As a follow up to the discussion in my most recent post on outward adornment, I want show that the NASB translation of the text in 1 Peter 3:3, 4 leaves a lot to be desired:
Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
The term “merely” is admittedly added by the translators, because if taken literal, it may sound that Peter is commanding Christians not to dress themselves at all and be naked. However, most Christians who don’t delve into the Greek or other translations that lack this word in italics take it as evidence that these sorts of adornment are thereby implicitly acceptable. After all, it says “merely external” which means “it can’t just be external, it must also be with the imperishable quality of a gentle heart, etc. etc.”
In fact, I have been called to task on this. “You’re not a Greek scholar, how do you know that merely does not really belong there given the context? How do we know the adornment that Peter speaks of is even bad in of itself to begin with? If it is not actually bad, then merely is a fitting word given the context.”
This is when a consistent hermeneutic, comparing Scripture with Scripture, is so important. The parallel passage in 1 Timothy 2:9 clears this all up for us without a shadow of a doubt:
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.
There is no “merely” plopped in the middle. So, even if “merely” was in the original Greek or that the context demanded it, it would be clear that the issue was not that gold, pearls, and etcetera were not enough “adornment.” Rather, they would be “mere” because they were inferior to a quiet and gentle spirit, so much so that they ought to be rejected! After all, Christian women are called “to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly” and “not with braided hair and gold or pearls…”
How could women be called to do one thing and not the other specifically, but that other thing would be acceptable in any way. Obviously, it is not acceptable, it is displeasing to God and so it is forbade. Now, people don’t like the idea that God forbids stuff perhaps, but He forbids killing, coveting and stealing. So, if He says “not” to do something, a simple enough interpretation is that we should not do it.
Ironically, Dictionary.com considers the use of the word “merely” as a synonym for “purely/just” to be “obsolete.”
So, not only does the dictionary preclude such an interpretation, but more importantly, a consistent hermeneutic does.
Let’s read 1 Peter 3:3 literally, without any words not found in the Greek: “Your adornment must not be external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses…”
Wow, all of the sudden it seems like without a shadow of a doubt, we must not adorn ourselves in such a fashion at all. Further, it is more consistent with the passage in 1 Tim 2. Sometimes, a questionable choice of words can get us in a lot of trouble. However, thanks to the perspicuity of Scripture, even with an imperfect translation we can simply arrive at the right answer.