A Note on Modesty: from a Hebrew word and a Hebrew man

A Note on Modesty

“She needs a doily.”

This expression is occasionally used by me and my wife when a lady is showing a little too much skin. It’s a way for my wife to say, “Avert your eyes,” and for us to have a little fun with outdated modes of modesty at the same time.

Pre-Sin Nakedness & Post-Sin Clothedness

In my study through Genesis, I gave a longer than normal amount of thought to Adam and Eve’s pre-sin nakedness and post-sin clothedness. Modesty is not something that’s discussed in great length in the Scriptures. Some people view it as being very subjective and tied solely to our culture. But I’d just like to make two particular observations concerning a Hebrew word and a Hebrew man.

Let’s begin with some background. Genesis 3:7 tells us that immediately as Adam and Eve’s eyes were open to their sin, their first thought was they were unclothed. Even though they had been naked since their creation (and we can only guess how much time had passed since then) they were both immediately uncomfortable naked.

There was no one else to see them, and they were standing in front of the exact same person who had seen them naked their entire lives, yet they were ashamed.

The very first human occupation noted in the Bible is that of a gardener (Adam and Eve’s responsibility). The second was a tailor. The first was ordained by God; the second was created by sin. Sorry, seamstresses and tailors. :-)

The point is, they were immediately embarrassed by their nakedness and sought to remedy the situation. Later on when the Lord confronted them, nakedness again was brought up. “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (v. 10). Then for a third time our attention is brought to their nakedness because after Adam and Eve received the consequences of their sin, God Himself made them clothes.

What Kind of Clothes Did Adam and Eve Make?

1. What caught my attention was the description of the clothes Adam and Even made for themselves. The Hebrew word chagorah is often translated loincloth. “Loins” refers to a very specific region of the human body best defined as “the hips and the lower abdomen regarded as a part of the body to be clothed or as the region of strength and procreative power.” In the waking moments of their sin, Adam and Eve covered their reproductive organs. Now, I have no idea how long Eve’s hemline was, but I do know that the inherent indecency of revealing that area of their bodies was foremost in their minds.

The word used to describe the clothes God made for them has a broader connotation. The coat/tunic/robe/covering God made appears to have done a better job of covering them up than their own loincloths.

2.  I don’t want to be unnecessarily descriptive here, but I believe this is an important point to make when discussing modesty; especially concerning women. My second observations come from the divinely inspired writings of a Hebrew man named Solomon. The Song of Solomon is a book that some Christian parents don’t want their young men reading. I can almost understand why. At the same time, it’s God’s Word and He didn’t include an “R” rating.

It is clear to see that Solomon had a pronounced preoccupation with breasts.

There. I said it.

This wouldn’t bear observing were it not included in the cannon of God. I believe it is safe to say, though, that inherent in men is a preoccupation (of one kind or another) for that particular area of a woman’s body. I understand that there are always exceptions, but history is fraught with countless literary examples, and the massive porn industry I think proves my point.

I shall speedily progress to my final thoughts without leaving too much time for unhealthy imagining.

So What is Modesty?

Modesty should be defined in its most base form as a covering of the reproductive organs. I believe it is fair to extend this to our posteriors as well. Both areas of the body were designed by God for procreation as well as waste removal. The obvious coupling by God of the front and back demand that we treat them equally.

But I don’t think we can leave modesty there. I also believe that our divine insight into the sexuality of human males dictates that in the same way sex should be saved for marriage, so should exposing a woman’s bosom.

It is clear to see that even secular society agrees with my observations. Most people feel very uncomfortable exposing those parts of their bodies in public. There are governmental ordinances forbidding indecent exposure. Even the term “Indecent exposure” refers to the three main areas I’ve detailed here. Where do these feelings of shame come from? They are inherent in our sinful humanity. Our sin causes us to be uncomfortable when we’re naked in the presence of other people. Of course, like any other sin, we can become immune and calloused.

No one can argue that nakedness is always attributed with extreme purity, shame, or sexuality. The first is impossible for us to achieve, the second should always be avoided, and the third has divine precepts governing it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must be modest.

Application

Now, the last thing I want to do is be pharisaical. I don’t want to say something that God doesn’t say, but I would like to simply point out a wise idea.

If God wants my loins covered, then I should probably not stretch the tightest fabric known to man over it so that every detail, line, and curve is observable. The same would go for women’s upper bodies. If it’s that big of a deal (and we can see from Genesis that it is), why do we try to be as tight, low, and high as we can?

No, the Bible does not say that all skirts and shorts need to come to the knee. There is no divine three-finger rule. But the concept of modesty is evident and the importance of staying covered is obvious. God does not want us uncovering those areas of our bodies unless it’s necessary. Intercourse between a married heterosexual couple, emergency medical situations, and the unavoidable chores of being a parent of small children all fall within Christ-honoring forms of nudity. Otherwise . . . keep your clothes on.

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12 thoughts on “A Note on Modesty: from a Hebrew word and a Hebrew man

  1. Sigh.

    Once again you do what most people in this world have a serious problem with Christianity.

    God gave me a decent body, and I am NOT ashamed of it. I think most people that seek to cover themselves from head to toe are suffering from one of two things:

    1. A serious lack of self esteem, they are not happy with how THEY look, so in order to feel more comfortable about themselves they think EVERYONE should be covered up so they don’t feel so bad.

    2. A case of social virtues that says every woman must be covered up so as not to be seen as tempting to men.

    Why is it that Christian society says that women must be covered from head to toe, but men can run around shirtless and in shorts? When I went to my Christian High School, the boys basket ball team wore uniforms that consisted of tank tops and short tight high-thigh length shorts, but the cheerleaders had to wear mid-calf length skorts and long sleeve sweaters all year? There is a disconnect there. And in my mind it goes back to how Ancient Jews required women to dress. That is the thing about the Bible. No matter how you try to get it to apply to modern society and say it is still relevant in its current form, its not.

    Women are not property.
    We do not allow slavery.
    The list here could go on and on.

    So yes by all means take back the Bible, but don’t force your morality on those of us who view said book as merely a guidepost.

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  2. AMBrewster

    Dear Larry,
    Once again you are dangerously close to putting words in my mouth. All I did was make observations concerning the first reaction of a pure man and woman to their sin. I also make the statement that people can be calloused, so that not everyone responds to nudity the same way. But, just to make a point, I challenge you to unashamedly walk through Wal-Mart naked. That’s not quite water off a ducks back.

    Decency has nothing to do with a low sense of self-esteem. I know very beautiful women who would never let you or I have a look at their body because they value their decency far more than they value us. Good for them.

    Yet again, I never said anything about guys being shirtless. I never said anything about the hypocritical nature of certain individuals who allow guys to wear shorts while requiring women to wear skirts to the floor. You are projecting your unfortunate view of Christians on me even though I never addressed any of those things. Please do not do that. I am not sitting here assuming anything about you that you have not already said. I would appreciate that you do the same for me. Address what I have written, ask questions, but do not accuse me of saying and doing things that I do not.

    The Bible is always relevant. Women are not property. Modern forms of slavery is a sin. The list cannot go on. Anything Christ-honoring today has always been. Anything God demands of us in the Scriptures, I do by His grace.

    I’d like to encourage you to really study God’s Word before using it cut me to ribbons. I would not discuss Confucianism with you because I have not studied his teachings. It is evident that there a number of things you think the Bible talks about that it, in fact, does not.

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  3. Well said Aaron. Very biblical.I would also
    add that more brothers in Christ would be helped if we could have more frank discussions about the temtation in this area. I fear many brothers in Christ suffer and fail in silence because of they admitted strugeling with lust they would be ostrosised instead of helped. Great post bro. keep up the good work.

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  4. Wesley Wilson

    Aaron, I don’t know what Mr. Gist is smoking. I guess he’s arguing for nudism. The minimum standard you’ve set is that women should wear at least a bikini in public, and men should wear at least some type of shorts. I can’t believe Mr. Gist thinks that’s too much to ask.

    It is universally known that men find women dressed in bikinis or similar attire to be sexually arousing, and literally impossible for a man to forget. Studies even show that men automatically view women differently (they think with a different part of the brain) when seeing women in bikinis versus normal attire.

    I think you can biblically go significantly farther than you did. I recognize expectations of modesty vary by culture and individual. Some things we would consider modest today would have been shocking in Elizabethan England. But that doesn’t imply that God has set no boundaries. Our cultural boundaries may differ from God’s, but we should adhere to God’s boundaries, and if our culture expects more, we should probably conform to those expectations also.

    From Exodus 28:42 we get the principle of covering from the waist to the knee. (“And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach.”) This doesn’t suggest that we should wear priestly garments today. We can infer that exposing the thighs would not be sufficient to cover biblical nakedness. Our forms of dress differ today, but you can make a case that we should at least be covered from waist to knee, just from that verse alone.

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    1. AMBrewster

      Wesley,

      Thanks for the comment! You make fantastic arguments, and I’d like to piggy-back one of them. Technically, by my definition, a bikini would not be modest. Please allow me to quote myself –

      “If God wants my loins covered, then I should probably not stretch the tightest fabric known to man over it so that every detail, line, and curve is observable. The same would go for women’s upper bodies. If it’s that big of a deal (and we can see from Genesis that it is), why do we try to be as tight, low, and high as we can?”

      Merely covering our bodies with a thin piece of fabric is barely different than body paint!

      I plan to “cover” this issue in more detail at a later date, but my observations for this post were predominately limited to the two passages noted above.

      Thanks again!
      Aaron

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  5. I would add that, since Adam and Eve only covered “the essentials”, and God decided to cover more, that means that we can’t (necessarily) trust human standards when it comes to this subject– it will be human nature to get away with as little as possible, but God’s standards are higher.

    Great look into this subject!

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  6. Pingback: #TBTB #TBT – “A Note on Modesty” | Taking Back the Bible

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  8. Faithful Servant

    Aaron,
    First, thank you for the article. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from a “hebrew man”, but the article seemed reserved and not forth coming with the whole counsel of God. The average christian may walk away with a sense of lacking. I know I’m commenting almost 4 yrs later and you may have moved on or grown since this article. As a christian woman and one who finds it very important for my dress to be pleasing to the LORD, I wanted to share with you my study, not on “modesty”, because the scriptures are very few, but when you do a study on “nakedness” and similar used words, you realize our LORD is very verbal about our dress importance. To the point that collar bone to wrist to chin and all inbetween is commanded to be covered. And not just covered as you pointed out with tight fabrics, my impression mentally was long, loose and flowing. Head covering is understood to be my hair and Paul spoke of nno such traditions right past the verses that speak of that. I realized and was quite humbled to the knowledge God revealed to me when I truly desired to dress for him and not for mear traditions and the such. What I found fascinating was these same standards apply to men also. But, I’m afraid to say that the pride of man will keep them from ever dressing in long loose and flowing for God’s glory. Which in turn causing me to wonder if any christian truly worships God his way or do they continue in their vain imaginations. Thanks for letting me share the findings of my study on dress. Take care and may God bless you in all you do for His glory.

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