(1 Pet. 3:3) Does this mean that women should not wear makeup and jewelry?

CLAIM: Peter writes, “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses” (1 Pet. 3:3). Some of the early church fathers (e.g. Tertullian and Cyprian)[1] and modern day Seventh-Day Adventists have used this passage to argue that women should never wear jewelry or makeup (c.f. 1 Tim. 2:9-10; Isa. 3:16-24). Is this the case?

RESPONSE: The NASB adds the word “merely” in this translation –even though it doesn’t occur in the original Greek. The translators add “merely” in italics to capture that Peter is not excluding makeup and jewelry; instead, it simply shouldn’t be the source of their beauty. This is the way that the NIV translates this passage in order to capture this sense (“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…”). In other words, women shouldn’t trust in their outward beauty, but in their inward beauty.

In addition, the Greco-Roman culture at the time viewed makeup and jewelry for the purpose of seduction and deceit. Karen Jobes explains:

Conversely, outward adornments were often perceived as instruments of seduction (Philo, On the Virtues 7.39; Plutarch, Advice §30), and a woman’s use of cosmetics was viewed as an attempt to deceive; both were unnecessary if a woman stayed at home (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 10.2).[2]

This would fit with our earlier interpretation in 1 Peter 3:1-2 that the unbelieving husbands would be suspicious of their believing wives leaving for Christian fellowship. If she was leaving with makeup and jewelry, this would only add to the suspicion of the husband.

For further reading, see our earlier article “Christianity and Women.”


[1] Blum writes, “Many have taken Peter’s words to be an absolute prohibition of any outward adornment. The early fathers Tertullian and Cyprian did this, and many rigorists have followed them. But Peter’s emphasis is not on prohibition but on a proper sense of values.” Blum, E. A. (1981). 1 Peter. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (236–237). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (204–205). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.