Addressing the Dressing V (Part 1): The “Other” Modesty Text

So let’s recap.

In the first post, we introduced the topic and gave a broad look at the categories of women in churches that have concerns about modesty (or a total lack thereof).  In the second post, we looked at the biblical terminology from 1 Cor 12:23 and 1 Tim. 2:9.  I only did that because the verses with the term “modesty” in them are generally the passages that people talk about when the topic comes up.  At the end of that post, I brought up the myth that gold, braided hair was the mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture.  In the third post, we looked at the actual mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture; wearing the male Toga (often made out of thin, revealing Coan silk).  In the fourth post, we looked at what gold, braided hair indicated in ancient Roman culture; wealth and status.

status symbol

Now, I’m going to take a quick look at the other significant biblical text that addresses modesty.  This whole series would be incomplete without addressing it, so let’s explore 1 Peter 3:1-6:

1 Peter 3:1-6

“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 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. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

The passage opens with “likewise”, which points the reader back to the previous section of 1 Peter 2:18-25 where Peter gives instructions to servants.  Peter urges them to be subject to both just and unjust masters (2:18) because this is a gracious and valuable behavior in the eyes of God (2:19-20) and befitting emulation of Christ (2:21-25).

So 1 Peter 3:1 urges wives to be like servants in that they emulate Christ in how he committed no sin with his mouth while suffering unjustly (2:22-23), didn’t return threats with threats of his own (2:23) and even suffered unjustly for Christians 2:24-25) due to the fact that he entrusted all justice “to him who judges justly” (2:23).

Peter gives wives specific instructions here along those lines.  He urges wives to be subject to their husbands, even if their husbands are disobedient to the Lord.  The term “be subject” comes from the Greek hypotasso, which I unpack in depth here.  In 1 Peter 3:1, it’s a reflexive verb, meaning that it’s something that a women does to herself.  The reason for this is given in the second half of the verse: “so that…they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives

The second verse explains that sort of “husband-winning” conduct they need:

a.  Respectful – Interestingly, this word is phobos.  It means “fear”, and we get the English “phobia” from this term.  It’s a relatively common term, appearing 47 times in the New Testament, and it almost always means “fear”.  The idea behind this “fear” is understood once we get to verse 6.

b.  Pure – The term here is hagnos.  This term means “clean” or “pure”, and it comes from hagios, which is a very common term in the New Testament.  It means “holy”.

Then, 1 Peter 3:3 moves into the practical examples of what that “fearful and pure” conduct looks like.  The command is to “not let your adorning be external“, and the examples given seem familiar now: “braided hair”, “gold jewelry” or “clothing”.  As we saw in the second post, the term translated “braided hair” is the same in 1 Tim. 2:9 as it is in 1 Peter 3:3.  The “gold jewelry” is not an indicator of being a woman of questionable sexual ethics, (as we saw in the third and fourth posts), and neither is the “clothing.”  The issue with these things is not that they make a person look like a prostitute, but rather that they’re external.

The external adornment is contrasted in verse 4 with the command to “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart”.  Rather than external adorning, a women should be adorned with “the hidden person of the heart.”  The term “hidden” is translated from kryptos, from which we get the English word “cryptic” and the (hidden) home planet of a popular superhero…


Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.

The term kryptos means “hidden” or “secret”.  The adorning of a woman that wants to win the heart of her disobedient husband is putting on the secret, internal righteous person that resides in her heart.  That’s the good you that nobody else really sees, and that part of your heart is what you need to bring out.  It’s at this point I need to point out something rather obvious:

That’s not something you do with a boyfriend.

This is not really a text instructing single women how to make themselves attractive to “godly guys”.

That’s not to say that the principle isn’t good (attract a guy primarily with who you are rather than what you look like), but this is a place where context (which is synonymous with “subject matter” in this case) cannot be left behind.  The context here is dealing with wives who are living with a husband who is disobedient to God (vs. 1).  This passage is talking about God’s divine strategy to win a disobedient fellow back to himself (with regards to his wife), not how single girls can find a guy who does obey the Lord.  It’s definitely not a text for taking your disobedient boyfriend and giving him an overhaul.

If you’re dating a guy who’s some sort of “in name only” Christian, dump him.

If you’re dating a guy who tries to push you physically into sexual compromise, dump him.

If you’re dating a guy who is unfaithful while he’s dating you, dump him.

If you’re dating a guy who is physically abusive, dump him and involve your church elders and the police.

Kick his butt to the curb.

butt kick

Don’t try to reform him: dump him.  This passage isn’t a recipe for reforming a bad boyfriend.

Guard your heart when you’re dating and throw the chum to the sharks.

Okay.  I just had to make that clear.

Now what is the “secret” person that resides in a woman’s heart that she needs to adorn in order to win a wayward husband?  It’s the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  What’s the idea here?

a.  The term “gentle” is praus, which means “meek”.  The concept of meekness involves someone being selfless and restrained.  In looking through all the occurrences of some of the derivitives, like praotes (the feminine noun form that is translated “meekness”) or praos (an alternate form), one see that the term is often found alongside terms carrying the idea of “gentle” or “longsuffering” (i.e. 2 Cor. 10:1; Eph. 4:2) and is contrasted with terms carrying the idea of aggression (i.e. 1 Cor. 4:21).  It’s not a hard term to understand, but most of the 1-word definitions that I’ve heard don’t really do the term justice.  It’s purposefully not drawing attention to something that’s worthy of attention, and making little of one’s own obvious glories.  My new image of meekness is this:

Queen Photobomb

I’m guessing that photo would have ended up slightly different if the figure of the back would have simply announced her presence. Due to a monarch’s lack of need for the (rightly-deserved) limelight, we now have the best photo-bomb in history.

b. The term “quiet” is hesuchios, which is an interesting term that is a composite of echo (to have or hold) and hedraios (seated/steadfast).   The idea here is one where a person stays in their seat when challenged or confronted.  The idea is a graphic one: when someone raises a charge against you, you don’t jump to your feet in defense of yourself…kinda like  Peter describes in 1 Peter 2:21-24, hence he begins this passage with the word “likewise.”

Why should the Christian woman who seeks to win over her wayward husband chose this reaction to his waywardness?  It’s clearly the obvious temptation to cater to whatever that woman thinks he desires…and sinful men always are thinking carnally (which means “physical” in this context).  But the wife who has a wayward husband needs to remember who’s really doing the work: God.  She needs to pursue his plan of action because he is the one, the only one, who can restore a wayward heart.  He doesn’t guarantee that he will, but this is the plan of action he has laid out for every woman in this circumstance.

As I’ve already suggested, this isn’t something foreign to God either.  1 Peter 2:18-24 comments on how Jesus himself exemplified this for believers, and 1 Peter 3:1-6 is the application of 1 Peter 2:18-24 in the specific situation of a God-fearing woman finding herself married to (or even trapped with) a faithless husband.


The secret godly woman, the “righteous woman of the heart” that others don’t see, is the woman that needs to come out for the faithless husband.  That’s the woman that God wants to cultivate in all women who find themselves in this situation.  God knows that a faithless dolt won’t see that “righteous woman of the heart” for what it is either, hence he comments on the “righteous woman of the heart” when Peter writes “in God’s sight is very precious.”   That is the anchor for the weathered and battered soul who finds herself married to a guy who sees her Godliness as foolishness and treats her servant heart as thought it were spinelessness.

God gets it.

God values it.

10 trillion years from now, there’s not a single woman who will regret obeying the Lord in this way, though right now that struggle is monumental.  God isn’t some myopic imbecile; He knows that the struggle many of these women face will seem utterly insurmountable.  To help the women in this situation, he gives them two titanium truths on which to anchor their battered hearts (alliteration means I feel some “preach” coming on).

What started as a short address of 2 verses turned into a whole sermon, so I’ve moved that into a separate post.  I’ll put that up in a few days.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “1 Peter 3:5-6 is a much heavier text than I expected” Unger


20 thoughts on “Addressing the Dressing V (Part 1): The “Other” Modesty Text

  1. Hi! I love this post but I just quickly wanted to mention that I believe the hidden home planet Krypton (which you alluded to above) is Superman’s…. um, not Batman’s. 😀

    Or I could wrong, it’s early for me over here…

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  3. I am wondering what the priniciples are for the rest of the wives addressed in verse 1. They seemed to be omitted in the above article and only the wives with the “even If” husbands addressed. Am I hearing that those wives with husbands who do obey the word are exempt from these principles, and it is well and good for them to go ahead with the outward adorning and they do not need to focus on the inner imperishable beauty on which God places such a high value?

    • The principles would be the same. I don’t really understand why this question is even coming up.

      The women with a good and godly husband aren’t really the ones struggling and needing encouragement…right?

  4. Thank you! I am one of those hired late in the day-with an unsaved husband. Coming up the sin,grace,salvation learning curve while balancing church and husband is an interesting walk in the minefield. Being a headstrong, steeped in ‘title ix’, American woman-read ‘sinfull mule’- means checking myself constantly. Literally and figuratively. Knowing God is sovereign, having a godly pastor and sites like yours keep me smiling and learning. ‘Learning humility as an old Jenny’

  5. I once had a lady tell me that this passage strictly forbids women from wearing gold and having braided hair. She didn’t much appreciate it when I pointed out that, if true, she was sinning by wearing clothing.

    More seriously, this section of scripture is really heavy and difficult, and illustrates Peter’s point about how citizens of heaven are to live as aliens and foreigners in a hostile and temporary world. As God’s people, how do we live under the rule of an emperor who has started open season on Christians? How do slaves live under wicked masters? How does a wife live with an unbelieving husband, who may have started mistreating her because of her new faith?

    “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness…?” (2 Peter 3:11)

    The admonition about gold/braids/clothing fits the theme of Peter’s letters. Don’t be obsessed with the external, the temporal, the stuff of the world that’s going away. We have something far more valuable and important, the eternal, unfading inheritance, the undying and sure word of God, the partaking of the divine nature by being renewed in holiness. In all aspects of life, even in relationships where we are subject to the ungodly, focus on what is eternal and of inestimable value.

      • Well, the verse says “Do not let your adorning be external – (1) the braiding of hair and (2) the putting on of gold jewelry, or (3) the clothing you wear”

        If 1 and 2 are strictly forbidden, how would 3 be OK?

  6. Pingback: Addressing the Dressing V (Part 2): 1 Peter 3:5-6 | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely…

  7. I really appreciate this series. It’s come at a time when there’s been many debates among Christians on the subject of modesty. In one of those debates, someone recommended your series.

    I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite so heated. It’s resulted in a lack of grace among believers, which always concerns me. In an effort to avoid one error, an extreme position is taken which commits it’s own.

    One side believes women ought to be more modest, and they include practical advice of what that should look like. They explain that it’s loving to your brothers in Christ to be modest.

    The other side says men need to stop lusting, that women should be allowed to wear what they want, without fear of being the object of a brother’s lust. I saw one comment which was something like, “I should be able to wear yoga pants or a bikini without worrying about the potential of a brother lusting after me.”

    Ultimately, there’s often little sensitivity to the other side.

    There are also many opinions in between. There are several who say a woman should be concerned about her modesty, a man his lust. I agree with that mostly. The problem is, those who take that position, don’t want to hear any opinions outside of that.

    I’m well aware that modesty views can be subjective. Many things can play into what is considered modest. But I do think modesty overall is often neglected today, and sadly, even in the Church. As the mother of teenagers, I’ve become even more aware of it. I wouldn’t want my daughters drawing extra attention from men, and I wouldn’t want my sons facing extra temptation. I’m speaking specifically within the Church.

    I’ll look forward to your next post.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Ellie: it’s definitely a common and wide spread issue!

      The whole “be sensitive to your brothers in Christ” vs. “It’s not MY fault you can’t control yourself” is the typical tension.

      The first is more socially respectable than the second, but both are equally confused.

  8. Pingback: Addressing the Dressing VI: Bringing It All Together…Almost | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely…

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