Christian Women, Braids, Clothes, and Jewelry

IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul tell us that adult Christian women “are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds…” (NET Bible). Peter says something similar to Christian wives in 1 Peter 3:3: “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;  but let it be the hidden person of the heart…” (NASB).

Does this mean that Christian women are sinning against God if they braid their hair to go for a jog or a hike? Is it a sin for Christian women to wear a gold wedding ring in public or buy a nice wedding dress for that big day? Do women have to repent of these things? Or in other words, should churches put women under discipline for braided hair, wearing gold rings, or going to Bible study in nice clothing?

In a word, no. The apostles’ words quoted above are not an 11th commandment. Nor are they trampling on Christian liberty in a legalistic way. Here are some helpful comments from the IVP NT Background Commentary:

(1 Tim. 2:9) Whereas many men in the Christian community were quarreling (2:8), many women appear to have been violating a different matter of propriety in public prayer: seeking to turn others’ heads. Most Jewish teachers allowed wives to adorn themselves for their husbands, but both Jewish and Greco-Roman moralists ridiculed women who decked themselves out to turn other men’s eyes. Jewish writings warn especially of the sexual temptation involved in such adornments; Greco-Roman writers also condemn wealthy women who show off their costly array. Hair was sometimes braided with gold, which Paul might have in view here; men were especially attracted by women’s decorated hair. Like most other writers who condemned such gaudiness, Paul should be understood as attacking excess, not as ruling against all adornment.

(1 Peter 3:3) Hair was braided in elaborate manners, and well-to-do women strove to keep up with the latest expensive fashions. The gaudy adornments of women of wealth, meant to draw attention to themselves, were repeatedly condemned in ancient literature and speeches, and Peter’s readers would assume that his point was meant in the same way

Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

Howard Marshall also has a helpful comment on 1 Peter 3:2:

It is true that Peter’s statement might well be translated: “Your beauty should not so much come from outward adornment … but rather it should be that of your inner self.” Though desire to be beautiful and attractive is manifestly a commendable one, outward beauty, however much desirable, is secondary to beauty of character. The desire for out ward beauty can easily lead to the sins of pride and vanity as well as of a wrong use of money.

I. Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 1 Pe 3:2.

Finally, Edmund Clowney’s words are also worth reading:

The point is not a legalistic ban on beauty of attire. (The father of the prodigal welcomed his returning son with the best robe and a ring!) The point is the vastly superior value of inward beauty and the danger of extravagant and sensual fashions in dress.

Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 131.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 


One comment on “Christian Women, Braids, Clothes, and Jewelry

  1. This is a very important topic to clarify, particularly for those who are in fundamentalist church settings. Historical context is key in understanding passages like this. If one does you an internet search on women’s hair styles from the ancient world (or goes to a large museum with statuary from the ancient world), one would find elaborate hairdos that, to our modern eyes, can even look ridiculous! In a time when everyone wore tunics and other basic coverings, the hairstyles and ornaments–particularly of women–were of utmost importance in immediately signaling status and wealth. Call it the “visual click bait” of the ancient world!

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