Toward a Theology of the Body

With the public undressing of the western world, Christians desperately need to revive the discussion on modesty. Biblical Christians will keep this issue alive and will continually call one another to a higher standard than the world around us. We are in dire need of what I call a Theology of the Body, a well-developed, biblical, comprehensive understanding of the nature of the body. One that is rooted in the Gospel and the character of the triune God. One that sees the body as neither evil nor irrelevant. Toward that end, I offer four principles upon which to build our understanding of modesty.

Modesty is about God’s glory.

To understand God’s view of modesty one must make a trip back to Genesis. God made humans male and female and clothed them with His glory. In the creation of mankind there was a whole lot of glory being revealed! There was the intention that God’s image be revealed in them (Genesis 1:27).

In fact the New Testament states that the man is the glory of God and the woman is the glory of man. There was the pronouncement that they were very good (Genesis 1:31). And there was the total transparency of Adam and Eve in the marriage relationship with no fear of rejection, exploitation, harm, or abuse.

As with every area of life, the human body is designed for God’s glory. Our creation and redeemed status has direct implications on our spirit, soul, and body. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20, NKJV).

Glory in Scripture was always covered; it was never allowed to be seen by the general public. Even Christ, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3) was veiled in flesh since no man can see God and live. As reflections of God’s glory, we also are to be covered. As with Christ, whose glory was in his identity as the Son of God not in his physical appearance, so we are to be known for our identity not after our flesh.

So where are we missing it on the subject of modesty? One of the greatest is the belief that the body is irrelevant. The above Scripture portrays the body as neither evil, nor irrelevant, but rather as a holy part of our humanity that is created by God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and indwelt by the Spirit. This hardly means that only the heart matters and that the body is unimportant. It gives compelling evidence that God is interested in our body and our spirit, both our inner life and its outward manifestations.

The theology known as Gnosticism threatened the early church and was a major factor behind many of the epistles. Among other things, the Gnostics believed that physical matter was evil and consequently the human body was evil. This had direct implications for their Christology, and it had a major impact upon their view of holiness. Because they considered the body to be evil, it was either to be severely disciplined or not disciplined at all. This gave rise to extreme asceticism on the one hand and extreme licentiousness on the other, both of which were condemned by the writers of the New Testament.

The resurgence of Gnosticism in the 21st century would have us to believe that the body, while it is good, is simply irrelevant. As long as you love Jesus in your heart, you can do what you want with your body. The new Gnostics believe that holiness is only positional, a result of being united with Christ, while practical holiness is legalism. This ideology fails to recognize Paul’s statement in the context of 1 Corinthians 6 that the sexually promiscuous and immoral, idolaters and image worshippers, adulterers, anyone who practices homosexuality, thieves, drunkards, swindlers, revilers, and the greedy will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Look at these sins and see how many are committed with the body. While they are all a result of heart and mind depravity, they are also body issues! The body of the believer is hardly irrelevant!

Any discussion of modesty must recognize that God lays claim to the whole person of the redeemed. Christ died for the whole man. The whole man is to be subject to the rule of Christ. The whole person is indwelt by God’s Spirit and is to reflect the glory of God. And the whole man, including the body, will be glorified in the resurrection.

Modesty is about our shame.

Genesis makes it clear that something profound happened in us in the Fall. The immediate separation from God resulted in distortion and even perversion in how we look at one another and at ourselves. We began to view each other through the eyes of lust, envy, jealousy, anger, and exploitation. The human body became an object of idolatrous worship.

Outside the monogamous marriage relationship, nakedness brings a sense of shame. Only in a culture that has strayed away from God-consciousness is nakedness celebrated. Because of the distortion of values, we now use our bodies to attract illegitimate and illicit attention to ourselves. The clothes we wear and the way we wear them send a message about how we see ourselves, and others.

The fallen heart of mankind is now distorted in what it values, and it attempts to fulfill its need for significance by the flesh. Just as men have a weakness to measure their masculine significance through strength, fast cars, more powerful tractors, bigger muscles, etc., so women have a weakness in measuring their feminine significance through their outward beauty. There is a great problem when men use strength to exploit women and women use beauty to entice men.

Not only is it a problem when we exploit others through sensuality, it is equally problematic when we measure ourselves or compare ourselves by outward beauty and strength. Rather we are instructed to emphasize our character (1 Peter 3:4). Things such as pride, bitterness, sensuality, materialism, greed, arrogance, rebellion, and individualism must be rooted out by the Spirit of Christ in the regenerate heart. God desires to replace those values with genuine humility, love, propriety, forgiveness, giving, submission, and interdependence.

Modesty is about God’s provision.

It is significant that the clothes that God made to cover our shame were made from animal skins. Already in the first clothing we see the connection between sin and the death of the innocent animal (a type of the coming Lamb of God) to cover our nakedness. What God’s Word is teaching is that physical clothing is a picture, a type, of the spiritual clothing we need from Christ.

As with all types, even the smallest details are significant. How much of the body did God cover? The answer to this is found in the type. How much of our being needs to be covered by the righteousness of Christ? When we stand before God we certainly want to be completely clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, not partially but entirely! When we stand before God we want more than a spiritual tank top and shorts!

Our choice of clothing sends a message about the values we esteem. So we are told that women and men should dress modestly as a reflection of the heart that is clothed in humility, righteousness, and true holiness. As our spirits are fully clothed with the righteousness of Christ so that we are no longer ashamed in God’s presence, even so our bodies must be clothed to avoid shame.

Modesty is about our protection.

Clothing is also about protection. This means more than just covering up to stay warm in the winter. Modesty protects our daughters and wives from predators. It means giving no man a reason to view our ladies as objects for selfish gratification. It also means protection for our men. Protecting us from our vulnerabilities.

So, where is the line? For quite some time I was pondering on identifying an overarching principle for our practice. At some point the Lord impressed upon me a principle that integrates biblical principles with our innate sense of propriety and shame.

Without wanting to be crass or inappropriate, the nakedness of the body should be covered in such a way that the eye is not drawn to those parts that are private, personal, and untouchable by others. To invite the public to touch with the eye those parts of the body that would be untouchable to the hand is to exploit the vulnerability of my brothers and sisters who are attempting to walk in purity. If someone shouldn’t touch, they shouldn’t be invited to look.

Just as ladies have a point of vulnerability and can easily be exploited emotionally, so men have a point of vulnerability through the visual. It is unthinkable and irresponsible for a man to play with the emotions of a vulnerable woman. Not understanding the tendency of women to give their hearts to men who connect with them relationally, many men have unwittingly damaged the hearts of their sisters in Christ.

It should be equally unthinkable and irresponsible for a woman to engage the vulnerabilities of their brother in Christ by exploiting his visual and sexual struggles. No godly man or woman would ever want to exploit the point of weakness of their brother or sister in Christ.

May God bless us in this day as we strive to live godly in Christ Jesus in every area of life as true Christ-followers.

Ian Todd and Anita Neuschwander have been married since 1983 and have five children and one grandchild. He was ordained to pastoral ministry in 1987 and in 1991 joined the Gospel Echoes Team prison ministry as an itinerant evangelist and director of the New Life Team. During their 15 years on the road they have ministered in hundreds of prisons and churches across the U.S. and Canada sharing the gospel in music, preaching, revivals, and discipleship seminars.

Todd presently serves as Lead Pastor of the Living Water Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana where they make their home. He also serves as moderator of the Biblical Mennonite Alliance and teaches winter term at the Elnora Bible Institute.


Coming next week! “What Every Girl Needs to Know About Modesty”

Our three-week modesty series continues next week. “What Every Girl Needs to Know About Modesty” is an article from the guys to the girls, encouraging you to pursue modesty for the right reasons and sharing a few suggestions to do so.

11 thoughts on “Toward a Theology of the Body

  1. Thank you Tod, that was an excellent statement on the theology of modesty. As I live outside of the USA, I observe one more topic to add to the theology of modesty. Modesty expresses our identity. In the old testament law the Israelites were given specific instructions on their clothing some of which were intended to identify them as any Israelite and being set apart for God. Similarly today when we dress modestly we are making a statement of identity. In some places modesty is identified with Islam, Semetic Jewdiasm or traditionalism with in a local culture. Expressing our identity through our clothing can be a good thing both as a personal statement and as a statement to those around us. So what is an overarching principal expressing our identity? We are making a statement whether we like it or not, lets be intentional about the statement we make.

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  2. Todd, thanks for the article. Really good thoughts! Your principle of “if you shouldn’t touch, you shouldn’t see” is very helpful.

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      1. crryoder: Any suggestions that you might have for making it more specific? We’re listening :-)…

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      2. The post said “invited to look” which is slightly different. But even then, it’s not clear enough. One might suspect that anything able to be seen was being advertised. If that’s the case then women would need to cover more than any current strain of Mennonite. I’d more suggest scrapping the whole hand-eye correlation as I don’t see them as equal…just thought I’d touch on that. … 😆

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  3. 1 Corinthians 7. A man should not touch a women…. So, this is suggesting that ladies should wear burkas? 🙂

    I guess I personally was disappointed in a couple different ways. First, this reminded me of discussions I have with my Protestant coworkers. They have nice sounding theories, but it’s not coming from what the Bible actually says. It’s doctrine that you can pull a few verses out to go along with, but the bible never actually teaches. That is the pitfall that so many apostate churches have fallen into. Take the point about covering glory. Sounds good, and may be some truth to it, I’m not going to necessarily appose it, but when you hold it up beside 1 Corinthians 11 it doesn’t mesh. A man is the image and glory of God, and therefore should be uncovered….

    Secondly, … um, does anyone know what modesty means? I looked forward to this article because it promised to look at the theology of modesty. But most of the article isn’t talking about modesty at all. It is talking about our clothing, and never actually looked at the what modesty is and means. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad article, just not what I expected. 🙂

    Jeremy, you asked/commented about making a statement with our clothing. And I’m not disagreeing with anything you said, I just had my own question back to you. What statement did Jesus make with His clothing?

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    1. Some commentaries interpret “touch” meaning “to have sexual relations with” (esv specifically).

      I’ve heard the ‘modesty is more than clothing’ objection quite frequently. I think for the most part there is less concern for that topic because modesty of the heart is spoken about in other passages with other terms. People don’t have near as many questions about modesty of the heart. … Generally.

      My thoughts.

      p.s. The only thing we can do is look at historical context to determine what Jesus wore, which means that at the same time we are assuming that he probably wore what everyone else wore, which also means that we’re saying he probably didn’t make any statement with his clothing.

      Thoughts?

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      1. “I’ve heard the ‘modesty is more than clothing’ objection quite frequently… ” I wasn’t trying to say modesty isn’t about clothing, and understood the article was to be about modesty of dress. I had no problem with that. My comment was meant to say this- Just talking about how we should dress does not mean we are talking about modesty. Modesty should definitely be an aspect of our clothing, YES, but it isn’t the only principle involved. Also,modesty is a much bigger principle, that shows itself all through the Christians life. We need to understand the “theology of modesty” outside of clothing, on a broader definition, before we try to understand what it means in our clothing.. Does that make sense? I feel we have disconnected modesty of dress from the basic definition of modesty. And have tried to make the term modesty of dress, encapsulate all aspects of clothing, and are confusing our youth in the process. At least I know I was….

        Isaiah 53:2 is a beautiful picture of modesty, and how Jesus dressed and looked. May we be like Him!!

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    2. Crryoder, good question about Jesus clothing. Did he intentionally make a statement? Most likely not or at least one of the New Testament writers would have commented on it. As you mention in another comment, our best guess is that Jesus dressed just like other Jewish people of that day. On the other hand, the Orthodox Jewish people both then and today do have tassels on the corners of their clothing which is intentionally distinctive. So did Jesus clothing have tassels? We don’t know for sure. My guess is that Jesus took the same approach to clothing as he did to other teachings in to OT law. “He didn’t come to destroy it but to fulfill it.” I would love to hear your thoughts on what fulfilling the clothing part of the law looked like.

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