Anabaptists have historically preferred to be adorned simply and with humility. Our preferences/beliefs have been to not be prideful in our clothes or outward look, nor to draw attention to ourselves. While I believe this to be a Biblical tradition, I think we need to also be careful not to raise our applications of this higher than Biblical commands and end up with pride in our plainness.
Anabaptists have also traditionally rejected jewelry in their quest to be adorned simply–including wedding bands– referring to 1Peter 3 and 1Timothy 2 as the main source of this application. Before I look at those two references, I’m going to take a look farther back to see if there is an opinion of jewelry expressed throughout the rest of Scripture outside of those two verses.
Is God in opposition of jewelry in the Old Testament?
Jewelry and gold is mentioned many times in the Old Testament and there are too many references to do a thorough examination of them all in a blog post. But you can look at a number of them and get a feel from the examples given to get a general picture of what the Old Testament viewpoint seems to be.
The first thing that stood out to me is that there are a number of references that give examples of jewelry being given as a gift that is precious to the receiver. It is often indicated to be a gift that pertained to betrothal and marriage and is not spoken of negatively. Gifts of jewelry symbolized love, beauty, prosperity, and timeless value.
One example is of Abraham’s servant, in Genesis 24, when he was sent to find a wife for Isaac. When he first met Rebekah, he gave her a gold earring and two bracelets. Later, he also gave her jewels of silver and gold and clothing. Rebekah’s mother and brother also received “precious things”.
In Ezekiel 16, God depicts what all He did for Israel in a beautiful simile of an orphaned baby left to die. He describes what He does for her as she gets older and becomes His bride. He decks her with ornaments, He puts bracelets upon her hands, a chain on her neck, a jewel on her forehead, earrings on her ears, a crown on her head, and decked her with gold and silver. At the end of the description, it says, “and thou wast exceeding beautiful”.
This simile does not portray jewelry worn on a woman as being a negative thing. In fact, it sounds like God saw it as a thing of beauty.
Here are a few other examples of passages that reference a groom and bride wearing jewelry as well.
Isaiah 49:18 “…as I live, saith the LORD, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.” (Emphasis mine)
Isaiah 61:10 “…he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”
There are many examples of the Israelites wearing different types of jewelry throughout the OT. Jewelry seemed to be representative of more than just beauty. It often seems to be evidence of times of prosperity. In Genesis 41:42, it also seems to represent authority when Pharoah took the ring from his own hand and put it on Joseph. He also gave him clothes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.
Another example of jewelry being portrayed as a positive thing is in Proverbs 25:12. “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”
Interestingly enough, it doesn’t say that an earring is like a rebellious son or a foolish advisor. Rather, earrings and ornaments are put in comparison with someone who is a wise reprover offering advice to an obedient person.
We also find no mention of jewelry being forbidden in the Mosaic law anywhere. If God hated the sight of it, surely He would have made some mention of that fact somewhere. It seems like there should be a “Thou shalt not hang any ornaments on thyself” command somewhere.
What about all the times the OT describes God taking away jewelry?
When one of my daughters turned eighteen, we gave her an iPhone for her birthday. It was something she had really wanted and we wanted to give her a good gift. However, if she becomes so enamored with that phone that she no longer does her responsibilities around the house or it leads her into sin, I would have no qualms about taking that phone away from her again.
If such a scenario were to happen, would that mean that all iPhones are universally bad? Would it mean that all iPhones will cause all people to sin? Obviously not. And if this were to happen, it would not even mean that my daughter could never have an iPhone again. I would probably set some limits or turn on more restrictions and give her another chance at some point because I love my daughter and my goal is not just to take away things she enjoys.
When Israel fell into idolatry and sin, we often see God taking their gold and their ornaments. Ezekiel 16:15-19 describes how the very things God had given to Israel were being used to commit idolatry. The “fair jewels of gold and silver”, the garments, and the fine foods that God had lavished them with were all being used commit spiritual fornication. In verse 39, God says that they would be stripped of their clothes and their jewels and would be left “naked and bare”.
In Isaiah 3:16-26, God takes away all kinds of jewelry as a punishment. But He also takes away scarves, veils, headdresses, perfume boxes, purses, mirrors, outer garments, robes, etc. It would be difficult to argue that this is a reason to condemn jewelry because then you would also have to condemn all the other things that were taken away.
In the BMA publication , Should Christians Wear the Wedding Band, this statement is made: “We find, then, that in the Old Testament God soundly condemned jewelry when it caused them to become prideful and led them into idolatry.”
I disagree with this conclusion. God condemned the idolatry, not the jewelry. Jewelry and fine things represented their prosperity. Even when it led to pride and God took away it all away again, He did not condemn jewelry any more than he condemned the scarves, headdresses, and perfume boxes, etc. He condemned the sin and did what He needed to get their attention.
Did New Testament people wear jewelry?
There are not very many references to gold or jewelry in the New Testament. Two references that I don’t usually hear much about in regards to this subject are Luke 15 and James 2.
In Luke 15, we read the story that Jesus told of the prodigal son. When the prodigal son returns home, the father tells his servants to put the best robes on him, shoes on his feet, and a ring on his hand. Interestingly enough, Jesus does not seem to think it was sinful that the father gave his son jewelry. It was an act of love and each gift that the father gave signified something. The ring most likely a signet ring represented family authority.
James 2 warns against having respect of persons and two types of men are compared. One man wears a ring and has fine clothes. The other is a poor man with “shabby clothing” (ESV). If we show partiality to one over the other, we commit sin and are “convicted by the law as transgressors”.
James never condemns the man wearing the ring, only the act of showing partiality to one man over the other. Is looking down on those who wear a ring any better than those who look down on poor people in “shabby clothing”?
What is my response to a visiting Anabaptist couple that comes to my church with wedding rings on? Do I regard them scorn or contempt because they don’t come to the same conclusion of Scripture that I do? Do I feel that other visitors without wedding rings on are a little more superior in regards to holiness than those with rings?
Assessment and Conclusion
I don’t find jewelry being condemned by God anywhere in the Old Testament. Did jewelry hold the propensity to lead people into sin? Yes, it did. But the clothes they wore, the fine foods they ate, the perfumes, the mirrors, etc., can also cause the same inclination. The root and the common denominator of it all was a tendency to think in times of prosperity, “We don’t need God”. When God saw their hearts becoming proud, self-sufficient, and forgetful of Who gave them all they had, He took away the very things He had given.
Jesus had ample opportunity to preach against jewelry if He felt it was a complete sin. Even when he mentioned a ring in a parable, He said nothing negative about it because it was worn for a purpose.
I will be addressing the main selections that Anabaptists use to oppose the wearing of jewelry (found in 1Peter 3 and 1Timothy 2) in later post.