Thursday, May 24, 2007
Women and Jewelry
As a Lutheran there are issues in Christian living which for me are very neutral and minor, but for others are significant aspects of the Faith. One of those "issues" that surfaced recently in a discussion with a parishioner was the matter of whether women should wear jewelry. The question arose from some comments given by a person new to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. I knew that this faith had strict laws regarding food and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. However, I was unaware, until recently, that they were among those who regarded the wearing of jewelry to be contrary to God's will.
Like the Amish, the appeal to 'plain living' with respect to clothing and adornment stems largely from two passages in the New Testament: , 11 Timothy 2:9, 10 and 1 Peter 3:3, 4. In the first Paul calls upon women, especially in the context of the worshiping assembly, to "adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel," then adding "not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire...." In the second passage Peter writes that wives, in particular, should not let their "outward adorning" be with "braiding of hair, decoration of gold, an the wearing of robes," and then also adds that it should rather be "the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit..."
Now the dilemma - Do Peter and Paul expressly forbid jewelry of any kind? According to people of the Amish and Seventh-Day Adventist traditions, apparently, the answer is yes. But is this a faithful rendering of the apostle's intent?
An axiom of biblical interpretation says that a text without a context is a pretext. In other words, to properly understand a passage of scripture we must understand the context that frames and informs it, otherwise we are simply reading into the passage what we want it to say. Secondly, we must also interpret scripture in light of the whole witness of God's Word. Passages taken alone without the fuller reference of other passages leave us with isolated bits and pieces subject to the whims of personal opinion. As Lutherans are wont to say: Scripture interprets scripture.
So, in light of above, how do we answer this challenge of jewelry and outward adornment in the Christian's life? For starters it would be good to examine other areas where believers were adorned with various jewels or precious metals, and note whether there was any condemnation of the practice. Genesis 24:47, 48 and Genesis 41:42 both provide examples in which Old Testament believers wore "outward" adornment without negative reactions. Isaiah 61:10 reminds us also of the customary practice of brides and grooms to be richly adorned likes kings and queens at their wedding, a picture of the believer as they are adorned in God's sight by his grace and righteousness. In Ezekiel 16:11-13 God says that he himself blessed his people with jewelry and ornaments of precious metals. More verses could be added, but the point is made. A blanket condemnation of such things in the Old Testament is missing.
In Luke 15:22 we read in one of Jesus' parables how the waiting Father welcomes his prodigal son back by putting a ring on his finger and a robe upon him. If such things were forbidden (as per Peter and Paul), would Jesus have used such a picture to illustrate the love of the heavenly Father?
Taken therefore in context, Peter and Paul should be understood as not offering a blanket condemnation or a new "law" against outward adornment, but a corrective to excesses in their time. They both wished to show that the true beauty of a godly woman was not in her fashion or in her rings, but in the humility of faith. Then, as now, women could be given to extremes with regard to their appearance, using it in a spirit of pride and vanity. Yet many women wear jewelry and dress nicely without ever giving such an impression.
The rule is then for the women to adorn themselves "modestly and sensibly." Moderation and humility are the key, not abstinence. Taken out of context it could very well appear that Peter and Paul forbid any outward adornment of jewelry. But, again, that is an "out of context" rendering. Thus, we should not burden women with a new law the scriptures and apostles have not imposed. But, as with all things, we should always encourage a modest and humble spirit in all things.