The Bible, written over two millennia ago, has been around for much longer than modern discourse on the human body, especially a woman’s body. Yet its words still carry weight today, and its references to the body are still seen as authoritative. But what does the Bible actually say about a woman’s body and how does it regard the human form?
At a fundamentally human level, the Bible is clear in emphasising and affirming the good, the natural and the beautiful when it comes to the physical makeup of people. Time and time again, women are described positively in the Hebrew Bible, with references to their bodies as something to be admired reverently by both men and women. As the creation account in Genesis famously states: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
This idea of “very good” is at the heart of the Bible’s outlook. The woman’s body is seen as part of the divinely created order and her physical form is wild and breathtaking, something to be celebrated and to help us perceive divinity in the structure of life. In Proverbs 31, it is written that a virtuous woman should be rewarded “for her good works… and her arms encircle her capably”. The strength and resiliency of the body are highly regarded.
Yet, despite this temporal appreciation for the body, the Bible recognises that physical beauty is fleeting. Its emphasis is on living a life honouring to God, whereby humans consciously recognise their bodies as a mere vessel for their divinely conceived spirit and soul. Eternal beauty comes from within and is derived from faithful obedience to God. In the book of 1 Peter, it reads: “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your conduct”.
The practical teaching of Proverbs is underpinned by an appreciation of a woman’s body and physical form. From the account of Bathsheba, we can see how even as far back as the Bible’s creation, the importance of respecting a woman’s physical beauty and objectifying her form was already an understood concept. “A man who commits adultery with a woman lacks judgement; whoever does so destroys himself.” Here, the guilt of both the man and woman was to be firmly acknowledged and no one – regardless of gender – was excused from such accounts of temptation.
In more modern times, the Bible has been greatly misinterpreted as a means to oppress women, relegating them to a near-silent role and denying them agency. We have seen this play out in the rejection of gender equality, a concept heavily criticised by some within the Bible Belt. Herein lies the importance of reading and interpreting the Bible in its original, full context. We must understand that even our own biases and prejudice shape our reading of Scripture, and actively seek out different perspectives to develop a holistic outlook and reverential respect for both men and women as equals.
Attitudes Towards Marriage
The Bible views marriage as a holy union between two people of any gender and is adamant that no discrimination should be made in terms of sexuality. For example, Leviticus states, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Meaning that, those of different sexual orientations should be embraced and not excluded, even if they are not strictly seen as the “norm”.
It also acknowledges that physical companionship is an essential part of marriage between two people, regardless of gender. Its teachings balance mutually rewarding sex with the duty to remain faithful to each other. 1 Corinthians 7:4 clarifies, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This emphasises that marriage is a partnership in which both sexes share the same rights and responsibilities.
Respect for Myself and Others
The Bible constantly reminds readers of the importance of treating ourselves and others with kindness, and that we should see each other as God intended: an equal blend of love, support and respect. In common phrases such as Galatians 5:25 – “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” and Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”, we are reminded of the key teaching to value ourselves and each other, not based on physical traits, but instead appreciation for our humanness.
In reference to a woman’s body, this means valuing her physical form for her goodness, honor and dignity that it holds. The Bible encourages us to recognize the bodies of all humans, regardless of gender as a gift from God and worthy of love, admiration and respect. This can be seen in the accounts of strong women like Esther and Rahab, who despite being marginalized by their cultures are exalted as leaders, setting examples of courage and determination.
Body Acceptance and Self-care
The Bible is also known to promote body acceptance and self-care. We can see frequent references to the holistic nourishment of mind, body, and spirit; frequently throughout scripture, people are told to take care of their health and to guard themselves from offensive influences. In 1 Corinthians6:19-20, it states “Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral… nor runaway slaves, nor profane persons nor idolaters will inherit the kingdom of God”. This suggests that the body is to be respected, its gifts and capabilities to be celebrated, and any behaviour that disregards its value is frowned upon.
The power of this teaching is especially evident in the modern world. We are exposed to pervasive messaging that perpetuates traditional beauty standards, which contribute to the misunderstanding and mistreatment of women’s bodies. The result is an alarming rise in eating disorders and negative body image issues, and a deteriorating attitude towards female beauty. By investing in this healthy and balanced outlook of the body, we are able to remain safe and shielded from any attempts to objectify physical bodies.
Fashion and Modesty
When it comes to fashion, the Bible stresses discretion and respect, especially in regards to female modesty. We are reminded to be alert and mindful of our own and others’ conduct. According to 1 Samuel 16:7, “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” This serves as a reminder that the way a person presents themselves is not a measure of a person’s true worth, and we should not be judged by our appearance.
Modesty is also seen as a spiritual safeguard that keeps us from temptation and from being seduced by the material world. Ephesians 5:3 reminds us, “for all that is secret is ultimately unveiled and all that is concealed is ultimately brought to light.” We are encouraged to clothe ourselves and others in appropriate, modest clothing, to demonstrate a respectable attitude and respect for their inherent value.
True Beauty is Eternal
Ultimately, the Bible encourages us to view our bodies, both female and male, through an eternal lens. Outward beauty will not last. In 1 Peter 3:3, we are reminded that “your beauty should not come from outward adornment- such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes – but from the inner disposition of your heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” This statement clarifies that genuine beauty is reflected through our inner spiritual life and is structured around commitment to God.
The Bible’s message of eternity and respect for “the good,” for both genders, is pertinent to this day, even as the cultural climate has drastically changed since its composition and reception. From obligations such as marriage to our attitudes towards ourselves and others, the Bible remains an essential source of wisdom and understanding, encouraging us to love and cherish all bodies, regardless of gender.