Jewelry comes in many styles, materials, and functions. Each culture has its own customs about jewelry, and its use to convey wealth and social status, marital status, and more. Even within a single culture, jewelry trends vary widely between different generations, ethnic groups, and other affiliations.
How should Christians navigate the social and spiritual implications of wearing jewelry? Can Christians wear jewelry at all? Or are each of us free to decide what jewelry to wear based on the culture around us and our personal preferences?
Christians can wear jewelry if they choose to. However, Christians should be mindful of what their jewelry choices represent so that we do not fixate improperly on physical beauty, material wealth, or social identity.
Jewelry in the Bible
Throughout scripture, jewelry was commonly used to adorn and beautify. Also, jewelry was a convenient and durable means of storing wealth.
As an adornment, jewelry was worn almost exclusively by women, and usually only on special occasions. However, among royalty and wealthier families, jewelry was worn at nearly all times. Weddings were the most common occasions for a woman to adorn herself with jewels. As the prophet Jeremiah said:
Does a young woman forget her jewelry,
a bride her wedding ornaments?Jeremiah 2:32a
This imagery was frequently used by the prophets and the wisdom writers because the association of jewels with weddings was universally practiced and understood.
As a savings instrument, jewelry was kept in storage and not necessarily worn. When the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt, the Lord instructed them to plunder the jewels of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:35-36), ensuring that they would have items of value that they could use to trade with neighboring nations.
Let’s look at some specific examples of the use of jewelry in the Bible:
Isaac and Rebekah
When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, the servant identified Rebekah as the woman that the Lord had chosen. Upon which he “took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.” (Genesis 24:22).
When Rebekah returned to her home, her brother saw the jewelry and understood immediately what had happened (v 30).
In this instance, the jewelry represented both a guarantee of a future promise and an adornment of Rebekah’s beauty. This is not unlike our modern use of engagement rings and wedding bands.
The Prodigal Son
After the lost son had taken his share of the family estate and squandered it, he returned to his father’s house as a broke, broken, and remorseful young man. When the father saw his lost son returning, he gave his servants very specific instructions:
But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.’Luke 15:22
The ring in this instance is not a mere adornment, but a signet ring bearing the family seal. The ring signifies that the son had been fully restored to the family, with all of the rights and privileges of sonship. It also allowed the son to conduct official business with the authority of the father.
In a modern telling, this would be akin to the father handing the son his checkbook and credit cards!
In the ancient world, jewelry had beautifying, symbolic, and practical uses. Still, jewelry could be misused and abused, as scripture cautions.
Biblical Teachings about Jewelry
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.Proverbs 11:22
We may chuckle at the imagery of this proverb. But if we look closely, the warning isn’t about jewelry—or even the pig!
The problem here is the lack of discretion.
Jewelry, as an adornment, is inherently neutral, but a lack of inner beauty (discretion) is something that even jewelry cannot beautify.
God is concerned with the heart, and not with outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). So the intentions of our jewelry choices matter. When the jewels, along with the wealth and beauty they represent, become more important to the wearer than a heart toward God, then we need to adjust our hearts.
Both Peter and Paul caution against the overuse—or misuse—of jewelry:
- I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Timothy 2:9-10
- Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4
In both letters, the writers remind us that outward adornment doesn’t replace the inner beauty of Godliness. The life of a Christian is marked by generous love and faithful service. In ancient times, it was only those who were served—never those who did the serving—who adorned themselves with jewels at all times.
Paul’s letter to Timothy also presents an appeal to modesty and propriety. But Paul is not speaking about sexual modesty, as modern readers might assume. He is instructing his audience in fiscal modesty. Unlike every other community in the ancient world, the church was (and still ought to be) a place where people of all economic strata, rich and poor alike, gather as equals before God.
So we should avoid flaunting our wealth because it draws attention to ourselves and declares a personal identity as a member of a particular class instead of our identity in Christ.
While Paul’s instructions about jewelry are aimed at women (since men did not wear jewelry), he makes a similar appeal to men a few chapters later, adding:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.1 Timothy 6:17-18
Reflecting Our Inner Adornment
With any participation in cultural customs, our intentions matter. As Christians, we are not forbidden from wearing jewelry, but we must be mindful of what our jewelry says about us—either unintentionally or purposefully. If we are using it to gain attention or hold ourselves superior to others, our jewelry can lead us far from the heart of God and inhibit our witness.
But if we use our jewelry to honor our marriages or to demonstrate equality with our audience—whoever they may be, then we honor God and serve Him.