Are gold earrings and an ornate hairnet too conspicuous for church?

It is interesting that laymen ask questions such as, “I‘d like clarity on the issues of jewelry and artificial hair. Is it a sin to wear them? Please give Bible references. Thanks.”

The reason regular people ask such questions is because, given the perspicuity of Scripture, the answer is obvious. “Yes.” However, this does not sit well with the culture in which feels compelled to “keep up with with Joneses” or the Church, which seeks to keep up with the culture.

“We can’t have it that wrong, do we?,” someone may think. “My wife wears a wedding ring and puts all sorts of time into looking good with her hair and clothing, Paul and Peter can’t be possibly talking about that!”

The sad part is, if we let the Scripture speak for itself, clearly that is exactly what they are talking about. In fact, there is no intellectually respectable interpretation that may put forward that they are talking about something else.

So, how did the Orthodox Presbyterian Church respond to this question? First, they cited Is 61:10 and Song 1:10 woefully out of context. Second, they make a really bad historical argument.

The argument from Scripture. The OPC’s argument from Scripture can be dispatched with quite quickly, because it is something we already have addressed in detail beforehand. Here is what they say:

However, the Scriptures celebrate the Lord’s salvation of his people in ways like this:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, he has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Is. 61:10).

In the Song of Songs, the husband rejoices in the beauty of his wife as he says, “Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels” (Song 1:10)…From these few passages we can see that it is not outward beauty or the wearing of jewelry, in and of itself, that the Lord forbids.

Is this true? The Scripture does not have many references about adornment. There are maybe 13 specific mentions.

Seven are negative in every context (worship, mourning, and just going “out and about:” 1 Tim 2:19-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4, Jer 4:30, James 2:2-4, Is 3:16-24, 2 Kings 9:30, and Prov 11:22)

Six are positive, and not coincidentally, every single one is within the context of a marriage ceremony (Song 1:10-11, Is 61:10, Gen 24:30, Est 2:12, Ezek 16:8-14, and Is 49:15).

There are no other mentions, without really stretching it anyway (i.e. Ex 28 and the priestly garments, which obviously correspond to the gates in the New Jerusalem). Being that the Church is “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2) when our union with Christ is complete in heaven, it would make sense to see that marital adornment as a picture of this. Hence, to take Is 61:10, rip it out of context, and say, “Look there, we should wear pinky rings with big diamonds!” is missing the mark entirely.

The argument from history. You may have already guessed what their historical argument was, because it sounds like what the liberals make up when they say that Paul banned female preachers for socio-cultural specific reasons in Ephesus. “There were those in Paul and Peter’s day who wore their hair in enormously elaborate arrangements with braids and curls piled high!,” claims the OPC. “These women would decorate their hair with gems to make their hair shimmer in the light.”

Sometimes I marvel at the ridiculousness of such assertions. Aren’t people aware that back then 99.9% of people had close to absolutely nothing? I mean, they didn’t have beds (like in modern day Cambodia), they often owned only as little as one piece of clothing (Ex 22:26), and sometimes had so little food that they didn’t have lunch and others did not have enough to share even in Church (1 Cor 11:33-34). These people were unimaginably poor.

Yet, according to the OPC, these same dirt poor people would have the disposable income to put precious gems and metals intertwined into their hair to such an extent that it would make Kim Kardashian blush. Sorry, but I do not buy it.

We have good reason to doubt their grasp of ancient history. Claims such as, “Even more, there is evidence to suggest that the temple prostitutes in Ephesus (the city where Timothy ministered) dressed in similar ways to attract men” is unfounded in the historical record. It is made up out of whole cloth.

There is some truth to what the OPC writes about how hair was done among the elite. The part about braided hair that stuck up in the air like Marge Simpson is historical fact. As we can see in the image at the beginning of this article, golden hairnets did exist, but they hardly look more ostentatious then what passes today as respectable dress. Sometimes they had gold interwoven into the rope to make them more ornate. The most extreme examples, perhaps belonging to royalty, would have gems hanging down.

An ornately adorned woman in Ancient Rome would fit in quite well in the modern day.

Hence, while some examples of it existed, it was not as drastic as modern day interpreters present it. Further, it was not extremely common. A small fraction of a percent of the population could afford to be adorned like the woman above, so it does not make sense that God was concerned enough about 0.01 percent of the population to address the matter twice in Scripture.

It is much more likely what Paul and Peter were talking about was a generalized admonition that would be applicable to all women, in all contexts (church, home, the market, etcetera.) This generalized admonition would not only warn against the most ostentatious examples of ornate dress, but also any attempt to use dress to beautify oneself outwardly hence distracting from the spirit of a woman.

Yet, the OPC claims that because Paul wrote to Ephesus and there was an imaginary temple prostitution problem there, they reason, then Paul must have been addressing a local issue that affected the worship in church. “They [the women] would then go to church to show off for everyone to see,” the OPC claims.

Forget about the total lack of any evidence at all for the claim. Such a claim logically asserts that women ought to not go to church dressed like prostitutes down the street in their local city, because obviously looking like a prostitute anywhere else would be okay. Even though this line of reasoning is ridiculous on its face, it contradicts what Peter teaches about the same subject anyhow.

Writing to a locale different than Ephesus, Peter addresses the issue of the behavior of wives. Hence, the context is much broader than just worship. There he writes, “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, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

The Scripture is so clear. The admonition is not context-specific, it has to do with how one dresses wherever she goes. Peter even provides a rationale as to why such dress should be avoided: it was not because it was a distraction in church but rather it emphasized the wrong sort of beauty that the Christian woman often finds herself looking to invest her time and resources into.

We do not need to be ancient history scholars, or rely upon “experts” who misinterpret history scholars, in order to properly interpret the Scripture. This is because the Scripture is easy to understand, gives us the context, and the rationale for the admonition. This is the perspicuity of Scripture and it ought not be ignored.

In conclusion. The question now no longer is whether the Scripture speaks positively about outward adornment or whether historical context makes the condemnations against it less strong. They don’t. The question is whether we are willing to leave everything behind, including social niceties we like, and follow Christ.

This is a decision each individual believer has to make for many different things in their life, including how they dress, what they spend their money on, and many other things. May God bless us with greater humility to deny ourselves and follow Him.