«Biblical Perspectives on Present Day Issues, #3 by Marlin M. Miller Published by the Biblical Mennonite Alliance Bible references are quoted from the ...»
Should Christians Wear the
on Present Day Issues, #3
Marlin M. Miller
Published by the
Biblical Mennonite Alliance
Bible references are quoted from
the King James Version
The Publication Board of
Biblical Mennonite Alliance
Should Christians Wear the
We live in a time of serious moral decay. In our society,
marriage is generally no longer considered a sacred union, but
rather an arrangement that is kept only as long as it is convenient.
Pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relationships are expected and sometimes even encouraged. Divorce has become more the rule than the exception. When relationships in the home begin to sour or someone comes along who appears more exciting than one's current spouse, the old relationship is thrown aside to make room for a new one.
In response to this moral decay, those who serve God and are truly committed to preserving their marriage wisely search for ways to build strong marriages and keep them intact. Among conservative Mennonites there has been a recent surge in interest in wearing the wedding band. The thinking is that the wedding band will deter ungodly men or women from making improper advances toward those who desire to be faithful to their wedding vows, and remind the wearer of commitments they have made. Traditionally Mennonites have shunned the use of the wedding band along with all other jewelry out of obedience to scriptural commands about rejecting outward adornment. Now there are some conservative Mennonites who wish to make an exception for the wedding band.
Would the adoption of the wedding band be a preserving factor for our marriages or is it a human solution for which God has a better answer?
The History of the Wedding Band To understand the meaning and significance of the wedding band we need first to understand its origin and history. It is thought that the custom of a man giving a wedding ring to his new bride originated in ancient Egypt. These rings, however, were not made of gold but rather of plant fibers.1 They wore the ring on the third finger of the left hand because they believed there was a vein in that finger which provided a direct connection to the heart. 2 Therefore a ring (an unending circle) on that finger symbolized unending love in a marriage. It was from this tradition that this particular finger became known as the ring finger.
The modern custom of a metal wedding ring seems to have originated with the Romans. They fashioned the rings of iron which made them inexpensive and therefore quite common. The Roman men used wedding bands as a sign of ownership of their wives, "claiming" their woman with the giving of a ring. 3 The Romans also connected the giving of the wedding band to an exchange of valuables (usually gold and silver) to help ensure the economic safety of the couple.4 From many varied traditions, the wedding band gradually became accepted world-wide as a symbol of lifelong commitment to marriage.
It is apparent that the varied beginnings of the wedding band were pagan, having no Christian or Scriptural basis at all.
Christians were attracted to a pagan custom and sought to "Christianize" it by changing its meaning and practice to conform to their traditions. The idea of being able to wear something which symbolizes unending love is certainly appealing to those who believe marriage is for life. For this reason the wedding band has become accepted among Christians worldwide to symbolize their commitment to the principle that marriage is for life.
But the fact that the wedding band has come to be widely used among Christians is not enough reason to join them in its use. It is important that all our actions are supported by the principles we find in God's Word. Therefore, we need to examine what the Bible has to say on the subject before deciding whether it is God's will for us to adopt this practice.
What Does the Bible Say?
Unfortunately, the Bible is completely silent on wedding bands per se. The reason is simple. As far as we know this custom was not widely practiced during Bible times. The Bible does have something to say concerning the use of jewelry, however, and we can learn much about God's will concerning the use of wedding bands from a brief study on the use of jewelry in the Bible.
The Old Testament It is very instructional to study the use of jewelry in the Old Testament. There is not space here to do an exhaustive study, but a representative sampling will reveal a great deal concerning God's design in this area.
The first mention we have in Scripture concerning the wearing of jewelry is found in Genesis 24 when Abraham sent his servant to Nahor to find a wife for Isaac. When Rebekah volunteered to give his camels water, the servant perceived that she was God's chosen wife for Isaac; upon this sign he gave Rebekah golden bracelets and earrings. It would appear that these ornaments were in some way part of the betrothal process for Isaac and Rebekah. It would also appear that this was a common custom of that day to which Abraham as a man of God was consenting. This is the only reference I find in Scripture where the wearing of jewelry by God's people seems to be endorsed. From this account it is apparent that there was no express command given by God to Abraham against the wearing of jewelry or for the wearing of jewelry.
We are also told in Genesis 41:42 that when Joseph became the second in command in Egypt he was given a ring for his finger and a gold chain for his neck. This was not done because of a command of God, but simply because he was consenting to customs in the land of Pharaoh.
As we look at the account of the Israelites' escape from Egypt and their journey to Canaan in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy we find a number of references to jewelry. In Exodus 12:35, the people (following Moses' instructions) permanently "borrowed" jewels of silver and gold from the Egyptians just before they escaped from Egypt. It was not God's intention for these to be for their personal use, but to beautify the tabernacle which He instructed them to build. Exodus 35:22 is just one place where an offering of gold and silver was willingly given for use in the tabernacle. A great deal of gold and silver went into the construction of the tabernacle and it seems the majority of this came from the spoiling of the Egyptians.
We find no injunctions against the wearing of jewelry in the Mosaic law. However, there was one situation where the gold which they were wearing caused them to sin. In Exodus 32:2 when Aaron gave in to the peoples' demand for a god to go before them he instructed them to break off their golden earrings, which he in turn molded into a calf. In Exodus 33:5 as the LORD pondered His response to this blatant idolatry He instructed them to strip off their ornaments lest He would consume them. This is an indication that their jewelry was somehow an offense to the LORD, possibly because it could so easily become a snare to them.
In the time of David and Solomon there are indications that, because of the abundance of gold and silver, jewelry came into common use among God's people. But as we look at the voices of the prophets we see God taking a dim view toward the use of jewelry among His people because of its connection with idolatry and an attitude of pride. In Isaiah 3:16-26 God speaks of how He would take away their jewelry and other adornments. He describes the daughters of Zion as "haughty" and condemns their tinkling ornaments, chains, bracelets, earrings, rings, and nose jewels along with all kinds of fancy apparel. In Hosea 2:13 the putting on of jewelry by God's people is connected with idolatry and forgetting the LORD.
In an interesting passage in Ezekiel 16:1-14 God describes how He loved and nourished His people from the time of their birth. He tells of how He cared for them and dressed them in fine linen and silk. Then He describes how He decked them with ornaments, bracelets, a neck chain, a forehead jewel, earrings and a beautiful crown. In this God was speaking in a figurative sense, expressing how He had given His people great gifts and made them very attractive to other nations. But as we read the rest of this chapter we find God lamenting the results of His abundant provision for His
beloved people. In Ezekiel 16:17 we read:
Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them.
God's lament here is that they had taken that which He had given them and turned it into a source of pride and idolatry. We are so prone to the same error today!
What we read concerning jewelry in the Old Testament is largely negative because it so often was connected with God's people turning away from Him. At the least it seems to have been a source of pride, and at the worst it was a contributing factor in the people turning to idols which God repeatedly describes as "whoredom."
The New Testament There is very little written concerning the wearing of jewelry in the New Testament. This is understandable considering that Jesus had no earthly possessions and taught His followers to live simply.
In Acts 3:6 when the lame man at the temple asked Peter and John for alms Peter replied, "Silver and gold have I none...." In Acts 2:44-45 we are told that in the early church those who had abundance sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to the believers who had needs.
There are two passages, one written by Paul and one by Peter, which communicate clearly God's will for the Christian concerning
the wearing of jewelry. The first is found in I Timothy 2:9
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
The second is I Peter 3:3
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
These passages clearly teach that as Christians our emphasis toward beauty should be on beautifying the inside, which is our spirit. These verses are written to women, but the principles of modesty and decency apply to men as well as to women. We are not to put on costly clothes or jewelry, or to fix our hair or apply makeup in such a way as to draw attention to physical beauty.
There would seem to be two reasons here that we should not wear jewelry. The first is that it is costly, making its purchase a poor stewardship of the money God has graciously given to us. The second reason is that we are not to put on apparel which draws attention to our outward body. Christians who put on jewelry blatantly ignore the clear intent of these two verses.
It is also interesting in Revelation 17, when we are given a description of the woman called the "great whore", who represents the future one-world mystery religion, she is said to be arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold, precious stones, and pearls.
This description is in direct contrast to the commands given in the above verses by Paul and Peter. We can see from this passage that there will be those in the church who will be led astray by the heresies of Satan and will teach that the wearing of costly clothes and jewelry is right for Christians. This is a clear sign of the apostate church.
We find, then, that in the Old Testament God soundly condemned jewelry when it caused them to become prideful and led them into idolatry. This alone should cause us to realize the wrongness in wearing that which can so easily become a snare. In the New Testament we are commanded not to put on gold or costly array and not to place any emphasis on outward beauty. Both of these commandments should make it clear to the Christian that God's plan for us is to dress and array ourselves simply, negating the wearing of all jewelry, including the wedding band.
Arguments Given for the Use of the Wedding Band Having examined what Scripture has to say concerning the wearing of jewelry we will now consider some arguments which are given to justify wearing the wedding band.
"These scriptures do not apply to the wedding band" There are two closely related arguments which are sometimes used to teach that 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3 do not apply to the wedding band.
The first argument is that there is no mention of rings in these verses as something the Christian should not wear. True, the scriptures do not address the wearing of rings or of wedding bands per se. However, rings and wedding bands obviously and clearly fall into the category of "gold, pearls, and costly array" and, as such, are expressly forbidden. Furthermore, one should note that wedding bands were not part of the prevailing first century culture and, for that reason, were not mentioned in Scripture. Nonetheless, Paul's inspired instructions, general in nature as they are, certainly encompass the specific application we are addressing here.
The second argument is that the wedding band is not actually jewelry, but is a symbol of one's marital status. I would counter that the purpose or motive for something does not define what it actually is. To say that a given reason for wearing jewelry makes it something other than jewelry is illogical. Since the ring is forbidden as "gold, pearls, and costly array," then it is forbidden, regardless of lofty motives. If one begins to use such faulty reasoning, where would he draw the line? He could reverse God's directives for anything. Thus human reasoning could redefine whatever the Scripture teaches.
"I want to display my commitment to my marriage" The most common reason given for desiring to wear the wedding band by those who traditionally have not worn it is that they want to display their commitment to the permanence of their marriage in our increasingly decadent culture. This is an honorable sentiment and reason. Marriage is under attack in our culture like never before. However, this motive, when examined more closely, is troublesome at best. We must ask the question, "In the wearing of the wedding band, whose values are we adopting?" Just whose idea is it that the wedding band is a testimony of a couple's faithfulness to each other?