The Adornment of Holy Women: A Meek and Quiet Spirit (1 Peter 3:1-6)


1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:
Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Influencing the Husband Without a Word (v.1-2)

In verse 1, Peter assumes that some of the Christian women in his audience were likely to have unbelieving husbands. While these women may have been prone to think, “I’m exempt from the command to submit to my husband, since he’s not a Christian,” Peter insists that this is not the case.

A woman’s “respectful and pure conduct” (1 Pet. 3:1) towards a harsh and ungrateful husband is certain to bring conviction to his heart. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom. 12:20). Godly women pray that their righteous example will lead to their husband’s “godly grief” which “produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10).

Paul address women with unbelieving husbands in 1 Corinthians 7: “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife” (1 Cor. 7:13-14). A Christian woman has a sanctifying influence on her husband that should not be underestimated; however, there is no guarantee that the husband will come to faith: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?” (1 Cor. 7:16).

The emphasis in verse 1 is that an unbelieving husband is more likely to be won by a wife who exemplifies consistent, Christlike behavior than by a wife who nags and preaches at him. But the KJV can be misleading: “if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won.” “The word” which the husbands do not obey is the word of God; the word that they are won without is the nagging word of their wives. Since there is no definite article “the” in the Greek, it is better translated, “if any obey not the word, they also may [be won] without a word”—that is, a word from their wives. This is the “meek and quiet spirit” that Peter goes on to refer to in verse 4.

A Common Temptation (v.3)

Verse 3 addresses a temptation that is common to women: the temptation to adorn oneself outwardly instead of inwardly.

If women in general are to have a quiet spirit, and wives in particular are to win their husbands “without a word,” then it should be possible for someone to look at a woman and identify from her appearance that she has assumed this kind of attitude. Of course, a right appearance is no guarantee of a right attitude. But godly women should be concerned with both. The answer to those who have a right appearance but a wrong attitude is not a right attitude but a wrong appearance; it is a right attitude and a right appearance. A woman’s submissive, meek, and quiet spirit should be unmistakable.

This is why Peter says that when it comes to the “adorning” of a godly woman, “let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.” Paul echoes Peter in 1 Timothy 3:9-15:

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

The word translated as “adorn” (κοσμέω) simply means “to arrange” or “to make beautiful.” The plainest reading of these passages is a simple “no” when it comes to all kinds of jewelry and costly clothing. Nathan Brown writes “gold and pearls represent the gamut of precious metals and gems,” and “they also represent jewelry in general. The notion of adorning ourselves with wooden jewelry instead of gold contradicts the spirit of what Paul and Peter were trying to convey.”

Yes, there are good Christian people who wear jewelry, but “[t]he practice of looking to other Christians to determine acceptable, godly behavior is a fundamental mistake. Instead, we should be looking to God’s Word and what it has to say.”

Both Peter and Paul hold that women are not to wear jewelry or extravagant clothing because it does not reflect a proper attitude towards men in the church or in the home. I recommend Nathan Brown’s paper, “Pleasing God — Adornment,” for an exegesis of the relevant passages.

A Meek and Quiet Spirit (v.4)

Of course, it is this attitude that God is primarily concerned with. Verse 4 explains that a woman’s adorning should “be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

Since women like jewelry, God’s “no” may seem unnecessarily constrictive or even harsh. Looser interpretations of the relevant passages may seem appealing. But for those with eyes to see, God’s “no” comes with a better “yes.” Adornment with jewelry is forbidden for God’s New Testament bride because he has already chosen her adornment for her. In the meek and quiet spirit of a modestly dressed woman, God and godly men see more sparkle than a hundred gems. Putting on jewelry only draws attention away from what is spiritually beautiful to that which has a comparably dull glory and carries the baggage of worldly associations.

Since God’s New Testament people are constantly pressed towards inward holiness, God establishes safe boundaries to help cultivate its outshining in our appearance.

Both the appearance and the attitude are important to God, although the attitude is most important.

The Example of Godly Women of the Past (v.5-6)

Verses 5-6 encourage Christian women to look to the godly women of the past for their example of adornment with a quiet and meek spirit that exudes submission to one’s husband.

These women were “in subjection unto their own husbands,” and reflected it outwardly. Verse 6 points to Sarah, who verbalized her submission: “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”

Sarah refers to Abraham as lord in Genesis 18:12. In ancient times, the word translated as “lord” was “a polite form of address, like ‘sir’” (FLB). The key point is that “she recognized him as the leader and head of their household” (BKC). A wife may communicate this same respect in numerous ways; for example, when she says, “I have to check with my husband” or “I need to see how my husband feels about this first.”

Honoring God’s Headship Structure

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” It is significant that Paul goes on to explain that women should have long hair, because long hair is a God-given symbol of her submission to her husband. A woman’s submissive attitude is always to be communicated through external symbols. God communicates his glory—in this case, the glory of his ordained headship structure—through symbol.

In our current cultural climate, these verses in 1 Peter are especially important. Radical feminists have labored for decades to overthrow God’s headship structure. But God has called men to be loving, Christlike leaders in the home and the church—to provide, protect, and take the initiative—just as he has called women to be supportive, encouraging helpmates. Titus 2:4-5 instructs the older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (ESV).

We should not think that a wife’s required submission is any more of a burden than a man’s required love. There are blessings and privileges for both sexes. One godly woman remarked that she does not want to be the head of the home; if something goes wrong, the buck stops with her husband!

The point is this: when God’s ordained headship structure is honored, the home and the church flourishes; when it is disregarded, problems follow.

Next time, we will talk about Peter’s high standard for godly husbands and what it means to be a Christlike head over the home, treating one’s wife as a spiritual equal while at the same time taking the initiative in the relationship.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.