Clothing and Modesty
Since I suggested, at the end of the first article, that one might read Song of Solomon that is where we shall spend some time. The book is very much about the physical love between one of Solomon's wives and Solomon. The book also is very much a book of love between God and his wife, Israel. It had to be God's providence that the book even survived the councils and translators considering the nature of the Song and very strong influence of Asceticism and Gnosticism.
I remember reading a story about a man back in the dark ages that the community considered to be one of the most righteous in town. He gouged out one of his eyes because he had seen a portion of a woman's bare ankle while fitting her for shoes. The Song of Solomon describes in detail the physical attributes of a woman and her desire for sex. Of the two examples which do you think the modern day churches lean toward?
Tertulian, one of the respected church fathers, did not help matters any with his very negative attitude toward women and sex. I think that he would have preferred all women to dress showing only eyes. He said they should be in a constant state of mourning and penitence in aiding the "Devil" in his work. In the very Godly book of the Song of Solomon we see the woman giving a very detailed description of her lovers body.
Today we have several sects of "Christianity" who treat women as something to hide away and not ever be seen. Some of the Amish and Amish type groups require their women to look as plain as possible and to hide their hair and their feminine shape.
Deviating a little to the book of Esther you will remember that the queen, Vashti, had refused to appear before the king, the princes and the people. The king had wished to show her beauty to them. How do you think he would have her dressed to show her beauty? Then remember when it was Esther's turn to go before the king she asked for nothing. Most women would have asked for many things as they might be allowed to keep them. I personally believe that she went before the king with very little or without any clothing. I believe this mostly because the king wanted a woman who would be obedient to him and allow him to show off her beauty. Think what you will about what Esther might have worn or not worn, but remember that we are talking about the king of Babylon and not a moral Israelite king. Also remember that she went willingly and with the encouragement of her uncle.
Another interesting incident happened with King David. Remember as he danced, with abandon as one translation suggest, before the ark of God he wore a linen ephod. At some point he may have removed that or it fell off as the following verses suggest. Here are three possible translations for 2 Samuel 6:20
A friend's interlinear Bible translation;
Charles Thomson SeptuagintApparently it has been an annual event for the king of Swaziland to choose a new bride each June. He saw thousands of bare-breasted virgins hoping to be chosen as wife number fourteen. Although it stirred up great controversy today how would you think it would be viewed in the days of Solomon having read the Song of Solomon?
In the following we have the Shulamite dancing for Solomon and his friends. She begins to leave and they ask her to return. Solomon teases asking what is it that they enjoy seeing. Then we have the very detailed description of her body. From the text it appears that she was dressed as the dancers were accustomed to wearing only shoes. This is where one can acknowledge the phrase "dancing with shoes on".
Song 6:13 Return, return, O Shulamite! Return, return, that we may look on you. What will you see in the Shulamite? As it were the dance of two camps.
So unlike the teachings of the Ascetics and Gnostics some of whom were the early church fathers we have what I believe was much the norm in the day. That seeing a person undressed was somewhat common.
I have lived in several parts of this country. It was very common to see women barely covered at all in California. For someone from the conservative mid-west it caught my attention. To be honest though after a while it became quite normal and not as attention getting as one might think. It became normal for me.
1 Timothy 2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.
1 Timothy 2:9 actually has less to do with modesty as we think of it. Here is what the verse appears to say in the Greek with just preliminary research.
1 Timothy 2:9 Thus even so that women put in proper order themselves, decorous, with bashfulness and soundness of mind not with braided hair or ornaments or costly clothing.
Obviously that is a very rough suggestion of what the Greek may intend. The word decorous (modest in the KJV) takes on the idea of decent; suitable to a character, or to the time, place and occasion. So one would not dress the same for church as one would for the beach. What is the norm for each location is appropriate. The idea, I think, is not to stand out from the crowd in a negative way for any given situation.
God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden with out clothing. Obviously it did not bother God to see them that way. It only bothered Adam and Eve when they had sinned and did not want to be seen by God. By the way, we have no information that Adam and Eve hid themselves from each other.
A very conservative preacher and his wife moved to a remote island to be missionaries after their children were grown. In the states their children had not been allowed to wear shorts above the knee back when "hot pants" were in style. That conservative couple while in the mission field learned a very important lesson. In fact the children were shocked to find out that their parents were wearing nothing more than a swim suit while doing things like grocery shopping. That was the norm for where they lived and in that regard they were following 1 Timothy 2:9.
Have you considered nude beaches and resorts? There are beaches all over the world where such is practiced. If one was willingly staying at a nudist resort would anyone be offended by seeing someone with out clothing or would it be the norm? A friend showed me where someone was researching nude baptisms in the days of the apostles. The information was very interesting and may have validity. It makes me think of the time Peter had to put clothes on before leaving the boat to go ashore to meet Christ. Nudity may have been very much more common than we could have guessed?
You may run into those who preach that it is a sin to be nude or naked. This comes from the phrase "nakedness of" found many times in the old testament. Most of the time it is a misunderstanding of what scripture means by the phrase. Read Leviticus 18 for several examples. The phrase means intercourse in several of the examples. If you see the phrase "nakedness of your father's wife", for example, that means that you are not to have intercourse with your father's wife. It does not mean that you should never see her with out clothing. Several of the instances listed by preachers trying to prove that nudity is wrong was not the fault of the one who was naked, but the one who saw. So the examples did not even count for what they were suggesting. When you see the phrase look closely at the context and see what you think.
While I am not advocating behavior or dress that would be inappropriate one must consider the time and place and what is considered the norm as 1 Timothy 2:9 teaches. One must also realize that a person in the days of the Puritan could lust at the sight of a woman's arm. Michael thought it below the king to dance as he did before the ark. David thought nothing of it. I think that if God thought nothing of it for Adam and Eve then we should be tolerant of it in the right time and place.