What does the Bible say about modesty? How should a Christian woman dress?
While I believe this question applies completely equally to men, within the Christian church this topic has been mostly applied to woman. The reason for that will require another article I hope to create soon. But my goal in this article is to address what the Bible actually says regarding a woman’s modesty and clothing choices because there has been so much false information given about this specific topic.
Lastly, before we get started, this is one of those articles you really need to read all the way through because I will balance out my arguments as the article goes on.
So what is Christian modesty and how should a Christian woman dress?
The Bible Does Not Say It Is a Sin for a Woman to Look Externally Beautiful or to Wear Nice Clothes
Christian modesty is an external appearance that is honoring to Christ. In an attempt to discourage provocative clothing, sometimes the church makes it seem like a sin for women to pay attention to their external appearance at all, which is not at the heart of Christian modesty. The Bible does not say that frumpiness equals holiness. Here’s what the Bible specifically says about women’s clothing in the New Testament:
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)
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Without taking these verses in context, it could be misunderstood that the Bible forbids braided hair, jewelry, or costly clothing. While the Bible is not condoning these purchases and appearance choices either, it is too simple to say that the Bible condemns them too. The key to understanding these Bible verses about a woman’s external appearance is the word “adorning.”
Common definitions for the word “adorn” include “to enhance the appearance of especially with beautiful objects” and “make more beautiful or attractive.” The point the Bible makes clear is that a woman should not try to make herself more beautiful through external means.
If you wear clothing to make yourself seem more physically attractive or more physically beautiful, this is what the Bible says a woman should not do. It doesn’t say a woman should not braid her hair, never wear jewelry, and never where nice clothes. It does say, however, that her beauty must not be rooted in these external means.
The Bible Says a Woman Should Seek to Look Beautiful Through Her Inner Character
The point that I believe many people get wrong is when they say that Christian women should never be concerned with how they look, they should not care about feeling beautiful, and they are being vain if they go out of their way to enhance their physical appearance at all.
The Bible doesn’t say that. Again, the Bible does not forbid “adorning” one’s self, which is to say the Bible does not forbid a woman beautifying herself. In fact, 1 Timothy 2:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 are actually passages in Scripture about how a woman should adorn herself. These Bible passages are not telling woman to not seek beauty; rather, the Bible instructs a woman on how to go about beautifying herself:
. . . 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.”
“ . . . let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
The Bible Says a Woman’s Clothing Is an Expression of Her Inner Self
So how should a woman dress? Can she braid her hair and wear jewelry if she wants to? Yes. The motive is the main qualifier for what she wears. Now of course there is a line that should not be crossed regardless of what your motive is. Too much skin is too much skin, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. With that said I also don’t think Christians should have legalistic dress codes.
So what is too much skin showing? I don’t know, but most people know it when they see it. If you are asking yourself if you are showing too much, you are probably showing too much. Again, this applies to men and women.
Our clothing should be an expression of our inner character. A woman should wear clothes that make her look presentable, beautiful, respectable, and whatever other good impression she wants to express because our clothing communicates what our inner character is.
The Bible tells a Christian woman not to base her beauty in how she looks. Rather, how you look should be based in the beauty you already have. That’s the key to dressing biblically. Do not seek to shape your inner beauty through your outer beauty. Rather, your inner beauty should shape your external appearance.
When you wear beautiful, modest clothing, it says something about your heart. When you wear sexy clothing that is designed to insight passion, that too says something about the condition of your heart. The way you view yourself internally should control how you present yourself externally. If you believe you are a beautiful, Christ exalting woman, that will shape the way you present yourself to the world.
The things you wear should be a reflection of how your heart looks on the inside. Paul tells women in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 to dress with modesty and respect because through the costly gospel of Jesus that’s the type of heart a redeemed woman in Christ has – modest, respectful, godly, self-controlled, knowing you are precious to God . . . beautiful.
The Bible Does Not List a Man’s Lack of Self-Control as a Motive for Modesty
Lastly, I want to address one more common flaw I see in many church teachings about modesty. It’s been my experience that when women get told what to wear in church, the first reason they are told what to wear is that men are so visual you could be a stumbling block to them if you reveal too much of your body.
While I believe men and woman should both try to wear clothes and present themselves in ways that are not tempting to the opposite gender, I don’t believe this is the most important reason a woman should not wear sexy clothing.
When we tell woman that they must be careful what they wear because men lack self-control and they will basically instantly sin if they see too much of your body, we are presenting a false reality about men and women. First off, not all Christian men will see a sexual image and instantly sin. While men should avoid temptation whenever possible, many Christian men are filled with the Spirit enough to have self-control and to not sin. My point here is not to say that men should look at sexual images. Again, we should run from sexual temptation whenever possible. My point, however, is that it is demeaning to Christian men in general to be portrayed as these sex hounds with zero ability to see a tempting image and resist it.
Secondly, by making a man’s eyes the main motive for what women wear, I believe this sends the message that a woman is primarily a sexual temptation and her body is dangerous. I want to make it clear that a woman can be a sexual temptation if she chooses to be, but her body itself is not evil in any way. The physical beauty of a woman’s body is not sinful. It is only used sinfully when used improperly by the woman or if it is idolized by a man. The body, however, is not the problem.
The main solution to lust is not covering every woman’s body. The main solution to lust is every man and woman learning self-control and being personally responsible for their own eyes and choices.
Now, again, before I get completely misunderstood, I do believe Christian men and women should consider the opposite gender. We should try to not be a sexual temptation to one another. Our brothers and sisters in Christ’s wellbeing is a good motive for modesty. We need to be aware of how our bodies can influence other people. Jesus said in Luke 17:1, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.” So yes, it is a good motive to wear clothing that is honoring to the eyes of the opposite gender.
But if you are only not wearing sinful clothing because of the effect it might have on a man, there is a bigger problem. The main reason a woman should wear beautiful clothing that is modest is because that’s the type of woman she is. Her clothing choices should be respectful primarily because she wants to honor God and she has respect for herself. When she knows God loves her and has made her beautiful through the gospel of Christ, then she will seek to express this in her external appearance as well.
What Does the Bible Say About Woman’s Clothing?
The Bible does not give women a dress code. It doesn’t list specific things she should and should not wear. Rather, the Bible says a Christian woman’s inner character should guide her clothing choices. When she is mature in Christ and knows she is beautiful because God made her that way, this will be reflected in her choices regarding her appearance.