Summary of the Biblical Teaching on Ornamental Jewelry

As we look back to the results of our biblical inquiry into the subject of jewelry, there are a number of things that could be said as we try to summarize the major concepts associated with it. This will provide for us the basis for the discussion on the meaning and implications of those concepts for the church today.

1. Diversity of Functions

The biblical evidence indicates that jewelry was used and owned for multiple reasons and purposes that, in many cases, were complementary and not necessarily mutually exclusive. We consider this to be a significant piece of evidence in our attempt to understand the biblical attitude toward jewelry because it forces us to reconsider the idea that in general, the primary purpose of jewelry is personal ornamentation. Its ornamental function is not to be denied, but its primary function lies elsewhere. The beauty of the ornaments becomes a vehicle to achieve a more narrow and, from the point of view of (he wearer, a more meaningful or important purpose; for instance, to press others with personal wealth, social position and power, or religious function.

2. General Pejorative Attitude

Biblical evidence clearly demonstrates that overall, there is a pejorative attitude toward jewelry in the Scriptures. We find God Himself asking His people to remove the ornaments from their bodies in the context of a call to re-commitment to the Lord (Exod. 33:5, 6; cf. Gen. 35:2- 4). This is also indicated by the prophetic indictment against almost all types of jewelry worn by both men and women (Isa. 3:18-21). The fact that the Israelites removed their ornaments from Sinai onward suggests that early Israelites did not wear jewelry. Archaeological evidence indicates that such may have been the case because, with rare exceptions, excavations in early Israelite sites have uncovered very little jewelry and only of a poor quality.

This tendency to devaluate jewelry is reflected in the fact that no mention is made of it in cases and situations where we would expect reference to its use. For instance during the creation of Adam and Eve, and particularly after the Lord dressed them (Gen. 3:21), there is no explicit or implicit reference to ornaments. In Revelation 12:1, 2, a woman is used as a symbol of God's people, but there is a total absence of jewelry on her body. Yet, the woman representing the enemies of God's people is described as loaded with jewelry (Rev. 1 7:4). Moreover, in total discontinuity with ancient Near Eastern practices, the Cod of Israel wears no jewelry. He never appears using ornaments, and He is never seen in vision by the prophets wearing them. Once it is acknowledged that a significant number of passages in the Bible deal with jewelry, it would be incorrect to attribute this situation to mere chance. It does reflect the attitude of the biblical faith toward jewelry and suggests that in general, it was not positive.

3. Not Intrinsically Evil

One should also accept the fact that the Bible does not consider jewelry to be essentially evil. Otherwise it would have been impossible for Cod to order Moses to make a dress for Aaron adorned with jewelry, or for the king to wear a crown, or for anyone to have a signet ring. But all of those cases are to some extent appropriate usages of jewelry. Jewelry cannot be essentially evil because the beautiful materials used in its production were created by God Himself. Moreover, minerals are not moral agents, but humans are. The evil of jewelry is to be located in the heart of the wearer and not simply in the object itself.

4. Restricted Use of Jewelry

If we are willing to accept that in the Bible jewelry has different functions, that there is a general pejorative attitude toward it, and that, nevertheless, it is not intrinsically evil, then we must also accept that not all of its usages are approved by the Lord. The Bible does have a restrictive attitude toward the use of jewelry. Here we must take care to distinguish what is acceptable from what is not. The fact is that most usages'of jewelry are rejected by the biblical writers.

Religious, magical, and protective jewelry is probably rejected because of idolatry. More important is the fact that no religious jewelry was prescribed for the Israelites through which they could express their religious convictions and their commitment to the Lord. This is not an argument based on the silence of the biblical record. The Lord, as we have demonstrated, told the Israelites what to wear in order to inform others that they worshiped Him alone and not other gods. We required from them a particular symbolic attachment on their clothes, but it was not jewelry. His symbol indicated that they were holy to the Lord (Num. 15:37-41). According to the New Testament, such a holy life should adorn the Christian (1 Peter 3:4, 5).

The use of jewelry as symbolizing social status, power, and authority is restricted only to a few cases. Here we can mention the dress of the high priest, the jewelry of the king and the queen, and the signet ring. Of those, only the first was explicitly instituted by God Himself, the others seem to have been permitted or tolerated by Him. In these cases, the element of adornment plays a secondary role. When others besides the royal couple used jewelry to establish social distinctions, the prophets raised their voices against them (Isa. 3:18-21; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 3:3-6), indicating that this type of jewelry was not fully acceptable. But those exceptions serve to show that, at least in some cases, functional jewelry was accepted.

5. Ornamental Jewelry Is Rejected

The Scriptures are clear that ornamental jewelry was not to be part of the personal adornment of the people of Cod. Although jewelry enhanced the appearance of the individual, it was worn for another reason. The jewelry used by the high priest beautified him, but its primary purpose was to identify him as the leading spiritual figure in Israel and a representative of the people before the Lord. Whenever the functional nature of a piece of jewelry was rejected, its ornamental function was also rejected. In other words, there is no evidence to indicate that, for instance, magical jewelry was acceptable if used only for ornamental purposes. Rejection of the one was also rejection of the other.

In New Testament times, jewelry was commonly used for personal adornment, but even there, other functions were associated with italso. In cases where jewelry was primarily ornamental, the biblical passages are clear in rejecting it, and in describing the nature of true persona I adornment as the enactment of Christian virtues in the daily life of the believer (1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 3:3-6). To be sure, personal adornment is not totally rejected, but a particular type of exterior adornment is identified as incompatible with the Christian life. Ornamental jewelry falls into this category of adornment.

We can summarize our discussion by saying that the Bible rejects the use of ornamental jewelry by God's people, while at the same time accepting or tolerating a restrictive use of some functional jewelry. It is obvious that the issue of jewelry in the Bible cannot be dealt with in terms of categories of totally wrong or totally right. On this basis, the church must abide by what is clear and use biblical principles to deal with those areas where a personal decision is required.

Foundation of the Adventist Standard on Jewelry

Our study has shown that there is significant material on the subject of jewelry in the Bible, distributed from Genesis through Revelation. The subject is well attested in the Scriptures and of concern for biblical writers. This phenomenon should limit significantly the argument that the Adventist standard on ornamental jewelry stems from the Victorian age during the 1800s. The fundamental reason why the Adventist Church established this standard was because our pioneers believed that it was a biblical teaching, one they inherited from other Christian communities.

A Christian standard on jewelry existed long before there was an Adventist or a Protestant. It appears in the time of the early post-apostolic church, to say nothing of the apostolic church, where it was supported not simply on the basis of cultural concerns but on the basis of the Scriptures. 1 It is a fact that during the first three centuries of the Christian era, the church held to a very high standard on the use of ornamental jewelry. Tertullian (160-225 A.D.) wrote against ornaments consisting of gold, silver, and gems, but indicated at the same time that he was not encouraging disregard for good personal appearance. He pointed to "the limit and norm and just measure of cultivation of the person. There must be no overstepping of the line to which simple and sufficient refinement limit their desires—the line that is pleasing to the Lord."2 Obviously he had in mind 1 Peter 3:3, 4 and 1 Timethy 2:9, 10, which he quoted in other places where he discussed proper Christian adornment.3

We also find Clement of Alexandria condemning ornamental jewelry, challenging women to "utterly cast off" ornaments4 and telling men that there is no need for them to wear ornaments of gold. 5 Earrings are rejected because "the Word prohibits us from doing violence to nature by boring the lobes of the ears."6 Interestingly, Clement makes a distinction between ornamental jewelry and functional jewelry. He argues that the Word permits a man or woman to wear a finger-ring of gold "for sealing things which are worth keeping safe in the house." 7 But he goes further by suggesting that women married to men who are not Christians and who want them to wear ornamental jewelry should do it only to please their husbands. But it should be their goal gently to draw their husbands to simplicity. 8

During the third century, one can begin to detect a slight tendency to relax the standard on jewelry. However, it was still defended by writers such as Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (d. 258), who admonished wealthy women who wanted to use their wealth as they pleased, to "use them, certainly, but for the things of salvation; use them, but for good purposes; use them, but for those things which God has commanded, and which the Lord has set forth. Let the poor feel that you are wealthy; let the needy feel that you are rich."9 Then he quoted Paul, Peter, and Isaiah to demonstrate that those who adorn themselves with gold, pearls, and necklaces "have lost the ornaments of the heart and the spirit." 10 Cyprian associated jewelry with moral corruption (prostitution) and immodesty.

By the fourth century, jewelry was becoming common in the church, leading John Chrysostom (c. 347-407 A.D.) to address the issue in some of his homilies. He considered ornaments of gold unnecessary for men and women. In fact, it was ridiculous, he said, for a woman to come to church wearing her gold ornaments: "For what possible reason does she come in here wearing golden ornaments, She who ought to come in that she may hear [the precept] 'that they adorn not themselves with gold, nor pearls nor costly attire'? (1 Tim. 2. 9). With what object then, O woman, dost thou come? Is it indeed to fight with Paul, and show that even if he repeat these things ten thousand times, thou regardest them not? Or is it as wishing to put us your teachers to shame as discoursing on these subjects in vain?" 11 Chrysostom concludes this section with a very specific appeal: "Let not the image of God be decked out with these things: let the gentlewomen be adorned with gentility, and gentility is the absence of pride, and of boastful display." 12

I have given special attention to these early Christian writers because they illustrate the initial Christian understanding of the biblical view on ornamental jewelry, long before the Victorian Age. The early centuries are marked by strong resistance to the use of ornamental jewelry by believers. After the fifth century, as Bacchiocchi has pointed out, jewelry became the official adornment of the clerical orders and during the remainder of the Middle Ages was very popular among Christians.13 The Reformers condemned this practice of the church and called Christians back to a life of simplicity, discouraging the use of jewelry for personal adornment. This was particularly the case among the Anabaptists who sought to reform the church, not only in terms of doctrines but also in biblical lifestyle. This tradition was continued among the Mennonites, Brethren, and Methodists, among others. 14

Adventists are inheritors of this genuine biblical, early Catholic, and Protestant understanding of personal ornamentation. History indicates a recurring tendency among those who have upheld the high biblical standard on ornamental jewelry to relax the standard until it is virtually non-existent. Perhaps the reason is that its biblical basis is forgotten or considered irrelevant. This is the kind of pressure the Adventist church faces today.


The multiplicity of biblical references to jewelry, when carefully analyzed, reveals a consistent pattern of meaning and coherence throughout the Scriptures. By recognizing that, in the Bible, jewelry has different functions, and that some of them are accepted or tolerated while others are rejected, we are able to understand the attitude of the biblical writers toward jewelry. It was precisely that biblical material that provided to the Christian church, and more particularly to the Adventist church, the very foundation for a biblical standard on jewelry.

This article is excerpted from the practical resource, Jewelry in the Bible: What You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid To Ask, by Angel Manuel Rodriguez. The entire book is available for purchase at <>.

1. Excellent material on this subject is cited in Bacchiocchi, Christian Dress, pp. 74-100.

2. Tertullian, "On the Apparel of Women," 1.4; II.5, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Ml: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 16,20.

3. Tertullian, "De corona" 14, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 102.

4. Clement of Alexandria, "The Instructor" 11.13, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, p. 268.

5. Ibid., 111.1, (p. 271).

6. Ibid., III.11, (p. 285).

7. Ibid. The seal was expected to have some Christian emblem engraved on it. See F. L. Cross, editor, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 1167.

8. Ibid.

9. Cyprian, "Treatise II: On the Dress of the Virgins" 11. in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, p. 433.

10. Ibid., 13, p. 433.

11. John Chrysostom, "Homilies on Hebrews" XXVII.13, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 14, edited by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, Ml: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 497.

12. Ibid. See also his "Homilies on Timothy" VIII, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 13, pp. 433, 434.

13. Bacchiocchi, Christian Adornment, pp. 83-86.

14. Ibid., pp. 83-94.