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


Identity Politics (Anderson)

 Here’s a helpful book about what it means to find your identity in Christ: Identity Theft edited by Melissa Kruger.  It is specifically aimed at women, but I’ve found it helpful as a resource for my sermons on image and identity.  There are ten chapters on biblical topics that have to do with the Christian’s identity, including freedom in Christ, being a child of God, being redeemed, reflecting God’s image, and so forth.

The second chapter, written by Hannah Anderson, is a short explanation of what it means to find identity in being image bearers – made in the image of God.  At one point Anderson talks about today’s “identity politics.”  This is a phrase used to describe a person’s tendency to find identity in social categories:

This term is not limited to government or policy debates but speaks more broadly to how we center our sense of self on one particular attribute of our identity and then define everything else by it.

To be fair, categories themselves are not wrong.  We use the categories of occupation, relationships, family, and biography to communicate how we spend our days and the work we have been called to on this earth.  The problem comes when we ask these categories to do more than they can do – when we ask them to hold all that we are. After all, if we try to stuff complicated, diverse, fully formed living beings into small, inanimate categories, we shouldn’t be surprised when they feel tight and cramped and begin to suffocate us.

Worse still, when we define ourselves with limited categories, any shift in those categories can destabilize our sense of self. What happens to us when life doesn’t play out in the way we expected – when a marriage ends or never happens in the first place? What happens to us when we’re laid off or fail in the marketplace? What happens to us when motherhood doesn’t come easily?

If we invested our sense of self in something small, temporal, and unstable, we will become small, temporal, and unstable people. When they collapse or come to a natural end (as even good things do), we enter a crisis of identity. For without them, how will we know our sense of purpose, calling, and direction? Life will become meaningless and empty.

Anderson goes on to explain the stability of one’s identity when found in the Lord:

The truth about our core identity is so much richer, more glorious, and more soul satisfying than any category or role we could conceive for ourselves.  God…calls us to find ourselves in something more than earthly categories. He calls us to find our identity in Him.  (Being made in the image of God [Gen. 1:27] means that) our deepest sense of self must be found in God. Not in categories, not in roles, not in successes or failure. In him.  …Because by making us in his image, God did more than simply confirm value on our lives; he also instilled in us a deep sense of purpose and calling.  As image bearers of God, we too are called to show forth the glory, power, and might our king. Our deepest sense of purpose and identity is so bound up in this calling that everything about our lives – from the work we do, to the people we love, to the place we live – all somehow connect back to him.

Hannah Anderson, “Reflection: Made in God’s Image” in Identity Theft, edited by Melissa Kruger.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Women of the Reformation (VanDoodewaard)

The Protestant Reformation wasn’t simply a male movement.  Many Christian women were also heavily involved in the Reformation.  In fact, a new book called Reformation Women gives readers a glimpse into the lives of 12 various women God used to help bring the church back to a clearer understanding of the gospel.  In just over 120 pages this book is a great introduction to the lives of some very solid Christian women who were a blessing to many people in 16th century Europe.

I have to admit that at first I thought this book would be quite repetitive.  I was guessing that each woman’s life would sound similar: they were married to a Reformed husband and they did a few things to help out.  However, this book isn’t repetitive at all.  These women had lives that were quite different.  For example, Anna Adlischweiler spent much of her youth in a convent since her family was very poor.  After Anna heard Ulrich Zwingli preach, she was converted and later married Henry Bullinger.  Marguerite de Navarre’s story is not at all the same.  She was part of a noble family.  Her brother Francois was the king of France.  Marguerite used her position to help the cause of the Reformation in France.  These are just two examples of two very different accounts of Reformation women.  And it is true: these women were quite brave, bold, and full of faith!

I appreciated this book because it was well-written, easy to follow, and very interesting.  The introduction and conclusion are very helpful in that they give reasons why it’s important to learn about women of the Reformation and lists several things we can learn from them.  I’ll be recommending this book when people ask if I have any ideas for a women’s book club at church.  But this book isn’t just for women!  It’s for anyone who wants to learn about Reformation history and be edified and encouraged in the faith at the same time.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard, Reformation Women (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017).

(This book was provided to me for review by “Cross Focused Reviews”; I was not compelled to write a positive review.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

On Preaching (To Women)

This post is a sort of public critique of myself based on books I’m reading: I need to preach to the women in the congregation too!

This just hit me as I studied the Exodus sections where it says that Yahweh gave both men and women hakam(wisdom) to construct the tabernacle.  It is easy for me to focus on Moses, Aaron, the Priests, Bezalel, and such but to forget the midwives, Miriam, and the Spirit-filled-wise women who helped build the tabernacle.  It is easy for me to preach about Timothy, but I forget about his grandmother and mother.  It is easy for me to preach about Stephen, but I often forget Phoebe.  I preach on Lazarus, but forget Mary Magdalene.  In other words, I can preach about Christ’s work from Moses, Aaron, Bezalel, Timothy, and Lazarus, but due to my insufficiency/ignorance I haven’t done the same with the Miriam’s and Deborah’s and Phoebe’s of the Bible.

This also hit me when skimming through Jeram Barrs’ Through His Eyes (about which I posted earlier) and Lydia Brownback’s Legacy of Faith: From Women of the Bible to Women of Today, which have been great investments for me.  I need a few more of these types of books to use in reference for sermon prep (and teaching prep).  Here are a few that I’m looking into.  I also have enjoyed the stuff CCEF puts out by/for/about women.

Anyway, in summary, this Exodus reading along with Barrs and Brownback’s contributions have reminded me to address the women directly in preaching and teaching (and perhaps more on this blog).  Let me also encourage women to write and assist pastors like me who need tons of help preaching to and teaching women!  Feel free, anyone, to email or comment about blogs or websites along these lines that you’ve found helpful.  (Thanks again to Stephen for pointing out Tara Barthel a few days back.)

EDIT: let me clarify here – I’m mostly talking about application in the sermon, in case you were wondering.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

For Women: Reading Material

Women: here’s one you’ll want to put on your reading list –  Jerram Barrs’ (professor at Covenant Theological Seminary) Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).  I’ve not read it all (I use it for sermon prep sometimes, so for now I’ve only read sections), but I’ve appreciated it so far.  His opening was great, in my opinion.  He says that he is deeply troubled when all the talk about women in the church starts with the restrictive passages (1 Cor 11, 14; 1 Tim 2, etc.).  That’s a great point!  He goes on:

“It is not that those passages are insignificant, but I have been eager to ask a more foundational question [than ‘What can and can’t women do in a church?’ – my note]: How does the Lord see women? … What does God think about women, and how does he treat them?” (p. 9).

The book would make a great women’s Bible study, since he simply goes from OT to NT and discusses the significant accounts of women in the Bible (Eve, Sarah, Tamar, etc).  This would also be a good book for men to read, hopefully to “tweak” their view of women from a biblical perspective! Sometimes books like this get a little “cheesy” in application, but I haven’t seen that so far.  Also, Barrs does a good job of making this a Christ-centered book and not agenda for moralistic feminism.  One more thing: there are also application questions at the end of each chapter to encourage discussion.

Be sure to also check out some stuff by Lydia Brownback (click here), and don’t miss the provocatively titled Does Christianity Squash Women? by Rebecca Jones.  Feel free to email us or comment below if you have other good recommendations along these lines.

shane lems

sunnyside wa