Q: Is it wrong to wear jewelry?

The Bible has plenty to say about the beautiful jewels and valuable metals that God created here in our world. The last pages in Revelation read like the most exclusive catalog of fine products at Cartiers! Heaven, we read, will have foundations made of jasper, sapphire, emerald, topaz, and so on. The twelve gates are each constructed of massive single pearls; the streets are paved with gold. So there is nothing inherently wrong with these beautiful stones.

During his own ministry, Jesus told of a merchant who sought to buy the most expensive pearl he had ever seen. In the Luke 15 parable of the prodigal son, the Lord approvingly describes how the loving father puts a family ring on his son’s finger, a poignant metaphor for his reinstatement as an honored son who still had salvation. All through the Bible, especially in the Song of Solomon, the writers speak of brides who are commended for being as beautiful as they can be. Isaiah 61:10: I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

However, in the fledgling Christian church, we do find both Paul and Peter warning that a focus on jewelry can be a spiritual detriment. Paul writes this to Timothy in his first epistle: I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God (2:9, 10).

In Peter’s first letter to the Church, he takes a similar tone in chapter 3: [Wives], your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

As we seek for some context to these verses or some additional nuance, it should be noted that in this period of Eastern culture, fashion was often an obsession. One commentary points out: “Plentiful were the glittering rings, bracelets, and anklets that fashionable women wore in the Roman Empire.” The dual comments about braided hair make reference to very intricate and ornate “do’s” which often took many hours to accomplish. Both Peter and Paul argue that this borders on obsession and violates a Christian’s set of values.

Peter’s warnings don’t explicitly forbid all uses of adornment and jewelry; he states instead that a person’s beauty shouldn’t depend upon, or be based on, overly relying on such aids. In fact, the Greek word that is translated here as expensive clothes actually just means “clothes.” Obviously the apostle intended that Christians would dress well and wear clothes – but not make them the focus of all life.

In studying Paul’s admonition, the team of Bible scholars for the New International Version comment: “Not a total ban on the wearing of jewelry or braided hair. Rather, Paul was expression caution in a society where such things were signs of extravagant luxury and proud personal display.”

It wasn’t long ago that even the secular world mocked Christians whose main claim to fame was their smeared-on mascara and Jacuzzi lifestyle. In today’s very fashion-obsessed world, and with television and films overflowing with a glib love of superficiality, Christians more than ever are challenged to be modestly attractive, beautiful in their souls, and with the character of Jesus Christ as their first priority.