As the summer heat reached Canada, a new debate erupted. According to World, July 12/19, 1997, last December the Ontario Appeal Court ruled that women could go topless. In our egalitarian age, one can readily perceive the reasoning for such action. Men do not have to wear clothing above their waists. Why should women? With the arrival of summer, numerous women availed themselves of the court’s ruling. This has resulted in complaints from neighbors and passersby, particularly parents who do not want their sons exposed to topless women.
The point of this article is not to berate the decision. I believe it is wrong, but it was certainly expected in a society that supports full equality between male and female. I want to explore the Biblical facet. Why are women to clothe their breasts? In our egalitarian age it is necessary to point out that men and women are different. One difference is seen when both are topless. Scripture speaks quite differently regarding women’s breasts than men’s breasts. Note that in Proverbs 5:18, the father instructs his son to not become immorally involved with a woman to whom he is not married. Specifically he says, "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love."
The female’s breasts are attractive to the male. There is no problem with this in the context of marriage. By contrast there is a great problem with a males’ looking upon the breasts of other women. First, those breasts are not the ones to bring the male satisfaction, even though they well might, if he saw them. The same can be said regarding clothing, or lack thereof, that women can wear to emphasize their breasts. Second, being stimulated through viewing a woman’s breasts (other than his wife’s), the male can easily move to greater lust and even to immoral sexual activity.
The Song of Solomon has numerous references to a woman’s breasts satisfying her husband. Examples include Song of Solomon 4:5; 7:3, 7. Scripture does speak to men about lustfully viewing the breasts of a woman to whom they are not married. This is described in terms of adultery (Mt. 5:28). Speaking of Israel’s spiritual adultery, Hosea wrote, "Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not thy wife, nor am I her husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts" (Hos. 2:2). Ezekiel spoke similarly. Israel and Judah "committed harlotry in Egypt, they committed harlotry in their youth; their breasts were there embraced, their virgin bosom was there pressed" (Ez. 23:3). A man can be visually attracted to a woman by other means. Again returning to Proverbs, the father mentions several such attractions in his warnings to his son regarding avoiding the temptation of adultery: "her beauty" (6:25), "her eyelids" (6:25), and "her attire" (6:10). However, in the verses I have mentioned, her breasts are particularly pointed out as being attractive to the man. One aspect of modesty is that a woman cover them from the eyes of men, with the exception of her husband. Her breasts are to satisfy her husband, not other men.
It should be little surprise that as Christian missionaries minister in pagan cultures in which men and women wear clothing only around their waists, that clothing changes as the Gospel makes inroads in that society. Soon women have covered their chests. The fact that different parts of the body are to be clothed relative to whether or not one is male or female underlines the fact that men and women are different.
Adam and Eve were created naked (Gen. 2:25). They remained so until after they sinned (Gen. 3:1ff). They then sewed fig leaves together (Gen. 3:7) and hid from God. Evidently Adam realized his clothing was inadequate to stand before a holy God. Wearing his homemade covering, Adam states, "I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself" (Gen. 3:10b). God then "made tunics of skin and clothed them" (v. 21). Although I have never read a book on the theology of clothing, I believe it is reasonable to say that a desire to cover our own physical nakedness is a reminder of our need of covering for our spiritual nakedness. This is a covering provided only in Christ’s righteousness, imputed to God’s elect.
In a humanistic society that denies God and man’s need for him, we can expect man to expose himself physically. Such exposure can take a variety of forms, including streaking and female toplessness. If a society has no fear of being spiritually naked before God, why should it be ashamed to be physically naked? It was only when man realized his own sinfulness that he desired physical covering.
Thankfully, sinful man is not always consistent in his thinking. Thus, in many humanistic societies there is not the push to remove one’s clothing in public. Partial or complete nudity is mainly limited to isolated beaches on this continent. When permission is given for more public disrobing, as recently in Canada, sufficient outcry is raised to cause authorities to rethink their position.
On what ground can they stand? The Bible provides basic principles for clothing as it does for every other aspect of living. Without appeal to it, man’s attempt at sound reasoning is revealed to be naked. How we need Christians and churches to rise up and teach the current and succeeding generations the full counsel of God with relevant application to every area of life!
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.