The Oxymoron of “Modesty”
I am having a difficult time deciding how to begin this blog, so, I am just going to throw it out there and begin.
Yes, that is a picture of me in my beach attire. I thought it was fitting for the theme of the blog. Plus, it is a flashback to warmer days on the beach, there is currently snow on the ground outside my window.
This is a touchy subject, and I’m sure it will offend someone, but then again, someone somewhere will always be offended right?
I told you this would be a tricky one. Before I dive into the details, let me explain why.
I recently happened upon a Facebook post from someone I do not know personally bragging about their “modest” beach apparel. In this post, they specifically stated they didn’t mind people looking at them in such clothes.
Herein lies the problem.
For those of us who grew up in the UPC, or other such organizations, women’s modesty was taught as clothing rules: skirts or dresses only, to be worn below the knees, past the elbows and above the collarbone. The UPC tacks on a few additional rules just for fun, such as no makeup or jewelry, The verses used to support such beliefs are Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Timothy 2:9, and 1 Peter 3:3.
Now, this blog is not to debate the pants and skirts argument that stems from Deuteronomy 22:5. To be honest, I am tired of that entire conversation, as it is such a ridiculous debate since we are no longer under the Old Testament law, and said verse clearly does not apply to us. Not to mention, people wore robes in Biblical times, there were no pants and skirts back then so this argument all the way around is moot.
The point of this blog is the definition of “modest” in the Bible. The UPC as a whole seems to miss the boat entirely as to what this word actually means. And honestly, it’s a little frustrating to watch. The main verse they use to promote their doctrine of modesty is 1 Timothy 2:9-10:
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.
I included the KJV here, as this is the version I grew up with and most often have heard cited by UPC ministers.
In the UPC, women are praised for how “modest” they are with their clothing, after all, modest is hottest right? But what truly is modest? As I already mentioned, their version of modesty is a skirt or dress that stays within certain guidelines. It doesn’t seem to matter to them the cost of their modest clothing, the elaborate styles of their hair, or the brand name of their church high heels or purses. They also don’t seem to mind, and actually take pride in the way dressing as such brings attention to them in public.
Let’s take a closer look from the “world’s” viewpoint.
In today’s society, women wear pants, people wear swimsuits to the beach, and beehive hairdos are not exactly seen on a daily basis. Keeping those facts in mind, let’s be honest with ourselves, dressing in UPC style attire makes you stand out like a sore thumb. It makes you look like a religious zealot and makes you pretty much unapproachable to the average person. Is this the version of modest Paul was going for?
Let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 in the NLT to help break it down:
And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.
“Not draw attention to themselves”, right there that seems to blow the UPC version of modesty right out the window. But to be fair, let’s continue researching.
Personally, when researching a particular subject or verse, I like to go back to the original Greek text and use an interlinear Bible app to compare. Here is the verse laid out as it is directly translated from Paul’s original writing:
Likewise also women in apparel respectable with modesty and self control should adorn themselves not with braided hair or gold or pearls or clothing costly.
This doesn’t say anything about standing out from the “world” or looking different. In fact, if we look at 1 Peter 3:3,4 these verses seem to go together in theme:
Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They put their trust in God and accepted the authority of their husbands.
Modesty according to the Bible has absolutely nothing to do with how long your skirt is, what you are wearing to the beach, or how plain your face looks without makeup, but everything to do with your attitude and how you should behave in moderation in every aspect of your life. I certainly don’t see how writing a long post about how you wear a “modest swim skirt” to the beach for people to stare at you lines up with the Biblical definition. In fact, it pretty much goes against what Paul was trying to convey. Even if you go back to the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:9 it includes the word “shamefacedness”. What does this word mean exactly?
The definition for shamefacedness is this:
Showing shame, bashful, modest, or shy.
Sigh… I suppose the entire point I am getting at is this: is modesty sticking out in public and being proud and bragging about it? Or is it more along the lines of not standing out in a crowd and being approachable to those who may be looking for a shoulder to lean on?
Even Jesus himself got frustrated with the religious folks of his day with their long phylacteries that they prided themselves in. Here are Jesus’s own words regarding this practice:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12 ESV
I could go on all day about this subject, this is definitely a trigger for me, but I will end on this note, research.
Research for yourself the definitions, Biblical context, and today’s application for words thrown around in religious societies. Had I never looked through an Interlinear Bible app or challenged ideas like the definition of modesty I would still be in the same boat as the poor woman who posted pridefully about people looking at her in her swim attire.
Do I judge her clothing choices? No. Do I care if she wears a skirt to the beach? Not even a little bit. But I do take issue with the misuse of Bible verses and the idea that others who chose not to stick out in public are being “immodest”.
Those ideas are what I am speaking out against.
YES!!! That needed to be said!
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having been through the craziness of legalism/bill gothard/patriarchy I totally agree with you and thanks to your blog and yes even the blogs of those in error, and especially the blogs of former Christians become atheists and with the freedom I have in Christ, I have been free to read and come to my own conclusions about Christianity that it is more than ok and not a sin to question, read, compare, research, etc and find out it is not a sin for women to think, decide, choose, be an actual independent individual, whether married or not, children or not, working outside the home or not. After all, grace- which is largely ignored by those bordering on cultic, patriarchal and legalist versions of Christianity— is a really big part of the Christian life which was accomplished and finished by Jesus and that God does NOT make cookie cutter Christians.
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I love the freedom to use the ability God gave me to use logic and reason on my own!
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While I agree with your reasoning and most all of everything, I do think God would prefer we keep our bodies modestly covered. Modest for me is very little if any of our privacy parts showing. But that’s me. I’m not others.
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I completely agree with covering appropriately, but this also depends on what situation you are in. A key part of modesty and shamefacedness is not sticking out in a crowd by your attire.
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I agree that I Timothy 2:9 is widely minterpreted. There is a big difference between a modest person, dressing modestly and a modest garment. Regarding the latter, the traditional definition of modest as it describes a noun means “a small or limited amount”.
Obviously, the message is to not be boastful of worldly possessions. In those biblical times, clothing was not afforded well by many as nakedness was common. In fact, God’s Word instructs us to dress (or undress) as adequate for the conditions and needed function.
Our hearts and intentions are what matters.
Generally, that means we should dress to be the best disciples of Christ that we can.
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