|BY ANGEL MANUEL RODRIGUEZ
At last, after years of sometimes heated debate, a new publication addresses the questions of what the Bible teaches about jewelry. Dr. Angel Manuel Rodriguez, an Adventist Review columnist and an associate director of the Biblical Research Instituteat the General Conference, has put into words an unimpassioned, carefully researched look from a biblical perspective. In 125 pages, Jewelry in the Bible explores the implication of how the Bible deals with the question and how it relates to committed Christian living.
Published just this year, the book provides the freshest, information that must be taken into account in reaching conclusions. Those willing to look at the question without prejudging should take the opportunity of reading the entire book.
hose who believe that the Bible is their norm of faith and practice are willing to raise the question of how the biblical teachings on jewelry affect their Christian life. We recognize that it is a sensitive matter to guide people regarding what to wear or not to wear, but the fundamental question in this case becomes that of the authority of the Bible in our lives. Adventists always have claimed to be willing to listen and submit to the will of God as expressed in the Scriptures, and for that reason we should feel free to explore the implications of the biblical teaching on jewelry for us today. Interestingly, this issue is not as complex as some tend to believe once we understand the biblical view on this subject. Hence, let us explore some of the implications.
A. Some Implications
1. Adventist Standard on Jewelry and the Bible
The Adventist standard on jewelry rejects ornamental jewelry while at the same time recognizing that there is such a thing as functional jewelry and that using it is not necessarily a violation of the standard. As
discussed previously, this is what the Bible states with respect to the use of jewelry. It is true that for some people it is difficult to accept the concept that jewelry could have today different functions, but jewelry even in the Western World does fulfill several functions. Religious jewelry is common in the New Age movement as well as among some Christians (e.g. the Crucifix, among Catholics); and interest in the occult has brought with it the use of protective jewelry. In some countries jewelry is used to indicate the social role of queens, kings, and tribal chiefs. Of course, the most well known piece of functional jewelry is the wedding band, used as a symbol of loving commitment to the spouse. However, in most cases the primary function of jewelry today seems to be ornamental. It is this ornamental aspect that the church, following the Scriptures, has rejected as inappropriate for Christians.
Ornamental jewelry usually, but not exclusively, takes the form of earrings, nose rings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, and anklets worn to enhance the appearance of the individual. To some extent this is the implicit definition of ornamental jewelry that we find in the "Action on Display and Adornment" taken during the 1972 Annual Council of the General Conference. It stated: "That in the area of personal adornment necklaces, earrings, bracelets, jewelled and other ornamental rings should not be worn."1
2. Restrictive Use of Functional Jewelry
Without doubt this is the area that tends to create confusion in the mind of some Adventists who would rather reject all jewelry as evil, or among those who are interested in rejecting the standard while preserving the principles behind it. In allowing a limited use of functional jewelry the church is following the biblical position. The question that the church confronts here is defining functional jewelry and stating at what point it becomes ornamental jewelry.
Since most societies seem to be have a clear cultural understanding of what functional jewelry is it is not necessarily difficult to identify it. Perhaps what one needs to ask is, What is the particular purpose of this piece of jewelry in our particular culture? If one is unable to find a purpose then it is probably ornamental. In the western world functional jewelry is usually easy to identify because its function is an intrinsic part of its marketing possibilities and satisfies a particular need in the attire or life of the individual. For instance, a watch is made with the express purpose of helping us to keep track of time; a wedding ring is sold precisely as a wedding ring; and cufflinks are made in such a way as to facilitate holding cuffs together. The brooch may still be a functional ornament if it hold together pieces of clothing, as toggle pins did in the ancient world.
Obviously, functional jewelry could be made in such a way that its ornamental function outshines any other useful purpose. In that case it must be considered inappropriate for a Christian to use it. On what basis is one to decide on this issue? The solution that the biblical text seems to suggest is to use biblical principles to determine what is and is not appropriate for personal adornment. Probably one could identify many principles, but the church has identified the three most important ones: simplicity, modesty, and economy. Functional jewelry should be evaluated on the basis of these three principles.
"Simplicity," although not a common biblical term, is considered to be an important Christian virtue. In the New Testament the Greek term haplotes seems to be the most important one used to express concepts of simplicity, singleness, sincerity.2 The utilization of this term in the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament indicates that simplicity consists of an undivided commitment to a single purpose, i.e., the service of God. It is characterized by the absence of ambiguous behavior or duplicity (cf. 2 Cor 11:3; Matt 6:22). In fact, "as opposed to duplicitous people, those with divided hearts, those who are simple have no other concern than to do the will of God, to observe his precepts; their whole existence is an expression of this disposition of heart, this rectitude."3
Simplicity as the total and unreserved self-giving to the Lord and His will expresses itself in the way we act and adorn ourselves. Functional jewelry must reveal that the center of our lives is in our commitment to Christ and not in a self-serving display of ostentatious ornaments. An undivided heart will show its full loyalty to our Savior in an unambiguous life style of service to him and to others. The principle of simplicity in the selection of functional jewelry, then, means that such jewelry must witness to the fact that we live an unpretentious and irreproachable life exclusively oriented toward our Savior and Lord. This is indeed singleness of heart-simplicity.4
"Modesty" is used by Paul in his discussion of proper Christian adornment (1 Tim 2:9), and by it he meant a self-respect determined by one's claim to be living a life pleasing to the Lord. Consequently it leads to the avoidance of excess or extremes and acknowledges and abides by the limits of propriety. What is proper is not simply what society has established but primarily what has been specified in the instructions given by the apostle to the community of believers. Where Christian instruction coincides with societal values, this benefits the Church in that the values of its members are not in conflict with those of non-believers. In short, modest functional jewelry avoids extremes of display and is loyal to the Christian parameters for personal propriety.
"Economy" is difficult to define because it varies from person to person. What is inexpensive may in the long run prove to be expensive and the expensive may show itself to be more economical. In the biblical texts dealing with jewelry the principle of economy is not emphasized. However, the Bible does have much to say about stewardship of our financial resources and our accountability to God.5 In the case of functional jewelry "economy" probably means that since in general expensive jewelry tends to be ostentatious we must avoid buying it and that investing significant amounts of money in what is, from the biblical point of view, of little value for the Christian life violates our responsibility as stewards of God.
3. Symbol of Social Status
Jewelry as a symbol of social status and power is in a very few cases tolerated in the Bible but in other cases it is disapproved. This phenomenon must alert us to be very careful when dealing with this particular function of jewelry in the church. Here we face a situation in which cultural practices around the world may play a significant role in whatever is decided by the church. For instance, military officers usually display on their uniforms insignias and medals that serve to identify their acts of courage and their social role. This is a well-accepted cultural practice and the church could consider this type of jewelry as functional. Another example: The graduation ring appears to serve only to signal our superiority over others who, for a variety of reasons, could not accomplish what we have accomplished in the academic world. Is this a piece of proper functional jewelry? Hardly. But perhaps the governing principle is that any action, attitude, or symbol that would introduce unnecessary social distinctions among believers must be carefully evaluated and whenever possible laid at the foot of the cross, where there is equality in sin and grace. The emphasis should be placed in that which unites, not what separates.
4. Principles versus Standards
The standard on jewelry (rejection of ornamental jewelry; restrictive use of functional jewelry) and the principles regulating the use of functional jewelry (e.g., modesty) have permanent relevance across time and culture. Those principles can and should be used to determine what is appropriate with respect to functional jewelry. In this particular case the church should not provide a list of what is or is not appropriate, but must give general guidance and allow church members, under the guidance of the Spirit, to apply to each specific cultural practice the biblical principles. We must acknowledge that there are areas in the Christian life where the individual and his or her Lord must decide what to do. This is in fact a sign of Christian and spiritual maturity. It is possible and even probable that some may misuse this freedom, but that argument should not be employed to deny the freedom granted to us by the Bible itself.
B. Dangers Associated with
the Standard on Jewelry
Any Christian standard can be misused and misapplied, thereby losing its original positive intention and contribution to the well-being of the believer. The biblical standard on jewelry is certainly no exception. We will explore some of the dangers we may confront when emphasizing acceptance of the standard on jewelry and at the same time we will give some suggestions on how to deal with them in our own lives.
1. Sin and Jewelry
There is no doubt that in the Bible sin is much more than a particular action that damages the perpetrator or someone else. Sin is the condition under which we exist; it has corrupted our nature to the point that whatever we do needs to be mediated to God through Christ in order for Him to accept it. No action of ours, be it "good" or "bad," is untainted by sin. One could probably say that sin precedes sin as an evil act. This sinful state and environment in which we exist will not be eradicated until the glorious manifestation of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, at his Second Coming.
Meanwhile, the Spirit works in our hearts, not allowing our sinful nature to rule over us to lead us into sinful behavior. The dominion of sin over us is strengthened and even actualized in our sinful acts. It is not a trivialization of sin to define it as acts committed against the will of God that are damaging to us and, in many cases, to those around us. Sin is killing someone, stealing, working on Sabbath, because in those sinful acts the dominion of sin over us is actualized. Overcoming those sinful acts is a victory over sin as an act and also as a state. This is the kind of victory that the Lord wants us to enjoy.
The fact that the standard of jewelry most directly deals with exterior acts does not trivialize sin6 but on the contrary informs us how the Spirit can limit the power, dominion, and inroads of sin in our lives. One could say that obedience to God's specific commands is a proclamation of Christ's lordship in our lives. This obviously does not mean that our nature has been freed once and for all from its sinfulness; but it does mean that we are joyfully looking forward to the time when this will take place.
2. Legalism and Jewelry
The most threatening danger faced by those who emphasize obedience to the Law of God and to specific biblical standards is legalism. Legalism distorts obedience by creating a religious monstrosity that destroys the very essence of the Christian message of salvation exclusively in Christ, and in the process creates in the individual a sense of pride. This threat is faced not only by those who accept the biblical standard on jewelry but by anyone who seeks to obey the Lord. In the case of jewelry, alegalistic removal of ornamental jewelry and the use of simple, modest and economical functional jewelry destroys the very intent of the standard because instead of self-denial and humility it leads to selfishness and pride.
Legalism always is accompanied by a judgmental attitude. In our the wearing of jewelry those who accept the biblical standard on jewelry may be tempted to feel superior to those not fully committed to it. Obviously we could say the same thing about Sabbath observance, tithing, or doing missionary work. Hence, the issue is not jewelry but the deceptiveness of the human heart that some times takes what is good, obedience to God, and transforms it into a means of self-accomplishment and pride. What is needed is an awareness of the fact that genuine obedience is a humble expression of gratitude to our Savior and to God for what they have done for us on the cross. Our obedience is an offering of love to God and He does not expect us to compare what we bring to Him with what other human beings are offering Him. Whenever we try to assist others in their Christian experience it must be done in love and not in condemnation and rejection.
3. Principles, Jewelry, Houses, Cars?
There is no question that the principles of simplicity, modesty and economy extend beyond the sphere of personal adornment and dress. We must personally seek to apply them in the broadest possible way to every dimension of our walk with God. Perhaps at times the church has unintentionally tended to underline their applicability only to the area of dress and ornamentation. If that were the case, the call to the church is to broaden the application of those principles to many other aspects of the Christian experience. However, in this task the church needs to be extremely careful not to create new standards that could unnecessarily burden church members.
No one should expect the church to decide for its members what is a modest and economical car, a modest house, or a simple watch. Those are areas where the church should only teach the Christian principles and challenge its members to use them as they make personal decisions in their daily life. The obvious question is, Why could we not do the same when it comes to the standard of ornamental jewelry? The answer is simple: The Bible itself has set up for us this particular standard and therefore the church can and must teach it. In areas where the Scriptures speak clearly we have no choice but to listen to it. The application of the principles governing the standard on jewelry to other areas must be left to the work of the Spirit in the hearts of those who claim to live a life pleasing to the Lord.
4. Gender and Jewelry
There has also been a tendency in the church to address the issue of jewelry almost exclusively in reference to its female members. This is to some extent understandable, if we take into consideration that until recently most ornamental jewelry worn in the western world was mainly by women and that some of the biblical passages were directed specifically to them. But it is now clear that in biblical times the issue of jewelry affected both genders and that today jewelry is being used by both men and women. Therefore, we should not deal with this topic as if it were a female problem, but look at it for what it really is, a part of the human predicament.
The subject of jewelry should not be allowed to distract our attention from the good news of salvation through faith in Christ. It is within the context of the gospel that we should teach the biblical standard on jewelry; otherwise we will fall into the trap of legalism or judgmentalism. In teaching the biblical standard on jewelry we must make clear that ornamental jewelry is rejected but that functional jewelry is not. Making a distinction between these two may prove at times to be somewhat difficult, but it not need to be that difficult.
Functional jewelry is easily identified in most cultures and therefore we must allow cultural practices to inform us. In other words, functional jewelry is not defined by personal wishes but by respected cultural beliefs and practices. For instance, the church must be willing to acknowledge that in some cultures a necklace is used to indicate that the woman wearing it is married; while in other cultures is it is simply an ornament. In the first situation the necklace is acceptable but in the other its is to be rejected. In the selection of functional jewelry the Christian must follow the biblical principles of modesty, simplicity and economy.
This approach to the question of jewelry is based on the fact that the Bible combines a specific standard on jewelry (rejection of ornamental jewelry and restrictive use of functional jewelry) with a set of principles to be used in the selection of functional jewelry. In order for the church to remain faithful to the Scriptural witness it needs to teach both elements.
1 See Appendix I.
2 Consult, Otto Bauernfeind, "Haplous, haplotes," Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. 1, pp. 386, 387; R. L. Scheef, "Simplicity," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, pp. 360, 361, writes, "In the NT the primary word for `simplicity' is haplotes, which characteristically designates an undivided loyalty, purity in devotion as to Christ; but the term can also mean `wholeness of heart' in the sense of `generosity' or `liberality'" (p. 360); Burkhard Gartner, "Simplicity, Sincerity, Uprightness," New International Dictionary of NT Theology, vol. 3, pp. 371-72; and Tim Schramm, "Haplotessimplicity, sincerity, uprightness," Exegetical Dictionary of the NT, vol. 1, pp. 123-124.
3 Spicq, "Haplotes," Lexicon, vol. 1, p. 170.
4 Scriven, "Ring," p. 58, defines simplicity as "the attempt to master greed, to overcome extravagance, to live without the proud showiness that can only deepen the pain of the poor who cannot afford what we display. Simplicity is a focus on the inner person, not the outer person; it is concern for others, no preoccupation with one's self." Although there is much truth in it, its major weakness is that simplicity is defined in terms of what it rejects rather than in terms of what it is. Simplicity is fundamentally a positive wholeheartedly commitment to God, the outflow of which is a life that displays that commitment in the way we deal with our possessions, financial resources and personal adornment. Scriven seems, perhaps unintentionally, to introduce a dichotomy between the inner and the outer person when suggesting that simplicity is centered in the inner not the outer person. In biblical thinking simplicity is not just an inner experience but also one that is embodied in our exterior demeanor.
5 See, Angel Manuel Rodriguez, Stewardship Roots: Toward a Theology of Stewardship, Tithe and Offerings (Silver Spring, MD: Stewardship Department, 1994).
6 This is an argument used by Dennis H. Braun, A Seminar on Adventists, Adornment and Jewelry, pp. 50-51, which he took from George R. Knight, The Pharisee's Guide to Perfect Holiness (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1992), p. 51.
Angel Manuel Rodriguez is a frequent contributor to the Adventist Review and an associate director of the General Conference Biblical Research Institute.