In our series of Out of Context topics, we will talk about the misappropriation of Scriptures used to either garner control or gain material wealth from congregations. Scripture teaches clearly that the Word was not to be used in this fashion, and yet with humanity involved, it seems almost inevitable, past, present, and future.
Today’s topic is 1 Corinthians 11 and the fundamentalist practice of controlling hairstyles, specifically disallowing women to cut their hair, even a millimeter, or men to have anything but short-cropped hair.
It is interesting to see the timeline of modern religions and the morphing of traditional beliefs, new and/or modern traditions, as well as perceived revelations of new requirements that God allegedly gives ministers by prayer and revelation.
Modern preachers (legalists) carry the confidence that God gave them license to create new requirements, even though Scripture teaches us many times that men who add to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are accursed.
One of these new requirements, birthed in the Pentecostal/Holiness movement in the early 1900’s (birthed by John Wesleyen Holiness and later, Assemblies of God) is the belief or fundamentalist understanding that Paul taught that to continue in Holiness, (Hebrews 12:14) women must never cut their hair, not even an inch. The idea here, as we’ll review, is that a woman’s hair is her covering for her head, and if she prays uncovered, it’s as if she was shaven, or shorn (shamed). And clipping an inch they will say, is just as if you shave all of your hair off…
Sadly, this fundamentalist teaching is a gross out-of-context abuse of Scripture and the meaning it clearly presents. So what is the Scripture in question?
1Co 11:2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
1Co 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
1Co 11:4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, [Christ]
1Co 11:5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head [Husband], since it is the same as if her head were shaven.
1Co 11:6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.
1Co 11:7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
1Co 11:8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.
1Co 11:9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
1Co 11:10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
1Co 11:11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;
1Co 11:12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.
1Co 11:13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered?
1Co 11:14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him,
1Co 11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
1Co 11:16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
This is a lot to digest and in my attempt to keep this article smaller than a novel, I’ll lay it out with brevity. However, it is worth noting that there are teachers, like the current head of the United Pentecostal Church, International., movement, David K. Bernard believes women who wear makeup or who cut their hair are likened to whores, or harlots. Tells you where this is going…What the likes of David K. Bernard ignore is;
- Paul was teaching about public service in prayer and prophesying, I.e. Church/Synagogue.
- Paul was teaching about honoring headship, which to the wife was her husband, and to the man, Christ.
- Paul relates the custom of shame, which was to have one’s hair cut off completely, to have your head shaved bald. This was done to women caught in adultery and taken as slaves after a war.
Out of Context: Women Cutting their own Hair
What is obviously in error about the out-of-context way in which fundamentalists have taken this Scripture, is that they apply it to the woman cutting her own hair for style. For instance, in my old Pentecostal denomination, a woman who even touches her hair with scissors, or any cutting device, or even burning it off with a curling iron, dishonored her head, her husband, and God, and made herself out to be a harlot. Thus, she would be lost to hell, breaking the commands of Holiness. She couldn’t be saved while she had cut her hair.
The problem is, this Scripture had nothing to do with a woman cutting her hair, and the mention of having her hair ‘cut off’ or being shorn, or shaven, was a direct reference to women in mourning for their own sin (shame) or who were taken as slaves in the spoils of war. Furthermore, the act of shame had nothing to do with salvation, it was a time of repentance.
“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you lead them away captive, 11 and you see a beautiful woman among the captives, and desire her and would take her as your wife, 12 then you shall bring her [home] to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails [in preparation for mourning].” – Deuteronomy 21:10-12, ESV
For instance, in the article ‘Who were the Women with Shaved Hair?’ by Sandra Glahn, it is written:
In an academic article on the subject, Dr. Phillip Payne writes, “The article in ‘the shorn woman’ implies a recognized class of woman, probably the accused adulteress whose disgrace paralleled the symbolism of loose hair, since by it a woman places on herself the accusation of adultery. This allusion perfectly fits the ‘bitter water’ ordeal of letting down the hair of a suspected adulteress (Num. 5:11–31) and, if she is convicted, of cutting off her hair.… This custom is paralleled in non– Jewish customs cited by Tacitus (A. D. 98), Germania, 19; Aristophanes 3, 204–07; and Dio Chrysostom (A.D. 100), Discourses, 64.2–3.”
Furthermore, there is no evidence in Scripture, before or after 1 Corinthians 11 that deals with women cutting their hair. Thus, we find ourselves facing a dogma or doctrine made up by a man hoping to control other living souls that belong to God.
There is an easy argument to be made in Scripture that God relished gender distinction, and even that long hair is beautiful. Yet, there is no Scriptural evidence that styling and cutting ones hair is sinful, shameful or in relation to salvation. Anyone who suggests or teaches it is so is frustrating the Gospel of Jesus Christ and at risk of adding to the Gospel, which is in and of itself a potential for being accursed.
Gal 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. – Galatians 2:21, KJV
Be made whole in the grace of our lord and savior Jesus Christ!