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Tribal women in Africa, South America and Papua New Guinea have gone around with bare breasts for countless generations. When Christian missionaries arrived they convinced the women to cover their breasts. What arguments did they use to achieve this? I see nothing in the Bible about God commanding women to cover their breasts.

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    Interesting question. I can't think of anything, though of course Paul's stuff about modest dressing probably factors into it. Mar 31 '15 at 17:54
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    It's largely cultural. And incidentally, when those Christian missionaries induced various tribal women to wear clothing, it often caused cultural confusion for them because they commonly used markings on the skin to indicate a person's position in society, including marital status. The clothing brought by missionaries covered most of the body, and therefore covered all of those traditional social indicators. In some cases this brought about an effect opposite to the "modesty" and "chastity" that the missionaries intended. However, women do love their clothing and adornment in every culture! Apr 1 '15 at 16:59
  • As long as their heads are covered there is nothing biblical about breasts (unless I missed something) Dec 11 '15 at 16:30
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No, there are no explicit instructions in the Bible to not have bare breasts. Biblical references to modesty are interpreted differently given a particular time and place -- similarly with interpretations of 'nakedness.' There is no explicit verse covering the topic, Christians must infer instructions of modesty on their own. This has been accomplished in a wide variety of ways throughout history. Contemporary women's clothing would be have been considered horrifyingly indecent centuries ago, but they are commonly worn by Christians today.

The only specific article of clothing that a small minority of Christians adhere to is St. Paul's instruction for women to cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). Many contemporary Christians interpret that instruction to be specific to the congregation he was speaking to due to the context of their time and place (same with the references to gold, pearls, and remaining silent).

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    I added one of the bible references that you mention. What would be great for this answer is if you added the references for some of the verses about modesty and 'nakedness', just as a list for readers to click through. +1 in advance
    – fгedsbend
    Apr 3 '15 at 1:33
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First Timothy states:

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments
1 Timothy 2:9 (NASB)

The following 2 verses put together could also help:

but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:28 (NASB)

It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
Romans 14:21 (NASB)

And let's not forget that God made clothes for Adam and Eve after the fall for a purpose:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them
Genesis 3:21 (NASB)

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  • "for a purpose": I don't see that Genesis 3:21 indicates that there was a particular purpose - unless perhaps it's his response to "I was afraid, because I was naked". Mar 31 '15 at 20:29
  • I agree with your selection of passages. The concern I have is in regards to customs. For instance, being topless is considered non-discreet by our society, not the Bible. I understand that my statement is conjecture, but it's something to think about. Jul 20 '15 at 13:08
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From what I have read not all the missionaries immediately compelled the women to cover up. It was only as sex starved secularized Europeans arrived that they encouraged the women to cover up. It was to protect the women from predatory activity.

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    My first mission trip the Pastor balked at an African wateringhole/ laundry as all the women were topless. He asked our indigenous partner (a missionary himself) to request that they cover up so that we could preach Christ to them The confusion and pain on that brother's face... +1 Nov 14 at 0:06
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First of all, I would hope that we can all agree that it's a commandment to not walk around naked. Hence why God made Adam and Eve coats of skins to cover their nakedness after they had eaten the fruit and were no longer innocent.

The only scripture I know of specifically referring to covering the breasts of a woman as covering her nakedness is in Ezekiel (actually referring to Jerusalem):

7 I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.

8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: (Ezekiel 16:7-8)

Biblically, women were considered naked not only when they were undressed, but also when they were not properly dressed. A woman was not considered properly dressed if she was showing anything that might arouse sexual desire in a man. Walking around topless would certainly qualify as being naked.

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    I'm not sure we can all agree that it's a commandment to not walk around naked. Where do you see that? Mar 31 '15 at 20:26
  • @MattGutting That's why I said, "I hope". Because I don't think it's explicitly stated that it is a commandment to not be naked in public, although I imagine it falls under the "Thou Shalt not commit adultery", and "Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery in his heart" categories. There are however countless scriptures about not uncovering someone else's nakedness, or looking upon someone else's nakedness.
    – ShemSeger
    Mar 31 '15 at 20:33
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    This 'hope' assumes cultural upbringing where breasts cannot be looked at without 'causing lust'. The question is about such cultures were such is not a view held about breasts. (If every woman were to cover here wrists and expose her breasts, it would the wrists that were objects of desire..) Mar 31 '15 at 20:35
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    @ShemSeger Certainly there are; but I don't think that being naked automatically gives someone more of an opportunity to look on another with lust than being clothed does. And not uncovering/looking on someone's nakedness might mean no more than "don't embarrass someone on purpose." Mar 31 '15 at 20:36
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    "Uncovering the nakedness" of someone is an idiom that occurs mostly in Leviticus 18 and 20, where it is a euphemism for having sexual relations with a woman, and by extension, dishonoring the husband or family relations of that woman. It occurs a few times in the Prophets, where it refers to the humiliation of a people or nation. It does not mean merely being naked. Jul 27 '15 at 16:59

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