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Apostolically Speaking (Outward Adorning)
Recently, while conducting a meeting in my home state of Tennessee I was asked the question: “What is the biblical position of outward adorning for Christians?” In the question, 1 Peter 3:3-6 was particularly referenced. First Peter 3:3-6 reads as follows, in the KJV:
“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
I will attempt to give an answer to this question in the spirit of love and consideration for those who may not have come to the understanding of the subject that I have. However, I plead with the reader to bear in mind that there cannot be opposing truths. The Holy Scripture teaches but one thing: If we are in disagreement to its meaning we should not be content in our incongruity, but rather, should not rest until our opinions are harmonized in Truth.
It is my considered opinion that the biblical stance on outward adorning is far less prohibitive than is required in most Holiness type churches. Having said that I would hasten to say: Temperance is always to be the guiding factor in adorning. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
We will approach the subject of outward adorning on three levels:
- The Divine Sanction of Outward Adorning;
- The “Only, But Rather” Idiom;
- Apostolic Principle;
- A Matter of Personal Conscience.
I. Divine Sanction For Outward Adorning
First: I would direct the inquirer to Ezekiel 16:8-14. In this passage we find Yahweh employing outward adorning as an allegory for His blessings upon His people. The important point here is that God is holy, in Him there is no evil way, all of His doings are righteous. Therefore, He would not (could not) use an evil thing to represent His personal goodness. I will include here that particular text (Ez 16:8-14) from the New American Standard Bible.
“Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. 9 “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. 12 I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. 14 Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord God.
In this passage Yahweh’s splendor is described as: embroidered cloth, silk, ornaments of gold and silver which consisted of bracelets, a necklace, a nose ring, earrings and a crown. Obviously, there is nothing intrinsically evil with outward adorning or Yahweh would not have used it as a representation of his SPLENDOR.
Second: One should consider the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). After the son had return to his father, and was reconciled, we read in verse 22, “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.’” Thus, there is nothing intrinsically evil about a ring or an expensive garment, or Jesus would not have employed them as the metaphor of His blessings. Just as outward adorning both in jewelry and apparel was used in the Old Testament to signify the blessings of Yahweh, so too in the New Testament jewelry and apparel (i.e. outward adorning) are employed by Jesus to represent the same thing. We see in these two illustrations, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, that outward adorning is sanctioned by the Holy Spirit as legitimate representations of the splendor of God.
Third: we should consider the matter of how Jesus dressed. Unlike John the Baptist (who dressed in rough and common attire), the garments which Jesus wore were quite exquisite. When one examines John 19:23-24 one sees the extraordinary robe which Christ wore. It was woven without seam throughout. A garment to be prized: so much so, that the soldiers cast lots for it. Here is a question for us to consider: “Would Jesus observed a practice that the Holy Spirit, through Peter, would condemn? The apostle Peter wrote of “putting on of apparel” (1 Peter 3:3). Whatever Peter meant by women’s adorning not being the “putting on of apparel,” the thing that is certain is that he did not mean a prohibition on expensive clothing; we can be confident in this, since Jesus wore clothing of great value.
Fourth: In Jeremiah 2:32 Yahweh ask this question: “Can of maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?” This question demonstrates that God considers it just as natural for a maid to desire ornaments (i.e. outward adorning) as it is for a bride to desire her wedding garments. Therefore, in the mind of God, it is not sinful, but natural, for a young woman to desire ornaments with which to adorn herself.
Fifth: According to the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:3, 4, 5), the “holy women of old” adorned themselves in the same manner in which he is admonishing Christian women to adorn themselves. Peter uses the phrase: “After this manner…;” he especially mentions Sarah, the wife of Abraham (verse 6). When we read the story of Abraham’s servant going in search for Isaac a bride (Genesis 24:10, 22, 30, 53, 67), jewelry plays an important role. Rebecca receives jewels that obviously belonged to Sarah before. Since Peter referenced these holy women and held them up as an example for Christian women to emulate, it cannot be that he is prohibiting outward adorning with gold and jewels, for these “holy women of old” adorned themselves with such ornaments.
Sixth: We consider the OVERCOMERS’ reward. The New Testament speaks of “crowns” that will be given to believers who overcome (1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). Of course, when the Bible speaks of the rewards for believers in heaven it uses terms like gold, pearls, and crowns. It would be strange, indeed, if it were a sin for believers to be adored with such things on earth, and yet received them as rewards in heaven. It would be like saying: We cannot sin by wearing these things here, but we may sin when we get to heaven. Of course one would never reason such a scheme.
Seventh: There is the adorning of the first century Christians to be considered. Perhaps we have never thought that the Christians of the churches pastored by the Apostles would practice outward adorning. However, such is indeed the case if one is to take the words of James, the half-brother of our Lord, into account. James writes:
“For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” (Ja 2:2-4)
From the words of the Apostle James, it is obvious that the Lord’s church will have both the rich and the poor; both those that adorn themselves in rich apparel, and those who do not. The pastoral instruction of James was that the leaders of the church were to make no difference between the two. But this is not true in many churches today – is it? A difference is made. The leaders of the church say to those wearing the jewels, “You are a sinner;” and to those who are dressed in plain apparel, “You are the righteous.” The apostle James, our Lord’s half-brother, instructed us not to show partiality between the two.
Eighth: One last observation will be made concerning Yahweh’s attitude toward outward adorning. In Exodus 33:4-6 the people of God show an intuitive response in removing their ornaments in a time of mourning. This also was commanded by the Lord God. It is interesting to see that the only time God commanded the removing of ornaments was in a time of national mourning. Is the church to be in mourning? or in a time of great rejoicing? The latter is certainly true. It follows, then, that there is no reason for the people of God, as a whole, to put aside their ornaments. From time to time individuals may do well to do so in a time of mourning. It may even be feasible for the elders of the congregation to requested the members lay aside their ornaments to humble themselves in a time of soul-searching and repentance. But this surely would only be a temporary condition in the Lord’s church, as it was with Israel in Exodus 33.
II. The “Only, But Rather” Idiom
An “idiom” is a function of speech that is common in every language. An idiom has a meaning which cannot be determined by the conjoined meaning of the individual elements in the statement. An example would be: “Monday week.” One might say “Monday week” when they mean a week from this coming Monday. The meaning would be understood by the idiom, although the definition of the two words “Monday” and “week,” when joined together, would not give the meaning of the idiom.
There is an idiom in holy Scripture which is called the "only, but rather" idiom. This idiom must be inserted between certain two independent statements of Scripture for the true meaning to be acquired. In a study of 1 Peter 3:3-6 the “only, but rather” idiom must be inserted between verses 3 and 4. However, before we go there, permit me to share other places in the NT where the “only, but rather,” idiom is required for proper interpretation.
- Jn 6:27 “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life,...” ～ If one was to interpret this verse without the idiom, one would understand that the disciple of Christ was not to work to feed himself and his family natural food in this life. However, logic demands that the “only, but rather” idiom be inserted between the two conjoining statements. When the idiom is applied, the passage then reads: “Labor not for the meat which perisheth ONLY, BUT RATHER for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, ...”
- John 11:4 Jesus says concerning Lazarus: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” ～ The problem with this statement is that without the idiom Jesus lied. Did Jesus lie? Obviously not. The “only, but rather,” idiom is understood here, and must be inserted into the text between the two conjoining statements. When the idiom is used, Jesus’s statement is interpreted thusly: “This sickness is not to death ONLY, BUT RATHER for the glory of God, that the son of God might be glorified thereby.”
- Matthew 16:17 When Jesus is commending Peter for his revelation concerning His identity as the Son of God, Jesus says to him: “Blessed art thou, Simon bar Jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” ～ Now, without the idiom inserted into this text one would have reason to question the veracity of Jesus’ statement; because, in John 1:40-42 flesh and blood (in the person of Andrew) did indeed reveal Christ to Peter. However, with the idiom understood in the text such a problem is removed. By inserting the “only, but rather” idiom into Matthew 16:17, this statement is understood to be saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon bar Jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto the ONLY, BUT RATHER my Father which is in heaven.”
- Acts 5:4 Here, Apostle Peter tells Ananias: “Thou hast not lied unto men, but God.” ～ The problem here is that Ananias did, indeed, lie to men, in that he lied to Peter. Actually, there is no problem; the idiom is understood though not explicitly stated. With the idiom, Peter’s words would be understood as follows: “Thou hast not lied and two men ONLY, BUT RATHER to God.”
- Genesis 32:28 In this passage Yahweh tells Jacob, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: …” ～ Again, there is a problem if the idiom is not understood; because, in Genesis 46:2 Yahweh Himself calls Israel “Jacob.” Did “Yahweh forget Himself? No not at all. The idiom is understood. Therefore, the statement is understood to be saying: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob ONLY, BUT RATHER Israel.”
The conclusion is that 1 Peter 3:3-6 requires the “only, but rather” idiom to be properly interpreted. When this is done the text reads: “Whose adorning let it not being the outward adorning of platting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel ONLY, BUT RATHER let it be the hidden man of the heart,…”
If the “only, but rather” idiom is not used to interpret 1 Peter 3:3-6 we have two bigger problems. The first one is: We are faced with the proposition of God changing, because, God allowed and sanctioned outward adorning of the Old Testament but is now forbidding it in the New Testament. This would constitute a change in God’s nature; in what God liked and then disliked. James 1:17 and Hebrews 13:8 assures us that God is immutable; He never changes. The second problem, if the idiom is not understood in 1 Peter 3: 3–6, is that the disciple of Christ is forbidden from wearing clothing altogether. That would not make walking around sense. Without the idiom the prohibition on platting the hair and the wearing of gold also prohibits “putting on of apparel.” Apparel would be any manner of clothing whatsoever.
We see, then, that the “only, but rather” idiom is absolutely required for a proper understanding of 1 Peter 3:3-6. Therefore, there is no prohibition on adorning the hair, wearing of gold or putting on of apparel. Instead, the Apostle is stressing the importance of adorning the internal person over and above the external one.
III. Upholding Apostolic Principal
At the first ecumenical Council of the Lord’s church, James (half-brother of the Lord) stood, and with apostolic authority established a principle by which the church was to function throughout the ages. This principle is found in Acts 15:28-29.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.”
The “Apostolic Principal” established by James is: “No greater burden then these necessary things.” Within the same text James list the necessary things. Among them, nothing is said concerning outward adorning. Therefore, for the Lord’s church to place a prohibition on outward adorning would be breaking “Apostolic Principle.”
IV. Outward Adorning Is a Matter of Conscience (Romans Chapter 14)
Apostle Paul addresses matters of Christian lifestyle in Romans chapter 14. Verses 4 and 5 should be common ground to all parties concerned in the discussion about outward adorning. “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” In other words, some things are a matter of conscience. Outward adorning is one of those things.
In this chapter the apostle Paul addresses those who are weak in the faith versus those who are strong in the faith. It is interesting, and a great revelation, to discover in verse 2 that it is the week in the faith that adopted restricted lifestyle, and the stronger the faith who practice liberties which those who are weak in the faith would feel to be wrong, or even sinful. Notice that Paul says in verses 1 and 2: “Him that his weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth he may eat all things, another, who is weak, eateth herbs.” Here the weak is juxtaposed with the strong. The strong in the faith believes he may eat all things, while the weak in the faith restricts that which he eats because of personal conviction.
In verse 14 the apostle Paul writes “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteems anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” In other words, the one who is weak in the faith (whose faith is timid) is bothered by many things; for such an one to partake of the things that his faith would not allow would be a sin—it would be unclean to him. While the same thing would not be unclean (i.e. sin) to the individual whose faith was stronger.
In verse 20 we have a similar statement from the Apostle: “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 is addressing the same thought. If we, who are strong in the faith, insist on our liberties at the expense of the timid consciousness of those who are weak, we are not walking in love; but are actually bringing offense by our liberties. So then, some things are a matter of conscience. If our conscience is not offended by liberties which holy Scripture does not prohibit, then happy are we; and we may exercise such liberties when appropriate to do so. But if a weaker brother is offended by our action, then we should refrain from the liberties for the sake of his conscience—not ours (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). The Apostle drives this point home in Romans 14:22-23, “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.” (Exercise your liberty in private, or where the weak in faith will not be offended.) “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he allows. And he that doubts is damned if he eats, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
What the Word of God does not expressly forbid the Church of Jesus Christ should not prohibit. Since the Word of God does not forbid outward adorning, the church should not prohibit it. It is a matter of conscience. The faith of some will allow it, while the faith of others will not. The bottom line is: outward adorning is not a sin for a believer who is mature enough to allow it.
We have looked at the subject of outward adorning as presented in 1 Peter 3:3-6 and have examined the topic on four different levels:
- The Divine Sanction of Outward Adorning. Here we found that God’s attitude toward outward adorning is favorable, because he uses it as an allegory for his favor upon his people. We discovered that Jesus wore exquisite garments; that Yahweh considered natural that young women desire ornaments; the holy women of old adorned themselves with jewels, and the same women were said to be an example of how Christian women should adorn themselves; the only time God instructed Israel to remove their ornaments was in a time of national morning.
- We discovered the “Only, But Rather” idiom that must be applied to 1 Peter 3:3-4 before arriving at the proper interpretation of the text.
- We further found that to prohibit outward adorning for Christian women, or men, would be breaking “Apostolic Principle” established by the apostle James (our Lord's half-brother).
- Finally, we found that Outward Adorning Is a Matter of Conscience. Surprisingly, it was discovered that those who restrict their lifestyles (because of offense to their consciences) from things the Bible does not prohibit, are weak in the faith; and those who allow liberties in their lifestyles, and whose consciousnes are not offended, are the strong in the faith. This makes outward adorning a matter of personal conscience: the weak in the faith will restrict what the strong in the faith allow.
☩ Jerry Hayes