Earrings, Piercings, and Christians

There are many denominations that forbid earrings, some based upon 1 Timothy 2:9-10 or 1 Peter 3:3, and others on Leviticus 19:28. Is there any merit to this?

Introduction

As I was studying Moses' second address in Deuteronomy, I came across a passage about self disfigurement and for some reason, gauges, or "ear-stretching" came to my mind. I talked about this issue of self disfigurement in the post dedicated to that passage (found here), but it also made me think about piercings in general. There are quite a few denominations that forbid piercings, even earrings on women. It all stems back to Leviticus 19:28.

In today's society a lot of piercings that use to be taboo, are completely normal: nose rings, belly rings, multiple holes in the ear. Of course, these same piercings were quite normal amongst tribes before colonization... When people start piercing their eyebrows, tongue, and cheeks, society might start to label them edgy or alternative and people may begin getting a little uncomfortable. In a professional setting, many of these are still frowned upon, but simple earrings (1 hole) in each ear for women has never been a questionable thing. In fact, for the longest time I was the only girl in my grade who didn't have her ears pierced.

It took me 3 attempts to get my ears pierced: the first time they grew cysts and had an allergic reaction to the fake earrings, and the second time a store sold me one fake earring in a box with a real earring (they were both supposed to be real) which cause another allergic reaction and the holes closed. Now that I've had them pierced with no trouble for 6 years, here I am wondering if all this time God was telling me not to do it in the first place...
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Leviticus 19:28

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Carlos Sillero
The verse that everyone against even the simplest and most modest earrings quotes is Leviticus 19:28.
Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.Leviticus 19:28 KJV
The logic they propose is that piercing your ear is the same as "cuttings in your flesh." Of course, it also says "for the dead" to which most people will say that they didn't pierce their ears for a dead person. In fact many girls probably had their ears pierced as a baby, before they were even capable of making the choice. To understand the verse, we have to understand both the context of verse and the history of piercings.
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Context

If one declares that piercings are cuts in the flesh, then one also has to agree that surgery of any form is definitely cutting the flesh. Should a mother turn down a C-Section when the doctor says the baby can't be born naturally? It all hinges on that phrase "for the dead." Much of the text in the books of law, commands the Israelites not to adopt the traditions of the surrounding cultures, especially not the traditions that included idol worship.

Likely, it was an Amorite tradition God was warning them to refrain from. The Israelites were to destroy the Amorites when they entered the promised land, which makes it even more likely that their tradition is being referenced in this verse. The Amorites cut their skin with razors or their nails any time someone died. It was even common for someone to cut off part of their ear! The Scythians, Carthaginians, Phoenicians, and even Romans (all pagan nations) followed this tradition as well.[1]
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The History of Earrings

It's obvious that God's purpose for this command is to ward off paganism, so the next question is why did people start piercing themselves. Basically, do piercings have root in paganism?

Before diving into the history of piercings from the beginning I want to establish what Jewish law says about piercings—not because Jewish law is infallible, Jesus already proved that they weren't particularly good at interpreting the law each time He corrected the Pharisees, but because it is the closest tradition we have to God's law. Like with Christians, piercings are controversial in Jewish culture, however one Rabbi concludes that while they are not forbidden, the act does not reflect well upon Jewish values.[2]

Now back to the question of how earrings began. I want to discuss earrings in the secular world, then earrings as they are mentioned in the Bible.
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In the Secular World

Today, piercing seems like a perfectly normal and harmless form of expression; while people may associate what they consider extreme or unusual piercings with the occult, piercing the ears is usually not associated with anything other than normalcy. Though the trend fell out fashion for a while, it's even normal for men to wear earrings now. Interestingly, the practice of wearing one earring used to be a sign of homosexuality.[3][4][6] It is thought that this custom originated from the Pacific Islands.[3] I see the arguments for not making an unintentional statement, however, I find this to be a weak example of why you should not wear earrings. God told us He put a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His covenant with Noah, now more than 4,000 years later, the LGBT community is claiming the rainbow as one of their signs. Does that mean we have to shun all things rainbow? Of course not, God's creation of the rainbow holds the power. Now, you may have to think about how you display a rainbow or include text to avoid confusion, but there's no reason not enjoy the imagery of God's very first covenant with man. Similarly, I highly doubt God was warning the Israelites about some tradition going on in the Pacific Islands. It is known that the cultures in the Pacific Islands were likely around during Moses' era,[5] so this tradition could have been in effect when God command the Israelites, but all of the other traditions God warns them about come from pagan cultures that were right at their doorsteps, which leads me to think that this is stretching a bit.

There definitely is an established basis of piercings relating to paganism, however. From the practice found in the Pacific Islands, to the practices found in the native tribes of Americas and Africa, the earliest piercings date to prehistoric times. Piercings were often parts of religious rituals and rites.[7] There are also cultures in Southeast Asia that using piercings as a form of spiritual self-mortification.[8] In India, there are religious festivals (particularly Thaipusam) in which the tongue and or cheek is pierced. Unlike the common tongue piercings of today, these piercings could disable the tongue from retracting back into the mouth![11][12]

Many sites state that lots of cultures believed that demons could enter the body through the ears, and that ears were pierced because the metallic properties of the earrings warded away the demons. They suggest that the it was rooted in the idea of magic.[9][10] I haven't found a credible source to back up this thought; however, when you think about it, ear piercing is the only type of piercing that doesn't give anyone pause. The sight of heavily pierced people often give even non-believers a sense of discomfort. If you think about it, I'm sure you can name someone who thinks two holes in the ear is distasteful, you can probably name even more who think poorly of a simple stud in the nose. Once you start getting in to the eyebrows, tongues, cheeks, etc., you can probably name a lot of people who think this is in poor taste. People with such piercings are not often defined as beautiful and wholesome, but rebellious and wild. Where does this connotation come from if people have been piercing all manner of body parts since the being of civilization? Why are ears so different?
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In the Bible

The Bible actually mentions earrings multiple times, and very few of them are concretely positive.

Abraham Gives Rebekah Earrings

In Genesis, Abraham's servant gives Rebekah a nose ring as an engagement present. In fact, this earring is mentioned 3 times throughout Genesis 24 (once when Rebekah is given the earring, once when her brother sees the gift, and once when the servant relays the events to Abraham).
And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter art thou? And she said, the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bare unto him: and I put the earring upon her face, and the bracelets upon her hands.Genesis 24:47 KJV
God doesn't insert His opinion on the matter of giving Rebekah and earring. Abraham clearly sanctioned the action, and while Abraham's vice wasn't idolatry, he definitely wasn't perfect. If anything this says that the earring wasn't vile enough to anger God into revoking His covenant or raining down punishment. To me this indicates that it isn't a form a idolatry...
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Jacob's Family & Earrings

After a few of Jacob's sons carry out revenge on town for the rape of their sister, Jacob is instructed to take His family before God to be purified. Before doing this, he is instructed to leave behind the earrings with the idols they had with them.
And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.Genesis 35:4 KJV
A few people link the mentioning of strange gods with the earrings to infer that the earrings were part of the idol worship.[13] Moses calls the things in their hands "strange gods" but he calls the rings in their ears "earrings." If these were also false gods, why didn't Moses say "...and all the earrings of strange gods from their ears" or something of the sort? To me the verse doesn't conclusively state that earrings are idol worship. We know they had the idols because Rachel stole them from her father in Genesis 31. We are told that Rachel and Leah were angry that their father had treated them like strangers and basically sold them. Right after, Rachel takes the idols, which seems to be an act of revenge. It's never stated that Rachel or anyone in the family worshipped the idols, simply that she took them. It isn't until Jacob's sons commit murder that God instructs them to start anew, specifying that they leave the idols behind. Again, it seems unlikely that God would let them worship idols through images or jewelry for all that time without saying anything. Another possibility for removing the earrings is to humble themselves before God, as a sign of humility and a rejection of Earthly wealth.
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Earrings & the Exodus

The Israelites give earrings to be melted down to create the golden calf. It is quite obvious that the calf was an idol, but what of the earrings they used to make the idol? Only a few chapters later the Israelites are recorded as giving earrings as offerings to build the tabernacle.
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.Exodus 32:3
And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the Lord.Exodus 35:22
If the earrings were idols, why did God accept them to be used in building the tabernacle? He commanded the idols to be destroyed when they entered Canaan, the golden calf was destroyed and ground to powder, so why were the earrings acceptable? Further, after the incident with the golden calf, why didn't God say don't adorn yourself with earrings? He never condemns the practice of wearing earrings specifically, and His people are constantly described as wearing them. This implies He didn't have a problem with the earrings.
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Ishmaelites

In Judges, it seems that gold earrings are attributed to Ishmaelites.
And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)Judges 8:24 KJV
Does the assumption of Ishmaelites having earrings stem from them being rich, or from idolatry? From vanity or from craft? Many commentaries suggest that earrings were popular among nomadic tribes. Most of these authors of these commentaries also believe that the "earring" mentioned is actually a nose ring.[14] Of course, even the most modern translations refer to an earring as opposed to a nose ring in this verse so I'm not sure where or why these Bible scholars believe the ring in discussion is a nose ring. From this verse we can't really determine whether the earrings were "good" or "bad." They were common among Ishmaelites, though this commonness was not attributed to paganism. By reading the chapter, we can get a better context for this verse. We find that the earrings were given to Gideon after he lead the Israelites to victory over the nomadic tribes around them (which included the Ishmaelites). Gideon turns down being king, passing that responsibility to God, but asks for the earrings instead. The earrings are then used to make an ephod (perhaps similar to the one made for Aaron in Leviticus and Numbers). It is only after Gideon dies that the Israelites stray back toward idolatry. Thus, it doesn't seem that Gideon committed any error in God's eyes in repurposing the earrings. This may not sanction adorning yourself in earrings, but it does help prove that they were not considered symbols of paganism or false gods by God.
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Job

Righteous Job had earrings? In Job 42:11, we see that Job is given earrings by his guests in celebration. Again, neither God nor Job object to the gift; it seems to be a part of Gods blessings on Job. This does, however, leave it open to interpretation whether Job wore the earrings, allowed his females relatives to wear the jewelry, or used them as money.
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Jerusalem Given Earrings

In Ezekiel 16, God personifies Jerusalem and speaks of all the fine things He has given the city. Among things listed, in Ezekiel 16:12, God said He put earrings in her ears. This seems to be a positive for earrings. If God puts earrings in the city of Jerusalem's ears while they are being blessed, how can earrings be bad? If they were considered bad, wouldn't He have only mentioned the earrings in the next passage when He discusses Jerusalem turning her back on Him? God does mention that these jewels become instruments of idolatry because the Israelites didn't trust in their inner beauty. Again, in Hosea 2:16, Israel decks herself in earrings before going after Baal. Since we know that God is the one who gave them the earrings, we can conclude that they are trying to impress the false god with wealth and beauty that the real God has given them. Basically they are confused as to the source of their beauty, fortune, and wealth. We aren't to forget that God is first, that everything we have comes from Him and should glorify Him.
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Apostles Talk About Jewelry

In 1 Peter 3:3, Peter tells women not to be concerned with adorning themselves in gold. Of course, Peter is addressing married women, not single women. Then again, one could argue that even single women are married to God... Most scholars agree that in this verse, is discussing ornateness and vanity. Peter is telling the women not to let outward adornment be their sole focus.[15][16] Time was not to be wasted in adorning the outer part of the body. Remember gold wasn't forbidden; God even commanded use of it in the creation of the tabernacle and priestly garments![17] Given this background on the verse, the questions becomes: is Peter talking about even basic studs (which may even be made of cheap materials), or is he only talking about ornate earrings? We are being informed not to go overboard, and not to become obsessed. There was a time when I felt naked without my earrings on; even if I was just putting on small studs, I felt more clothed. Perhaps this is the mentality God is telling us to avoid. We should never feel that we need these adornments to make ourselves worthy or beautiful. Fulfillment should always come from inside. Paul echoes this sentiment in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.
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To Wear or Not To Wear Earrings

One of the themes that is clearly present in the Bible when discussing earrings (or jewelry in general) is the temptation of idolatry. Inanimate objects can't really be good or bad, it's what people do with them. The sole purpose of earrings is to adorn someone, which is one step down the road to vanity. Some people may be able to wear earrings without ever taking another step down that road, while others may run full speed to the end of the road. Israel uses the earrings God gave them to worship false gods, just as people today use their God given talents for ungodly purposes. In the Bible, we can definitely see the message that we are not to let such a thing consume our lives, and there is evidence to support the idea that piercing the body was much more welcome in pagan circles (the devil encourages the worship of self and vanity so it's no surprise).

Golconda Diamond Earrings
Photocredit: Jewellery Magazine
The most expensive earrings in the world cost 9.3 million dollars! They're called the Golconda diamond earrings, and someone actually bought them for $9.3 million. Can you imagine what could have been done for humanity with that type of money? Homes could be built for the homeless, food could be provided for the hungry, clothes for the poor, clean water in remote locations... I highly doubt God approves of us spending that type of money on something to simply hang from our ear and look pretty. The 5 most expensive pairs of earrings in the world are the previously mentioned Golconda diamond earrings ($9.3 million), the Harry Winston earrings ($8.5 million), Colombian diamond earrings ($4.8 million), Swartz diamond earrings ($2.5 million), and Christie's auction diamond earrings ($2.3 million).[18][19] I'm fairly certain somewhere in there is a point about coveting and lust (diamond lust that is). We definitely shouldn't be so concerned with our outward appearances that we spend millions of dollars on adornments.

The most expensive earrings I've ever worn were a gift from my parents and were about $100. Unlike the earrings mentioned above, they weren't ornate, they were simple pearl studs. At some point I lost one, and after losing so many earrings, I found it silly to replace them. As I mentioned earlier, I'm allergic to the metal used in fake earrings (or at least, my ear is sensitive to it since I've never had a problem with fake necklaces), so most of the earrings I've bought are about $20 because they're silver plated. Some are studs, others are medium sized hoops. Is this too ornate? Possibly.

Based on the descriptions of earrings in the Bible (gold or pearl), I would wager that the earrings the Israelites wore were probably in the price range of the ones my parents gave me since they were real gold. The catch for those of us who can't afford $9.3 million dollar earrings to even need to worry whether God approves of them or not, is where our hearts are when we buy our earrings. Are we trying to out do someone? To show our value? Are we going to have trouble paying our bills because we bought this? Or maybe it just goes well with everything in our closet. Peter and Paul tell us that we should be focused on our inward adornment; we shouldn't be concerned with buying the latest trends or looking hip. We should not buy something because the popular girls wear it or some celebrity made it cool.

So, what are we supposed to do? What should be our motivation? How much should we spend? No one can answer these questions specifically for you. It's something I believe you should be in conference with God about. My advice would be the simpler the better. I don't see where God condemns earrings or jewelry and I'm not convinced that Leviticus 19:28 is saying we can't pierce our ears, but I do see his warning for falling prey to idolizing said jewelry. I live by the principle that people shouldn't be so focused on my earrings that they can't see the light of God in me.
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References

  1. "Leviticus 19:28". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  2. Rabbi Alan Lucas. "Body Piercing In Jewish Law. My Jewish Learning. 2011
  3. Cox, Wade. "The Origin of the Wearing of Earrings and Jewellery in Ancient Times". Christian Church of God. May 2011
  4. "Right Earring Rule". Urban Dictionary. May 2011
  5. Foster, Sophie. "Pacific Islands". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015
  6. "What is the meaning of an earring in the left ear?". Reference.com. 2016
  7. Porterfield, Amanda. Gary Laderman and Luis D. Leon, eds. Religion and American Cultures: an Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity, and Popular Expressions. 2003
  8. "Body Piercing". Wikipedia. 2016
  9. Muniaswamy, Kasiraja. "Demonic Influences". For the Word of Truth. 2016
  10. Diakonos. "Tattoos and Piercings: Graffiti or defacing God’s Image?". Deception in the Last Days: BC Ministries. June 2011
  11. Prince. "10 Bizarre Indian Rituals". ListVerse. December 2012
  12. Victor, Anucyia. "Extreme Thaipusam festival sees devout Hindus pierce their cheeks with spears and carry decorated altars weighing over 60lbs to celebrate their god of war". Daily Mail. September 2014
  13. Subritzky, Bill. "Cutting the Flesh". Dove Ministries. 2016
  14. "Judges 8:24 Commentaries". StudyLight. 2016
  15. Gills, John. "1 Peter 3:3". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  16. Henry, Matthew. "1 Peter 3:3". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  17. "1 Peter 3:3 Commentaries". Bible Hub. 2016
  18. Satarupa B. "5 Most Expensive Earrings in the World!". Ethnic Daily. January 2016
  19. "Top Ten Most Expensive Oscars Jewelry". Jewels du Jour. February 2015
  20. Anthony Jacobson. "The Pagan Ritual of Cutting or Tattooing at a Funeral". Synonym. September 29, 2017
  21. Caroline McClatchey. "Ear stretching: Why is lobe "gauging" growing in popularity?". BBC News. November 21, 2011

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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