I realize that I am venturing into dangerous waters in writing a post that wants to think deeply and Christianly about fashion…especially women’s fashion. After all, this is a picture of my sock collection (I’ll be honest…partial collection):
But a couple months ago, friends were posting to Facebook an article written by Rachel Held Evans on women’s fashion and the church, entitled, “Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means.”
The catalyst for the article was a video in which model/actress/fashion designer, Jessica Rey comments on the effects that bikinis have on the male mind. You can see that powerful and interesting video below. The video concludes her argument for modesty by appealing to the fact that women are made in the image of God – what should be a profound motivator for modesty.
Rey, using a Princeton study, makes a case that should already be apparent – that certain types of clothes, in this case bikinis, objectify rather than empower women.
Rey is brilliant in that she critiques a common perception, that bikinis empower, offers a counter argument and concludes with a solution. If only we would all follow the same process.
Evans, in her article, critiques the two extremes of the messages bombarding Christian women today. She juxtaposes those that would have women dress provocatively, in the name of empowerment, verses those who would have them dress modestly, in the name of well…modesty.
Evans makes several great points, including that we are all responsible for our own sin. I don’t get to excuse away my sin. Neither does anyone else. A man (or woman) is responsible for his (or her) own lust – he (or she) doesn’t get to excuse it away.
But Evans also makes a couple points that caused concern.
Fair or not, part of my concern with Evan’s article is based on her reputation. For example, a few years ago, Evans wrote an unfair and even irresponsible account about her attempts to live a year of biblical womanhood. In this book, Evans demonstrates her willingness to, as Kathy Keller puts it, “pick and choose” what God has to say through the Bible, especially about womanhood. You can read Kathy Keller’s response to Evans book here.
I have two concerns with Evan’s article on modesty. First, she attempts to re-define modesty. Second, she does not offer a helpful solution.
1) Defining Modesty
As stated previously, and more eloquently in Keller’s article, Evans does not have a great history of exegesis, the explanation of a text. Evans tends to exegete a passage with her argument in mind. In other words, she approaches a text backwards – with her argument mind, rather than approaching it to understand the text first.
Her exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and the term “kosmios” in particular, is an excellent example of exegesis based on her personal bias.
Evans argues that “The Greek word translated “modesty” here is kosmios. Derived from kosmos (the universe), it signifies orderliness, self-control and appropriateness. It appears only twice in the New Testament, and interestingly, its second usage refers specifically to men (1 Timothy 3:2).
Any time someone introduces a new definition to a long-held orthodox understanding of scripture that claim must be rigorously investigated.
Furthermore, being a bit of a Greek nerd, I was interested in her definition of the term, “kosmios”. So I decided to look “kosmios” up in my Greek-English dictionaries, of which I have a few.
These dictionaries use terms like respectable, honorable, modest, orderly, well behaved and discreet to define “kosmios”. (Actually, the definition Evan uses includes the terms “orderliness, self-control and appropriateness”, which seem to be a great definition of modesty)
Having looked up the term in several lexicons, I turned to checking to see how the different translations define “kosmios”. Shockingly, according to a side-by-side comparison on Biblehub.com that uses 21 different versions of the Bible, each one translated kosmios as “modest.” For any student of the Bible, any time multiple versions translate a term in the same fashion (let alone 21 of them), one can be confident that they have translated the term correctly.
Evans argues that the term is mistranslated and therefore misunderstood. An argument that falls flat with just a bit of reasonable exegesis.
2) An unhelpful solution
Based on her argument that “kosmios” is mistranslated, Evans offers this solution, “So my advice for women looking for bathing suits this season is this: Don’t dress for men; dress for yourself. It’s not your responsibility to please men with either your sex appeal or your modesty; each man is different, so it would be a fool’s errand anyway. Instead, prioritize strength, dignity and good deeds, and then dress accordingly. ”
What Evans seems to argue for here is that a Christian does not need to concern himself or herself with whether or not their choice in clothes will cause another to stumble. This is an irresponsible and unhelpful solution to the modesty/immodesty debate.
In fact, what Evans encourages seems to fly in the face of Paul’s words in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
While we are responsible for our own sin, we are also responsible to ensure that we serve one another humbly in love.
Even when we make wardrobe choices, we are responsible to ensure that we sacrificially love and serve one another.