This is the key New Testament passage on female modesty. Note what it teaches us about the Christian woman’s dress:
1. Her dress is to be modest (“adorn themselves in modest apparel,” 1 Tim. 2:9).
This refers to a godly manner, a manner that is proper and fitting before God.
The Greek word translated modest (“kosmios”) is also translated “of good behaviour” (1 Tim. 3:2). It means “decent and orderly” and describes “an inner self-control -- a spiritual ‘radar’ that tells a person what is good and proper” (The Bible Exposition Commentary). It refers to something that is becoming to a woman who professes godliness. The Christian woman should not wear anything that would be characterized as NOT of good behavior, as NOT becoming to a woman professing godliness.
2. Her dress is to be fitting for a woman displaying “shamefacedness” (“with shamefacedness,” 1 Tim. 2:9).
“Shamefacedness” is translated from the Greek word “aidos,” which “has the idea of downcast eyes” and means “bashfulness, i.e. (towards men), modesty or (towards God) awe” (Strong). It implies “a shrinking from trespassing the boundaries of propriety” (William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary).
Shamefacedness is exactly the opposite of the cheeky, pert, saucy, impertinent, flippant, insubordinate attitude that the world seeks to develop in women today.
The shamefaced woman loves God in her heart and is committed to obeying His Word and this is reflected on her face and in every aspect of her life.
A shamefaced Christian woman will not have the rebellious attitude that says, “Don’t tell me how to dress; I will dress as I please!” She will not be stubborn and sassy. She will not say, “I don’t care what some old-fashioned men say about how I dress; that is their problem; I’m not going to be a weirdo!”
3. Her dress is to be fitting for a woman displaying “sobriety” (“and sobriety,” 1 Tim. 2:9).
“Sobriety” is translated from the Greek word sophrosune, which is also is translated “soberness” (Acts 26:25). It means “soundness of mind, self control” (Strong), “habitual inner self-government” (Trench), “the well-balanced state of mind arising from habitual self-restraint” (Ellicott), “moderation of the desires and passions, opposed to all that is frivolous and to all undue excitement of the passions” (Barnes).
Sobriety means not to be drunk, neither with alcoholic beverages, or drugs, or any other thing. Many professing Christian teenage girls and young women are drunk with the fashions and fads and ways of the world. They are drunk with television, and Hollywood movies and sensual magazines, and pop music. The Bible and the things of Christ do not excite them, but they are giddy over what some worldly movie star or pop singer is wearing and doing, and over the latest vain fashion or hair style or cosmetic.
Sobriety is the opposite of foolish, silly, flippant, careless, intoxicated, shallow, worldly, and vain.
We see from this passage that the Christian woman’s modesty must come from the inside out. It comes from a sober and shamefaced spirit. It is a matter of the heart, which reminds us that it is not enough to set forth dress standards. Every effort must be made to educate the women so that they understand the biblical principles of modesty and know the reason for the church’s standards, and every effort must be made to reach their hearts, to challenge them to surrender themselves wholly to Christ and to live for His glory.
4. Her dress is not be extravagant (“not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array,” 1 Tim. 2:9).
“Broided hair” refers to braiding the hair. This does not mean that the Christian woman should not take care of her hair; it is a warning against spending a great deal of time adorning herself in the manner of the world, of making this her focus in life. We agree with the Barnes commentary, which says: “It cannot be supposed that the mere braiding of the hair is forbidden, but only that careful attention to the manner of doing it, and to the ornaments usually worn in it, which characterized worldly females.”
The mention of “gold, or pearls, or costly array” reminds us that it is God’s will that the Christian woman refuse to display an extravagant, showy, worldly appearance. The goal of this world’s godless fashion industry is to create a haughty, ostentatious, worldly-wise look, as well as a sexual look. The godly woman will reject such fashion and clothe herself and her daughters in “modest apparel.” “It is not to be supposed that all use of gold or pearls, as articles of dress, is here forbidden; but the idea is that the Christian female is not to seek these as the adorning which she desires, or is not to imitate the world in these personal decorations. It may be a difficult question to settle how much ornament is allowable, and when the true line is passed. ... It is, that the true line is passed when more is thought of this external adorning, than of the ornament of the heart. Any external decoration which occupies the mind more than the virtues of the heart, and which engrosses the time and attention more, we may be certain is wrong” (Barnes).
5. Her dress should be fitting for a woman who adorns herself with good works (1 Tim. 2:10).
She should be known for her obedience to God and her service to Jesus Christ, rather than for her extravagance in dress or her devotion to sensuality and pleasure. “There is great beauty in this direction. Good works, or deeds of benevolence, eminently become a Christian female. The woman’s nature seems to be adapted to the performance of all deeds demanding kindness, tenderness, and gentleness of feeling; of all that proceeds from pity, sympathy, and affection... God seems to have formed her mind for just such things, and in such things it occupies its appropriate sphere, rather than in seeking external adorning” (Barnes).
What, then, is a modest dress standard based on this important passage?
First, modest attire covers the body properly.
In the study on Genesis 3 we have seen that God completely clothed Adam and Eve in coats (Gen. 3:21). This is a good beginning point for modesty.
The woman should be covered decently so that the body is not improperly displayed in a sensual manner, because it would never be fitting for a godly, shamefaced, sober woman to dress in such fashion. It is obvious, then, that it is immodest to wear clothing that exposes the parts of the body that have particular sexual appeal. Isaiah 47:2 says that for a woman to bare her leg and to show the thigh is nakedness. Thus immodest clothing would include short skirts, shorts, slit skirts, low blouses, short blouses that bare the midriff, deep V-necked dresses, backless dresses, halter tops, and any modern swimsuit.
Second, modest attire does not sensually accentuate the body.
Tight, clinging attire is as immodest as skimpy attire because the woman’s figure is emphasized and accented, and the man’s attention is directed to that which is forbidden outside of marriage. Men are strongly influenced sexually by the eye-gate and are attracted to the woman’s curves. The immodest clothing industry understands these things and strives to dress women seductively rather than modestly.
It is important to understand that tight, form-fitting clothes can be just as sexually disturbing to a man as skimpy clothes.
In the book For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men, Shaunti Feldhahn describes the following situation:
“Another husband with a happy twenty-year marriage described another typical scenario: ‘My wife and I recently went out to dinner at a nice restaurant with some friends. The hostess was extremely attractive and was WEARING FORM-FITTING CLOTHES THAT SHOWED OFF A GREAT FIGURE. For the rest of the night, it was impossible not to be aware that she was across the restaurant, walking around. Our group had a great time with our lovely wives, but I guarantee you that our wives didn’t know that every man at that table was acutely aware of that woman’s presence and was doing his utmost not to look in that direction” (p. 114).
In our survey of Christian men on the issue of women’s dress we found that tight clothing is at least as much of a potential problem for men as skimpy clothing. Most of the men indicated that tight skirts and tight blouses and form-fitting jeans hold a “VERY great potential” for lust.
Consider the following statements:
“I would say the number one problem is any garment that is form fitting, be it jeans, pants, skirt, dress, shirt, whatever. Anything that is tight, no matter how long it is, leaves nothing to the imagination, and that defeats the whole purpose of covering the skin in the first place!”
“You don’t even need to see skin; they provide all the curves.” Another man said: “I would say the Number One problem is any garment that is form fitting, be it jeans, pants, skirt, dress, shirt, whatever. Anything that is tight, no matter how long it is, leaves nothing to the imagination, and that defeats the whole purpose of covering the skin in the first place!”
“One thing I see in my church is tight clothing. Oh, it may very well be covering but it is revealing the shape in a woman. This can be even more tantalizing to a man.”
“The point is that it is not merely the type of clothing that can trip a man up; rather it is the amount and the level of cling to the body.”
Tight pants or skinny jeans were designed by Calvin Klein, a bisexual fashion designer. When his super tight pants appeared in 1974, they sold 200,000 pairs in the first week (“Calvin Klein: A Stylish Obsession,” Entrepreneur, Oct. 10, 2008).
Tights worn as pants were designed by Gianni Versace, a homosexual fashion designer who was murdered by a homosexual in 1997.
Godly women who understand what a temptation tight clothing is for men will be careful to avoid this type of attire.
Third, modest attire is not ostentatious or extravagant.
It is not the type of clothing that draws undue attention to the wearer or that makes the onlooker think that the wearer is improperly consumed with fashion. Modest attire will not draw undue attention to the woman’s hair and clothes but will draw attention to her character. Those who see her will think about what a godly woman she is rather than what a “sexy” or “fancy” or “fashionable” one she is.
One man wrote: “When I see a woman in a store in town and she is dressed a certain conservative way, I always think, ‘I bet she is a Christian.’ It says a lot about the character of a woman when she shuns the styles of this world and walks in such a way that she wants to let people know that she is different.”
The above is excerpted from DRESSING FOR THE LORD. New edition December 2016. To our knowledge, this is the most extensive study on the Christian’s dress in print. If ever there ever were a time when preachers need to instruct their people about clothing issues, it is today. Modern society is drenched with indecency. A Vogue fashion show would make ancient Corinth blush. To lay a solid Bible foundation for modesty, we exegete about 25 key Bible passages and develop principles that can be applied to any nation or culture. In fact, the book has been translated into German and Nepali. Chapter titles include “The Origin of Clothing, “Clothing Is a Language,” “The Captains of the Fashion Industry,” “Isn’t This Basically the Man’s Problem?” “Bible Guidelines for Clothing,” “A Study on Biblical Modesty,” “Worldliness and the Christian’s Dress,” “Pants and the Christian Woman,” “Pushing the Edge on Dress Standards,” Questions Answered on the Issue of Christian Dress,” “Testimonies from Christian Women on the Issue of Modest Dress,” “Survey of Men’s Thinking on the Subject of Women’s Dress,” and “Plain Clothing.” The “QUESTIONS ANSWERED” section deals with things such as the following: “Since God looks on the heart, why be concerned about appearance?” “Shouldn’t we just teach the Bible and let the Holy Spirit deal with this issue?” “I believe dress standards just produce pride and hypocrisy.” “The issue of the heart is more important than dress.” “I wear pants because there are many things I can’t do in a dress.” “In Bible times both men and women wore robes.” “I only wear feminine pants.” “Wearing dresses is old-fashioned and we should not be weird.” “Those who preach against pants on women are legalistic.” “What about tattoos and piercings?” 207 pages
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