she is to be modest
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. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. (3:3–6)
This text does not prohibit wives from styling their hair, wearing jewelry or lovely clothing, which is why the translators added merely. The bride in Song of Solomon was beautifully adorned, e.g., Song of Solomon 1:10; 4:11; 7:1. The point is that this was not to be the preoccupation or main concern in the matter of drawing an unsaved husband to Christ. In the Greco-Roman culture, women were devoted to superficial adornment, often wearing the best cosmetics, dying their hair outlandish colors, braiding it elaborately, and wearing—especially on their heads—costly jewelry to crown their elegant clothing. But braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses made no contribution to spiritual transformation. Such surface concerns still consume women in the present media dominated culture. Christian women, however, especially those whose husbands are not saved, are still under this mandate.
Long before Peter’s time God, through Isaiah the prophet, pronounced judgment on women’s obsessive, ostentatious attention to outward adornment:
Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud and walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, and go along with mincing steps and tinkle the bangles on their feet, therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, and the Lord will make their foreheads bare.” In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils. Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. (Isa. 3:16–24; cf. Jer. 2:32)
Instead of being consumed with their external appearance, Christian wives must be devoted to beautifying the hidden person of the heart. (Person is the translation of anthrōpos, “man,” demonstrating the biblical use of the masculine gender to describe even a woman.) They should manifest the inner beauty of spiritual virtue. Paul commanded believing women “to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness” (1 Tim. 2:9–10; for commentary on these verses, see John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 78–82).
In particular, a believing wife should be characterized not by passing earthly fashions, here today and gone tomorrow, but by literally the imperishable (quality is implied), translated “incorruptible” in 1:4, kjv where it describes the believer’s eternal inheritance in heaven. Christian wives should be devoted, not to temporal beauty, but the lovely adornments of godliness. Gentle comes from a word referring to a humble and meek attitude, expressed in patient submissiveness; quiet is “still” or “tranquil.” Such character in the spirit of a believing wife is the true inner beauty that is precious in the sight of God and effective in making her not only valuable and attractive to her husband, but demonstrating the beauty and value of regeneration.
It is certainly possible for a woman’s appearance to be so unkempt and unadorned as to embarrass and discourage her husband, to whom such indifference in the name of Christ would make the gospel offensive and be just as spiritually detrimental as too much attention given to externals. The Lord is most pleased when a believing woman’s modest yet thoughtful and lovely adornment reflects the inner beauty Christ has fashioned in her.
In former times (Old Testament days) many believing women (holy women) exemplified these principles of submissive and modest godliness (cf. Ruth 3:11; Prov. 31:10–31). Peter says they used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. Thus his call for such behavior is not unprecedented, and he specifically cites Sarah as an illustration, noting that she obeyed Abraham, going so far as calling him lord (master). Calling him (kalousa) is a present participle, which indicates Sarah’s continual attitude of respect toward her husband Abraham—she treated him as her lord or master.
When Paul wrote that by faith all saints are children of Abraham, he was saying that all who believe have followed the same path Abraham took. He is the Old Testament model for believing God’s Word, and all after him who do the same belong to the same family of faith (Rom. 4:1–16; Gal. 3:7–29). Similarly, all believing wives who follow Sarah’s example of submission and modesty have in that sense become her children. Wives who follow Sarah’s pattern have made the commitment to do what is right or good, even though they might nevertheless have some serious fears as to where such submission under an unsaved husband could lead. The Greek word for fear is ptoēsis, a strong word meaning “frightening,” or “terrifying.” Instead of succumbing to such terrors (cf. Ps. 27:1; Prov. 1:33; 29:25; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 John 4:18), those who are faithful to submit because it is good and right can be used by the Lord in the salvation of their husbands.
3–6 A woman’s attractiveness is magnified in Peter’s argument by means of a contrast between inner and outer beauty. To the pagan, virtue is praiseworthy. Believing wives have a model in this regard—Sarah in her relationship to Abraham—and should thus aspire to be “her daughters” in doing “what is right.” In contrast to an “outward adornment” that is characterized, for example, by “braided hair” (cf. 1 Ti 2:9), “the wearing of gold jewelry,” and donning “fine clothes,” authentic beauty subsists in the attractiveness of the “inner self”—in a beauty that is “unfading” (aphthartos, GK 915, also used in 1:4 regarding the saints’ inheritance and 1:23 denoting the word of God). This inner beauty, it is pointed out, shows itself in “a gentle and quiet spirit,” which is said to be “of great worth in God’s sight.”
Just as Peter has alluded to Jesus as a model of not returning evil for evil, so he cites “holy women” of the OT as an example to follow (v. 5). They are exemplary because they “put their hope in God” and were accustomed to adorning themselves by being “submissive toward their husbands.” Sarah is singled out as one such model or type (v. 6). It is specifically noted of Sarah that she “obeyed Abraham and called him her master,” an allusion to Genesis 18:12 and Sarah’s response to childbearing in spite of her age. While nothing in the Genesis narrative suggests exemplary obedience, rabbinic tradition developed the idea of Sarah’s obedience and submission to Abraham. Peter appears to be borrowing from extrabiblical tradition in his weaving together of several important subthemes in the letter—holiness (1:2, 5, 19, 22; 2:5), hope (1:3, 21; 3:15), and respect undergirded by humility (2:13–3:12). Sarah is useful in weaving these strands together.
Christian wives who model Sarah’s attitude become “her daughters” to the extent that they “do what is right” and “do not give way to fear.” This image of Sarah seems a counterpart to Abraham, who is a model (cf. Ro 4:12). Doing right and not being governed by fear constitute a call to be active, constructive, and hopeful in the married relationship rather than being passively acquiescent, to which many might be inclined. From the Genesis narrative it can be reasonably asserted that Sarah was “forced” to trust the Lord; i.e., the path on which the Lord was directing her was not of her own choosing; nevertheless, it was a path she ultimately embraced by faith (Heb 11:11). Further, Peter’s admonitions to wives resist modern interpreters’ attempts to read into the text the notion that 1 Peter is oppressive. The writer is attuned to the difficulties women would have experienced in the domestic context, particularly in a mixed marriage.
3:4 / On the contrary, instead of ostentatious outward show, what really matters is the attractiveness of the inner self: that inward lovely light which shines through the window of the human frame. Even unbelievers are able to recognize this beauty, even if they cannot appreciate its source. It is a beauty which is unfading: there is nothing superficial about it, since it is the fruit of a spiritual life that is ageless, “a beauty that the years cannot wither” (Barclay). Neither is it transient, like all that belongs to the world and its fleeting fashions and fads. This is the inner loveliness that is born of a gentle and quiet spirit, and it is that which counts in God’s eyes as being of real value in setting forward his work—in this instance, of winning unbelieving husbands to faith in Christ.
3:3–4. These verses do not ban grooming or beauty aids, but they do put these adornments in proper perspective. If a woman relies only on these kinds of things to make her beautiful, she will miss the greater value of inner beauty. She must not go overboard patching up the externals while ignoring the internal character. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, referred to women in this time period who wore two or three fortunes in their ears. Peter encourages Christian women not to lose their sense of value. They are to recognize the beauty of character that is far more vital and important than external beauty. This beauty, available to all women, is much deeper and more valued by God. This beautiful character is described as having a gentle and quiet spirit.
The word gentle has a caress in it; yet behind gentleness stands the strength of steel. The supreme characteristic of the “gentle” woman is that she lives under perfect control. She is not given to panic, but exudes great strength. “Quiet,” too, suggests being under control. It also means “to evidence a calming influence.” Together, the two words speak of strength of character, strong self-control, describing a person of quiet elegance and dignity.
3. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4. 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.
“Beauty is only skin deep,” says the well-known proverb. Note that in counseling the married women of his time, Peter grasps the meaning of this proverb. He is not so much concerned about their outward beauty as about their inner charm.
- “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment.” We ought to read verses 3 and 4 as a unit and see the comparison Peter makes. He compares the outward beauty of a woman with her inner grace. And he teaches that the latter is much more important than the former.
Peter does not say that a woman should refrain from adorning herself. He writes no prohibition against using cosmetics or wearing attractive apparel. “Peter’s emphasis is not on prohibition but on a proper sense of values.”
- “Such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.” Peter provides three examples of outward adornment: hair, jewelry, and clothes. He is not saying that women should neglect their outward appearance; he does not intend that they have unkempt hair, or wear no ornaments, or dress in shabby clothes. Like Isaiah in the Old Testament period (Isa. 3:18–24), Peter objects to the excesses of make-up and dress that were common among the wealthy ladies in the church and society of his day (see also 1 Tim. 2:9). J. N. D. Kelly comments, “The elaboration in hair-styles, make-up, dress and personal jewellery in the [first] and [second] cent[urie]s is eloquently attested by the literature and art of the period.”
If we paraphrase Peter’s words to capture the intent of the Greek, we hear him say, “I object to the work of elaborately braiding your hair, the ostentatious wearing of gold ornaments, and the undue effort of dressing yourself in expensive clothes.” Peter does not address slave women who lacked the means to wear expensive garments and gold jewelry. On the contrary, he admonishes the wealthy ladies in the Christian community not to stress outward appearance but to develop the inward beauty of a gentle spirit. He says,
- “Instead, it should be that of your inner self.” The contrast is clear. In place of “outward adornment” Peter stresses “the inner self.” A literal translation of the Greek is “the hidden person of the heart.” Whereas hairstyles, jewelry, and expensive clothes are meant for display, the inner self is hidden from view (compare 1 Cor. 14:25; Eph. 3:16). Peter gives the reader a description of this inner self:
- “The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” The translators of the New International Version have supplied the word beauty, which is needed to complete the sentence. The descriptive phrase unfading beauty contrasts with ever-changing hairstyles, jewelry, and clothes. The beauty of the inner self does not lose its luster but is lasting and stable because of “a gentle and quiet spirit.” The Greek word which is translated “gentle” occurs only four times in the New Testament; two instances are self-descriptions of Jesus (Matt. 11:29; 21:5); one is a beatitude spoken by Jesus (“Blessed are the meek [gentle],” Matt. 5:5); and the last one is Peter’s exhortation in 3:4. Peter exhorts the female readers to display the same gentle spirit Jesus had during his earthly ministry.
Furthermore, the Christian woman must have a “quiet” spirit. A woman with a meek and quiet spirit ought never to be underestimated, for meekness is not the same as weakness, and quietness is not synonymous with dullness. The most effective women are those who possess the inner qualities of gentleness and quietness. Because of these qualities, Christian women receive favor in God’s sight.
- “Which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Not man’s evaluation of a meek and quiet spirit counts, but God’s. Peter employs the term of great worth when he mentions the inner qualities of a gentle and quiet spirit. This term is the same Greek word Paul uses to describe “expensive” clothes (1 Tim. 2:9). God, then, highly values these qualities in God-fearing women.
3:4 The clothing which makes a believer genuinely attractive is the beauty of the hidden person. Fashionable coiffures, costly jewelry, and fine clothing are perishable. In presenting this vivid contrast, Peter challenges us to make a choice. F. B. Meyer notes: “Plenty are there whose outward body is richly decked, but whose inner being is clothed in rags; whilst others, whose garments are worn and threadbare, are all glorious within.”
Men think jewels are precious; God considers precious the jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit.
3:4 the hidden person of the heart: The Christian wife is to be concerned with developing those intangible aspects of her life which are not flashy, but which are interwoven throughout all life. Incorruptible beauty involves inner qualities that do not decay or fade like makeup, jewelry, and clothes (v. 3). gentle and quiet spirit: Peter encourages Christian wives to exhibit attitudes that do not demand personal rights, attitudes that are not harsh and grating but are soothing and tranquil.
3:4 — … let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
What would happen in our spiritual lives if we spent as much time working on our souls as we do on our bodies? Our bodies are not unimportant, but they will die; our spirits, however, will live forever.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 179–181). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 328). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (pp. 93–94). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, p. 49). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 119–121). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
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 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Pe 3:4). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.