The Biblical Bare Necessities On Nudity, Modesty, Beauty, and Sex

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What should our attitude be about things like nudity, modesty, beauty, and sex? For the Christian, what does the Bible say?

Where the world around us is desperately lost and the culture within the church sometimes embraces arbitrary traditions and standards without critically examining them, let us resolve to know and live according to the truth.

What The Bible Says About Nudity, Modesty, Beauty, and Sex

Consider Genesis.

Then Yahweh God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The rib that Yahweh God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Genesis 2:18, 22-24 (ESV)

First consider the facts, then the implications. God created our bodies. And maleness and femaleness are neither trivial nor coincidental.

In the beginning there are only two people, Adam and Eve. And when God introduces them to one another, it is in the context of marriage. And they are not only naked, they are unashamed of being naked. From this it seems obvious too that God himself has no problem with nudity.

Later on in the Scriptures this is stated more bluntly.

“No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:13 (ESV)

Why then do we wear clothes?

 

When People Began Wearing Clothes

As it turns out, God created more than just our bodies. He also made the first decent set of clothing.

After Adam and Eve sinned, they tried making clothes out of fig leaves. But these were shabby, so God made them clothes of better stuff – animal skins.

And I wonder what the design was for the set God made. How much skin was covered? Was there uniformity between Adam’s set and Eve’s? Examining the Law, we might speculate.

“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh your God.”

Deuteronomy 22:5 (ESV)

Maybe this means God made special clothes for Adam and special clothes for Eve. Or perhaps such norms came about later. In any event, I think God is more concerned with attitudes of the heart than this or that cut and color. But I still want to know what the clothing God made was like. Knowing such a thing might go a long way to settling many of our debates about modesty.

Muslims wear their burqas. Many jungle tribes all over the world are content with a few strategically placed strips of leather. Who has it right? Or are both extremes wrong?

Sadly, we do not find a definite answer in the Bible, but I think that is because the cut and dimensions of clothing are somewhat beside the point to God. Maybe Adam and Eve were both given baggy robes that covered from them from chin to wrist and ankle. Maybe they both wore nothing but a loincloth. In any event, we do not know because we do not need to know.

All we know is that they wore clothes after the Fall.

 

The Biblical Bare Necessities

Yet consider the words of the Apostle Paul.

“On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. ”

1 Corinthians 12:22-26 (ESV)

Paul here is talking about how the body of Christ functions. Yet the bit about physical bodies must itself be true for the comparison to the church to be meaningful.

Notice what Paul says. “…On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.” It follows that “our unpresentable parts” are not presented. They are not shown. Paul equates “greater modesty” with covering up. We must conclude then that modesty in some measure means clothing.

Paul also says, “our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” This means parts of our bodies are presentable. We can treat those with less modesty.

This means, I think, that the Muslims have it wrong in covering every square inch of real estate. We cover the parts of our bodies that are unpresentable. Other parts we can leave uncovered.

Yet this still does not tell us which we cover and which we can leave uncovered.

 

‘With Modesty And Self-Control’

Paul writes in another place:

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that 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.”

1 Timothy 2:8-10 (ESV)

Paul tells the men to lift holy hands during prayer, then he tells the women how to dress. Why not also tell the women to lift their hands during prayer? And why not tell the men how to dress? The short answer is I do not know.

We also still do not know from this what and how much of the body to cover. Nevertheless, here we have something of a dress code in the phrase “adorn themselves in respectable apparel.” This implies women should clothe themselves in a way the people around them respect.

Paul also lays out here what the attitude of these women should be in the phrase “with modesty and self-control.” He also touches on what it should not be by referencing “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” He wraps it up nicely by saying women should “adorn themselves… with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.”

This excludes, most notably among other things, sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is not godliness, nor good works. And clothing intended to encourage sexual immorality is not “respectable apparel”.

Yet Paul says nothing of short skirts and low-cut blouses. And when was the last time a contemporary discussion of modesty focused on jewelry and braided hair? Perhaps gold, pearls, and braids were the equivalent of mini-skirts and cleavage in that day, but I doubt it.

 

Sexual Immorality and Self-Control

In any event, should every discussion of modesty in the church today fixate exclusively on sexual purity and self-control? Is that merited?

Surely, a concern for sexual purity is important. Consider Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica:

“This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.”

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 (ESV)

God opposes sexual immorality among his people. The Scriptures are clear about that. It stands to reason then that a proper outfit does not promote sexual immorality.

But what of beauty? Beauty may not be a good work, but surely it is a good thing. Not once do the Scriptures lead us to believe that a person being attractive represents a character flaw. Yet I think the commands against lust and sexual immorality, and for modest clothing, are often misconstrued as being against the human body generally, or against beauty especially.

Yet God surely is not opposed to the human body. He designed and created it. And I cannot believe he wants us to despise beauty.

I think too that this is a place where if a very conservative person says to me we should err on the side of caution I reply by asking why we should err at all if we can help it.

In any event, if our aim is to “rightly divide the word of truth,” it behooves us to be careful not to confuse attractiveness with immodesty.

 

‘Have You Considered My Servant Job’?

Consider Job. He is exceedingly blessed. He has family, wealth, and social status. Yet Satan is allowed by God to test him for a time. Everything Job finds satisfying or enjoyable is destroyed. Even his children die.

Yet after all that devastation, and much mourning and painfully honest dialog with God and man, we read this about Job’s restoration:

Yahweh restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And Yahweh gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before and ate bread with him in his house. They showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that Yahweh had brought upon him. Each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

Yahweh blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. He called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.

Job 42:10-15 (ESV)

Wait a moment. If the saying is true – that old “beauty is a curse” bit – then Job’s three daughters being the most beautiful women in the land is out of place here. Yet that is just it. Beauty is not a curse. And Job’s latter days were counted as more blessed in part because his daughters were the most beautiful in the land.

Surely God is not opposed to beauty.

 

‘For Such A Time As This’

Consider also Esther.

In Esther 2:7, we read about the young woman, also known as Hadassah. She “had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at.” Again, if the biblical view of beauty is that it is something to be sour about, this description of Esther is sorely out of place. We read that Esther “had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at” as if that is a good thing.

And indeed, as the story turns out, we see that Esther’s beauty was a very fortunate thing for the Jews living as Persian captives. Their severe persecution was stopped by Esther’s successful intercession with the mighty king who admired her beauty so much.

There is of course another side to this coin. The admiration of feminine beauty does not always go so swimmingly. Consider Abram as he passed through Egypt.

“When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”

Genesis 12:11-13 (ESV)

As predicted, when Abram and Sarai enter Egypt, Sarai’s beauty is greatly admired. She is seized for Pharaoh. Yet God intervenes by “afflicting Pharaoh and his house with great plagues.” In the end, Pharaoh gives Sarai back to Abram and asks them all to leave.

I think we can conclude from such incidents two things about the biblical view of beauty. First, it is a blessing God can use for his purposes. Second, conspicuous beauty among godless men invites danger.

 

‘Rejoice In The Wife Of Your Youth’

Jesus was doubtless familiar with this danger when he taught the following:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)

Yet we have established already that a woman’s beauty is, biblically speaking, a good thing. And it surely is not sinful for a husband to enjoy the beauty of his wife, nor to desire her. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Consider the latter half of Proverbs 5.

“Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;

be intoxicated always in her love.

Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman

and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of Yahweh,

and he ponders all his paths.”

Proverbs 5:18-21 (ESV)

The first part of this chapter warns against adultery. This latter bit presents us with the godly alternative. As usual, God gives us more than just a prohibition by telling us the good thing to pursue instead.

That is, God’s design is for man to find fulfillment of his intimate desires in his wife and her beauty. This is what he does instead of giving into temptation. Here the husband is encouraged to “rejoice in the wife of [his] youth.” There is nothing about settling. The word is ‘rejoice.’

This too shows us that beauty and the human body – though they can be misused – are inherently good things God created to be used for the good purposes he intended.

 

‘Each Man Should Have His Own Wife’

Consider again the words of the Apostle Paul.

“Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

1 Corinthians 7:2-5 (ESV)

Here again, legitimate sexuality is presented as an antidote.

Though, if I may say so, Paul’s language here is not so poetic as Solomon’s. He is very blunt and pragmatic about it all. I think that may have something to do with their differences in matrimonial experience. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Paul, by sharp contrast, was single. Perhaps we cannot say this influenced their writings on the subject, but that is hard to believe.

Nevertheless, both Solomon and Paul say essentially the same thing. Sex with your spouse is better than sexual immorality. Moreover, it provides a safe-haven for those who, not content with singleness like Paul, still desire to live godly lives.

 

The Bare Necessities

Nudity, Modesty, Beauty, and Sex

Nudity, modesty, beauty, and sex – we live in a world which distinguishes between these things very poorly. What then should the view of the Christian be?

For instance, saying someone is ‘sexy’ is effectively the same as calling them handsome or beautiful. I think we barely distinguish between beauty and sex because our culture discourages restraint of the sexual impulse among consenting adults. Yet beauty and sex are not one and the same, and we ought to encourage restraint of sexual desire within us when it would lead us to sexual immorality.

Meanwhile, modesty and nudity are viewed as opposites. We say someone is modest to the extent they are not naked. And I have never heard someone described as immodest when they were fully clothed, though this is entirely possible in the biblical definition.

It follows that where we talk about the aim of modesty being sexual purity, and where we do not distinguish between beauty and ‘sexiness,’ admiring someone’s good looks is automatically lustful and we run the risk of confusing beauty with immodesty and ugliness with purity. I think this very unfortunate and something to try and avoid.

Similarly, biblical modesty does not appear so concerned with how much and which skin is covered as with drawing attention to ourselves and being conspicuously wealthy. At least that is how I read what Paul wrote about braided hair, gold, pearls, and costly attire.

 

‘Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth’

Here my wife and I are, raising six children in such a world, with a seventh child on the way. What do we tell them about “rightly dividing the word of truth” on such things?

For one thing, fleeing sexual immorality is right and good. Yet we should not in that process disparage the good gifts God created. Rightly seen, beauty is a blessing from God. What’s more, we should be on our guard in doing things which are beside the point.

For instance, the Muslims who cover their women from head to toe in thick black robes are apparently not the purer for having created such a culture for themselves. And when they come to Europe and America and see Western women wearing pants and going around with pretty faces uncovered, those Muslims make an evil habit of raping and molesting as if they had a right to.

If you ask me, we might be safer and holier importing all the tribes of mostly naked jungle people.

On the other hand, I am somewhat thrown for a loop by what is called Free the Nipple, a global feminist campaign in which women are encouraged to go around flashing their breasts in public because men do it. And because of equality. Though equality could just as easily be that men keep their shirts on too.

Yet we have just learned two crucial things in reading the Scriptures. First, God does not always give identical instructions to men and women. Gender is not merely a social construct; it is a divine construct. Second, we do not know precisely how much and what of the body is “unpresentable.”

For all we know the jungle people in their loincloths have it right.

 

Being Gracious In Disagreement

We cannot see into hearts and minds to know exactly why other people dress the way they do. God can. But we must settle for examining fruit to distinguish good trees from bad.

To a limited extent, we see something of a person’s character in how they choose to present themselves. Yet this is only true so far, especially when you factor in different upbringings and native cultures as influences on what someone thinks they are communicating by dressing this or that way.

For instance, the women of some jungle tribes laugh that modern men think of female breasts in purely erotic terms. They ask, ‘Are they babies?’ Meanwhile many modern people think a mother breastfeeding in public is lewd because of how eroticized the female breast has become in Western culture.

We do well to put ourselves in the shoes of missionaries to foreign lands. How would we explain to a Brazilian that toplessness is inappropriate in God’s eyes? And how would we reason with a Pakistani that it was perfectly acceptable for us to walk around in our underwear?

The point is not that there is no standard. Rather, the standard is to be considerate of the context we find ourselves in, for God’s glory and the betterment of our fellow man.

There is, I think, a limit to this. Or should we start wearing burqas if the Muslims tell us they’re offended by our women showing their faces? And what if the feminist promoting Free The Nipple gets offended at our still wearing a shirt?

Nevertheless, I believe God is best glorified in this if we try to honor him in our exercise of self-control and decorum, appreciating his gift of beauty even as we strive to be good stewards of it.

Follow Garrett Mullet:

Christian, husband to a darling wife, and father to six kids – I enjoy pipe-smoking, playing strategy games on my computer, listening to audio books, and writing. When I’m not asking you questions out loud, I’m endlessly asking myself silent questions in my head. I believe in God’s grace, hard work, love, patience, contemplation, and courage.