Question:

Is a man immodestly dressed with his shirt off?


Answer:

"I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing" (I Timothy 2:8-9).

When man was created we were told, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). The reason this is given to us to emphasize that man and woman at the beginning were innocent. They did not have the concept of good and evil. Just like a small child delights in running around naked after a bath, so too Adam and Eve were free from any thoughts about the possibilities of evil. But Satan led them into sin, and with that sin came the knowledge of good and evil. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked" (Genesis 3:7). Their knowledge of their nakedness tells us that they lost the innocence they once had.

They tried to make clothing from fig leaves tied about their waists, but they both knew that this wasn't enough. When God came visiting the garden, they tried to hide from God. But God called them out and Adam explained, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself" (Genesis 3:10). Despite their attempts at making garments, they knew they were still naked. That tells us a number of things, but one is that everything worn on the body is not necessarily adequate clothing, even if it covers critical areas.

Before sending them out of the garden, God makes clothing for Adam and Eve. "Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). A tunic is a knee-length shirt.

Modest dress doesn't call attention to the wearer. While I Timothy 2:9 is directed at women, Paul says "in like manner," so the discussion can also apply to men.

There are three words used to describe how women are to adorn themselves:

  • "Modest" (komios) refers to things that are orderly, showing good behavior, or respectable.
  • "Propriety" (aidos) refers to having a sense of shame, bashfulness, or reverence.
  • "Moderation" (sophrosune) refers to sobriety, having good sense, a soundness of mind, and a display of self-restraint.

Most of us use this passage to argue against clothing that reveal too much flesh and it is a good verse to use. The word aidos hits at the core of the problem of clothing designed to be sensual. Neither male nor female Christians should be dressed in provocative ways to arouse the passions of those seeing them.

"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Now it may not bother you to see a man's bare chest, but is it likely that that same can be said for other people?

Calling attention to yourself in a sensual way is a reason why clothing that exposes your nakedness is immodest. Costly jewelry or elaborate hair styles can also be immodest. People should notice a Christian because of who he is and not because of what he is wearing or not wearing. Therefore, the clothing that I wear should fit the occasion so that my attire does not distract from my Lord, whom I represent.

Now with all that said, I've been looking for definitive passage that would clarify whether a shirtless male is properly dressed or not. I have not found one to this date. There are situations where, because of potential sensuality, it would definitely be wrong. But I can't say with certainty that it would always be wrong.

Looking for historical depictions of what people wore in ancient Israel isn't necessarily accurate because people could be dressed in violation to what God taught. However, here are some to consider:

Photograph of a mural from Beni Hassan
Photograph of a mural from Beni Hassan
Drawing of the Beni Hassan mural. Notice that Hebrew men tended to have beards and wear patterned clothing. Tunics were more favored, but some men only wore kilts.
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
depicting Israelites bringing tribute to the Assyrian king.
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
Israelite Men from Lachish being taken captive.