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-8), we would be wasting our time discussing the subject. Second, if God’s Word does not define “modesty,” then, there is not such a thing as “immodesty.” Who would have the special right to determine what is “modest” or “immodest”? In this view, everybody would have an equal right to think what he or she wants concerning modesty. In other words, no one “could” dress indecently enough for his/her attire to be described as “immodest.” Total nudity, as well, could not be described as “immodesty.”
However, the Bible does define “modesty”—that is, by principle and example. Since the Bible was meant to be a book for all generations (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-9; 2 Timothy 2:2), then it expresses some of its teachings in principle in order to transcend culture, idiosyncrasy, and time. It defines “modesty” in principle and example—in the same way, for example, the context in 1 Corinthians 14:40 defines “decently” and “in order” (reason why we do not dance, run, scream, or jump as part of a decent and orderly worship.)
The problem with some who argue that the Bible “does not define” modesty is that they expect for the Bible to be a catalog of things that are modest or immodest. If that were the case, the Bible would be a book with no end, and ultimately, a list would not be a definition in itself. This would also hinder human capacity to reason. God wants for Christians to be diligent students, who “rightly [divide] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39), and “reason” (Isaiah 1:18). If we are not willing to do this, then it would be better for us to find a different book.
According to some principles found in 1 Timothy 2:9-10,15 and 1 Peter 3:3-5, we can define “modesty” as the “ornament that is honorable, reflects proper reverence, holy, piety, does not attracts improper attention, does not cause lasciviousness in others, is not revealing, vain, or degrades others.” The Bible is full of eternal principles and examples admonishing holiness in the way we dress to glorify God and avoid being a stumbling block for our neighbors and Christians peers (e.g., Genesis 3:21; 9:22-23; Exodus 20:26; 28:40-42; 2 Samuel 10:4-5; 11:2-4; Matthew 5:16; 18:6-9; Mark 5:15; Romans 12:1-2; 14:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 1 Timothy 4:12; 5:14; James 1:27). Obviously, tight, low-cut, transparent, and revealing clothes, bikinis, bathing suits, miniskirts, and other similar clothing do not meet the conditions of something that glorifies God.
Additionally, it is interesting to note the word “shamefacedness” in 1 Timothy 2:9 (KJV). Richard Trench defines this word as “honorable shame” (1885, p. 204). Today, there are some who should feel shame of what they are wearing in public, educational campuses, and even church buildings. Sadly, they “[are] not at all ashamed; nor [do] they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15) because they “refuse to be ashamed” (Jeremiah 3:3, emp. added). Christians should strive to have a healthy measure of honorable shame in order to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). Yes, the Bible defines “modesty”!
Trench, Richard (1855), English Past and Present (New York: Redfield).