Questions From Readers
◼ Is it fitting for a Christian woman to use jewelry or makeup, dye her hair, or follow similar practices?
In the past and in our day, some who claim to follow the Bible have developed strong but very different viewpoints on adornment.a
Women in certain churches totally shun makeup and jewelry. For instance, the book The Amish People reports that they “restrict their physical appearance because they feel that any member who has a lively interest in worldly appearance is threatened, since [that] interest should be focused upon spiritual considerations rather than physical. Some . . . will quote the Scriptures.”
The scripture then quoted was 1 Samuel 16:7: “Jehovah said to Samuel: ‘Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature . . . Mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.’” However, that text had reference to the height of David’s brother Eliab. It is plain from the context that God was not commenting here on grooming practices, such as whether David or his brothers groomed their hair or used decorative items on their garments.—Genesis 38:18; 2 Samuel 14:25, 26; Luke 15:22.
This illustrates that some who hold that Christians should be distinctly plain, using no makeup or jewelry, seek support through misapplied scriptures. The Bible in fact provides no detailed discussion of grooming; neither does it approve of certain cosmetic practices while prohibiting others. What it does give is reasonable guidelines. Let us consider these and see how they can be applied today.
The apostle Paul offered the inspired guidance: “I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb.” (1 Timothy 2:9) Peter wrote similarly: “Do not let your adornment be that of the external braiding of the hair and of the putting on of gold ornaments or the wearing of outer garments, but let it be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.”—1 Peter 3:3, 4.
The Greek words there rendered “adorn,” “well-arranged,” and “adornment” are forms of koʹsmos, which is also the root of the word “cosmetic,” meaning “making for beauty esp[ecially] of the complexion.” So those texts help us to answer questions about the use of cosmetics or makeup, jewelry, and other aspects of feminine adornment.
Did Paul and Peter mean that Christians must avoid braiding their hair, wearing pearls and gold jewelry, or, by extension, using cosmetics? No. To claim that to be their meaning would require Christian sisters also to avoid ‘wearing outer garments.’ Yet, Dorcas, whom Peter resurrected, was beloved because she made “outer garments” for other sisters. (Acts 9:39) Hence, 1 Timothy 2:9 and; 1 Peter 3:3, 4 do not mean that sisters must avoid braids, pearls, outer garments, and so forth. Rather, Paul was stressing the need for modesty and soundness of mind in feminine grooming. Peter showed that women should give greater attention to their inner spirit in order to win over their unbelieving husbands, not emphasizing outward appearance or makeup.
Simply put, the Bible does not forbid all efforts to improve or embellish one’s appearance. Some of God’s servants, men and women alike, used jewelry. (Genesis 41:42; Exodus 32:2, 3; Daniel 5:29) Faithful Esther consented to an extensive beauty regimen with cosmetic oils, perfumes, and massages. (Esther 2:7, 12, 15; compare Daniel 1:3-8.) God said that he figuratively decked Israel with bracelets, a necklace, a nose ring, and earrings. Such contributed to her becoming “very, very pretty.”—Ezekiel 16:11-13.
The account in Ezekiel, though, holds a lesson against our focusing on appearance. God said: “You began to trust in your prettiness and become a prostitute on account of your name and to pour out your acts of prostitution on every passerby.” (Ezekiel 16:15; Isaiah 3:16, 19) Thus, Ezekiel 16:11-15 underscores the wisdom of Paul and Peter’s later counsel about not stressing outward appearance. If a woman chooses to adorn herself with jewelry, the amount and style should accord with modesty, not being excessive or ostentatious, gaudy.—James 2:2.
What about a Christian woman’s using cosmetics, such as lipstick, cheek coloring, or eye shadow and eyeliner? Archaeologists in Israel and nearby have found makeup containers, as well as applicators and mirrors. Yes, women in the ancient Orient used cosmetics that anticipated many of today’s products. The name of Job’s daughter Keren-happuch likely meant “Horn of the Black (Eye) Paint,” or a container for eye makeup.—Job 42:13-15.
Some cosmetics were used in Israel, yet Bible examples show the danger of going to excess. Years after she became queen of Israel, Jezebel ‘painted her eyes with black paint and did her head up beautifully.’ (2 Kings 9:30) Later when describing how Israel sought the immoral attention of pagan nations, God said that she ‘decked herself with ornaments of gold, enlarged her eyes with black paint, and made herself pretty.’ (Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 23:40) Neither those verses nor any others say that it is wrong to use artificial means to enhance one’s appearance. Still, the story of Jezebel suggests that she put so much black paint around her eyes that it would be noticed from a distance, even by Jehu outside the palace. What is the lesson? Do not put on makeup with a heavy hand, in an exaggerated way.b
Of course, hardly any woman who uses jewelry or makeup would say that her own methods and amounts are inappropriate. Yet, there is no disputing that because of being insecure or influenced by exploitive advertising, a woman could develop the habit of using too much makeup. She might be so accustomed to the resulting appearance that she fails to realize that it conflicts with the “modesty and soundness of mind” of most Christian women.—See James 1:23, 24.
Granted, tastes vary; some women use little or no makeup or jewelry, others use more. So it is wise not to be judgmental of one who uses a different amount of makeup or jewelry. Another factor is local custom. That some styles are accepted in another land (or were common in ancient times) does not mean that they are advisable locally today.
A wise Christian woman will occasionally reassess her grooming, asking herself in all honesty: ‘Do I usually wear more (or bolder) jewelry or makeup than most Christians in my area? Do I pattern my grooming after narcissistic socialites or vain film stars, or am I guided mainly by the advice at 1 Timothy 2:9 and; 1 Peter 3:3, 4? Yes, is my grooming really modest, showing genuine respect for others’ opinions and feelings?’—Proverbs 31:30.
Women who have Christian husbands can ask them for comments and counsel. Also, when it is sincerely sought, helpful advice may be obtained from other sisters. But rather than turn to a friend who has similar tastes, it may be better to speak to older sisters whose balance and wisdom are respected. (Compare 1 Kings 12:6-8.) The Bible says that reverent older women “may recall the young women to their senses . . . to be sound in mind, chaste . . . , so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.” (Titus 2:2-5) No mature Christian would want her immodest use of jewelry or makeup to cause God’s Word or his people to “be spoken of abusively.”
The Bible account of Tamar shows that a woman’s grooming can type her, sending out a strong message. (Genesis 38:14, 15) What message is conveyed by a Christian woman’s hairstyle and hair color (if dyed) or her use of jewelry and cosmetics? Is it: This is a clean, modest, and balanced servant of God?
Someone who sees Christians in the field ministry, or who attends our meetings, should be favorably impressed. Observers generally are. Most Christian women give no cause for an outsider to conclude that they, on the one hand, are dowdy or, on the other, excessively made up or adorned; rather, they groom themselves “in the way that befits women professing to reverence God.”—1 Timothy 2:10.
a In the third century C.E., Tertullian claimed that women “who rub their skin with medicaments, stain their cheeks with rouge, make their eyes prominent with [black] antimony, sin against Him.” He also criticized those who dye their hair. Misapplying Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:36, Tertullian charged: “They refute the Lord! ‘Behold!’ say they, ‘instead of white or black, we make [our hair] yellow.’” He added: “You can even find persons who are ashamed that they are old, and try to turn their white hair to black.” That was Tertullian’s personal opinion. But he was distorting matters, for his whole argument was based on his view that women are the cause of human damnation, so they should ‘walk about as Eve, mourning and repentant’ over the ‘ignominy of the first sin.’ The Bible says no such thing; God held Adam responsible for mankind’s sinfulness.—Romans 5:12-14; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14.
b Not long ago the United States news media bannered a scandal of a TV evangelist, while his costar wife drew almost as much attention. According to news reports, she grew up believing that “both makeup and movies” were sinful, yet later she changed her opinion and came to be noted for outrageous “makeup so thick it looked sculpted.”
[Pictures on page 31]
Archaeological discoveries from the Middle East: Ivory cosmetic box, mirror, and necklaces of gold and carnelian
All three: Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.