1 Peter 3:1-7 causes confusion and perplexity for all sorts of reasons, many of which have to do with the shameless resistance of our culture to biblical teaching about marriage, male and female sexual identity, and a host of related topics.
But even for Christians who are seeking to understand what the text actually teaches (as opposed to those who are actually seeking to explain it away), some exegetical questions remain. Among them is the significance of the surprising word-group kosmos / kosmeō in vv. 3, 5, where it’s normally translated “adorning”, “adorn” or suchlike.
However, a glance at the other biblical occurrences of the term (especially in the Greek translation of the OT) quickly reveals what Peter has in mind. Here goes:
1. Imagery of holiness, especially connected with the Temple
- 2 Ch 3:6 King Solomon adorned the house of God, the Temple, with precious stones, gold, and so on.
- Luke 21:5 Temple was adorned
- Esther 1:6 Description of the palace of King Ahasuerus of Persia, which is itself described in terms reminiscent of a counterfeit Temple
2. Imagery of "right-ness", especially with hints of a moral sense
- Ecclesiastes 7:13 Translated "straighten", in the sense of "straighten out", "make things as they ought to be".
- Mic 6:9 (LXX =/= MT) Similar to Ecc 7:13
- Mt 12:44; 23:29; Lk 11:25 Decorate, put in order
3. Imagery combining the "Temple" and "(moral) right-ness" themes
- Jer 4:30 "Adorn" in a negative sense, apostate Judah "adorning herself" with makeup when in fact she's a moral ruin. Significant, perhaps, for 1 Pet 3.
- Ezek 16:11, 13 The LORD adorns his bride, Jerusalem, with gold and fine clothes and jewels etc as a gesture of love and an image of spiritual beauty
- Ezek 23:40-41 Jerusalem and Samaria depicted as beautiful women who prostituted themselves to foreign nations
- Tit 2:10 Godliness “adorns” the gospel
- Rev 21:2, 19 Bride Jerusalem, holy city, “adorned" for her husband, Christ
4. Other usages
- 1 Tim 2:9 Adorn with clothing
- Mt 25:7 Lamps trimmed
With all these in mind, the links from “adornment” to “Temple” and thus to “holiness” become obvious. This in turn makes sense of the context in 1 Peter, with its reference to “the holy women [hagiai gunaikes]” in v. 5.
The point is that women are being urged to adorn themselves with a particular form of godliness, since in this way they become "holy women", the fulfillment of God's OT holy temple-sanctuary, the place where the Spirit of God dwells, a concrete picture of the holiness of the bride of Christ, the church.