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I will be honest with you, I have been struggling with scrupulosity for years over this subject. I love fashion and it is also my work but also want to do what's right in the eyes of God.

I was trying to analyze Greek versions of 1 Peter 3:3 so that I will be able to find proof that we can at least wear modest adornments or for example floral tops instead of plain ones. But my last post here put me into a panic attack so I just want to make one thing clear. Why is the word κόσμος in the original Greek text of 1 Peter 3:3 not translated as adorned clothes (as it stands next to putting on clothes)? One use Michael16 said that it is a good translation to which would be "Let it be not the external of braiding your hair, putting on gold and putting on adorned clothes"? Would that be the correct translation?

Also, Michael16 said that it means worldly clothing, but what does that mean?? Because there is a huge difference between putting on clothes and putting on adorned clothes, that would mean women are not allowed to even wear a shirt with one flower but we would have to wear plain unadorned clothes. It absolutely makes me freaked out! In Bible Hub it says that κόσμος is a noun, so can a noun be an adjective as well?

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    – agarza
    Dec 4, 2023 at 15:24
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    It's great that you are thinking about these things and how they relate to your work. In 1 Peter and 1 Timothy the authors were addressing a specific problem in a specific place and time. There was a problem where women were inappropriately dressed for the culture and/or the occasion. The base principle is that the clothing we wear is part of our communication to others and we need to make sure that what we wear is under the authority of God, just like everything else we do. If one is in a worship environment don't make it all about us by the statement we make by what we wear.
    – David D
    Dec 4, 2023 at 16:58
  • As an interesting aside, many of the types of adornment/clothing referenced in the Bible concerning modesty for women have more to do (in context) with public displays of wealth than decency in the modern sense (i.e., don't flaunt wealth and don't be ostentatious --> the type of decency we think of today was often assumed).
    – Dan
    Dec 4, 2023 at 19:31
  • thank you, in Peter he deals with wifes of unbelieving husbands and not with public worships? I wonder why all the early church fathers prohibited adorning?
    – monique
    Jan 1 at 8:19

3 Answers 3

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There are very few Christian groups that stipulate what women coming to worship should wear, and what they should not wear. I have yet to come across one that 'lays down the law' on such personal matters, and certainly Peter was not trying to give a legalistic approach to this matter.

What quite a few groups ask of women coming to worship is that they dress modestly (as opposed to provocatively), and that they do not flaunt their wealth (if they are wealthy) via jewellery, fabrics, and such-like material things. In the New Testament all Christian women are urged not to be lewd in language, or lewd in clothing, or lewd in jewellery, or lewd in any way whatsoever. They are expected to be modest, and not flaunting anything, having, rather, a quiet and respectful manner that commends Christ to all others. That is the foundational principle involved here.

The question seeks to explore the meaning of one particular Greek word in one verse to get to grips with whether women may wear adornments and/or adorned clothes. Yes, the word in question clears some of that up. It is the word 'kosmos' generally translated 'world', as in God's created, ordered, beautiful world that we inhabit. Of interest is that in the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Hebrew word for 'ornament' is translated as 'kosmos' - world. (See, for example, Isaiah 49:18 - clothed with ornaments, as a bride; Jeremiah 4:30 - putting on scarlet [clothing], ornaments of gold, painting the eyes.)

The Old Testament speaks of brides adorning themselves, and of queen Esther coming in (uninvited) to her husband's throne-room wearing her crown (gold, and bejewelled no doubt) and her richest, most fabulous apparel. There is not a word of criticism about any of that, for such women were not coming into a mixed assembly to worship God. In 1 Peter 3:3 they are. That is the critical difference. Those gathering to worship God should never come to be looked at by others, to be admired, or to be considered of high rank. And that applies equally to the men.

However, it is women who are rather more likely to want to appear attractive and beautiful in public. If they use clothes, jewellery, or make-up to draw attention to themselves, they are violating Christian principles for people at worship.

This has got nothing to do with avoiding clothes with a pattern of flowers printed on them! There would be no such thing in first century common useage. What was noticeable were plain colours of scarlet, purple and royal-blue. Those colours denoted royalty, and common people not only could never afford such expensive cloth, in some parts of the world they would be put to death for daring to wear what was reserved for royalty. Yes, Lydia was a seller of purple; high-end commerce indeed. But although the Bible never says whether she ever wore clothes in that colour, what Peter said in the verse in question would apply equally to her as to all other Christian women. "If you've got it, don't flaunt it", is the New Testament principle.

Today, patterned cloth with flowers or tartan, or plain but in outstanding colours, is as common as muck. Nobody needs to be rich to have such clothing. Nobody would stand out in a congregation of worshippers wearing such cloth. But provocatively dressed people would, as would those dripping in jewellery (and I don't mean paste or plastic jewellery), or with wildly expensive coiffured hairstyles reminiscent of outlandish wigs in the Georgian court.

The world loves such things, and the more outlandish the appearance, the more it applauds because it is being entertained by all of that. That is the sense of 'worldliness' that should be avoided in gatherings meant to worship the holy God. There should be no place for entertainment, or worldliness, including that of the way the world loves to flaunt clothing and ornaments. And although Peter spoke of women, the principles he laid down apply equally (in this day and age) to men who might come into a gathering of worship to attract attention to themselves.

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    Up-voted +1. I would only add one aspect to this. Since it is men who may be affected by the clothing women choose, it is for men to decide what is 'provocative' and what is not. And it is to be remembered what God said to Eve in the beginning - thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,
    – Nigel J
    Dec 5, 2023 at 15:56
  • @NigelJ That's an important point re. who finds what provocative. Also the husband to rule over his wife. Appreciated.
    – Anne
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:55
  • the problem is when we compare what Paul and Peter were saying, in Paul we can clearly see that it is about balance and avoiding very expenisve adorment/clothes but in Peter he seems to prohibit any outward adorment saying don not let your adorment be external, so that's mean we should wear plain not atteactive clothes, zero adorments, hairstyles etc (like amish) Also Paul says to dress well aranged with modesty and sound mind so it looks like for both of them modesty and sound mind is to dress like amish? I just tried to compare what Paul and Peter said and I tried to take join principals
    – monique
    Jan 1 at 8:15
  • @monique Yes, put both together, but note that neither apostle is trying to micro-manage what women in the church wear (either in or out of worship times). Christians had been given freedom in Christ to stop being micro-managed by Judaic interpretations of law-keeping. Sadly, many people want a clear-cut list of what to do and what not to do, and there are plenty people around who like to take control of decision-making for such people. But that is not in the New Testament! We are to grow to spiritual maturity, learning to take decisions. May you grow spiritually like that!
    – Anne
    Jan 1 at 12:05
  • yes that is very protestant like view xx thank you
    – monique
    Jan 1 at 13:01
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The Greek word κόσμος (kosmos) actually means "order", or, "orderliness". By extension, because the Greeks viewed the world and all its interworking intricacies as very beautiful, it came to mean two things:

  • the world or universe in today's language, and
  • to adorn or put in order

It is in this latter sense that it is used in 1 Peter 3:3. This sense is much less threatening that it appears to those suffering from "scrululosity". All it means is to adorn by making attractive.

Peter's sense is not to over-do things so as to draw unnecessary attention to oneself. This does NOT mean people should dress in a dowdy fashion, but simply dress simply without undue ostentation. That is, the primary attraction should be the Christian character.

Note the helpful comments of Ellicott:

(3) Whose adorning let it not be . . . .—The passage shows that the Asiatic Christians were not all of the poorer classes. Many of the wealthy Jewesses had joined them. The wealth of the Ephesian Christians about this time may be gathered from 1Timothy 2:9, and of the Laodiceans from Revelation 3:17. Two things are to be noted about the advice here given. (1) It is not intended directly as a corrective of vanity. St. Peter is not bidding them beware of love of dress, although (as Bengel points out) the three words of “plaiting,” “wearing” (literally, putting round oneself), and “putting on,” are intended to convey the notion of elaborate processes in which time is wasted. But the main thought is, How are the husbands to be attracted? Not, says St. Peter, by any external prettiness of adornment, but by inward graces. (2) The Apostle is not forbidding the use of gold, &c. Leighton (himself something of a precisian) says, “All regard of comeliness and ornament in apparel is not unlawful, nor doth the Apostle’s expression here, rightly considered, fasten that upon the adorning he here speaks of. He doth no more universally condemn the use of gold for ornament than he doth any other comely raiment, which here he means by that general word of putting on of apparel, for his ‘not’ is comparative; not this adorning, but the ornament of a meek spirit, that rather, and as much more comely and precious; as that known expression (Hosea 6:6), ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice?” At the same time he is, of course, speaking of these things with studied contempt: and we may be sure he would have spoken with abhorrence of any adorning which partook of the nature of lying. Even in one of Xenophon’s works there is a charming passage where an Athenian gentleman expostulates with his wife on the folly of hoping to attract him by wearing high-heeled shoes and painting her face with rouge and white.

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1 Peter 1:3-4

Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.

I suggest that the answer it depends on the situation. These verses are given for a specific purpose: to influence one's first-century husband to follow God's will, not to issue an eternal dress code for Christian women. Also, the Book of Esther provides a counterpoint, where a woman uses gorgeous attire to woo her husband into doing the will of God.

Let's contextualize this a bit. First, consider the immediate context of the above excerpt from 1 Peter 1:

Likewise, wives should be subordinate to your husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct 2 when they observe your reverent and chaste behavior. (NABRE)

Thus, Peter's advice was given specifically to Christian wives of men who did not did accept God's word, in order to encourage their husbands to repent. It is presumed that these men wanted their wives to appear chaste rather than voluptuous. However, subjection to one's husband's authority is the key point here, not hair and jewelry. Consider the word "likewise" in 3.1 in the larger context of the letter beginning from ch. 2:

2:13 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king... or to governors... 18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse.. 3:18 Likewise, you wives should be subordinate to your husbands...

It is an open question whether the advice of 3:3 applied only the inside home (where a husband might not want his wife to wear jewelry and make-up) or also outside it, in case he wished for her to impress others with her adornments. But obedience to one's husband here is more important than the advice not to adorn oneself. It is hard to imagine that the author is counseling a Christian wife to disobey her husband if he tells her: "Please wear the gold necklace and fancy dress that I gave you, when we go out tonight - and I love it when you braid your hair like you used to do when we were young."

Now let's consider the case of Esther. Rather than of wooing her husband to righteousness by refraining from adornments, Esther became queen by making herself beautiful through months of cosmetic treatments and wearing fashionable apparel. (Esther 3) In a climactic scene, Esther wins the king's heart and saves her people by adopting an attitude 180 degrees opposite to that suggested in 1 Peter.

Esther 4:

She took off her prayer garments and arrayed herself in her splendid attire... She glowed with perfect beauty and her face was as joyous as it was lovely, though her heart was pounding with fear.

Conclusion: 1 Peter's advice is given to women whose husbands would be led to accept God's will through an example of unadorned chastity. The Book of Esther provides an opposite example, where a woman's husband is led to God's will by his wife's dressing herself in glamorous attire. So the answer to the OP's main question is that it depends on the situation. The main issue is not the hair, but the husband - how to bring him to God.

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