Recently I sat through a sermon about the evils of jewelry. The principle of modesty is well-established in Adventism and for many years this meant that no jewelry should be worn. It is only in my lifetime that even wedding bands have been accepted. I believe in the principle of modesty. However, I do not believe that the Bible specifically calls for believers to abstain from wearing jewelry. I know many conservative Adventists would disagree, as did the speaker that day. The goal of his sermon was to tell us that wearing jewelry was something good Christians do not do, and that the wearing of jewelry is a sign of capitulation to sinful society.
I found the speaker’s arguments to be a little scattershot. Some didn’t make sense to me, like when he argued that God gave Adam and Eve animal skins for clothing after they sinned because animal skins were plainer than the garments of leaves they sowed themselves. Sometimes the conclusions drawn from the text did not necessarily follow from the verses cited. But what bothered me most was the speaker’s egregious misuse of Isaiah 3. Starting at verses 12 and 13 he quoted, “O My people! Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths. The Lordarises to contend, and stands to judge the people.” He started here to show that what followed was addressed to the women of Israel. (As an aside, his sermon was also very sexist, focusing more on women than men because apparently women wear jewelry and men don’t.) The speaker then jumped to verses 18-21 to show us what God was going to do. “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.” The speaker concluded that God was going to take away this jewelry because it was wrong for the women of Israel to have it.
Did you notice the problem? The alarm bells went off in my head immediately. I always find it suspicious when someone skips sections of a chapter, like the five verses the speaker passed over to get to verse 18. Turns out my suspicion was well founded. Isa 3:16-17 states, “Moreover, the Lordsaid, ‘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 Lordwill make their foreheads bare.’” Filling in these two verses creates a more accurate picture. Removing the jewelry is not about the jewelry, but is punishment for their pride and general attitude. I went and spoke with the speaker after service focusing on what I thought was an obvious misuse of scripture. When I pointed out what seemed to be a clear oversight, the speaker said that it was not intentional and that he did not think it detracted from the conclusion he drew from the verses. I strenuously objected. In the aftermath of the discussion three things became clear to me. One, he did not realize that the verses he skipped totally changed the conclusion drawn from the text. Two, even if he did realize it, it would not have mattered. Finally, he does not believe he is interpreting the text when he interprets it.
Now this seems to be a rather insignificant thing to be upset about, but as I think about it, two important points come to mind. First, we should all despise blatantly bad biblical exegesis. The Bible is a complex enough book without us compounding the problem with lackadaisical attempts to ferret meaning from it. We have to be willing to open our minds to the logic of different interpretations, and more importantly, adjust ourselves to the meaning of scripture, instead of the other way around. It was abundantly obvious to me that the speaker had a preconceived notion of what the Bible says about jewelry and edited the text to fit (whether he meant to or not). Furthermore, anyone engaged in this type of eisegesis harms themselves and the listeners in the process. Those listening who are going to accept what the speaker says without critical analysis are being filled with unsubstantiated ideas. Those listeners who are going to examine what is said are not going to trust someone who is careless in their analysis. Nobody wins when the Bible is so obviously twisted to fit our conclusions.
The second and more tenuously connected point starts with a question. Why is it that we are so interested in the minutia of the Christian existence? I think part of it is positive. We are genuinely concerned about what it is God wants us to do in every aspect of our lives and want to share what God has showed us with others. But I also think part of it is about being able to distinguish the holy people from the unholy people, about finding a way to make ourselves feel better about our own relationship with God. I think some of us want to be like the Pharisee in Luke 18 and say to ourselves, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people…” You know, the ones who wear jewelry, or eat pork, or are members of that denomination. We want to look at someone who wears jewelry and think, “Heathen – something’s wrong with him/her.” As I have grown, I have become surer of what God wants from me and less sure of what God specifically wants from others. I have no idea how God is going to judge the righteous from the unrighteous. I find the whole thing to be incredibly complex. Do you judge by what someone heard and therefore should’ve known? What happens when the person who communicates that information makes a mistake? How do you judge when church communities sometimes seem so good at mistreating people? Will everyone hear about Jesus or the 10 commandments? And what does the Bible really say about any of that? I believe Heaven will be filled with people who never did things that I think are spiritually important. If that is true, how can I consider myself a good judge of who is doing the right thing and who isn’t? I can’t. Good thing that job belongs to God alone.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5591