Adventist Adornment (part 1)


When John Wesley began to take the Bible very seriously, he discovered many aspects of the worldly life that differed from the life of the believer.  He began to oppose the theater and dancing, jewelry and alcohol, immodest dress and racism.  And in every case, he drew his ideals from the standard Book, the Bible.

But not all studious men agreed with him.  Spurgeon famously clung to his cigars though Wesley had taught the disuse of such “needless self-indulgence.”

Adventists concluded like Wesley on all the above points.

But maintaining our values was no natural effect of having once taught them.  At the heart of the work, Battle Creek, there was need of vigilance and work to prevent things from slipping. (And slip, slip, slip, slip they did!  See the final section of this article.)

Today Adventists are heavily divided in faith and practice regarding these points.

The purpose of this writing is to address the values we hold as a church regarding jewelry.  And my aim is to do this in such a way as to meet the objections to such values that I have encountered personally.

I will present the simple aspects of truth first, and complex truths later.  In this first part find what the Bible says in its primary texts on this point.  Here I will also address a number of secondary passages from which we may infer useful information relevant to the primary texts.

In the second part I will address several of the complexities with which the question of adornment has been shrouded.  Why, for example, might we refuse to baptize someone with simple earrings while inviting her husband into the fold despite his ostentatious lifestyle and tastes?  What does the wedding band issue have to do with jewelry more generally?  What about the obvious truth that God enjoys gemstones and gold (as manifest in his construction of the heavenly Jerusalem)?  And what about the question of very inexpensive and artificial “jewelry”?

The Simple Truth

The Primary Texts

Jesus directly addressed the question of anxiety regarding adornment in his first recorded public sermon.  There He contrasted the simple natural beauty of the lily with the glorious artificial adornment of King Solomon.

Guidance regarding choices of adornment comes later.  Paul, when setting out his instructions for how the Gentile churches should be organized, directly instructed Timothy regarding the weaknesses and issues facing both men and women.  The former were to be urged to be more forward in their religious life, to subdue their anger and not think it a mark of intelligence to doubt what God has said.  And women were to adorn themselves, not with jewels and fashionably expensive clothing, but with a beautiful character.

 1Ti 2:8  I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 9  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10  But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.[1] 

The verses are clear that women should “adorn” themselves with both modest clothing and with good character.  But that clothing is not to include “gold, or pearls or costly array.”  We observe that the forbidden clothes are compared to gold and pearls and contrasted with “modest apparel.”

When Peter addresses the very same issue he says about the same thing.  Speaking to Christian wives who should be respectful of their own husbands, he testifies:

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” (1 Peter 3:3).

These are, as the heading indicates, our primary passages that were written for the direct purpose of guiding our choices regarding what we wear and what we refuse to wear.  Jesus and Paul and Peter all say about the same thing.  Paul and Peter give more information and explain each other well.

And when John Wesley found these passages, they matched the general spirit of the New Testament as he understood it.  Our lot is to take a humble position here.  And this brings us to our secondary passages.

Secondary Passages

Our secondary passages fall into two categories: those that treat on Christian values directly and those that allude to dress and adornment indirectly.

In the first category are those showing our humble position mentioned earlier.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7).

We understand this lowly position to be a temporary one that will end at the right time, when Christ will return:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5;6).

Wesley understood the Christian life to be one of denying self and of repressing worldly desires.

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (1 John 2:15).

While we might look at perhaps a score of texts that describe the general idea that Christians should flee from their natural inclinations, these will have to suffice to show why so few enter the narrow way.  We now proceed to our second class of secondary passages: those from which we might infer information regarding jewelry and adornment.

Secondary Passages involving Inference

It is important to separate primary from secondary passages for this reason: what God says to do (a primary text) can never be sensibly countered by what we infer from other passages.  Too much of our own self gets into the business of inference.  Let me illustrate by a bit of satire:

There is no need to get on the ark.  Enoch was an ideal man and he never got on the ark.  And more than that, he walked with God for decades.  Adam became a godly man and he never got on an ark.  In fact, even the builder of the ark, Noah, can’t produce any direct command from God to get on the ark.  More than this, all scientists who have studied the potential for water drops to fall thickly and rapidly from the sky declare that it cannot happen. (The cooling of the night is too gradual to tip the dew point violently so as to replace dew with massive precipitation.)  And measurements of humidity indicate that insufficient moisture is in the air to swamp the world even if it all turned to liquid.  These things, each of them, authorize thinking persons to spiritualize Noah’s message.  Instead of getting on his dry boat literally, his message should be understood as “get on board” or “get with the program,” a metaphor for being participatory in religious activities.  This interpretation has been well accepted by theologians outside of Noah’s little circle, but also with a few of his construction workers.

What I am trying to show by the nonsense above is that inference allows us to mass a great deal of apparently valuable arguments that, at their base, are simply fallacious.  When God has spoken, we must infer reverently (if at all) lest we despise Him inadvertently.

Now the Bible does have a fair bit of data about how godly persons have related to jewelry.  And the story ends with the decent of a Holy City that features massive pearls, abundant gold and the largest gems in the universe (I speculate).

And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. . . And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass (Revelation 21:19-21).

And more than this, the saved will have harps of gold and crowns of gold as part of their reward.  And Jesus Himself wears a crown.  So from these things we may safely infer, I think, that God thinks well of His own creation of precious metals and gems and mother-of-pearl. And if we want more than an inference, we do have Genesis 1, “and God said, ‘it is good.’”

And reason affirms that the God who created broadbills and tanagers and pitas appreciates beauty.

So we can’t well say that Peter and Paul forbade us to wear jewelry on the basis of God finding it distasteful or evil.  And such a conclusion, that God likes jewels, matches the idea that we have seen already that our earthly life of humiliation of self-denial will give way, by and by, to a life of being exalted “in due time” to reign with Christ on His throne.  It's lowly-now-and-glorified-later.

But why did our primary texts say “not” to adorn ourselves with gold and pearls and expensive clothing?  Such a question carries risks.  God may have many reasons for telling us something.  When He says “don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden,” our research may fail to find all of His reasons and may even fail to satisfy us while we stand looking at the tree.  What I am saying is that obedience precedes thorough moral understanding in a life of faith.  We should obey even when we fail to see the value of doing so.

In regard to our key texts, however, we do have some reasons.  Peter and Paul both affirm the value of women having a meek and quiet “spirit” that beautifies the inner self as being a reason for choosing internal adornment over external adornment.

And among our secondary texts are two special ones that, together, may give greater insight into why Paul and Peter say what they do.  Both are in Ezekiel.

In the first (Ezekiel 16) God illustrates his care for Israel by a story of a man that finds a bloody muddy infant girl that has been left to die.  He cleans her, feeds her, raises her and, when the time is right, marries her.  And as part of that metaphor, he decks her with jewels and uses some of the same words found in our primary texts:

I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. 11  I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. 12  And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. 13  Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom (Eze 16:10).

Many have used this passage as evidence that God enjoys jewelry.  And as we have already seen Revelation 21, how can we deny that it is true?

But the metaphor continues that though God gave the nation perfect beauty that was His own, yet the nation used the gold and gems and broidered works and expensive gifts to attract God’s enemies and to honor idols.  And why?  Because she, the nation, “did trust in [her] own beauty.”

But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. 16  And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. 17  Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them (Eze 16:15).

This picture plays out again a dozen chapters later. There we find the history of Lucifer’s fall. Notice the same plot, but literal this time, as in the metaphor above:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets[2] and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. 14  Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. 15  Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee (Eze 28:13).

But how was it that Lucifer was found to harbor iniquity? Part of it was Lucifer’s preoccupation with his own beautified person.

Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee (Eze 28:17).

Here we have two classic stories of a beautiful servant of God becoming His enemy through temptations related to their beauty.  And if that is the eventual result of beautiful bedecking (in metaphor and in reality) can we be surprised that God, through the heads of Gentile and Jewish Christianity, has asked believing women not to imitate the whore and the devil even in their first steps?

The first of these metaphors, of an apostate woman acting the whore, is repeated in Revelation in another of our secondary passages where the very words of Paul and Peter are used to describe her adornment:

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5  And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations” (Rev 17:4).

In another metaphor (of the prodigal son) a young man is given a good robe and is provided with a bracelet or a ring.  And as a picture of how God exalts the one that humbles himself, the metaphor is fitting.  But it would be a stretch, and an unwise one, to reason from the metaphor of God’s graciousness to lost persons that we are at liberty to exalt ourselves contrary to God’s directions.  We wouldn’t want to make inference a tool for self-justification.  Again, He will exalt us in due time.  And today isn’t the time.

Let me say that again.  The Bible’s prohibition of jewelry is not based on a supposed immoral nature of gems and metals.  Rather, it is founded on the tendency of especially the female heart (for both primary passages are written to females) to find in outward adorning a poor substitute for inward holiness.

Find in the Notes some key Ellen White statements that harmonize perfectly well with the tenor of this Bible study.

In the second part we will look at a few more of these secondary passages that are alleged to show God’s approval of women wearing gold and jewels.


Eugene Prewitt directs the Bible Teacher Training hosted by Aenon.  From there, his teachers train young people from around Asia to reach the various people groups of South East Asia. During school breaks and on weekends he and his wife Heidi frequently travel to put on presentations on Bible topics, canvassing and on Christian Education.


[1] As the issue of ordination is current the Adventist church even today, some persons will think of it when reading this chapter. I will not address it as I swore off doing so after 2015. But the verses that conclude this chapter are, as I understand them, addressing the issue of teaching with authority as opposed to teaching generally (the “nor” being a “not both together”). And the saving in the final verse is referring to the woman Eve being saved by her seed, Jesus, on condition of living by faith. Though these verses have been handled roughly by those with an agenda, they are good solid Bible teaching.

[2] I affirm the KJV translators on this one. Lucifer was created with vocal skills, not with gem studs preinstalled.