Place a pearl necklace in front of a little girl and she will gaze at it with wide-eyed admiration. Give the same necklace to a little boy, and he will try to eat it. But more significantly, the girl will eventually try to put it on. She has an instinct for adornment.
The desire to adorn things cannot be sinful because it is found in God himself. All creation testifies to a Creator who loves beauty and delights in adornment. God’s lily garden is better adorned than Solomon in all of his glory (Mt. 6:28-29). God even adorns grass (Mt. 6:30). The tabernacle and priestly garments were covered in gold and precious stones (Ex. 27-28). The garment of salvation is likened to the jewels of a bride who adorns herself (Isa. 61:10). When God described his love for Israel, he chose the language of adornment:
I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. (Eze. 16:10-13)
If there was something intrinsically evil about jewelry or adornment, these passages would be describing God in sinful terms. But God loves to make things beautiful. A woman’s innate appreciation of jewelry and her desire to decorate is a unique way in which she reflects the image of God.
Adornment with Jewelry in a Fallen World
Israel’s history, however, demonstrates that nothing good is untouched by the fall. More often than not, jewelry became associated with worldliness and pride, and incurred God’s judgment:
The Lord said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet, therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils. (Isa. 3:16-20)
God not only condemned the attitudes of the daughters of Zion. He was fed up with their worldly look. Some types of jewelry were associated with pagan worship, and were clearly forbidden. When Jacob instructed his family to sanctify themselves on the way to Bethel, “they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears” (Gen. 35:4). Other types of jewelry were the objects of inordinate affection or indicative of a proud heart. God’s response was that the daughters of Israel were not only to purify their hearts, but also to change their adornment to reflect inward humility.
The question, then, is how much adornment with jewelry is acceptable for God’s holy people?
Jewelry in the New Testament
God’s final word on jewelry for his New Testament daughters seems to be a simple “no”:
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Pet. 3:3-4)
…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim. 2:9-10)
The word that is translated as “adorn” (κοσμέω) simply means “to arrange” or “to make beautiful.” The plainest reading of these passages is a simple “no” (v. 10, “not with…”) when it comes to all kinds of jewelry. Paul and Peter prohibit jewelry because, in our fallen world, it is associated with pride and vanity; it is therefore counterintuitive for women to put it on if they have a deep desire to appear in a meek, quiet, submissive, respectful way.
In the meek and quiet spirit of a modestly dressed woman, God and godly men see more sparkle than a hundred gems.
In his article, “Pleasing God — Adornment,” Nathan Brown carefully expounds these and other relevant passages. He writes:
It should be noted that Paul and Peter did not attempt to give an exhaustive list of every kind of jewelry. In the same way that gold and pearls represent the gamut of precious metals and gems, 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.
Brown entertains the objection that many good Christian people wear jewelry, but responds that “The 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.” To say that God merely forbids us from being inordinately decked out does not seem to be a faithful reading of Scripture.
The New Testament never speaks of the wearing of jewelry in a positive context. The wicked woman in Revelation 17 is described as being “arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (v.4). John took for granted that his audience would understand her expensive attire and adornment with jewelry to reflect ungodliness.
A Better Jewelry
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.
Adornment with jewelry is forbidden for God’s New Testament bride because he has already chosen her adornment for her.
This is a radically countercultural way of thinking about adornment, and it requires transformation through the renewing of the mind (Ro. 12:2). But since God’s New Testament people are constantly pressed towards inward holiness, it should be no surprise that God establishes safe boundaries to help cultivate its outshining in our appearance.
Women are divine image bearers. God loves beauty, so women like jewelry because jewelry is beautiful. Women have an instinct for adornment because God adorns all things. But holy women, pilgrims and strangers in this world (1 Pet. 2:11), are called to temporarily forfeit outward adornment and direct their attention towards the superior beauty of inward adornment. The high calling of 1 Peter 3 and 1 Timothy 2 is to deep spirituality, but it is certain to bring glory to God and joy to the heart.