Thursday, August 05, 2010

On The Wearing of Wedding Rings

So this is an interesting conversation that has come up among some friends and one that generates a visceral reaction when broached.

Wedding rings are firmly entrenched in our culture. The exchanging of rings and wearing of them to signify that the wearer is married is part of our cultural heritage even to the point of being the focal point in a whole bunch of country music songs (“I put that little golden band on the right left hand this time….”). Removing a wedding ring can be an indicator of a marriage that is broken. Cultural nostalgia is a big deal when it comes to these small symbols of marriage. Getting an engagement ring is a huge deal for women (if you have ever worked with a young woman who gets engaged the next day at work is filled with her friends and co-workers ooohin and aaaahing over the diamond)

Here is the question. Should Christians wear wedding rings or for that matter should Christians wear any sort of jewelry at all? My wife wears a modest wedding ring and has a couple of other pieces of frankly fairly inexpensive jewelry that she rarely wears. Should she? Why not you ask? Because it certtainly seems that Scripture doesn't permit this tradition.

Scripture seems pretty clear on this, generally in the idea of meekness and humility which seems ill served by a ring made out of a precious metal and often adorned with a pricey diamond as well as more specifically in two passages. I copied the whole section, not just the verse in question to give us a more full view and highlighted the particular verses:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3: 1-6)

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Timothy 2: 8-10)


The principle invoked here is of not being adorned with attire (which would include jewelry) that is prideful and designed to draw attention to the external but rather women in particular should be adorned with good conduct, good works, a gentle spirit and submission to their husbands.

This of course raises some questions. If we are not supposed to wear wedding bands because they are costly adornments, what about a plain band? What if the band was plain and also not gold? Should we eschew any sort of accoutrement that sets us at all apart from someone else? I also note that these two passages apply to women, so is it OK for men to wear wedding bands but not women? Is the wearing of adornments something of particular prideful temptation for women but not for men?

What about name brand clothing with logos ? Clothing companies put their logos on the outside both as an ad for their product as well as to let the wearer signify that they are wearing something more costly than you are. The horse and rider on Polo brand shirts is a great example. I used to sell The North Face jackets to rich kids because the logo tells people that this is not mere fleece or rainjacket, it is a $300 North Face jacket! I think the principle might hold true here as well.

I wonder if we should wear anything that is not plain and handmade. I need to wear suits and appropriate business attire for my job but outside of work, what about that?

There is a real issue and an important principle here that we don’t seem to address in a straightforward manner in the church. I think it might be for the same reason headcovering is glossed over, because it flies in the face of our cultural expectations. On the other hand, this can turn into a point of pride. It is easy to see your own plainness as a point of pride, that I am more holy than that person because of the manner of my dress. Those sorts of heart issues are far more troubling than external obedience and that is true not just about adornment or modest dress or headcovering but also wearing suits to church or lengthy prayers or being contentious or giving our of obligation. It is not difficult at all to be externally pious but have hearts in rebellion.

Peter and Paul are both unanimous and unambiguous about this issue. This strikes me as a topic where the text is clear, so rather than trying to prove from Scriptures that we cannot wear wedding rings, we should see this as explaining why from Scriptures that we can.

There is also a stewardship issue, is the buying of $1000 golden ring topped by a diamond foolhardy in light of the very real temporal needs of our brothers and sisters, of orphans and widows, of missionaries? That is an ancillary topic but a real one.

Is it a coincidence that the One Ring, a golden band that looks suspiciously like a wedding ring, is the embodiment of evil in The Lord of the Rings? Hmmmm…..

Seriously though. Should we give up the wearing of wedding rings or am I making too big of a deal about it? Is this an issue of hyper-literalism and legalism or are we resistant to the idea of eschewing rings because we have been so heavily marketed to by jewelry companies that we have bought into the idea that we simply must wear rings if we are married? Maybe someone more familiar with the Greek text (Alan?) can help us out here, is there something in the context that I am missing.

12 comments:

norma j hill said...

hmmmm.... my grandma, a faithful Holiness Movement pastor's wife, never had a wedding ring (she got a sewing machine for her engagement, and made plain clothes for her and her husband-to-be). On their 50th anniversary their kids bought her a family ring with a diamond in the center and 4 birthstones for each of her kids. She was delighted.

When I was 14 years old, I wore a tiny bit of pale blue eyeshadow to church, and was yelled at, called down, told I was a hussy and would become a whore (by "sister Smith," the enforcer of morals at "our church")... coincidentally perhaps (or not) that was about the same time I started "rebelling" ...

So while we're on the topic of jewellery, what about makeup? And deodorant? And perfume? And nice smelling bath items?

oh dear!

Bethany W. in mid-MO said...

We have thought a lot about this! And, there are two things that keep coming back to us -
1 - Gen 24:15ff, Rebekah is given lovely jewelry
2 - the dress and jewels of the woman in Song of Solomon

Still, out of personal preference, I wear no jewelry excepting my wedding band.

I look forward to reading the other comments.
Bethany

Mark said...

Arthur,

If you take that text literally then the braiding of hair would be outlawed as well. In my opinion (and I'm sure some would chastise me), there has to be some cultural context taken into account. I think that it is not the ring or the braided hair that is the issue, it is the heart that goes along with it. Certainly in the context of our society wearing Tommy jeans could be considered the same as wearing rings and having braided hair back then, right? Even this, though depends on the heart, like you said. I tend to buy more expensive clothing, because it fits better, is more comfortable, and most importantly, it lasts longer. I can buy a cheap Wal-mart shirt, but it won't last as long as Eddie Bauer or Tommy Hilfiger shirts, of which I have multiple that date back 7-8 years, and are still worn regularly. Likewise, I can spend a fair amount on a wedding band that will last my whole life, or I can buy a cheap imitation that will tarnish and need to be replaced. Certainly I think there is importance in moderation, and if I were to get married now, I don't think my wife and I would pick the same wedding bands we picked then. Even at that time our intention was not to flaunt, but I still would probably make different choices. At the end of the day, I think the heart is the issue, and that is what Paul, and the Lord, are concerned about.

Mark

Arthur Sido said...

Norma,

I understand what you are saying. There is a real danger of using this sort of stuff as a club to beat people over the head with. I try not to look down at people who’s wives don’t cover their heads or who don’t homeschool their kids because that sort of haughtiness is every bit as harmful, probably more so, than external adornment.

Bethany,

Interesting points. If I were so inclined I would point out that what we see in those two examples is descriptive (this is what happened) versus prescriptive (you ought to do this). In both examples I don’t think what we are seeing carries the equivalent weight of the imperative that Peter and Paul are setting forth. I am not saying you are wrong at all about that, but in my natural argumentative self that is what I would say. On the other hand, there is a lot that is descriptive in the Bible that is put there to convey a principle. The book of Acts is full of examples of this.

Mark,

I would agree with much of what you are saying. I tend to buy nicer stuff at times because it lasts longer but I will also admit to buying stuff because of the brand name attached to it.

I think of the example of my wife, who does wear a wedding ring. When people meet my wife, they typically remember her for her kindness, gentleness and friendliness. They do not come away and remember her for her jewelry or her expensive clothing or her professionally coifed hair. That stuff is just not important to her and it is not what she is known for. If someone needs help though, they will turn to my wife in a heartbeat because she is a person who gives of herself without question.

So can a woman wear a wedding ring and still be adorned with good works and submission? Can a woman not wear a wedding ring and still not be adorned with a gentle spirit? Absolutely. I don’t want to sound like I am waffling here because I try to take Scripture as literally as possible. For example, I don’t see that there is a cultural workaround where headcovering is concerned. A woman simply should cover her head when praying. On footwashing it is a harder issue. We don’t wear sandals and our feet are (relatively compared to sandal wearing on dusty roads!) clean already.

Not making a definitive statement here but I am trying to a) at least address the issue and b) think it through beyond what we see culturally and a knee-jerk reflection to the verse.

Arthur Sido said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Holcombe said...

If the 1 Peter reference is taken literally, then women also cannot wear clothing. It plainly says "do not let your adorning be external" and includes "the clothing you wear" in the list (aren't head coverings also external adorning...).

The key phrase in the 1 Timothy reference is in the beginning of v. 9, "in like manner also". It makes no sense to say men should pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands and in like manner also women shouldn't wear jewelry and have fancy hair-dos. But, at least Paul does give them a chance to actually be clothed (with modest apparel).

The call is to be sober-minded and humble, to not be white-washed sepulchers - pretty on the outside, but full of dead bones.

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful woman without discretion. Prov. 11:22

My band cost $60 in 1994. I've never owned a suit that cheap (If they made one, I probably would). I also have a polo shirt that is over 15 years old and still going (so old it was made in the USA). I think it was about $20 at the time. I paid $2800 for my wife's ring back then. I paid $2700 for the last used car I purchased (it is 27 years old). The diamond seems pretty lavish (I'm sure it's "worth more" now from inflation), but the old diesel doesn't for some reason. Same opportunity cost.

James said...

Mark, you make some terrific comparisons. However, you also nail it on the head with it being a 'heart' issue. We seem to put this focus on the definition of our marriages preceding our character and virtue through a wedding band.

The text is very plain, it says a woman is not to adorn herself with gold. The Greek conveys a golden ornament, or utility. Now, if we argue context, let's be consistent. The usage of wedding rings in Christian marriage are a holdover from other Roman/pagan type practices finding their origins some 800 years after Christ. It is significantly doubted that rings were used in wedding ceremonies.

Then again, the argument here is not really about wedding rings per se. The part that keeps making me reel here is that the defensive evangelical posture is usually to say, well as long as all other virtues illustrate godliness, then it is ok to violate scripture. Uh, what? Right, you can wear gold, when the scripture says not to wear gold, because you make up for it in so many other ways.

Paul states that your adornment be good works, not lots of good works, and a little bit of gold, a smidgeon of pearls, and a tiny plait in your hair. No, he says let not women adorn themselves...

What does 'not' mean in the Greek?

April said...

Regarding Bethany's comment--I believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That doesn't mean that our circumstances, or even culture, never change. But if Rebekkah and the woman in Song of Solomon wore jewels--and were praised for their character--then I think the same can apply today. I do tend to lean toward a literal interpretation, rather than a figurative one, unless the passage is obviously meant to be figurative or symbolic. But I think you can interpret these passages literally, and still braid your hair or wear jewelry. I've read these over and over, and I keep coming away with the feeling that Paul simply does not want women to be showy. It's not that those things are so terrible, but if that's all you've got going for you? Bad news.

And, as much as I hesitate to throw out the cultural argument, I think it applies here. I think that the original issues--fancy hairstyle, jewels, expensive clothing--can still apply. But he doesn't mention makeup. He doesn't mention other ways of doing one's hair. He doesn't mention tanning beds, or plastic surgery. Does that mean that none of those things matter? Obviously not. There are things women do in our culture now that did not exist then, so they aren't mentioned. But I still think they fall under the banner of not calling attention to one's self.

Do I think wedding rings are necessary? Absolutely not. But do I think they're wrong? Absolutely not. I think we have to be really careful not to add rules where scripture is silent. For instance, only a plain band, or skirts that have to be a certain length, etc. Not everything can be qualified like that. My diamond wedding ring pales in comparison to my aunt's 3-carat ring. But it's certainly no plain band. So should I feel good about that, or guilty that I have too much? Is it okay if my skirt hits me mid-calf, or does it need to be ankle-length? (Does it matter that I'm short?)

See what I mean? What defines "plain?" Scripture doesn't, at least not specifically. As much as Scripture goes beyond culture, culture is not meaningless, and I think, with these passages, we can go on principle, without being legalistic about it.

Arthur Sido said...

It strikes me that the key here is the idea of "adornment". Does not adorning yourself preclude wearing any gold or does not adorning mean not making that the focal point of who you are. Some other translations of 1 Peter 3: 1-4 render the text a little differently:

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.(NASB)

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. (NIV)


Those renderings seems a little less certain than the ESV or KJV. I need to check with someone who is more of an expert in Greek.

Debbie said...

I'm coming in late on this, and maybe everyone else has moved on, but here's my 2 cents.

I think it's true that the issue is adornment. All the arguments about not wearing a wedding ring because we're not to adorn ourselves with gold sounded "off" to me, but I didn't see why until something came into focus.... I wear my engagement and wedding rings all the time. I never wear rings for adornment - can't stand them. My rings are on my hand as a symbol of a covenant made between my husband, me, and God.

I've also occasionally braided my hair (when it was longer) and my daughter's hair. Why? Because it's the best way to control fine hair (often of different lengths because it breaks so easily). Braiding is very useful for windy days, boat rides, and long days when one doesn't want to have to worry about having a tangled mess to comb through at the end of the day. Again, not an adornment issue, just a practical one.

So I'm not going to worry about my wedding rings or whether my daughter braids her hair. Still thinking about other jewelry I sometimes wear....

Katie F. - Minneapolis, MN said...

I heard a sermon preached a few years ago where it was explained that in light of the times, prostitutes were the ones who "adorned" themselves in such a way. (Jewelry, braided hair, etc.) So (Paul?) was saying that so the women who were wives didn't decorate themselves like the prostitutes.

Arthur Sido said...

Katie, that sounds plausible but it doesn't really address what is being taught. Peter and Paul both contrast the wearing of adornment with godliness. There doesn't seem much to indicate that he was addressing an alleged cultural issue. I see that argument a lot when looking at questions like wearing wedding rings, women covering their heads, gender roles, etc., appeals, usually by someone with some scholarly chops, to the prevailing culture (in spite of the rather sketchy documentation we have of those days) as a means of explaining why Scripture doesn't really mean what it says. I would encourage you to reread the text for what it actually says and not rely on what a religious professional says. The simple, straightforward interpretation in context is often the best!