Recently, a preacher friend introduced an interesting thought to me regarding gender distinction and modesty. While man without God chafes and pushes against God’s design, those with a heart for Him must recognize that each principle has boundaries and that each qualifies the other.
God created mankind “male and female” (Gen. 1:27). This specific reference shows God’s design for a difference between the genders. God authored the difference. Also, this divine innovation occurred before the fall of man. Gender distinction predates sin, and in this sense, it might be said to be the primary issue—especially when you understand the distinct biblical roles of male and female.
Modesty became an issue when Adam and Eve sinned and needed clothing. God made the first set of modest clothes, and “clothed” them with tunics (coats, garments) of animal skin (Gen. 3:21).
Interestingly, the principles of gender distinction and modesty qualify each other. One principle cannot be overemphasized without affecting the other.
Too much modesty violates gender distinction by obscuring it. If both men and women wore only long robes showing only their eyes, they would be extremely modest. It would also be difficult to distinguish between male and female.
On the other hand, too much gender distinction violates modesty by becoming immodest. Without desiring to be inappropriate, too little clothing makes gender distinction unquestionably clear, but at the expense of modesty. Therefore, reflecting gender distinction is somewhat arbitrary so as to not violate modesty.
Both principles are important and must be kept in a biblical balance. Each principle qualifies the other. Gender distinction and modesty are absolutes in Scripture, but beyond obvious applications, the Scripture does not specify the extent to which each principle should be reflected. Both must be maintained but with neither emphasized to the detriment of the other.
John Van Gelderen