“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.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 (ESV)
This is one of the most misunderstood and abused passages of scriptures in history concerning women… at least since the King James Version and the Authorized Version of the bible were presented to the world. Here’s why: it’s a clear case of horrible, completely inconsistent interpretation. After all, the bible isn’t just a manuscript; it is spiritual truth conveyed to those who are spiritual.
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 1 Corinthians 2:13 (ESV)
It may be that the root of this misrepresentation is male bias, or it may be that it is based out of a complete lack of spiritual maturity. At any rate, it’s sad that other modern interpretations have chosen to continue the misrepresentation of the KJV and AV.
Adorning Is Kosmos
The problem lies in the implication made by the phrase, “Do not let your adorning be external.” The NIV makes it even worse. While seeming to state it more clear, the New International Version is actually pulling our understanding further from what the text actually says by stating, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment.” That may be a great life lesson (i.e., beauty comes from within), but that’s just not what this Scripture really says.
The original word interpreted here as adorning is kosmos. In the Authorized Version (AV) of the bible, this is the only place—the one single time—out of 187 times that the word kosmos appears in the bible where it is not translated, “world.” To drive the point home, the word kosmos is literally interpreted as world 186 times and as adorning this 1 time. It is never interpreted any other way.
Kosmos Is World
So if the translation of kosmos was as consistent as it clearly is otherwise, this verse would literally read, “Do not let your world be external…” Or as I would phrase it, “Don’t let your life be defined by your external world.” Don’t let your life be all about external things.
By the way, if this passage meant that women shouldn’t wear gold jewelry, then the same logic (applied indiscriminately) should proclaim that women should never braid their hair or wear clothes either (it doesn’t only specify that you should not wear expensive clothes as some have interpreted it to mean). Also, in context, a women who follows the line of thought of not wearing jewelry should also go so far as to call their husbands, “lord.” This has wrongly led some to believe that women should be subservient to their husbands. However, Sarah at least once commanded Abraham as to what to do and the Lord backed her up in that situation (Gen 21:9-12). So maybe there is more to be considered here than has commonly been admitted.
It’s obvious within the context that the Apostle Paul is admonishing women in how they live—specifically in respect to how they define their world, and in respect to their husband. It also says that husbands should honor their wives. But should not wives honor their husbands? And should not husbands make sure that their life is not defined by their external world also?
Maybe the popular view, and possibly the common reality, is that the actual roles do conform to these general assumptions. However, I’ve known married couples who would benefit more from this admonishment if the roles in this passage were completely reversed. In other words, the husband was vain and consumed with their external world while the wife needed to be admonished to honor their husband in his weakness.
Yes. I said it. Weakness. If you let your life become defined primarily by the external world, it is a weakness. And that tendency is the weakness that the Apostle Paul is referring to—the weakness is not womanhood. Don’t let your kosmos, your world, be external because that is not the real, dominant, original world.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Hebrews 11:3 (ESV)
The second case of the word adorning in our main passage (1 Peter 3:3-4)… it isn’t even there. It is only an assumption of context. If the translation were honest it should say something more like, “Do not let your world be external—but let it be the hidden person of the heart…” In other words, let your world be defined by your hidden inward life, your life in the spirit. Or, let your internal reality be the defining factor in your external world.
For additional consideration:
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’s entry for “World (General)” explains the meaning of kosmos more thoroughly than the Strong’s Concordance. It details various original words translated as world. And then, “last, and most frequently, kosmos, properly “order,” with the suggestion of beauty; thence the material universe, as the great example of such order; then the moral universe, the total system of intelligent creatures, perhaps sometimes including angels (1 Cor 4:9), but as a rule human beings only; then, in view of the fact of universal human failure, humanity in its sinful aspect, the spirit and forces of fallen humanity regarded as antagonistic to God and to good, “all around us which does not love God.”
It later continues concerning kosmos: “It may be enough here to add that that history prepares us to find its reference varying by subtle transitions, even in the same passage. See e.g. Jn 1:10, where “the world” appears first to denote earth and man simply as the creation of “the Word,” and then mankind as sinfully alienated from their Creator. We are not surprised accordingly to read on the one hand that “God …. loved the world” (Jn 3:16), and on the other that the Christian must “not love the world” (1 Jn 2:15). The reader will find the context a sure clue in all cases, and the study will be pregnant of instruction.”
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for eighteen years, and is the proud father of two boys.