In the modern west, bikinis are a common sight on beaches, at community pools, and on television. Sometimes, it seems that bikinis get smaller each year, covering less and less with each redesign. In some environments, it might even be common for a woman wearing only a bikini to stop into a store or a restaurant.
How does a Christian know where to draw the line? Can Christians wear bikinis? And if so, are there guidelines for knowing when wearing a bikini is appropriate?
Christians may wear bikinis in certain settings and situations. However, we must be mindful of both our intent when donning a bikini and our impact on those around us.
Let’s dive deeper.
Establishing a Framework
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.1 Corinthians 6:12a
As with many questions about modern life, bikini use is a matter of conscience. Like all matters of conscience, we are called to evaluate our choices according to their benefit.
Wearing a bikini to stay cool or to swim unencumbered points to an obvious, practical benefit. But if we put on bikinis (or choose the smallest bikini available) for the purpose of exposing our bodies and attracting attention, we are wise to pause and reconsider our choices.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Nakedness, Shame, and Honor
When Adam and Eve first sinned, they became aware of their own nakedness and used leaves to make clothing for themselves (Genesis 3:7). Their eyes had been opened to their shame.
By contrast, when David danced before the Ark of the Covenant in his linen ephod (2 Samuel 6:14-15), he justified his humiliating actions as an act of praise (2 Samuel 6:20-22).
So what is the difference? In part, the difference is intent. David’s actions, as silly as they must have looked, were an expression of adoration toward God. He was so excited about what God was doing that he didn’t care if he shamed himself in the process.
Adam and Eve, by contrast, were compelled by the shame of their own self-awareness to cover their bodies.
We see shame in both examples but shame does not necessarily equate to sin. Even in David’s shame, he still honored God with his body when he danced before the Ark.
Finding the Line
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.1 Thessalonians 4:4-6a
Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians are a little more direct and provide us with some helpful tools to measure the appropriateness of our dress. Here, there are two considerations, lust and responsibility toward others. Scripture addresses both:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.Matthew 5:28
In teaching about adultery, Jesus condemns lustful thoughts and looks as actions that carry the same weight as the sin of adultery. A common thread in Jesus’ teachings, he reminds us that sinful behavior usually starts with sinful ideas. Where the threshold for lust is crossed might be subjective, depending on cultural norms and personal predispositions.
Men are naturally sight-stimulated and more predisposed to abusing pornography than women. So Jesus cautions men in particular to guard our eyes.
At the same time, scripture places a complementary responsibility on women who might be inclined to draw lustful attention to their own bodies.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.Romans 14:13
Often, well-meaning Christians will point to verses that instruct women to dress modestly (1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10) as an argument against bikinis and similar attire. However, those verses speak primarily to financial modesty, not sexual modesty.
Still, they are not without application, as they remind us to consider what kind of attention we are attracting with our manner of dress.
A bikini worn to the pool with the intention of staying cool and enjoying the water is culturally normal, and will probably not attract excess attention. A bikini worn in an unconventional setting where people are more fully covered is likely to draw attention (including lustful attention) quite easily.
So know, before stepping out, where you are going and what type of dress (or lack of dress) is appropriate for the setting.
Is it a Sin to be Seen?
As if to make a difficult topic harder to navigate, scripture makes specific mention of the bodily beauty of several prominent women:
- Rachel: “Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful…” Genesis 29:17
- Esther: “…This young woman…had a lovely figure and was beautiful…” Esther 2:7
- Bathsheba: “…From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…” 2 Samuel 2:11
We don’t know how Rachel and Esther were dressed but we have some clues. Rachel was working in her fields, and Esther was being presented before the king. And in each case, the observer was able to form an opinion on the woman’s figure.
Bathsheba, by contrast, leaves no doubt. She was bathing, so we presume that she was undressed. Still, the comparative stories of these women bring us back to the question of intent.
Rachel was shepherding a flock of sheep. Esther was in a pageant-like setting in the palace. Their intentions are easily understood. But did Bathsheba intend to show her body off to King David? Scholars are divided on the answer, but the disastrous consequence of David’s subsequent sin with Bathsheba should give us pause enough to consider the question and realize that our intentions matter.
As Christians, that’s how we must approach this question. We have the right to wear bikinis, provided that they cover what society requires us to cover. But if our intention is to inflame lust or pridefully gather attention to ourselves, we ought to pause and reconsider our choice.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.1 Corinthians 10:23-24