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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Is it true that 1 Peter 3:3, 4 should be translated “Your beauty should not so much come from outward adornment . . . but rather it should be that of your inner self”?
The translation you quote implies that Peter is not condemning or rejecting the use of jewelry for personal adornment by Christians, except in cases where it is not accompanied by a life of service to the Lord. In other words, the use of jewelry for personal adornment is not necessarily incompatible with a Christian lifestyle; moderate use would seem acceptable.
You’re raising a question about the biblical basis for the Adventist standard on personal adornment, more specifically, the use of jewelry. I have been working on this topic now for some time, and during this year I hope the results of my investigation will be available to those interested in it. Here I will deal with your specific question on 1 Peter.
1. The Translation Problem: What we have here is a phrase of negation followed by a contrasting phrase. This type of construction is introduced by a negative adverb (“not”) and closed by an adversative particle (“but, rather”). This is what we have in Greek: “Let not their adornment be the outward consisting of . . . but that of your inner self . . .”
In other places the New Testament Greek allows for a translation of this construction similar to the one you found. It could be translated “not so much [this] . . . as [this],” implying that the first part of the sentence is not totally negated (e.g., Mark 9:37).
But the same construction can also be translated “not this . . . but this,” totally rejecting the first element (e.g., Matt. 5:17). The question is, How can we decide the meaning of the construction in 1 Peter 3:3, 4?
The New Testament construction in this passage, “Not [this] . . . ,” is a denying phrase in the imperative. The following “but [this]” introduces the contrasting subject, and it means “but on the contrary.” Thus the first element is totally negated. Therefore, the translation you found is an interpretation that introduces into the text that which is not there.
2. Jewelry for Adornment: My study of biblical materials indicates that in the Bible, jewelry has different purposes and functions. In this particular case Peter is dealing with jewelry whose basic purpose is adornment. He’s not addressing other functional usages of jewelry.
3. The Foundation of Peter’s Command: Was Peter reflecting the attitude toward jewelry as adornment found in the Greco-Roman society? If yes, then his counsel was applicable only to the church of his day and not to the church today. Of course, we could still retain the principles behind his command but not the specific command.
Fortunately, the text itself tells us the source of his command: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful” (verse 5, NIV). Peter goes back to the Old Testament for support.
4. Nature of the True Adornment: Against the specific outward adornment that Peter rejects, he identifies the adornment that pleases God. It is an inner beauty consisting of “a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (verse 4, NIV). The ultimate criterion for proper adornment is that which is precious in God’s sight.
A gentle spirit is based on trust in the Lord (Matt 5:5; cf. Matt. 11:29). A quiet spirit refers to a disposition of tranquillity as a result of being at peace with God. Its absence generates personal and social turmoil.
Peter is suggesting that there is a type of external adornment that is an expression of pride and self-reliance instead of an expression of submission and dependence on the Lord. When contrasted with a “quiet spirit,” such adornment becomes an expression of a restless attitude, a symbol of a need, even a quest for inner peace that is unsatisfied, but that should be fully met through the gospel. Hence this adornment is incompatible with the fruits of the Christian message.