Jewelry has been worn throughout human history for reasons of beauty, status, and religious symbolism. As Christians, we may wonder if Jesus himself wore decorative jewelry during his earthly ministry. While the Bible gives no definitive answer, we can make some reasoned speculations based on what we do know about Jesus and the cultural context in which he lived. In this post, we’ll explore the evidence both for and against Jesus wearing jewelry, consider its implications, and reflect on how this issue impacts our own Christian walk today.
- The Bible does not explicitly say whether Jesus did or did not wear jewelry.
- As an observant Jew, Jesus likely wore phylacteries and fringes on his garments in obedience to Old Testament law.
- There is no indication Jesus wore expensive jewelry to show off wealth or status. His lifestyle and values were humble and simple.
- Jesus condemned the flaunting of wealth through extravagant clothing and accessories. For him inward purity was most important.
- While jewelry is not wrong in itself, Christians should avoid vanity and use resources responsibly. Focusing on character over appearance is a Christ-like attitude.
The Jewish Cultural Context
Jesus lived in a time and place where jewelry was commonly worn by both men and women. Much of this jewelry held religious and cultural significance. As an observant Jew faithful to God’s law, Jesus would have worn at least some religious jewelry.
The Old Testament law commanded that observant Jewish men wear phylacteries and tassels as reminders of God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 6:8, Numbers 15:38-39). Phylacteries were small leather boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on the forehead and arm during prayer. Tassels with a blue cord were attached to the corners of one’s outer garment.
Jesus likely wore phylacteries when engaging in prayer and worship, as did other pious Jews of his day. We know the Pharisees wore phylacteries to show off their apparent righteousness and religious zeal (Matthew 23:5). But Jesus did not condemn phylacteries themselves – only misuse as a status symbol. Jesus also wore tassels on his outer cloak, as this was an expected part of Jewish attire. When a woman was healed by touching Jesus’ tassel, he did not object (Matthew 9:20-21).
Beyond phylacteries and tassels, various other types of jewelry were common in ancient Israel. These included bracelets, anklets, rings, earrings, necklaces, and headpieces on both men and women (Exodus 35:22, Isaiah 3:16-23). Some jewelry integrated precious stones or materials like gold and silver. But simpler, more affordable versions were widespread.
Archaeology gives us some helpful insights here. For example, tomb excavations reveal that bracelets and anklets were routinely buried alongside people from all social strata – the poorest to the wealthiest. Rings and earrings were also common across class lines. Even simple fishermen and farmers would have owned some basic pieces of jewelry that were readily available.
So in Jesus’ cultural setting, it was quite ordinary for Jewish men to wear at least minimal jewelry for functional purposes. The wealthy wore elaborate decorative jewelry to show off status. But those focused on obeying God’s law mainly stuck to phylacteries plus simple rings, bracelets, etc. for everyday wear.
Jesus’ Simple Lifestyle
The Gospels depict Jesus as living a life of simplicity, humility, and service to others. He had renounced earthly wealth and status to pursue his spiritual mission. Several passages highlight his simple lifestyle and values:
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
“Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Jesus had no permanent home and seemed to live day-to-day relying on support from followers. He taught his disciples to travel lightly without concerns of material provision (Luke 10:4, 22:35-36). The simplicity, restraint, and discipline exhibited by Jesus in the Gospels contrasts starkly with the luxury and excess of the Jerusalem religious elite.
Based on this portrait, it seems unlikely Jesus would have worn expensive jewelry or accessories to flaunt social status or wealth. This simply did not align with his spiritual priorities. He denounced the pride and showiness of the Pharisees who publicly flaunted their expensive garments and accessories.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.” (Matthew 23:5-6)
Jesus was focused on inward purity and obedience to God, not outer appearances.
However, some basic functional jewelry would have been readily available even to a poor itinerant rabbi and his disciples. Most Jews likely had a simple wedding band, bracelet, or ankle ring made of basic materials. These need not connote status, wealth, or contrast with Jesus’ values. But again, the Bible does not provide specifics.
Conspicuous Consumption vs. Responsible Use of Resources
Though jewelry itself is never condemned in Scripture, the Bible does critique conspicuous consumption – flaunting wealth through luxuries like fancy clothing, accessories, and perfumes. Passages warn against vanity, waste, and neglect of the poor (Isaiah 3:16-26, Amos 5:11-12, James 5:1-6).
Jesus highlighted the importance of using one’s resources responsibly to meet urgent needs. When his disciples objected to an extravagant use of perfume on Jesus’ own feet, he responded:
“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8)
Judas showed his greed by protesting this act of worship, not genuine concern for the poor. Yet Jesus also affirmed the general principle that resources could be better used to alleviate poverty.
Elsewhere, Jesus condemned the Pharisees’ showy gifts to the temple which came at the expense of caring for parents in need (Mark 7:9-13). He praised a poor widow’s small but sacrificial gift (Luke 21:1-4). So the Bible emphasizes responsible use of finances, avoiding waste and extravagance, sharing with the needy, and focusing on inward righteousness over outward appearance.
Principles for Us Today
While Scripture does not forbid jewelry outright, several principles can guide our approach as Christians:
- Avoid vanity and conspicuous consumption. Resist the temptation to flaunt lavish jewelry that feeds pride or distracts from our inner being. Ask why we feel the need to impress others. Consider more constructive uses for the money spent on expensive accessories.
- Focus on inward adornment. Like Jesus, concentrate on cultivating inner beauty, faith, compassion, and virtue rather than decorative outward sparkle (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4). What virtues do we want jewelry to reflect?
- Examine our motives. Consider why we wish to wear jewelry and what it communicates about our values. Is it to feel beautiful? To show marital commitment? To identify with a faith tradition? To commemorate an occasion? Jewelry can express good purposes when worn with the right mindset.
- Practice simplicity, generosity, and stewardship. Avoid lavish opulence that wastes resources needed by the poor and marginalized. Consider giving the funds spent on costly accessories to help others instead. Think about jewelry’s environmental impact as well.
- Consider cultural context. In some settings, jewelry connotes social status or conflicts with Christian witness in that community. In those cases, consider setting it aside to remove barriers to outreach (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Other contexts may be more neutral.
The Bible does not directly tell us whether or not Jesus wore jewelry during his earthly ministry. Based on his cultural context, he likely wore some simple religious jewelry like phylacteries and tassels in keeping with Jewish law and custom. But he eschewed expensive decorative jewelry that would have contradicted the values of humility, simplicity and service that he embodied. As Christ’s followers, we are not forbidden from wearing adornments. But it is wise to major on the inner virtues like compassion, wisdom and righteousness that most pleased our Lord. By avoiding materialism and vanity, and stewarding our resources generously, we reflect His selfless character. Our outward appearance should point people to the beauty of Christ within, not distract from it. In these ways, we can reflect our Savior in spirit whether jewelry adorns us externally or not.