The History of Rings

By William Chalfant


 

THE SYMBOLISM OF RINGS

 

When we think of the symbolism of rings, it is possible to allow our minds to run amok. Rings are noted everywhere in nature. The idea of a circle gives out notions of eternity, with no beginning and no ending.

Tyack speaks of rings made in “the form of the familiar symbol of eternity, the coiled snake...”.1 The snake also represents the wicked serpent in the Garden of Eden. Thus a ring is made, in this instance, to represent a serpent that wraps itself around mankind.

Granted that such a representation is rather far-fetched, there is, however, evidence that in primitive times it was believed by some that a rope tied around part of the body would keep the soul from escaping from the body.

Berdanier says that when a man captured his mate in primitive times, he tied ropes around her waist, her wrists, and ankles, in order to “make sure that her spirit was held under his control”.2

Later, a permanent ring of flint, ivory, or amber, took the place of the rope “to symbolize obedience of the wearer to a higher power”.3 The ring, then-in this respect-was quite simply a symbol of ownership or slavery.

Actually, the symbolism of the ring is more widespread than that. It is not only a symbol of slavery in this instance, but it later became a status symbol of authority, wealth, and position-especially in the ancient Roman world. This idea of the ring as a status symbol is derived from the ring’s cosmetic qualities, which is seen in its “value” to some as an adornment of the body.

The ancients had at least three uses for rings: (1) to distinguish status or conditions of quality; (2) betrothal or engagement rings, and (3) rings used as seals in business or other personal transactions.4

It seems that the use of a ring as a seal was the earliest employment of rings in the civilized world. In this use of the ring, it was associated with the transfer of goods or property.

 

THE ORIGIN OF THE RING

 

Most sources consulted by this writer are agreed that the ring originated in the Middle-east, but they are not always in agreement in which area or country.

Brasch, for example, says, “The ring originated in the East, whence it was copied by the ancient Greeks”.5 Others believe that the earliest rings were to be found in Egypt.

But Rees tells us, “The ancient Chaldeans, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, had likewise the use of the ring”. He takes his information from the ancient writer, Quintus Curtius.

It is our opinion, then, that just as the ancient pantheon of the “gods” of Egypt are descended from the pantheon of Babylon, then likewise the ring itself must be descended from Babylon.

The earliest use of the ring in the civilized world seems to have been in making impressions or imprints upon wax or clay. This ring, then, was used to designate ownership. It was normally too large to be worn upon the finger, and was sometimes a part of a bracelet or necklace, or just attached to the waist by a thong or a cord.7

By the sixteenth century BC finger rings were noted among the ancient Egyptians, which leads some to believe that this was about the time when the finger ring evolved from the signet ring, which was used as a seal.8

This means that the finger ring, at this time, became “ornamental” rather than useful as a seal or signet.

The first biblical reference to a ring is in Genesis 41.42, where an Egyptian pharaoh (probably Apepi II), in about 1800 BC, gave his signet ring to Joseph.9 Obviously, this ring was not for the purpose of adornment, but was given to Joseph for business or government transactions.

We are not told whether Joseph actually continued to wear this ring constantly upon his “hand” (we are not actually told that the ring was put on Joseph’s “finger”, but rather it was placed upon his “hand”, which would be the case if it was a large signet ring). Signet rings, by their very use, would be deemed too large to wear ornamentally upon the finger. Most rings today throughout the Islamic world in the Middle east are the signet rings (the khatim, “seals”).10

The Persians (Iranians) said that Guiamschild, who was “the fourth king of the first race...introduced the ring for sealing his letters and other acts”.11

The Persians had conquered Babylon, and therefore may have gotten the ring from Babylon.

Others ascribe the ring to the Phoenicians. But the Phoenicians were sea traders, and were most likely responsible for merely spreading the use of rings throughout the Mediterranean.

The ring probably went from the Babylonians and Persians to the Greeks. From the Greeks it went to the Etruscans in Italy, and then finally to the Romans, from whom we in the West have gotten our basic custom of wedding rings.

 

RINGS AND MAGIC

 

Anne Ward has stated, “of all means of self-ornamentation devised by the human race, none generates a more powerful atmosphere of mystery and magic than the ring”.12

Ward designates three types of ancient rings: (1) seal or signet, (2) ornamental, and (3) ritual (religious, civic, magic).

In the middle ages, it was commonly supposed that rings possessed a variety of supernatural powers. Magic and charm rings “possessed powers as a continuous circle”.13

The so-called “ring finger”, the fourth finger (counting the thumb) of the left hand, is actually called in antiquity, the “finger of Apollo”. Apollo was the pagan god of healing.14

Many are familiar with the tales of magic rings in Arabian folklore, and the ring is the focus of much occult lore.15 And not only has the ring been identified with the occult and magic, but the ring was even employed as a murder weapon!

Venetians, in renaissance Venice, called this ring the anello della morte, or “the ring of death”. The ring was filled with a deadly poison with a tiny, pricking point, which was powered by a spring. One deceitful handclasp and death followed.16

Other rings, during the middle ages, served as amulets, charm rings, or magic talismans. These rings were often engraved with figures, symbols, and words, to ward off evil. These were worn with the same idea that Christian crosses are worn today; i.e., to protect the wearer in some magical way. Early gnostic Christians wore rings in this manner.17

 

THE WEDDING BAND

 

The use of a wedding band may be traced back to the use of the betrothal or engagement ring by the Romans. Clement of Alexandria, however, tells us that the ring’s use in the marriage service (he probably is referring to the betrothal or engagement ceremony) began in ancient Egypt, and it actually signified a transfer of property.18

Tyack very carefully points out that the wedding ring is distinct from the betrothal or engagement ring, and that it came into use about the tenth century, being introduced in the Roman Catholic church.19

The Christian wedding band comes from the pagan Roman sponsalia (betrothal) ceremony.

The ancient Montanist writer (claimed by Catholics), Tertullian (150-230 AD) tells us that rings were not part of the wedding ceremonies in his day. They were considered pagan.20

McCarthy says that the early Catholic Christians used a ring in espousals, but not in solemnizing the marriage itself.

However, the use of the ring in the engagement ceremony rather than in the actual marriage ceremony is simply the ancient Roman pagan sponsalia.21

Tertullian admitted that in the third century some Christian women had a plain gold ring placed on their finger at the sponsalia ceremony. He called this ring the anulus pronubus, or “betrothal ring”.22 But the reader should not think that the young lady continued to wear this gold ring. This was merely a formal placing of the ring on her finger during this pagan ceremony. We might compare this sponsalia to a civil ceremony versus a religious ceremony. It was a Roman custom, and was probably not easily discontinued by Roman citizens and family members, even though they had become Christians . Roman law, at this time, forbad the wearing of gold rings, on a daily basis, by common people.

Moreover, it is rather doubtful that apostolic Christians participated even in the Roman pagan ceremonies at all.

Artsikhovski tells us that the plain gold wedding band originated from the ancient Roman custom.23 Rings are noted among Catholics from the fourth century, when they became quite common.24

The Greek Catholic church directed that the wedding band be placed on the woman’s right hand (we assume the fourth finger). And it was noted on the right hand among Roman Catholics until the middle of the 18th century.25

According to Brasch, the location of the wedding band is a part of pagan superstition. He states, “The choice of the (left) ring finger is of unquestionable pagan origin”.26 The right hand normally stood for power and authority, while the left hand expressed “submission and serfdom”.27

The wedding ring, as a symbol of submission, may seem, at first glance, to express “Christian” sentiments. But when we think of the origins of the ring, we do not understand these sentiments in the same way:

...the wedding ring was first used in the days when men used to own their wives. In these terrible times...men used their brutal strength to make women their slaves. It was customary to put a chain on a slave to show that he has an owner...We now believe that the wedding ring began as a symbol meaning that the wife was the husband’s property.28

While this may certainly seem a bit exaggerated, it does not sound like something expressing Christian sentiments. The ancient Hebrews did not use a wedding band.29

The positioning of the wedding band on the fourth finger, left hand, had two meanings in history.

Isidore of Seville (560-636 AD) calls the vein on the fourth finger, the vena amoris, or the “heart vein”.30 This was supposedly the “healing finger”, since the vein ran straight to the heart.

The custom also arose, sometime in the middle ages, of connecting the wedding band with the Trinity.

The Anglo-Saxons, during the engagement ceremony, placed the ring on the girl’s right hand finger, and transferred it to the left hand finger at the marriage. The ring was placed, by the priest, first on the thumb, then on the index and middle finger in order, naming the three Persons of the Trinity. Finally, it was placed on the fourth finger, showing that the bride was subject first to the Trinity, and next to her husband.31

Tyack also speaks of this trinitarian ceremony of the ring, and says that before the Reformation it was more elaborate:

Before the Reformation, the wedding ring was put on in a more ceremonious way than is now enjoined. The ring, having been blessed by the priest, and sprinkled with holy water, as it lies upon a dish or book, the directions for the investiture of the bride with it are, in the Sarum Missal, as follows: ‘Then let the bridegroom put the ring on the thumb of the bride, saying ‘in the name of the Father; and of the Son (on the index finger); and of the Holy Ghost (on the middle finger), and then (on the fourth finger), saying Amen. And then let him leave it (on the fourth finger), because in that finger there is a certain vein which reaches to the heart”.32

While it is true that many Reformation trinitarians have simplied the wedding ceremony, including the use of the ring, but the meaning is undeniably clear. THE WEDDING BAND ON THE LEFT FOURTH FINGER IS A REPRESENTATION OF SUBMISSION TO THE TRINITY. It is moreover superstitious and vain.

It is true that many of the Reformation trinitarians felt that there was something wrong with the wedding ring. Thomas Sampson and Laurence Humphrey (1556 AD) wrote about the “popish” method of the ring in the wedding ceremony. They were quite aware that the wedding band had been introduced into Christianity by the Catholic popes.

Others made fun of those who were attempting to ban the use of the wedding band, as in this witty poem by Butler:

That tool of matrimony, a ring: With which the unsanctified bridegroom Is marry’d only to a thumb; (As wise as ringing of a pig, That us’d to break up ground and dig) The bride to nothing but her will, That nulls the after marriage still.34

And in another stab at Puritans, who were against wedding bands:

They will not hear of wedding rings, For to be us’d in their marriage; But they say they’re superstitious things
And to religion much disparage; They are but vain, and things profane, Wherefore now no wit bespeaks them,
So to be ty’d unto the bride, But do it as the spirit moves them.35

Thus, the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell (1653-1658 AD) in England tried unsuccessfully to ban the use of the wedding band.36

McCarthy says that the first betrothal rings were made of grass.37 This would seem to fit the symbolical description of the ring as a substitute for the rope tied around the bride in primitive times.

The Catholic Council of Durham in England (1220 AD) stated: “Let not the marriage ring be made of rushes, or of other vile materials”.38 Apparently the “rush” (grass) ring was being used by certain devious young men to trick young women into thinking that the ring made them “wives”. Such has been the power of the ring.

The early Roman betrothal (engagement) ring was made of iron, and the actual use of a gold ring in the sponsalia, or betrothal, was not noted until the latter half of the second century AD, or early third century AD, when Tertullian mentions the use of a gold ring among some Christians.

Wedding rings are noted in the Catholic church from the fourth century onwards. Gregory of Tours (538-594 AD) mentions Christian wedding rings in the sixth century, and they were widespread among the Visigoths and the Lombards.39

 

THE SUPERSTITION OF RINGS

 

There is a vast amount of superstition, which has grown up around the wedding band. The Roman writer, Plautus (254-184 BC), in his Miles Gloriosus, called the ring “a pledge of love”.40 This aura of romanticism and sentimentality surrounding the ring has made it nearly an object of reverence and worship.

In England, up to modern times even, it has been considered an ill omen if the wedding ring were suffered to drop to the ground during the wedding ceremony. Some suppose that whichever of the bridal couple was so unfortunate as to drop the ring, would be the first to die.

Tyack says that it is everywhere deemed ominous if the lady takes off her wedding band, and especially so if she should happen to break it or lose it. 41

The wearing away of a wedding band, when it snapped, foretold of the husband’s death.

In some parts of Ireland, the marriage contract itself was invalid unless a gold ring was used.42

Why the fixation upon gold in connection with the wedding ring? The early Romans, who seem to have originated the custom of the ring in marriages, did not at the first use gold wedding rings. As we have seen, they used rings made of iron.

The Romans had strict laws forbidding the use of gold rings. But these laws were relaxed as the Empire became rich, and the emperor wished to reward certain classes of people. It was only natural that the common people would want to wear gold as they became wealthy. Gold is highly prized as a precious shiny metal, which is soft and malleable.

A justification for the wearing of gold rings was offered in 1674 by a Catholic who was opposed to the ban on the wearing of rings was that the gold of the wedding ring signified the purity required in marriage. And, no doubt, many other such reasons have been given for wearing gold on the finger.

History teaches us that the wedding ring is a pagan custom, which is ultimately descended from Babylon via the Egyptians and the Romans. It is not seen in the early apostolic church as an approved custom.

The wedding band is noted as a betrothal ring in the early Catholic church from the late second century and early third century, and is seen to be widespread by the fourth century onward. The use of the ring in the wedding ceremony itself is noted from at least the tenth century in the Roman Catholic church.

 

WHY DO PEOPLE WEAR RINGS?

 

People fall in love with rings. Rings become an object of desire. Status symbols, sentimental reasons, vanity, are among other reasons that people wear jewelry and gold.

Others see in the wearing of rings such benefits as superstitious protection, magic talismans, amulets, and identification with certain groups, such as schools, military groups, etc.

Rings become revered family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, similar to the “household gods” of ancient times.

The wearing of rings can indeed become an obsession. As McCarthy notes concerning the Romans: “The trouble with the Romans, as with others enamored of anything, was that they began to overdo the wearing of rings. They covered their fingers with them”.43

And these were the same Romans, who earlier tried to restrict the wearing of the gold and silver ring to the noble classes only. But a lust to wear these forbidden rings eventually consumed them.

Rings were considered a mark of dignity and status. Florus says that the Romans adopted the ring from the Etruscans.44

In Rome, the permission to wear the gold ring gave one a certain privilege that others did not have (for example, only those wearing a gold ring could sit in the first fourteen rows in the public theaters or amphitheaters).45

The noted first century ancient Roman writer, Pliny, said that originally even Roman senators, unless they were also ambassadors, could not wear the gold ring. Even then, the senator was only allowed to wear the gold ring on public occasions in his capacity as an ambassador.

As time went on, senators and knights were permitted to wear the gold ring. This particular privilege was called “the right of the gold ring” (jus annuli aurei).

When Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general from north Africa, defeated the Roman army at Cannae (216 BC), his officers collected three bushel baskets of gold rings belonging to the defeated Roman knights.46

The first Roman emperor, Augustus (31 BC-14 AD), extended the privilege of the gold ring to certain outstanding and rich freedmen.

His successor, Tiberius (14-37 AD), limited the privilege of the gold ring, which had been given to freedmen (citizens who were not nobility), only to those freedmen who were large property owners.

Later, the african Emperor Severus, in 197 AD, granted the right to wear the gold ring to all Roman soldiers, although this may have only meant the officers.

Since it was about this time that Tertullian spoke of Christian ladies putting on the gold band in the betrothal ceremony (sponsalia), he could not have meant that they wore the gold ring permanently, since it was illegal for them to do so.

The common people were only allowed to wear silver rings, and slaves could still only observe the custom of wearing iron rings.47 The Roman people in general were not allowed the wearing of gold rings until the time of the Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD).

 

A SPIRIT BEHIND THE WEARING OF RINGS

 

There seems to be a spirit behind the wearing of rings in some cases. Such seems to have the case in some Romans.

Martial, a first century Roman writer, wrote, “At first, (the Romans) only wore a single ring, then (later) one on each finger”.48

Aristophanes wryly commented that the Romans wore, in some cases, a ring “on each joint of a finger”.49 And, he adds, their “foppery (foolish vanity) at length rose to that pitch, that they had their weekly rings”.

Juvenal (60-140 AD) noted that some vain Romans even had annuli semestres (seasonal rings, one for Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer).

Lampridius gives us the heighth of ring bondage and vanity when he relates that Heliogabalus never wore the same ring, or the same shoe, twice! 50

Thus, there seems to be a spirit of vanity or pride connected with the wearing of rings.

And it was not limited to the ancient Romans. Representations of ancient Egyptian girls, as well as Egyptian mummies, show that they wore ornamental finger rings, even several on a finger.51

It is noted that even in the twentieth century, many tribal peoples “load the limbs, fingers, and even the toes with rings”.52

It is difficult to contain the spread of rings and jewelry among a people. It is like an alcoholic taking just one drink. It never stops there.

Moreover, the ring seems to evolve from less expensive materials to precious, expensive metals, such as gold. There is not only a tendency to excess in the wearing of rings, but a tendency to extravagance in the rings worn.

Even the Catholics began to complain about the vanity of rings. Cyprian and Jerome (third and fourth centuries) both cautioned against the excesses in the wearing of rings.

Early Catholics like Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), a contemporary of Tertullian, found himself attempting to distinguish between the images on rings as to whether they were pagan or immoral, or whether they were permitted to Christians, “such as fish or doves”.53

 

CHURCH RINGS

 

Almost all church rings (eccleisiastical rings) are connected with the Catholic church. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that “Closely allied to the wedding ring is the eccleisiastical ring, ceremonially wedding the wearer to the church, as well as signifying the dignity of the office”.54

We have noted that there is a connection between the wedding ring and the Roman Catholic church by history and by the relationship with the Trinity.

The most famous of church rings would be the papal ring, or the “fisherman’s ring”, which is worn by the Pope to signify his authority and position.

There are also rings worn by Catholic cardinals and bishops. These are the rings that devout Catholics kneel and kiss when meeting these priests.

Catholic nuns wear a plain gold wedding band. It supposedly signifies their “marriage” to Jesus Christ.55 This custom goes back at least to the fourth century, since Ambrose of Milan (339-397 AD) speaks of the nun’s right to wear the gold wedding band.55

Since the Catholic bishops were given a great deal of even secular authority by the Emperor Constantine, following the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the bishop’s ring may at one time have been a signet ring with the bishop’s seal.

Augustine, in the early fifth century, speaks of the bishop’s ring as a seal in one of his epistles.

Isidore of Seville (530-636 AD) also mentions the bishop’s ring, as does the Catholic Council of Toledo (633 AD).56

One must admit that Christian rings are highly associated with the Catholic church. Some Protestant reformers made attempts to do away with rings, but they were largely unsuccessful.

 

SHOULD THE CHRISTIAN WEAR RINGS?

 

First, we must ask the all important question: is this a matter of conscience or personal conviction-or are rings prohibited by the scriptures?

Hebrews 12.1 says in part, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us”. Therefore, no matter how sentimental or trivial something may seem to us, we must lay it down if God indicates that He is against it.

In the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established (see Deuteronomy 19.15, and 2 Corinthians 13.1). Isaiah, Ezekiel, and James speak against rings. Moses also indirectly speaks against the wearing of rings in his writings.

 

THE MEANING OF THE WORD “RING” IN THE BIBLE:

 

Several Hebrew words in the Old Testament denote the word “ring” in general. And then it is important to look at the context of the scriptures in speaking of rings.

The Hebrews knew of “finger rings” and signets, earrings and nose rings. The Hebrew word nezem was used for rings of gold, and earrings (see Genesis 24.22; Exodus 35.22, and Judges 8.24), which both men and women wore.

In Genesis 24.22, the steward of Abraham, Eliezer of Damascus, on a mission for his master, gave the maid Rebecca a nezem (“a golden earring”, although another variant has nezem as “a jewel for the forehead”). In Exodus 35.22, the earrings were of gold, apparently spoils from the Egyptians, given for the tabernacle. And in Judges 8.24, Samuel tells us that the earrings were normally worn by Ishmaelites.

Then there is the Hebrew word ‘agil, which apparently means a feminine earring. Nizmai oph seems to have meant a “nosering” only (Isaiah 3.21).

More importantly to our discussion, the word tabba’at seems to have been interpreted as a signet ring or a “finger” ring in general.57

It was undoubtedly a tabba’at, or signet ring, used for official business, that the Pharoah (probably Apepi II) placed on Joseph’s hand in Genesis 41.42. And it was a tabba’at that king Ahasuerus placed on Haman’s and Mordecai’s (hands). We cannot establish a doctrine of wearing rings from the actions of two pagan princes. Moreover, there is no evidence that these signet rings were worn ornamentally . Most likely, as we have shown, they were too large for such daily wear, and were used only during the performance of official or business acts.

The word of God specifically condemns the wearing of finger rings (we do note that in this case the word tabba’at is used, however) on the “daughters of Zion”. While it is probably true that some rich or powerful women used signet rings in business matters, it is probably ornamental wear that the Lord is against in this passage (Isaiah 3.21).

We have mentioned that Eliezer, the Syrian from Damascus, gave a nezem to the young maiden Rebecca along with bracelets, which she put on (Genesis 24.30).

First of all, we cannot charge Abraham or Isaac themselves with giving these items of jewelry to the girl. Furthermore, Rebecca was not yet a member of Abraham’s household.

It was Jacob who told his family, “Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments” (Genesis 35.2). And then Jacob required all the “strange gods” that were in their hands, and all their earrings that were in their ears (Genesis 35.4).

And as Jacob considered getting rid of earrings as part of becoming “clean”, so we see the wickedness in the earrings, which the children of Israel may have brought with them when they came out of Egypt. They used the gold in these to make an idol calf (Exodus 32.3,4). We see no evidence that God was pleased with these ornaments.

When God came to judge the Israelites in the matter of the golden calf, the Bible says that God told the people, “put off thy ornaments from thee” (Exodus 33.5). “And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb” (vs. 6).

The common fleshly urge of people-especially without the baptism of the Holy Ghost-is to adorn the body with jewelry. The children of Israel got their jewelry from the Egyptians (Exodus 12.35) before they came out of Egypt. These items of jewelry became a snare to the children of Israel.

We have to assume from the testimony of Jacob’s action following the loss of Dinah’s virginity, and the murder of the villagers of Shalem, that a spiritual cleansing included taking off jewelry. We must assume that God was not pleased with jewelry when He ordered the children of Israel to take off their jewelry. It seems that God tolerated jewelry and recognized the human love for ornamentation in the Old Testament, but it does not seem that He considered physical adornment as being consistent with holiness (separation unto the Lord).

In the New Testament we have direct scriptural evidence that God is against His children wearing gold in their ears or even on their fingers. We have the witness of the Holy Ghost through the apostle Peter in the New Testament:

Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of WEARING OF GOLD, or of putting on of apparel. -1 Peter 3.3 (KJV)

The word “adorn” means to “deck out with”, to “decorate”, to “place an ornament (on)”.

An “ornament” is “a thing of beauty, that would enhance the appearance”. Thus we must find it impossible to see how the Holy Ghost could condone wearing a gold ring, or any kind of a wedding band that was made of a precious metal.

The specific Greek word that Peter used to denote “wearing” was perithesis, which means “the act of putting around”.

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, #4025, p.503 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), states that it was translated in the Vulgate Latin as circumdatio, which similarly means “to put something around something else”.

And, in connection with the Greek word kosmos, or “adornment”, as Peter has it in this passage, Thayer has this to say: “the adornment consisting of golden ornaments wont to be placed around the head or the body” (q.v.).

And we have no scriptural authority to exclude gold wedding bands, which are put around that part of the body called the finger. In fact, it looks as though this scripture was directly aimed at earrings, bracelets, and finger rings, which are most definitely placed around some part of the body.

Is there a second New Testament witness? Yes. The apostle Paul, writing in 1 Timothy 2.9:

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shame-facedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or GOLD, or pearls, or costly array.

In this passage Paul used the verb form of the same word (kosmeo), which Peter used for “adorn”. The same prohibition of placing ornaments of gold on the body.

Some may feel that the wedding band is not an ornament. But if it is a “thing of beauty” and it “enhances” the body in the eyes of the world, then it is surely an “ornament”. Moreover, if it is made of “gold”, then God is against a Christian wearing it.

It is the false church, in rebellion against the word of God, which wears gold.

The apostle John, in Revelation 18.4, describes the false church (the woman) in this manner:

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and DECKED WITH GOLD AND PRECIOUS STONES AND PEARLS, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.

This woman is dressed in purple and scarlet, and she is decked with (adorned) with “gold and precious stones and pearls”. This is in direct contradiction of the word of God. This woman has no problem with wearing gold and jewelry. God associates that in this passage with abominations and filthiness of fornication.

Is this not a picture of the historical church, gorged with the blood of martyrs, which we came out of? Where did the practice of wearing gold wedding bands come from? As we have shown, the use of the wedding band in Christianity came from the historical Catholic church. No one can surely deny that.

In the next world we are promised crowns of gold, but it is neither fitting nor pleasing to God for us to wear gold in this present evil world. Gold has brought much grief to man in this world. The lust for gold was one of the reasons why Achan and his family lost their lives following the battle of Jericho. It also caused the loss of other Israelite lives.

Deuteronomy 7.25 tells us:

The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God.(KJV)

Certainly, then, God makes distinctions concerning the possession and use of gold and silver. We cannot say that the possession of gold or silver is wrong in itself. Otherwise, we would have to condemn Abraham and Job.

But surely we can say that the adornment of silver and gold on the human body, which is the temple of God, is wrong in this present evil world.

God says in Haggai 2.8, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts”. And God says of his wayward people in Jeremiah 4.30:

Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair. (KJV)

It is the world that puts such a high premium upon the gold and silver today. Ezekiel prophesied:

They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord...it is the stumbling block of their iniquity. -Ezekiel 7.19 (KJV)

Ezekiel foresaw the day of the wrath of God when things would be so bad that silver would be either so worthless or so dangerous to possess that people would cast it into the street. Their gold would be taken away from them. They would not be able to buy safety from the wrath that is to come. And Ezekiel identifies gold and silver as a “stumbling block” to people.

The apostle James also wrote concerning gold and silver in the last days:

Your gold and your silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. -James 5.3 (KJV)

James is telling the rich of this world that in the last days, even though they hoard gold and silver, it will do them no good. There are some things that money cannot buy. In fact, in some strange way that we do not understand, their precious metals shall become “eaten up” with some kind of a poisonous-like “rust”, which shall be like acid and will consume their flesh like “fire”.

 

TWO SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES TO RINGS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

(1) James speaks of a visitor, dressed in luxurious clothing, wearing a gold ring, coming into an apostolic assembly (James 2.2). Does this mean that the apostolic church promoted or condoned the wearing of gold rings? Very unlikely. For one thing, we have already seen that in the first century within the Roman empire, only Roman senators, knights, and extremely rich landowners were allowed to wear gold rings in public. It is not likely that one of these nobles would frequent the apostolic church, and less likely that they would be a member in good standing. It is possible, however, that a rich man, such as James describes, would visit an apostolic church.

That this man in James is a “visitor” is seen in the statement by James that he is only a “someone”. He is not called a “brother”. Secondly, the rich man with the ring does not know where to sit. The “usher” has to tell him where to sit. He does not know the seating arrangement of the assembly. He is not familiar with it.

Peter told the beggar at the gate Beautiful: “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3.6). Peter certainly did not have a gold or a silver ring on his finger. And he was married! I know of preachers who say that it is wrong NOT to wear a ring. What about the apostle Peter?

(2) The only other instance in the New Testament where a ring is mentioned specifically is in the parable of the Prodigal Son. And, as in the case of the rich man with a gold ring visiting the apostolic church, we cannot establish a doctrine nor condone the wearing of rings for ornament in this passage either:

But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his HAND, and shoes on his feet. -Luke 15.22 (KJV)

Both James 2.2 and Luke 15.22 use the Greek word daktylos (“finger”) for “ring”. This would lead us to believe that the ring would be ornamental. This is most likely in James 2.2, where chrysodaktylious (“goldfingered”) is used, and since God seems to take a stand against the wearing of ornamental rings, we may well accept this interpretation. However, in Luke 15.22, where the noun daktylos is translated “ring”, it seems that a signet or seal is indicated. One reason for this is that the Lord says the father said, “put a daktylos (ring) on his HAND”. This may well indicate that this particular ring is not ornamental, but is rather a restoration of the family seal so that the son is empowered to once more conduct business in the father’s name by using his seal on the signet ring.

Normally, a signet ring was carried about attached to a thong or a girdle, since it was actually too large to be worn on a small finger.

Moreover, concerning the “ring” in Luke 15.22 we are specifically not told that the ring is made of gold or silver. We will remember that the common people in the Roman empire were not allowed to wear gold rings during Jesus’ day . Although the Prodigal Son’s father is supposedly wealthy, we have no reason to think that he, an Israelite, and a subject of the Roman empire, would be handing out gold rings for his son to wear.

Secondly, we must remember that the Lord did not always approve of every detail mentioned in the parables that He told. He certainly did not approve of unjust judges, nor generally speaking of dogs licking sores, nor of servants selling their masters’ goods at cut-rate prices.

Lastly, the symbolism of the parable has a higher meaning for us in the church age. The robe on the son seems to be a reference to the Holy Ghost baptism, while the ring on his hand would seem to be a reference to the authority of the father, which represents the baptism in the name of Jesus in the New Testament.

It seems unlikely, on the other hand, that the Lord would teach us to wear jewelry on our fingers, when his apostles teach us not to do so. God is not the author of confusion.

Rings are considered to be jewelry. Wedding rings are bought at a jewelry store. One would not go into a liquor store to buy pretzels. Why does one have to go into a jewelry store to buy wedding rings?

When we wear wedding rings-no matter how much in this world they might mean to us-we encourage others to wear engagement rings, class rings, friendship rings, and other such jewelry. If one type of ring is allowed, contrary to the word of God, then others are bound to follow. Feel sorry for the poor pastor trying to explain to someone why wedding rings are different from engagement, class, and friendship rings. Why some rings are acceptable and others are not. What the difference between a plain gold band and a large carat diamond ring is. One sparkles and the other shines!

Then there is the story of how the wedding ring identifies a woman as being “married”, thus protecting her from the unwelcome advances of other men.

Unfortunately, that argument no longer holds any merit. The Christian lady who truly wishes to make know that she is married, will act virtuously and modestly in the presence of other men. She will not dress in an immodest manner, thus attracting the lust of other men. A wedding ring in this ungodly day will in no wise deter advances from other men. In fact, it may attract the adulterous attentions of the wicked.

A wedding ring today unfortunately merely identifies one with the world. Certainly that is not the desire of an apostolic Christian.

 

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

 

What is to be done? How can we hear Peter when he preaches Acts 2.38, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”, and THEN refuse to hear Peter when he tells us NOT to wear GOLD (1 Peter 3.3)?

Can it be that we gladly hear Paul when he writes “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4.5), and THEN turn a deaf ear when the apostle writes against adorning oneself with GOLD (1 Timothy 2.9)?

Have we apostolics become like the denominationalists who pick and choose the scriptures that they like? Have we come to a “salad bar” religion as apostolics? And then, like the denominationalists, do we hear ourselves saying, “but it doesn’t mean that!”?

Are we able to say with a clear conscience that God is against wearing gold, EXCEPT for the wedding band? Who gave us the authority to add to the word of God?

Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition”? (Matthew 15.3).

What prevents apostolic preachers from preaching against the wedding band? Is it the fear of women who love the bright and pretty rings made of gold ? Are some preachers afraid to stand up for the word of the Lord in this matter? Is it the fear of tradition? How can tradition be more powerful than the word of the Lord?

All of us have heard apostolic people say “I am not convicted about it”. But when they first got the Holy Ghost would they not have been convicted about it?

Many new converts have experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit as their ring began to burn on their finger. One young lady that we personally know about, actually had the Spirit of the Lord speak to her and say, as she was washing dishes in the kitchen, “I will give you the Holy Ghost if you will pull off that wedding ring”. Her pastor had not yet preached against rings, and she had only gone to church a few times. No one had spoken to her about rings, and she was not aware of the standard. Needless to say, she immediately obeyed the Spirit of God, and He filled her with the beautiful baptism of the Spirit.

During the crucial times of World War II, there was a bold slogan in the United States entitled “I gave my gold for iron”. Thousands of patriotic American women sacrificed their wedding rings to help the war effort.

Today, the church stands on the threshold of the coming of the Lord. The time is short to win souls.

What would it mean if the sisters in the apostolic church decided that the gold on their fourth finger left hand did not mean as much as saving souls? What if they pulled off that gold wedding band and threw it into the work of God? Think about what could be done!

If each gold ring brought even $20, and there were 50,000 valiant war mothers in Israel, who unselfishly pulled off the gold from their fingers, and contributed- it would bring $1,000,000 for the cause of Jesus Christ in this perilous hour! How about a slogan, “I gave my gold for Jesus”?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a wave of sacrifice would sweep the church in this last hour? God would be pleased at the obedience to His word, and it would be a sweet smelling savor to Him.

-Bro William Chalfant

 

FOOTNOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

1. George Tyack, Lore and Legend of The English Church, London: Wm. Andrews & Co., 1899, pp.192,193
2. Paul Berdanier, in James R. McCarthy, Rings Through The Ages, NY: Harper & Bros., 1945, np
3. Ibid
4. Abraham Rees, The Cyclopaedia, Vol. XXX, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1819, np
5. R. Brasch, How Did It Begin?, NY: David McKay Co., 1965, p.39
6. Rees, op. cit.
7. F.H. Marshall, Catalogue of The Finger Rings, British Museum, 1968, pp.xv,xvi

8. Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 23, 1976, p.529.
9. Henry H. Halley, Bible Handbook, Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub., 24th Ed., 1965
10. Yedida Kalfon Stillman, Palestinian Costume and Jewelry, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1979, p.103
11. Rees, op. cit., np
12. Anne Ward et al, Rings Through The Ages, Rizzoli, NY, 1981, p.9
13. Venetia Newall, Man, Myth and Magic, ed. Richard Marshall, NY: Cavandish Corp, 1970, p.2387
14. Fred Gettings, The Book of The Hand, London: Hamlyn Ltd, 1965, p.101
15. Ward et al, op. cit.
16. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., Vol. XXII, Cambridge, England, 1911, p.351
17. See New Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit.
19. Tyack, op. cit., p.191
20. Tertullian, On Idolatry, XVI, cited in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings,
Vol. VIII, NY: Chas. Scribner’s Sons, n.d., pp. 435,436
21. McCarthy, op. cit., p.156
22. Ibid
23. A.V. Artsikhovski, Great Soviet Encyclopedia, NY: Macmillan, Vol. 19, 1978, p.668
24. Hastings, op. cit., p.436
25. McCarthy, op. cit., p.156
26. Brasch, op. cit., p.39
27. Ibid
28. The Book of Knowledge, ed. Holland Thompson and Arthur Mee, NY: Grolier Soc., 1928, p.2610
29. Leo of Modena, cited in Rees, op. cit., np
30. McCarthy, op. cit., p.156
31. William H.P. Phyte, 5000 Facts and Fancies, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Knickerbocker Press, 1913, p.641
32. Tyack, op. cit., pp. 192,193
33. Ibid, p.194
34. Ibid
35. Ibid, p.195
36. McCarthy, op. cit., p.156
37. Ibid, p.153
38. Tyack, op. cit., p.193
39. Gregory of Tours, Vitae patrum 20, New Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., p.506
40. McCarthy, op. cit., p.153
41. Tyack, op. cit., p.66
42. Ibid
43. McCarthy, op. cit., p.66
44. Marshall, op. cit., p.xviii
45. Ibid, p.xix
46. McCarthy, op. cit., p.63, and see Rees, op. cit.
47. See Encyclopaedia Britannica, op. cit., p.351
48. Martial, lib. xi, epig. 60, in Rees, op. cit., np
49. Aristophanes, in Nub., Ibid
50. Ibid
51. New International Encyclopedia, ed. Daniel Gilman et al
52. Encyclopedia Americana, op. cit., p.529
53. New Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., p.505
54. Encyclopaedia Britannica, op. cit.
55. Encyclopedia Americana, op. cit., p.530
56. Enclopedia Dictionary of Religion, ed. Paul Meagher, Vol. O-Z, Wash DC: Corpus Pub., 1979, p.3058
57. New Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., p.506

------(C) William B. Chalfant All rights reserved

 

 

 

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