The Binding Principles of Modesty

Jonathan L. Perz
Iam writing in response to an ar-
ticle entitled “The Law, Money,
and  Modesty” by Frank Jamerson (Truth Magazine, October 21, 1999; Vol. XLIII, No. 20, 14-15). While I appreciate the overall message brother Jamerson expressed, I believe he inadvertently did a grave disservice to the subject of modest apparel in making his point. Indeed, it is nothing short of fact that we cannot bind the Law of Moses today, as brother Jamerson contended. However, in proving this point, he alludes to what “some contend” regarding modest apparel and ties it to a rather extreme conclusion. While it is not impossible to imagine well-meaning brethren taking the Old Testament examples of Adam and Eve and their tunics (Gen. 3:21) and the priests and their attire (Exod. 28:42) and concluding that we must wear “linen trousers to the knee” (seventh paragraph), it is very difficult to see such a conclusion being upheld. If it were, we would have a “problem” (sixth paragraph). Yet, by linking these Old Testament examples with this conclusion and not giving a proper conclusion for such examples, brother Jamerson inadvertently belittles anyone who would use such Scriptures to help people understand the New Testament principle of modest apparel. I preach on immodest apparel and I use the Old Testament examples set forth, as well as many other examples — both in the Old and New Testaments. I know of other preachers, like myself, who do so also. Yet, in no way do we draw the conclusion set forth. Furthermore, in no way do we teach that God gives men and women today “specific attire” to wear (sixth paragraph).

Now, I do not believe for a second that brother Jamerson intentionally meant to belittle anyone. However, it is not so much the preachers who use these examples that concern me, as it is the harm the examples themselves suffer when shed in such a light.

Brother Jamerson points out two contexts in the New Testament that deal with the subject of modest apparel — 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 and 1 Peter 3:3, 4. With one minor exception, that is, 1 Peter 3:3, 4 should include verses 5-6 (which I will explain momentarily), it is agreed that this is the law that Christ’s blood binds upon us.

However, after pointing us to these two contexts, brother Jamerson writes, “We may wish that God had given a specific length, height, and tightness of the skirt, but he did not, and to teach the Old Law as God’s standard is the same mistake as teaching the Old Law on giving” (7th paragraph). I agree, God has not given us the specific length, height, and tightness in these New Testament citations. But, he has clearly given us principles to help us understand what length, height, and tightness should be deemed, as a minimum, unacceptable. Some of these God given principles are found in the examples of Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:21) and the priest’s attire (Exod. 28:42; also Exod. 20:26), among others.

Is it not true, that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for . . . instruction in righteousness,” among other things (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? Are we not talking about being righteous when we speak of modest apparel? Therefore, is it not true that these Old Testament principles ought to, in some way, help us understand what God deems righteous and what God deems unrighteous? More specifically, through the Old Testament can we not come to understand what God says constitutes nakedness and what God says constitutes clothed? Do not these principles of nakedness and clothed address, in some way, the specifics of length, height, and tightness? I believe this is the impact of verses such as Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11. We are to turn to these Old Testament examples, take heed and learn. We can have comfort and confidence knowing what God accepts and does not accept, wearing clothing that conforms to these consistent principles.

Yet, several other questions come to mind in light of such thinking. Has God’s standard of modesty changed between the Old and New Covenants? Are not the writings of Moses and the other Old Testament writers inspired of God, as much as Peter and Paul’s? Is not the principle of God’s very own thinking in the Garden a sufficient enough principle to follow, even in the Christian age under the New Covenant? Principally, should we not take the same pains in dressing ourselves as God did in assuring the priest’s nakedness was not exposed (cf. Exod. 20:26)? Was Peter guilty of sin or of being a “Pharisee” (last paragraph) when he directed brethren back to the examples of “the holy women” of “former times,” specifically Sarah, Abraham’s wife (1 Pet. 3:5-6)? For that matter, was Jesus guilty of sin when he cited his Father’s teaching from the Old Testament regarding divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:1-9)?

My concern is that brother Jamerson’s article leaves us confused regarding the use of the Old Testament principles regarding modest apparel. He confuses and interchanges the “Old Law” with the “principles taught in the Old Law” when he says, “The principles taught in the Old Law were written for our learning, but we must remember that it was not dedicated by the blood of Christ . . .” (last paragraph). Does “it” refer to the Old Law, or its principles? Indeed, the Old Law hangs on the cross with our sins (Col. 2:14), but most of its principles are alive and well as they are established in the New Testament!

The subject is further confounded when he, more or less, leaves the dictates of modest apparel to nothing more than the customs of the day by saying, “The New Testament teaches that women should conform to the customs of the day, so long as they do not conflict with God’s law” (6th paragraph) and again, “when it was customary for women to wear garments to the ankle, Christian women would have been immodest to have worn a garment just to the knees” (7th paragraph). I agree, we must not conform beyond that which will conflict with God’s law, but how do we know what customs conflict with God’s law? How can we determine when a mini-skirt is too short? What shorts and tops are acceptable? Is a halter-top modest? Is it acceptable for a Christian to wear a thong bikini if everyone else is wearing one? The fact is, the customs of the day change regarding length, height and tightness. For that matter, almost anything goes now when it comes to length, height, and tightness! Does this mean anything goes for Christians?

I believe the crucial question for the Christian is, “Have God’s principles changed?” I agree that we cannot derive “exactly what is modest,” but we can draw a finer line than the dictates of conscience and worldly fashion customs. I agree with brother Jamerson that God has not bound the “tunics of skin” Adam and Eve wore and the “linen trousers” the Levitical priests wore.  However, I firmly believe God has bound the principles that dictated such attire when he said, “that women adorn themselves in modest apparel” (1 Tim. 2:9).

Can we know what is naked and what is clothed, what is modest and what is immodest? Can we know what is shamefaced, chaste, and sober and what is not? Can we know, to some degree, what manifests a “gentle and quiet spirit” and what does not? Can we know what professes godliness with good works and what does not? To say we cannot is to say God has given us commands that we cannot possibly understand, let alone keep. If we say we cannot, can we ever really know what God has declared “ostentatious” or “skimpy” (last paragraph)?  Once again, I agree, “. . . if Christians understand the principles of godliness and have a heart that is transformed, the externals will take care of themselves” (Rom. 12:1-2). This is why we must never be deterred from illustrating New Testament principles with Old Testament examples that help us to understand perfectly the principles of godliness and transform our hearts!

The fact of the matter is this, when we go to the Old Testament and use examples that teach timeless principles harmonious with what is revealed in the New Testament, we are no more guilty of binding the Law of Moses than Peter or Jesus. However, if we go the Old Testament regarding modest apparel and declare that men must wear the exact articles of clothing God prescribed for those of old — we are indeed guilty of binding the Law and we have indeed become “estranged from Christ” (Gal. 5:4). Friends, there is a clear distinction — one that we must never lose sight of.

1621 Hillcrest Dr., Green Bay, Wisconsin 54313
Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 5 p8 March 2, 2000