Civil Modesty Law How Does Clothing Pertain to Civil Magistrates


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I have come to a very carefully thought out conclusion. It is my first large theology change in a year or so. It happens to deal with the issue of modesty but in more respect to the role of civil government with it. All of the Reformers, Puritans and Covenanters all held that the government had a role in outlawing immodesty and they even passed laws within their societies to deal with the issue of lewdness and immodesty.

Such examples of Puritan modesty laws of New England were such as the following,

“In 1639, the General Court made another order prohibiting the wearing upon garments ‘any manner of lace’, and in the same order it was provided ‘that hereafter no garment shall be made with short sleeves, whereby the nakedness of the arm may be discovered in the wearing thereof and such as have garments already made with short sleeves shall not hereafter wear the same, unless they cover their arms to the wrist with linen or otherwise’.”88 Daniel Wait Howe. The Puritan republic of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. (Indianapolis: Bowen – Merrill, 1899), 98.

But up to this week I have not been convinced from Scripture that the government has a role within this issue. I just could not see it The Scripture definitely speaks to the issue of modesty and what is permitted and what is not permitted. It even defines explicitly and implicitly the details of gender distinctions. But where does it give authority for the civil magistrate (an ordained minister of God) to punish such vices? Where does it spell out the just punishment for the infraction of this wickedness?

Of course, the Social Theocrats would say well it doesn’t but the magistrate is to punish all sin and wickedness that it discovers. Of course that is an argument that I cannot buy. It is rift with issues and massively prone to abuse that can dive quickly into tyranny.

Of course the Recon RPG (Regulative Principle of Civil Government) is also incorrect. We do not need for everything a strict explicit command for the magistrate to punish wrath against the evil doers. We may also go by implicit examples in scripture as well as inference. I call this a Covenanter RPG. I sort of straddle the middle of the two extremes.

Even so, up to this week I could not derived an implicit example or even inference from Holy Scripture for the role of the civil magistrate to punish the wicked and abominable act of immodesty.

That has all been changed. I have taken a week to go deep into this subject and I believe I have the only proper and correct way to derive the principle that the civil magistrate is to punish immodesty. As a friend told me this week, if it is not in that passage then there is no where else to go in Scripture.

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§Leviticus 18

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.”

Here in the beginning of this chapter we are told speak unto the children of Israel, DO NOT do after the heathen nations around you. We are not to adopt their way, practices, even their clothing. This verse alone throws out the oft repeated mistake that we are to fit in with our culture and that we must adopt the clothing from the culture and be cultural relevant. No we are to be distinct from the heathens even if that means looking like the strangest person in the world. We are to keep these ordinances as well as the judgments (civil law) and walk after them and live in them.

“None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the Lord. The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness. The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover. The nakedness of thy son’s daughter, or of thy daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness. The nakedness of thy father’s wife’s daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s sister: she is thy father’s near kinswoman. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother’s sister: for she is thy mother’s near kinswoman. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son’s wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness. Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.”


Now we are given a list of people we are not to present our nakedness to. But wait? Doesn’t this entail incest? I thought we were talking about Modesty Laws? Yes, it does include incest but it is not limited to incest.

This chapter is dealing with generality of nakedness. We are not to come before these people with a three-fold view of particular prohibitions.

Here is what Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says,

“This verse contains a general summary of all the particular prohibitions; and the forbidden intercourse is pointed out by the phrase, “to approach to.” In the specified prohibitions that follow, all of which are included in this general summary, the prohibited familiarity is indicated by the phrases, to “uncover the nakedness” [Le 18:12-17], to “take” [Le 18:17, 18], and to “lie with” [Le 18:22, 23].”

The law prohibits 1. Uncover Nakedness, i.e. Nudity, 2. Take and 3. to Lie with. So it is not just dealing with Incest. Another chapter deals explicitly with incest which I will explain in a minute.

Nakedness translated in the passage is the Hebrew word ‘ervah’. In addition to the standard knowing of sexual incest there it also includes the following, “nakedness, nudity, shame, pudenda, pudenda (implying shameful exposure) nakedness of a thing, indecency, exposed”.

So this is dealing with modesty in addition to incest.

One will quickly ask, “But these are dealing with particulars of family members and not general public? Well first there is a Synecdoche, more is meant then just the bare reading. But more to the point if you are dressing immodesty in your home before you come out into public you will be before your mother, father, brother, sister, etc within your house. Even before you walk out that front door you will be interacting with family members. Everybody has a mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, an uncle and various other family members. It is very unavoidable to go out in public before coming before one of your relatives which is expressively prohibited here. Doing so in private or public would be off limits and therefore punishable by the civil magistrates with what is prescribed in these passages, added to this the Westminster Larger Catechism places modest apparel in the Seventh Commandment, a type of sexual sin…

I was reading John Calvin on this chapter and right in the middle of his diatribe he also recognized that there is a modesty component here. In this is discusses veils for women.

“Paul, on a very trifling point, sets before our eyes the law of nature; for, when he teaches that it is shameful and indecorous for women to appear in public without veils, he desires them to consider, whether it would be decent for them to present themselves publicly with their heads shorn; and finally adds, that nature itself does not permit it. ”

Someone will then ask, “Okay, what is nakedness? How do we determine what we can dress?” I am not planning on tackling that particular nuance within this article. I don’t want to get bogged down with specifics at this time. Let us discuss and come to agreement on the general application here before diving into specifics of what is permitted and what is not permitted and what is punishable by the magistrate and what is not punishable by the magistrate… I will cover that subject in the future (No pun intended).

§Just Recompense Punishment

Finally someone will ask, “So what is the punishment for immodest in the civil realm?”

“For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.”

Does that mean that death is required for immodesty? Oh, I can hear the name calling now.. Taliban, Islamic, ISIS who cut off heads or pinch off large hunks of skin for immodesty. I am not a stranger to being called such names as Tartan Taliban, Christian Ayatollah, etc. People will do what people do. Such name calling does not fear me or even bother me. haha

Thankfully it does not mean the death penalty.

According to John Gill, Cut off from the people doesn’t mean death but excommunication from church, removal of citizenship from the state and perhaps banishment from the land if they are habitual…

“shall be cut off from among the people; be removed from their church state, and deprived of ecclesiastical privileges, and from their civil state, and reckoned no more of the commonwealth of Israel; and if known and convicted, to be punished by the civil magistrate, and if not, by the immediate hand of God.” – John Gill

Death is prescribed for some of the acts in this chapter especially for incest. But this chapter does not determine that and not all of them are requiring of death.

Ellicot Commentary says,

“Shall be cut off.—That is, in case the transgression escapes the ken of the tribunal, God himself will inflict the punishment upon the criminals, since some of the crimes specified in this chapter are, according to Leviticus 20, to be visited with death by the hand of man”

So some are by death and other not.. the death would be depended on Lev. 20 and what it prescribes for explicit “lie with”.

§Differences between Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20

See the difference between Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 is Leviticus 18 uses the term “nakedness” which is a general term for various acts and sub acts while Leviticus 20 uses the term “Lie with” which is more explicit for incest and the actual action and not other things such as nakedness.

Leviticus 20 proscribes death for certain acts of lying which is different then cut off from the people…

It is also possible for ringleaders and habitual modesty breakers that the following make apply as per the courts decision as per what George Gillespie argues in Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty, 1644,

“If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.” Deuteronomy 25: 1-3


All in all I think this is one of the best argumentation for civil modesty laws and if it is not found here there is nowhere else it can be derived. But I believe it is a pretty convincing argument although I know many people will disagree. Many by emotionalism, fear and a plain ‘I don’t want to’. This was not an easy topic to cover nor some of the outcomes and logical conclusions. But I think it makes the best case from Scripture and the Reformed Faith.

People need guidance and they need rules and laws. Seeing what we see in our culture today as well as the many arguments I have been into online, I am convicted ever so strong that people are sheeples and need guidance and laws and even punishments to deter even in these areas.


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