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Nope, “Modest Is Hottest” Is Not Actually in the Bible—Anywhere

This is the legacy I want to leave with my sons: they, as well as you and I, can notice beauty and curves without immediately letting our minds go to sinful places. Anything less than this dishonors both the character of men as well as the women and girls we are hoping to protect.”

But perhaps the most profound problem with the “modest is hottest” teaching is that…

3. The Bible does not breathe a word of such nonsense.

“There is one verse in all of Holy Scripture in which the word modesty is used?—?the Greek word aidos, and it’s the one verse perennially pulled out in defense of the MiH argument by its perpetrators. The verse literally says, ‘I also want the women to dress modestly [respectably, decorous], with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, appropriate for women who profess to worship God’ (I Timothy 2:9, NIV).

Are you catching what I’m catching?

This passage, which is about proper attitude and decorum in the church, though it may have a vague implicit reference to the sensual kind of modesty, is actually very explicitly referring to a materialistic kind of modesty. Scripture is chock FULL of references to this kind of modesty and humility (the actual definition of the English word modest).

The early church (and the modern church!) is full of people of different races and socio-economic status. The church Timothy pastored in ancient Ephesus would have had rich businesspeople and slaves worshipping side by side, temple prostitutes, artisans, soldiers, beggars, trust-fund babies, and everything in between.

Paul was telling Timothy to shepherd his people in such a way as to communicate the values of the kingdom of heaven?—?that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female?—?all are one and of equal status in his kingdom. Why would you wear expensive clothes and fine jewels to a worship gathering when you know that the woman next to you doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from?

Paul is encouraging here a kingdom reality check, the hope that the church would be the kind of community that communicates radical welcome to everyone, where all are on equal footing with God regardless of race or riches, and we communicate these values even with little things like how we dress, act, and speak in our worship gatherings.”

Jesus himself had some pretty radical things to say about lust and sexuality, and never once did he invite women into the blame game, something we are told our first fallen father, Adam, did from the very beginning. Instead, Jesus makes the following scandalous statement, contra MiH teaching:

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
(Matthew 5:27–32)

Whoa! Not only does Jesus say nothing about female culpability in a man’s fantasies, he absolutely destroys any excuses a man might make about his inability to control his own urges. No, Jesus says, a man’s culpability begins and ends with his own dang eyes and right hand.

(Please tell me this cracks you up… I can only imagine Jesus preaching this with a little twinkle in his eye, as his good Jewish co-ed audience chuckles uncomfortably.)

Jesus is always pointing back to the broken human heart as the spring from whence our sin comes. Men don’t lust because women are immodest. Men and women alike lust (Hebrew/Greek: covet) because we want what we can’t have. Men in Afghanistan or Turkey will lust after a woman in a burqa or niqab, men in Tennessee apparently will lust after an ankle, while men in the Amazon apparently don’t think twice of topless gals, if National Geographic is to be believed.

We are discontented creatures, all of us, including the woman who intentionally dresses to seduce the man that she wants but can’t have. But not Jesus nor any of the other writers of Scripture so much as insinuate that women are in any way responsible for men’s choices, sexual tensions, or fantasies. Even the well-known passage about “helping your brother not stumble” is a serious stretch to apply to women in how they dress. It’s not the original intent of the passage, though again, it does seem reasonable to me that all of us should live with an awareness of how we might be placing unnecessary stumbling blocks in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives. But this does not equate to a command for women to obsess over clothing choices. Each man (and woman) is responsible to God for their own choices. Scripture is surely clear about that point.

So, speaking as a man who knows well this “struggle” of holding faith and purity in an over-sensualized culture, I hope today that you my sisters feel free to dress with both charity and charm, with dignity and dazzle, to adorn yourself in a way that makes you feel beautiful and confident, in a way that allows you to experience solidarity with other women of different bank account and/or breast size, to make your clothing choices based on the values of God’s kingdom (which includes wearing clothing that is ethically manufactured), and to feel free to let men take the responsibility for their own right eyes/hands and figure out how to be respectable men who treat all women, regardless of cleavage or legs for days, with dignity and respect.

Joel Herbert
Joel Herbert
Joel is a writer, artist, and pastor from central New York. He and his wife Dani have toured and led worship all over the country, most notably with Acquire the Fire youth conferences, and are passionate about communicating the gospel in any medium open to them, be that speaking, writing, performing, recording, or otherwise. They have three preschool-age kids, Piper, Aiden, and Noah, and are on the pastoral team at Northside Church in Liverpool, NY. You can find their music at www.theworldinlights.com.

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