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1 Peter 3:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 Do not let your adornment be external, the braiding of hair and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothing,
Do not let your adornment. The apostle refers here to a propensity that exists in the heart of a woman to seek that which would be esteemed ornamental, or that which will appear well in the sight of others, and commend us to them. The desire of this is laid deep in human nature and, therefore, when properly regulated, is not wrong. The only question is, what is the true and appropriate ornament? What should be primarily sought as the right kind of adorning? The apostle does not condemn true ornament, nor does he condemn the desire to appear in such a way as to secure the esteem of others. God does not condemn real ornament. The universe is full of it. The colors of the clouds and of the rainbow; the varied hues of flowers; the plumage of birds, and the covering of many of the animals of the forest; the green grass; the variety of hill and dale; the beauty of the human complexion, the ruddy cheek, and the sparkling eye, are all of the nature of ornament. They are something superadded to what would be merely useful to make them appear well. Few or none of these things are absolutely necessary to the things to which they are attached, for the eye could see without the various tints of beauty that are drawn upon it, and the lips and the cheeks could perform their functions without their beautiful tints, and the vegetable world could exist without the variegated colors that are painted on it; but God meant that this should be a beautiful world; that it should appear well; that there should be something more than mere utility. The true notion of ornament or adorning is that which will make any person or thing appear well, or beautiful, to others, and the apostle does not prohibit that which would have this effect on the wife. The grand thing which she was to seek was not that which is merely external but that which is internal and which God regards as of so great value.
Be external. Let not this be the main or principal thing; let not her heart be set on this. The apostle does not say that she should wholly neglect her personal appearance, for she has no more right to be offensive to her husband by neglecting her personal appearance than by fussy attention to it. Religion promotes neatness and cleanliness and proper attention to our external appearance according to our circumstances in life, as certainly as it does to the internal virtue of the soul. On this whole passage, see Notes, 1 Tim. 2:9, 10.
the braiding of hair. See 1 Tim. 2:9; Comp. Isa. 3:24. Great attention is paid to this in the East, and it is to this that the apostle here refers. ‘The women in the eastern countries,’ says Dr. Shaw, (Travels, p. 294,) ‘affect to have their hair hang down to the ground, which they collect into one lock, upon the hinder part of the head, binding and plaiting it about with ribbons. Above this, or on the top of their heads, persons of better fashion wear flexible plates of gold or silver, variously cut through, and engraved in imitation of lace.’ We are not to suppose that a mere braiding or plaiting of the hair is improper, for there may be no more simple or convenient way of disposing of it. But the allusion here is to the excessive care which then prevailed, and especially to their setting the heart on such ornaments rather than on the adorning which is internal. It may not be easy to fix the exact limit of propriety about the method of arranging the hair or about any other ornament, but those whose hearts are right generally have little difficulty on the subject. Every ornament of the body, however beautiful, is soon to be laid aside; the adorning of the soul will endure forever.
And the wearing of gold ornaments. The gold here particularly referred to is probably that which was interwoven in the hair, and which was a common female ornament in ancient times. Thus Virgil says, crimes nodantur in aurum. And again, crinem implicat auro. See Homer, Il., B. 872; Herod. i. 82; and Thucyd. i. 6. The wearing of gold in the hair, however, was more common among women of loose morals than among virtuous females.—Pollux iv. 153. It cannot be supposed that all wearing of gold about the person is wrong, for there is nothing evil in gold itself, and there may be some articles connected with apparel made of gold that may in no manner draw off the affections from higher things and may do nothing to endanger piety. The meaning is, that such ornaments should not be sought; that Christians should be in no way distinguished for them; that they should not engross the time and attention; that Christians should so dress as to show that their minds are occupied with nobler objects and that in their apparel they should be models of neatness, economy, and plainness. If it should be said that this expression teaches that it is wrong to wear gold at all, it may be replied that on the same principle, it would follow that the next clause teaches that it is wrong to put on apparel at all. There is really no difficulty in such expressions. We are to dress decently and in the manner that will attract least attention, and we are to show that our hearts are interested supremely in more important things than in outward adorning.
Or fine clothing. That is, this is not to be the ornament that we principally seek or for which we are distinguished. We are to desire a richer and more permanent adorning—that of the heart.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews