Probably the most famous quote about beauty comes from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in her book Molly Bawn, in 1878 (1). There she wrote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Given this quote and many others, it is clear that many people believe that beauty is defined by the observer. However, the Bible is clear about the definition of beauty and what true beauty looks like.
What is the common definition of beauty?
Beauty is commonly defined as a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight or a beautiful or pleasing thing or person, in particular (2). This common definition of beauty is defined as something that pleases the senses. Since it pleases the senses, it is subject to opinion, which makes it not subject to measurement. The question then becomes who defines that standard?
What does the Bible say about the common definition of beauty?
Billions of dollars a year are spent by old people trying to look younger and young people trying to look older. One day our bodies will break down and die (Proverbs 31:30; Psalms 49:14; Isaiah 28:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:42-49). The Bible says David was beautiful and strong when he was young (1 Samuel 16:12; 1 Samuel 16:18). It also says that the beauty of old people is their gray hair (Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 20:29).
The Old Testament says the Messiah (Jesus) would not be attractive when He came (Isaiah 53:2) nor when He comes again (Isaiah 52:13). His message attracted people not his looks as depicted in paintings with flowing hair and a handsome face. This tells us what God really thinks about beauty.
Biblically, something seductive to the eyes is called lust of the eyes (Proverbs 6:25-26; Matthew 5:28; Romans 1:27). Lust of the eyes is one of three ways that we are tempted to sin (James 1:13-15; 1 John 2:16). Satan used all three lusts to temp Eve in the Garden of Eden to sin when she was hungry (Genesis 3:1-6). Genesis 6:6 says she saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh); that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes); and would make her wise like gods (pride of life). Eve used her own judgment and gave into temptation.
Satan tried this same attack on Jesus when He fasted in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Satan challenged Jesus to turn stones into bread (lust of the flesh). Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and offered to give them to Him if He worshipped Satan (lust of the eyes). Finally, he took Jesus to the temple roof and challenged Him to jump off to prove He was the Son of God (pride of life). Jesus used Scripture and resisted the temptations.
What does the Bible say about true beauty?
True beauty is commonly regarded as beauty on the inside (3). It is usually tied to good works. However, people have done good works that were later found to be wicked. Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung come to mind. They were loved and revered by millions while they were personally responsible for the deaths of millions. Some cult leaders have been convicted of molesting girls, claiming they were proper religious practices. Yet, many followers still think what they did was good. How can we know inner beauty without using our opinions like we do with common beauty? We must look at what God says in the Bible.
The Bible says what motivates us is what determines if we have inner beauty (Psalms 90:17; Psalms 96:9-9; Romans 10:15). Our works must be motivated out of a love for God and our neighbor, not our own lusts (1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 4:7-5:3). Jesus stressed this when He said that loving God and our neighbor were the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:28-34). If our works are not based on what Jesus said then they are worthless no matter how good they may appear (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10; Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14). We may be truly beautiful in man’s eyes, but not in God’s eyes (1 Samuel 16:7).
How does someone become truly beautiful?
We become truly beautiful by becoming like Christ because Christ is our example (1 Peter 2:21-25). We become like Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (Psalms 119:11; Romans 8:28-28; 2 Corinthians 3:18). We receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (John 8:42; Ephesians 1:12-14; Philippians 4:13; 1 John 4:19).
To be more like Christ, we must participate in Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship with others who are diligently seeking to be more like Christ (John 8:28-32). When we do these things, our works will be the works of Christ, which will attract others to Him (Romans 10:15; 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Corinthians 10:33). There is nothing more truly beautiful than that (Romans 10:15).
So, what is the Bible definition of beauty? Beauty is a heart motivated by a love of God and a love of our neighbor, which can only be found in someone who has trusted Christ as their Savior. What does true beauty look like? It looks like actions and behaviors of Jesus Christ that are demonstrated by believers who are diligently seeking to become like Christ.
Dr. Michael L. Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education and formerly worked as a nurse. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike is also a writer at What Christians Want To Know. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Learn more about Dr. Mike at his personal ministry web site Wisdom4Today
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Gary Martin. (2014). The meaning and origin of the expression: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In The Phrase Finder. Retrieved from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder.html. (2) Google. (2014). “Beauty”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/ ?gws_rd=ssl#q=the+definition+of+beauty. (3) Foundation for a Better Life: Values.com (2014). “True Beauty” Retrieved from http://www.values.com/true-beauty