Christian Dress and Adornment
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Five of the nine chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

The Importance of Outward Appearance

Dress and Ornaments in the Old Testament

Dress and ornaments in the New Testament

A Look at the Wedding Ring

Principles of Christian Dress and Adornment

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Chapter 2


Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

Sometimes church members will remove colorful cosmetics and jewelry simply "because the church says so" rather than because they understand the principles that God has revealed to ensure a healthy relationship with Him. Such members are prone to ask, "What is wrong with my earrings or necklace? They are inconspicuous and inexpensive! What is wrong with wearing my miniskirt to church? It is only four inches above the knee! I am still young, and this is what everybody else wears!"

My heart has been troubled on many occasions by these questions because they reveal a negative attitude toward God. The concern seems to be: "How much adornment and body exposure can I get by with and still be accepted by God?" This attitude reflects a desire to do only the minimum necessary for salvation.

But a genuine Christian will not ask, "How little can I do and still remain a child of God?" but rather, "How much can I do to show my faith, love, and commitment to Christ through my outward appearance?" This is the positive approach springing from a heart so full of love for God that it wants to know how best to glorify Him in all aspects of lifestyle, including outward appearance. Christians with this positive and loving attitude are eager to know what God has revealed in Scripture regarding dress, jewelry, and cosmetics. It is with this attitude that we shall conduct our study, beginning from the Old Testament.

Objective of Chapter. This chapter examines the most relevant Old Testament passages dealing with jewelry, cosmetics, and extravagant clothing. We shall discover a consistent association of the use of these articles with seduction, adultery, and apostasy. We shall see that the removal of outward ornaments is a precondition to inward spiritual cleansing and reconciliation with God. In view of the fact that some people find support in certain Old Testament passages for a moderate use of jewelry, we shall give special attention to these passages and to the arguments drawn from them.

The Robe of Light. The human body was the crown of God’s creation, most marvellous in design, most beautiful in form and features, and most charming in expression. God expressed His total satisfaction over His creation of Adam and Eve, declaring it "very good" (Gen 1:31). In their Edenic state man and woman wore only the garment of their innocence. "A beautiful soft light, the light of God, enshrouded the holy pair. This robe of light was a symbol of their spiritual garments of heavenly innocence. Had they remained true to God it would ever have continued to enshroud them. But when sin entered, they severed their connection with God, and the light that had encircled them departed. Naked and ashamed, they tried to compensate for the loss of the heavenly garments by sewing together fig leaves for a covering."1

In the Bible, clothes or their absence (nudity) serve to represent the spiritual condition of human beings before God and His glory. When Adam and Eve sinned, they suddenly discovered that they "were naked" (Gen 3:7) because they had lost the robe of light. Their nakedness resulted not from removing physical garments. They had never worn any garment until that time. Rather, they became aware of their nakedness the moment they sinned and sensed their separation from the glorious presence of God which had been their covering.

Redemption is often represented in the Bible as the restoration of the original robe of light emanating from God’s glorious presence. Isaiah speaks of the restoration of the robes of light in the Messianic kingdom: "The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light by night, but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory" (Is 60:19). Similarly, John the Revelator compares the church waiting for Christ’s coming to a bride adorned for the wedding: "It was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" (Rev 19:8). The Greek term for "bright" is lampron which literally means "shining, resplendent" like a lamp. The robe of light, lost because of sin, is finally regained. The light of God’s glory will clothe not only the redeemed but the city itself: "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Rev 21:23).

The imagery of clothing extends beyond creation and restoration to include the time in-between. To receive the robe of Christ’s glory at His Return, we need now to "put off the old nature" (Eph 4:23) and to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14). The white robe of righteousness we are called to wear in this present life is not a garment woven by our efforts, but offered to us by Christ: "I counsel you to buy from me . . . white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen" (Rev 3:18). The nakedness of sin is covered by the glistening white garments offered by Christ. His promise to those "who have not soiled their garments" is that "they shall walk with me in white" (Rev 3:4).

The above sampling of references suffices to show how rich is the symbolism of clothing in the Bible. From the creation to restoration, God’s creative and redemptive activity is often represented as covering the nakedness of His children with the garments of His righteousness. In his recent book The Symbolism of Clothing in the Bible, the French scholar Edgar Haulotte notes that "the importance of clothing is not minimized in the Bible. On the contrary, God’s revelation gives to it spiritual significance."2 The rich spiritual symbolism of clothing helps us to appreciate the importance that God attaches to clothing in the life of His people.

Fall and Fashion. Fashion began as our guilty parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Innocence was gone, the robe of light had faded, and Adam and Eve, shivering and cringing in the nakedness of sin, sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves. Their temporary covering was soon replaced by skin garments provided by God Himself (Gen 3:20). As people became increasingly corrupt, they tried to replace the beautiful simplicity of their innocence with inventions of fabrics, fashions, and ornaments of gold, jewels, and pearls. The more depraved people became, the more extravagant became their clothes and ornaments.

The original function of clothes was to protect the body from changing climate and lustful desires. Soon, however, people made clothing and ornaments the expression of pride and sex. Self-respect was turned into vanity. The desire for recognition led people to load themselves with showy apparel and costly ornaments. Thus, dress and ornaments soon became the index of spiritual decline and apostasy.

Removal of Ornaments at Bethel. This development helps us understand why in the Old Testament God often calls His people to repentance and reformation by removing their ornaments. The first episode is found in Genesis 35:1-4. God instructed Jacob to move his family members from Shechem to Bethel in order to lead them to a spiritual reformation by building an altar in the very place where He appeared to him when he fled from his brother Esau.

Jacob realized that there was much work to be done before his family members would be ready to meet with God at Bethel. Out of consideration for his wives Jacob had tolerated idols and jewelry. These items probably included the idols that Rachel had stolen from her father (Gen 31:19), as well as the jewelry that Jacob’s sons had captured as part of the spoils of Shechem (Gen 34:27-29).

To lead his family members to an inward moral and spiritual purification, Jacob summoned them to an outward cleansing: "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; then let us arise and go up to Bethel, that I may make there an altar to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone" (Gen 35:2-3).

It is significant to note that Jacob sensed that his family members needed the outward cleansing of their bodies and the change of their garments before they could experience the inward cleansing at the altar that he was about to build. Presumably the change of garments meant putting on clothes which were not only clean but also appropriate for this special encounter with God. We saw earlier how research has shown that we become what we wear. This is true in the spiritual as well as the professional life. A clean and new outward appearance challenges us to be clean and new inwardly through the purification of our minds and hearts. This may explain why similar directives are given later to the Israelites at Sinai as they prepared to meet with God (Ex 19:10).

The response of Jacob’s household is commendable: "So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem" (Gen 35:4). Note that they delivered to Jacob not only their idols, but also their jewelry ("the rings that were in their ears"). They recognized that these also would have been a barrier to acceptance with God.

Idols as Jewelry. Some commentators think that the earrings themselves were amulets, little idols worn as charms. This is altogether possible because many articles of jewelry were associated with idol worship (Is 3:18-21). Often people wore what they worshiped. In its article on "Hebrew Dress and Ornament," The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains: "A jewel was at the same time an amulet. According to the ancient Oriental view, metals and precious stones belonged to certain gods of the mineral world and possessed, therefore, a mysterious magic power. Aside from this, any trinket that diverts attention from the wearer to itself still serves as a protection against the evil eye. For this reason every one in the Orient wears an abundance of jewelry. Traces of this superstition are found in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 3:20 a piece of woman’s jewelry is designated as an amulet (cf. Gen 35:4); and it is evident that the ornaments on the camels of the Midianites were charms (Judg 8:21)."3

This is true even today, especially in Catholic countries, where many people like to wear as pendants what they worship: crosses, hearts (of Jesus or Mary), and even small relics. It is also true in many new age and satanic cults, whose followers wear the objects they worship, namely, amulets, charms, talismans, and various kinds of pendants. Usually the function of these articles of jewelry is to ward off evil spirits or spells.

Judges 8:24 suggests that the wearing of earrings was native to the Ishmaelites: "For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites." The phrase suggests that earrings were a trademark of the Ishmaelites and not of the Israelites. We would say today that they were the trademark of worldly people and not of Christians.

The members of Jacob’s household had adopted the idolatrous pagan lifestyle, but now Jacob was bringing them before God at Bethel to make an atonement for their sins. It was a time of heart searching and repentance. They recognized that strange gods and jewelry were to be removed before God’s blessings could come upon them. To ensure that his family members would not be tempted to fall back into idolatry, Jacob wisely buried the idols and the earrings near the oak at Shechem, thus leaving them behind before proceeding to Bethel.

A Relevant Principle. This story contains a valuable principle for Christians today. If we want to experience an inner cleansing from our sinful past and wish to have a Bethel-type ("House of God") experience with God, we need to remove all the outward besetting objects of idolatry, including ornaments worn for the glory of self rather than of God. To ensure that we will not be tempted to use them again, it is best to dispose of them permanently rather that to preserve them as keepsakes.

Removal of Ornaments at Mount Horeb. A similar reformation involving the removal of ornaments is reported in Exodus 33:1-6. The context is the great apostasy that occurred while Moses was up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Tired of waiting for Moses and anxious to have a visible god to go before them in the place of Moses, some of the Israelites brought their golden ornaments to Aaron, who used them to make a molten calf in imitation of the gods of Egypt (Ex 32:2-4). While still up in the mountain, Moses was warned by God of the apostasy in the camp and hastened to come down, only to find the people dancing and shouting around their idol.

To show disdain for their rebellion, Moses threw down the tables of stone, breaking them in the sight of the people, thus signifying that they had broken their covenant with God. He then proceeded to destroy the golden calf with fire and, with the help of the Levites, to punish those who persisted in their rebellion (Ex 32:15-29). Then Moses went up again to the mountain to plead that God would forgive the people’s sin. God reassured Moses that He would remain true to the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bring them to the land of Canaan, but He Himself would not go with them. Presumably the reason is that should they again rebel, His direct presence would mean their complete destruction.

When the Israelites learned that God would no longer guide and protect them with His personal presence, they deeply repented of their transgression, "and no man put on his ornaments" (Ex 34:4). The men were probably wearing armlets, bracelets, and anklets like those worn by men in Egypt. This shows that the temptation to wear ornaments affects men as well as women.

In response to Israel’s apparent repentance, God offered to reconsider His threat, but He requested that the Israelites give proof of the depth of their repentance by permanently removing their ornaments: "So now put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what to do with you" (Ex 33:5). The response was positive. "Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward" (Ex 33:5).

The story suggests that penitent Israelites recognized that their ornaments were a serious obstacle to their reconciliation with God. So they decided to strip "themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward." The phrase "from Mount Horeb onward" implies that sincere Israelites made a commitment at Mount Horeb to discontinue the use of ornaments in order to show their sincere desire to obey God. This experience resembles that of Jacob’s family members at Shechem. In both instances the removal of ornaments is preparatory to a renewal of a covenant commitment to God.

Relevance for Today. What can we learn from this experience? In referring specifically to the wilderness experience of the Israelites, Paul reminds us that "these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor 10:11). Like the Israelites of old, we also are journeying to the promised land. God’s command to the Israelites to remove their ornaments before going into the land of Canaan applies to us who are journeying to the heavenly Canaan. If the wearing of ornaments contributed to the Israelites’ rebellion against God and their removal facilitated reconciliation with God, could not the same be true for us today?

Some readers may wonder: Why were ornaments such a stumbling block to the spiritual life of the Israelites, and why is jewelry detrimental to our spiritual life today? Part of the answer is that we wear what we worship, and we worship what we wear. We wear what we worship in the sense that we wear what best reveals our idols: beauty, wealth, social status, or level of sophistication. We worship what we wear in the sense that we adore those clothes, ornaments, and gadgets that best nurture our ambitions (idols).

Have you ever heard people say, "I adore this dress or necklace! It adds so much to my appearance and personality"? Such comments reveal that the ultimate concern of such people is not the worship of God, but the cult of their own personality. The latter is idolatry. To the extent that clothes, ornaments, cars, homes, professional goals, and wealth become the priorities (the idols) of our lives, to the same extent God is displaced from our lives and consciousness. This is a fundamental reason why outward ornaments are a stumbling block to the spiritual life.

The Haughtiness of the Daughters of Zion. Another revealing example of how extravagant clothes and adornments fostered pride and self-glorification rather than the worship of God, is found in Isaiah 3:16-26. This passage is most significant because it contains not only the most detailed descriptions of the various articles of jewelry and fine clothing worn by wealthy women in Jerusalem, but also the most scathing denunciation of the pride and haughtiness displayed through such articles.

The context of the passage is the announcement of God’s judgment upon His people, which will result in their utter humiliation and destruction. The reason for the divine judgment is that the people have forsaken God: "For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen; because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence" (Is 3:8).

Isaiah places the blame for the apostasy of the nation squarely on the negative influence both of its leaders and of its wealthy women. Regarding the leaders, the prophet says: "O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths. . . . The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: ‘It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses’" (Is 3:12, 14). Instead of being the keepers of the vineyard, that is, the nation of Israel (Is 5:7; 1:8; 2:1, 3), the civil and religious leaders have devoured it by enriching themselves at the expense of the poor.

Isaiah continues his scathing rebuke by shifting the focus from the negative influence of the leaders to that of the upperclass women, most likely the wives and daughters of the leaders themselves. Apparently the reason is, as Joseph Jensen points outs, that "like Amos, Isaiah seems to see the women sometimes responsible for the oppression practiced by their men."4 This is suggested also by the comment that "women rule over them" (Is 3:12). The prophet, observes Carl Nagelsbach, condemns "the prevalent excess of female luxury, not only as sinful in itself but also as a chief cause of the violence and social disorder previously mentioned, and therefore to be punished by disease, widowhood, and shameful exposure."5

Isaiah first describes how the daughters of Zion display their haughty pride: "The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald" (Is 3:16-17, NIV). The inward pride of the women of Zion is shown outwardly by the way they walk, with "head stretched sideways"6 to see if they are admired, and with ogling eyes, mincing steps, and coy glances, seeking to attract attention to themselves by the tinkling sound of small bells fastened to their ankles.

The Removal of the Symbols of Pride. Such pride provokes the Lord’s punishment, which is meted out by humiliating the women of Zion through the removal of all the symbols of their pride and through their subjection to harsh treatment: "In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarfs; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and the nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the garment of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans and the veils. Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth; instead of beauty, shame. Your men shall fall by the sword and your mighty men in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; ravaged she shall sit upon the ground" (Is 3:18-26).

In this passage we find the most inclusive enumeration of female ornaments and fine clothing to be found anywhere in the Bible. This is surprising, because as Franz Delitzsch pointed out, it is not customary for Isaiah "to enter into such minute particulars."7 Even Ezekiel, who tends to give details of women’s ornaments (Ez 16:8-14), has nothing comparable to this detailed description. The explanation is to be found in Isaiah’s concern to expose "the boundless love of ornaments which had become prevalent in the time of Uzziah-Jotham,"8 as well as the tragic consequences of humiliation, suffering and destruction.9

We should note that the passage includes legitimate articles of clothing such as "mantles, cloaks, handbags, scarfs, linen garments." Isaiah lumps these together with all the pagan ornaments worn by wealthy Jewish women, because all of them were used to show off their pride. His intent is to show how the pride of the women of Jerusalem, manifested through all their outward clothes and ornaments, provoked God’s judgment and made destruction necessary.

Relevance for Today. This passage teaches us at least two important lessons. First, luxurious clothes and ornaments reveal inner pride and desire for self-exaltation, which can result in idolatry, adultery, and apostasy. There is a close connection between dress and behavior. Immodesty breeds impurity. The seductive look of the daughters of Zion misled the leaders and eventually led the nation into disobedience and divine punishment. Thus, an important reason to avoid ornaments is not simply their cost, but especially their negative influence upon others.

Second, God abhors the pride manifested in wearing ornaments. "When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion . . . by a spirit of burning" (Is 4:4). Wealthy Jewish women adorned their bodies from head to foot with expensive ornaments to make themselves beautiful outwardly, but God saw their inner pride. Evidently the beauty that counts in the sight of God is not the one obtained outwardly with ornaments of gold and fine clothing, but the one attained inwardly with the "imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Pet 3:4).

Literal or Allegorical? Some reject our conclusions by interpreting the passage allegorically. Madelynn Jones-Haldeman, for example, argued that the removal of women’s ornaments represents not a condemnation of the ornaments per se ("not one of the ornaments is banned"), but God’s rejection of Judah as his people: "Actually, the removal of women’s adornment indicates God’s displeasure and lack of acceptance of Judah as his people. Judah is a sad, unadorned woman, unbetrothed, without a husband."10

This interpretation fails to recognize that the passage is not an allegorical representation of God’s rejection of Judah, but a literal description of what caused God’s rejection of Judah, namely, the negative influence of its leaders and of its wealthy women. The latter are blamed for their pride and haughtiness manifested through their boundless love of ornaments. These they used to seduce men, and thus they led the people into apostasy. In view of this fact, God’s judgment is manifested by taking away from the women all their ornaments. Evidently God saw the ornaments as part of the problem and consequently dealt with them by taking them away. God’s action can hardly be interpreted as an endorsement of the use of ornaments.

Judgment and Ornaments. The judgment context of the two passages we have just examined (Ex 33:4-6; Is 3:16-26) led Richard M. Davidson to suggest that "it is not that the wearing of jewelry is wrong."12 Rather, what is wrong is wearing ornaments at a time of corporate repentance and judgment. "It appears that in a time of corporate investigative and/or executive judgment God regularly asks His people to remove their ornaments as an outward symbol of the special judgment setting."11

Davidson found two principles in the Bible regarding the use of ornaments. On the one hand, "Jewelry in ancient Israel, when mentioned favorably, is almost always connected with bridal ornaments."12 Yet on the other hand, God regularly asks His people to remove their ornaments at a time of corporate repentance and judgment.

By putting these two principles together, Davidson comes up with a very creative interpretation. "Is it possible that since 1844 Seventh-day Adventists have the privilege of refraining from wearing jewelry as a special outward sign of the unique present truth that they are Laodicea, ‘people of the Judgment;’ that they live in the time of the investigative judgment? Is it possible that Adventists adopt this posture also because, although the church is spiritually espoused to Christ (Eph 5; 2 Cor 11:2), the wedding is not yet consummated (Rev 19:7, 8)? For those who understand the deeper issues, taking on bridal ornaments before the wedding is the posture of Babylon the harlot (Rev 17:4, 5), not the true church (Rev 12:1). It is not that wearing jewelry is wrong—but we have the privilege of waiting to do so until the wedding feast, when Jesus Himself will adorn His bride with jewels."13

This interpretation is creative, to say the least. It represents a sincere and praiseworthy attempt to reconcile those allegorical passages that speak favorably of jewelry with those passages that condemn its use. Under closer scrutiny, however, one finds that it is based on several mistaken assumptions.

First, the true church, represented in Revelation by a bride, makes herself ready for the "marriage of the lamb" by adorning herself not with gold, jewels, and pearls, but "with fine linen, bright and pure" (Rev 19:8). Not only the bride, but even the multitude of the redeemed who stand before the throne of God are adorned not with ornaments of gold and silver, but with pure "white robes" (Rev 7:9). John’s prophetic vision of the bride (the church) and of the redeemed clothed in white linen without outward ornaments, suggests that ornaments are not part of the attire of God’s children, whether in the present world or in the world to come. We noted earlier that at creation and at the final restoration God covers His children not with jewelry, but with a robe of light emanating from Himself.

Second, if God asks His people to remove their ornaments at the time of corporate repentance and judgment, it is hard to believe that He would approve their use at other times. If outward ornaments are a stumbling block to repentance and reconciliation with God at the time when God calls His people to repent, then they must be an impediment to our spiritual life all the time.

Descriptive Rather Than Prescriptive. Third, a careful study of those passages which speak favorably of the use of ornaments, reveals that such passages are descriptive of the prevailing cultural understanding of beauty, and not prescriptive of how God wants His people to beautify themselves through the use of ornaments. Failure to make this distinction can lead to fanciful conclusions. Walter Kaiser, a renowned Old Testament scholar, rightly pointed out that "reporting or narrating an event in Scripture is not to be equated with approving, recommending, or making that action or characteristic normative of emulation by all subsequent readers."14 A descriptive or allegorical passage must be interpreted in the light of explicit Biblical teaching and not vice versa.

This principle must be kept in mind when interpreting passages such as Ezekiel 28:13. This is a descriptive allegorical passage which is often used to sanction the wearing of jewelry: "You were in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, topaz, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald; and wrought in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day you were created they were prepared." The reasoning is that since this passage speaks of the way God created and covered Lucifer with every precious stone, then God must approve the wearing of precious stones for human beings as well.

This interpretation fails to account for the highly symbolic language of the passage. The description occurs in the context of Ezekiel’s lamentation over the pride and arrogance of the king of Tyre, which God brought to a dreadful end ("you have come to a dreadful end" Ez 28:19). By means of the prophetic perspective, that is, the capacity of the prophets to merge the present with the past or the future, Ezekiel describes the beauty, pride, and destruction of the king of Tyre by alluding to the beauty, pride, and future destruction of Lucifer who after all is the instigator of all sinful pride.

The imagery of decking with precious stones is used to convey the beauty of Lucifer before his rebellion and expulsion and, by virtue of the typological correspondence, the beauty of the king of Tyre before his downfall. We know that kings used precious stones to deck not only their garments, but even the walls of their palaces. The dual application is evidenced by such phrases as "in the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned" (Ez 28:16). This is an obvious reference to the dishonest trade of Tyre. There are no indications in the Bible that Lucifer fell because of dishonest trade practices in heaven.

A Symbol of Beauty. In the same way the imagery of the covering made with precious stones can hardly be taken literally to refer to an actual jewel-studded garment that God made to cover Lucifer. Why would Lucifer need such a garment in the first place? Was it cold in heaven? Nowhere does the Bible suggest that angels wear clothes or jewels. If it were true, as the title of a booklet puts it, that God Believes in Jewelry and uses it to beautify His creatures15, why didn’t He adorn the bodies of Adam and Eve with jewels?

We have found that the covering of the first pair at creation and of the redeemed at the final restoration is a robe of light emanating from God Himself. Clothes were introduced to cover the nakedness revealed by sin (Gen 3:9, 21), but there was no need to cover Lucifer’s nakedness on the day he was created (Ez 28:13). If there was no need of clothes for the holy pair before their sin, why would Lucifer have such? Moreover, why would God use earthly mineral stones (presumably before the creation of this earth with all its minerals) to decorate a garment designed for a spiritual heavenly being?

In the light of these considerations it is evident that the imagery of the covering with precious stones is designed to convey the original beauty of Lucifer as well as of his counterpart, the king of Tyre. In both instances, beauty led to pride and to downfall. The imagery of precious stones is used not to legitimize their use as ornaments, but simply to express the notion of beauty in a language that people understood. Precious stones are beautiful. God made them to beautify this world, but I find no indication in the Bible that God uses them to beautify human bodies.

The idea of God beautifying a created being with jewels presupposes the recognition of a need for improvement, making up for existing deficiencies. But God’s original creation of human and heavenly beings was perfect in function, design, and beauty. There was no need of cosmetic "makeup" or ornaments to cover up or improve the outward appearance of His creatures.

The Holy City Adorned as a Bride. A similar allegorical passage often cited to support the legitimacy of wearing ornaments is Revelation 21:2, where John saw in vision "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." The city is further described as "having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates. . . . He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man’s measure, that is, an angel’s. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was of pure gold"(Rev 21:2, 11, 12, 17, 18).

In this allegorical passage the new Jerusalem is compared to "a bride adorned for her husband," not to make a moral statement about the legitimacy of wearing ornaments, but simply to help people understand the beauty of the new world through the analogy of an adorned bride. God uses the known to communicate glimpses of the unknown.

The same is true of the description of the wall of the city, which was 144 cubits wide (about 212 feet) and "twelve thousand stadia" (Rev 21:16–about 1500 miles) high. Its height is apparently the same as the length and breadth of the city, because it says that "its length and breadth and height are equal" (Rev 21:16). The purpose of this imagery is not to teach us to protect ourselves by building high walls, but rather to assure us that the new world will be a place of perfect security. God used the imagery of a city with an incredibly high wall because that was the most effective way to communicate to people of New Testament times the perfect security that will prevail in the world to come. In interpreting allegorical imagery, we must focus on the truth being communicated rather than on the details of the allegory.

The Breastplate of the High Priest. In a personal letter, a respected fellow believer, church leader, and friend, who graciously took time to evaluate the first draft of this book, argued at some length that the ephod and breastplate of the high priest strongly suggest to him that God approves gold and jewels as ornaments when properly used. After all, it was God Himself who gave to Moses the design for the construction of these two most sacred articles of the priestly vestments. We need to briefly address this argument since other Christians may think along the same line.

The ephod was a waistcoat consisting of two parts, one to cover the chest and the other the back. The two were joined together by two "shoulder pieces" (Ex 28:7). The primary function of the ephod was to hold the breastplate, which was attached to it by means of four rings (Ex 28:23). The breastplate was an elaborately decorated piece made of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen folded double into a square of about 10x10 inches. On the front were four rows of three precious stones. On each stone was inscribed the name of one of the twelve tribes (Ex 28:29). It was indeed the centerpiece of the high priest’s vestments.

Does the fact that God instructed Moses to construct such an elaborate breastplate, with twelve precious stones, suggest that God approves the proper use of jewelry for all of His people? To put it differently, if the high priest, who served as a role model for the people, could be decked with jewels when ministering in the sanctuary before God, does that mean that ordinary believers may also wear jewelry, provided they do it humbly and reverentially?

My answer is No! The reason is that this argument fails to recognize the highly symbolic function of the ephod and breastplate. These articles were not ordinary garments worn by the priests or the high priest in everyday life. Only the high priest could wear them, and only when he went inside the sanctuary. The common priest serving at the sanctuary wore a simple white linen uniform (Ex 28:40-42). According to The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, "It is significant that the simple attire of the common priest, a robe of white linen, was to be ‘for glory and beauty,’ as well as that of the high priest (Ex 28:2). White is used in the Scriptures as the symbol of purity (Rev 4:4; 7:9, 14; 19:8)."16 In other words, the beauty of the priests’ attire was in the simplicity of their white linen garments.

The function of the twelve precious stones was not to beautify the high priest, but to reveal God’s concern for each of the twelve tribes. As the same commentary explains: "Each stone would have on it the name of one of the 12 tribes. These names engraved on the 12 jewels aptly illustrate the value of men and women in the sight of our heavenly Father. God regards His people as precious gems in the jewel box of His love (Mal 3:17). He thinks of His church as a bride adorned ‘with her jewels’ (Is 61:10). She is His ‘peculiar treasure’ (Ex 19:5)."17

Similar imagery is used in Revelation where the twelve gates and the twelve foundation are also made of precious stone. These too are engraved with the names of the twelve tribes and the names of the twelve apostles (Rev 21:12, 14). The fact that each tribe and each apostle has their names engraved on a gem of their own does not mean that each believer has the right to wear jewels, but rather that "every individual Christian has his own distinct personality, his own beauty in Heaven’s sight. . . . Each name on a separate jewel also suggests that God thinks of His people as distinct individuals, known, loved, and cared for by Him (Ps 87:5, 6; Is 57:15; Matt 25:40; Luke 15:3-10).18 This is the meaning of the jewels of the breastplate and of the foundations/gates of the Holy City. To extract from these passages a justification for wearing jewelry is to force them to say what they were not intended to.

The Bride Adorned by God. Another allegorical passage used to support God’s alleged approval of outward ornaments is found in Ezekiel 16. In this chapter the prophet uses the allegory of a foundling child to illustrate God’s dealing with His people. The baby girl was abandoned in an open field on the day she was born. The Lord passed by and said to the dying child, still weltering in her blood, "Live and grow up like a plant of the field" (vv. 6, 7).

Later, when the girl became of age, God proposed to her and she became His bride. To show His love, God washed off her blood, clothed her with "embroidered cloth," and adorned her with bracelets on her arms, a chain on her neck, a ring on her nose, earrings on her ears, and a beautiful crown on her head (vv. 8-16).

Unfortunately, as the woman became "exceedingly beautiful," she came to trust in her beauty and used all the gold and silver she had received from God to make idols and to bribe men to have sex with her (vv. 15-34). Finally, God judged His unfaithful spouse by delivering her into the hands of her lovers, who stripped her of her clothes and jewels and cut her to pieces (Ez 16:39-40).

Again, can this allegory legitimately be used to sanction the use of ornaments because it pictures God profusely decking this maid? The answer is No. Why? Primarily because the episode, like the previous one, is a highly figurative allegory borrowed from ancient cultural understanding of abandonment, beauty, unfaithfulness, and punishment. As John the Revelator described the new Jerusalem as "a bride adorned for her husband," so Ezekiel described Israel as an abandoned maid adorned and adopted by God as His bride. In both instances the prophets utilized a contemporary understanding of beauty—an adorned bride—to illustrate God’s gracious acts toward His people. The references to the adorning of the bride were designed not to teach the legitimacy of wearing ornaments, but to illustrate the beauty of God’s redemptive love.

A similar situation is found in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which was based on a popular misconception that at death the saved went into Abraham’s bosom and the unsaved into the ever-burning hell (Luke 16:19-31). In the parable Jesus utilized that misconception not to teach about the life of the saved and unsaved after death, but to emphasize the importance of using the opportunities God gives us in this present life to determine our future destiny.

In interpreting parables or allegorical speech, it is important to remember two things. First, we must look for the fundamental truth, remembering that the details often function as "props" to the story. In the case of Ezekiel 16 the fundamental teaching is that Israel prostituted the blessings (ornaments) God gave her and consequently provoked His judgment. Second, details of parables or allegories should not be used to formulate doctrines. Only their fundamental teaching, confirmed by the general tenor of Scripture, should be considered as a basis for doctrine.

Progressive Revelation. Another important principle to remember is the progressive nature of God’s revelation. Even if some allegorical Old Testament passages seem to speak favorably of the wearing of jewelry, it does not necessarily mean that God approved the practice. We must remember that not everything that was allowed in Old Testament times is reflective of God’s ideal for His people.

Typical examples are polygamy and divorce, which were allowed in Old Testament times because of the insubordination and stubbornness of the Israelites. We do not find explicit condemnation of such practices in the Old Testament. It is only when we come to the New Testament, where Christ reveals to us more fully God’s plan for our lives, that we find explicit condemnation of divorce and polygamy as contrary to God’s ideal for His people. We shall see that the same principle of progressive revelation applies to the wearing of ornaments–a practice condemned implicitly in the Old Testament (Gen 35:1-4; Ex 33:1-6; Is 3:16-21) and explicitly in the New Testament (1 Tim 2:9-10; 1 Pet 3:3-4).

"Painted Up Like Jezebel." Several passages in the Old Testament speak of the use of cosmetics, especially the painting of the eyes. Such cosmetics were usually worn to attract illicit lovers. Perhaps the most well-known passage concerning the use of colorful cosmetics is found in 2 Kings 9:30, where we are told what Jezebel did in the final hour of her life: "When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head and looked out of the window." From this text derives the proverbial expression, "painted up like Jezebel."

The context of the passage is the arrival of King Jehu at Jezreel after he had killed Jezebel’s son, Joram, king of Israel, and her grandson, Ahaziah, king of Judah. Jezebel had heard the news, and she knew that her turn was next. Defiantly she prepared herself for her final hour by painting her eyes and adorning her head. She decked herself with all her ornaments, because she wanted to look her seductive best. Then she took her position at a window, probably overlooking the inner court of her palace, and waited for Jehu to enter the gate. But Jehu was not fooled. When he dashed into the courtyard and saw Jezebel at the window greeting him contemptuously, he told her eunuchs to throw her down, which they did (2 Kings 9:33). What an ignominious death!

Jezebel’s outward adorning was of no avail before Jehu or before God’s tribunal. "Powder and paint do not cover up the inner corruption of the heart, nor do silks and satins hide the ugly stains of the soul. Jezebel was corrupt within in spite of all her efforts at outward beautification. God looks at the heart and asks for inward adorning rather than outward (1 Peter 3:3)."19 Jezebel’s final seductive look, obtained with cosmetics and jewelry, is consistent with the determined effort of her whole life to seduce the Israelites into idolatry. Because of this her name has become a symbol of seduction in Biblical history (Rev 2:20).

The Allegory of Two Women. Another Old Testament passage that speaks of the use of cosmetics is the allegory of two women related in Ezekiel 23. The name of one woman is Oholah, who represents Samaria, and of the other is Oholibah, who represents Jerusalem (Ez 23:4). Both women are harlots who are not satisfied with their own husband (Jehovah), so they send for other men (false gods). "They even sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent, and lo, they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and decked yourself with ornaments" (Ez 23:40). When the men arrived, "they put bracelets upon the hands of the women, and beautiful crowns upon their heads. . . . Thus they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah to commit lewdness" (Ez 23:42, 44). The allegory closes announcing God’s judgment upon the women and their families.

Like Jezebel, Oholah and Oholibah painted their eyes and decked themselves with ornaments to be seductive and to entice men to commit adultery with them. In this allegory the purpose of cosmetics and ornaments is to seduce others to commit adultery, which results in apostasy.

A Desolate Woman. Like Ezekiel, Jeremiah uses the allegory of a seductive woman dressed in scarlet, with ornaments and painted eyes, to represent the politically abandoned Israel vainly trying to attract her former idolatrous allies. "And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you deck yourselves with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life" (Jer 4:30).

The examples cited above from the Old Testament reveal a consistent pattern. Women who painted their faces with cosmetics were always trying to seduce men into adulterous acts. They did not wish to play clean. They were not satisfied with their own husbands, so they painted their faces and decked themselves with ornaments to seduce other men. "If Israel cannot attract the kind of attention she wants by being her God-given best, then she will distort her true beauty by painting on a false face. Her enlarged eyes will lure spiritual adulterers into her tent."20

The seductive and excessive use of cosmetics in the above mentioned examples should not be interpreted as an outright condemnation of the use of any form of makeup. The women in these passages painted their faces excessively to appear seductive and sensual. This does not mean that a Christian woman should not use any kind of cosmetic to cover blemishes. The key is the intention. If cosmetics are used excessively to paint the face to create an unnatural look which is seductive and sensual, then their use is obviously wrong. But if cosmetics are used judiciously to cover blemishes and bring out the natural look, then their use is acceptable.

Conclusion. The Old Testament frequently associates the use of jewelry and excessive cosmetics with seduction and adultery. Such association implicitly reveals God’s condemnation of their use. We must remember that in the Bible God reveals to us His will for our lives not only by precepts, but also by examples. The many negative examples of seduction, adultery, apostasy, and divine punishment resulting from the use of jewelry, excessive cosmetics, and luxurious clothes constitute a solemn warning for us. They warn us against covering up our sinful bodies with jewelry and extravagant or seductive clothes. When Jesus comes into our lives, He does not cover up our skin with perishable ornaments, but He restores our total being with the imperishable riches of His grace.


1. Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C., 1940), pp. 310-311.

2. Edgar Haulotte, Symbolism du VÍtement selon la Bible (Lyons, France, 1966), p. 7.

3. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1970 edition, s. v. "Dress and Ornament, Hebrew" (vol. 4, p. 5). For a discussion of the New Age cults and their ornamental symbols, see Texe Marrs, New Age Cults and Religions (Austin, Texas, 1990); see also the relevant entries in George A. Mather and Larry A. Nichols, eds., The Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult (Grand Rapids, 1993).

4. Joseph Jensen, Isaiah 1-39, Old Testament Message Commentary (Wilmington, Delaware, 1984), p. 69.

5. Carl Wilhelm Eduard Nagelsbach, The Prophet Isaiah Theologically and Homiletically Expounded (New York, 1906), p. 73.

6. The meaning seems to be not so much walking "with head high" but "with head stretched sideways" to see if their elegance is noted or not. For a discussion, see John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Texas, 1985), p. 45.

7. Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah (Grand Rapids, 1960), p. 144.

8. Ibid., p. 145.

9. John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33 Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Texas, 1985), p. 46.

10. Madelynn Jones-Haldeman, "Adorning the Temple of God,"Spectrum 20 (December 1989), p. 50.

11. Richard M. Davidson, "The Good News of Yom Kippur," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 2 (Autumn 1991), p. 18.

12. Ibid., p. 17.

13. Ibid., p. 18.

14. Walter C. Kaiser, Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, 1983), p. 283.

15. R. E. Francis with George E. Vandeman, God Believes in Jewelry (Boise, Idaho, 1984).

16. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D. C., 1954), vol. 1, pp. 650-651.

17. Ibid., p. 648.

18. Ibid.

19. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D. C., 1954), vol. 2, p. 909.

20. David Neff, "How to Be a Christian and Look Good, Too," Insight, March 5, 1974, p. 8.

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