In this article in the series of Vague Dogmas we are taking a look at a belief within certain sects of Christianity that claim supernatural powers exist when a woman never cuts her hair and who commonly believe that the cutting of a woman’s hair by any length is an act of rebellion, that it is unholy, that it is displeasing to God, and is a sin.
This is found within fundamental Christian faiths that follow and then add to the older Holiness movement found in the teachings of John Wesley. Most notably today, this is found in the Jesus Only, Oneness Pentecostal Holiness movement where a woman’s hair is a source of pride, of Holiness, and power, with the United Pentecostal Church, International., being the largest group of Holiness Pentecostals.
There is a dogma within the Pentecostal Holiness movement that a woman will lose the protection of God, through His angels, if she cuts her hair by any length, that she will cause or tempt angels to sin if she trims her hair, that she is in rebellion to her husband and God if she cuts her hair by any length, and, most incredulously, that she will have Holy Magic Power if she never cuts her hair. Think Sampson, only different somehow. I don’t know, it’s vague.
Note: There are other religions and sects that consider hair to be vested with power. In Sikhism, they consider letting the hair (head, face, etc) to grow naturally without being cut to be a ritual sign of the perfection of God’s creation and that cutting it to be sinful (equal to incest…look it up…), thus men have long hair. Other pagan religions, like Wicca, Druidry, etc have long considered hair to be vested with power, though this varies widely between individual covens or groups. Judaism, which Christianity often uses as ‘proof’ of their own doctrines, believes men should not cut their beards or the sides of their head and they often have long curls called Payos, which would be considered long hair. Fundamental groups like Mennonites did not allow women to cut their hair either, although more modern sects do now.
But in Christianity, where do fundamental leaders/believers get the vague dogma that a woman should never cut her hair and that she has special powers for having long, uncut hair?
1 Corinthians 11:4-15 is the primary source of this dogma;
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
This article is titled Holy Magic Hair for a very specific reason. The popular Pentecostal preacher, Lee Stoneking has a message he preached that others dubbed Holy Magic Hair because he makes incredulous claims about the power of a woman’s uncut hair. Click the link if you dare…
The video begins by claiming something incredibly unfactual – that the word long in verse 15 originates from a Greek word that means uncut. Lee Stoneking goes on to claim that if it did not mean uncut then cultures where a woman’s hair didn’t grow ‘long’, would mean they would be lost, unsaved, and so it must then mean uncut. Problem is – who defines Long? Is long relative? Longer than a man’s hair? Longer than what?
But what does that word ‘long‘ really mean?
The Greek word here for ‘long’ is komaō, which is #2863 in the Strong’s Concordance and means ‘tresses of hair‘, and to ‘let the hair grow long‘. It’s reference word komē, #2684 means ‘locks, as ornamental‘, and it indicates that it differs from reference #2359’. which is the word thrix, where we gain additional insight.
Kome is used only of ‘human hair’, but not in the NT Ornamental sense. The word is found in 1 Corinthians 11:15, where the context shows that the “covering” provided in the long “hair” of the woman is a veil, a sign of subjection to authority as indicated in the leadership spoke of in v1-10. Not the physical hair on her head. Thrix is the anatomical reference or physical term for hair, whereas kome designates hair as an ornament, the notion of length being only secondary and suggested.
The F.B. Meyer commentary relates to verse 1 Corinthians 11:i15 this way;
“The power on a woman’s head in 1Co_11:10 probably refers to the veil or covering which the Grecian woman assumed at marriage as the sign that she was not free from the sacred ties and duties of wedlock. In Paul’s thought of the matter, therefore, it was unseemly for the Christian matron to lay this aside. He conceded the absolute freedom and equality of male and female in Christ, and yet he stood for the observance of the best customs of the age, lest the gospel should be brought into disrepute. The women, therefore, must veil their heads in the Christian assemblies as the angels veil their faces in the presence of God.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary refers to this word komē as referring to the veil covering as well, saying;
“It was the common usage of the churches for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was manifestly decent that they should do so.”
One of the things that defy the teachings of fundamental sects on ‘uncut hair’ is how culturally bound the teachings of the Bible were. For instance, these same sects generally focus their legalism heavily upon women, disallowing them to wear what they consider to be ‘men’s apparel’. Yet, it was a society that deemed what is men and women’s clothing.
This is even emphasized by something the leader of the United Pentecostal Church, International., David K. Bernard said in his book, “In Search of Holiness”.
Mr. Bernard here admits that if a culture deems a garment to be of one sex or the other, then that stands for what is bound to be men’s or women’s apparel. And truly, the Bible is literally silent on the distinction of dress except for very rare occasions, such as when the priest wore undergarments for service in the temple, which is found in Exodus 28:42.
Another example of keeping with societal standards when it was not a Biblical requirement is when Paul circumcised Timothy in Acts 16. It wasn’t to keep the law, nor to consider it a requirement for a New Testament believer. The narrative and council meeting of Acts 15 made it clear that circumcision was not a requirement to be placed upon Gentile believers. Yet, Paul did it “because of the Jews which were in those quarters“. It was to keep the peace per say, with local custom.
The point being, as expressed in some older commentaries – the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 was dealing with a culturally subjective topic of what it meant to both be veiled and appear to be in submission to the husband in a patriarchal society, and what that society deemed feminine and masculine in terms of appearance of hair at that time. This ‘hair thing’ was not an eternal covenant being commanded.
Contrary to Mr. Stoneking’s claims, what this passage of Scripture absolutely does not teach is that any length of hair trimmed off of a woman’s head is a sin before God, or that her ‘uncut hair’ gives her power from the Angels. Nor does it teach, as the Baptist evangelist of the 40’s John R. Rice wrote in his book Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives & Women Preachers (read my review of this book), that a woman who trims/cuts her hair will tempt/cause angels to sin.
In fact, Lee Stoneking makes a valiant attempt to describe, through Greek transliteration (miserably I might add) that these passages prove that a woman’s uncut hair shows how she is indebted to the authority of the Angels and by that indebtedness she must never cut her hair’. (Paraphrased – just watch the video if you can stomach it.) While some Apostolic Pentecostal groups may allow some trimming of a woman’s hair, it is common to hear ‘never cut’, not even to trim dead ends. Any means of shortening the hair intentionally is considered to be unholy.
Yet, commentaries and Biblical references prove out that as the angels covered their faces before God (Isaiah 6:2) so should the woman cover her face before those authorities over her during this cultural timeframe, not today) in that ancient patriarchal society. And the entire chapter begins by describing who those authorities are, which isn’t the angels.
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. – 1 Corinthians 11:3
Furthermore, hair was never a covering for the face, it was a symbol on the head. The ornamental veil covered the face which is historically documented throughout the history of Middle Eastern cultures, including Hebrew culture. Early Christian peoples didn’t change their culture when they became Christian, so it is a strange thing to believe their hair replaced the traditional veil worn on the face.
Just imagine how it would look if all of the women in early Church history and Jewish history covered their faces with their hair when they went out into public assemblies and Synagogue…This alone should indicate that obviously, the contextual reference to a woman’s hair being her ‘covering’ was not in place of the ornamental veil (komē).
Another interesting fact is that looking at the history of the teachings of ‘uncut’ hair we find out that this is a relatively modern adaptation of ‘long hair’ thoughts within the Oneness Pentecostal or Apostolic Pentecostal movements. Older Anabaptist branches, such as Mennonite and Amish did cling to the uncut hair teachings long before the Pentecostal movement arose. As referenced by many writings of Early Pentecostalism, their ‘Holiness’ standards have adapted and evolved over time to what we see today.
In fact, you can review comments on Apostolic Friends Forums – a web forum for Apostolics or other online sources and look at discussions from old-timers who remember when, in the 40’s and early 50’s, most girls had bangs and trimmed hair. It wasn’t until the 60’s that the ‘uncut’ dogma began to take root within the movement.
And finally – the most prominent, vague, and false teaching you’ll find in defense of the ‘uncut’ argument, is also found within the same passages of Scripture, where the Bible says that if a woman is ‘uncovered’ (veil), she might as well have her hair shaven, or shorn.
For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. – 1 Corinthians 11:6
Modern Apostolic apologetics use this verse reference to indicate proof that if a woman has cut her hair, meaning she is uncovered, she might as well shave it all off, it’s the same shame. Yet, the Bible does not say that she trimmed or cut her hair. Even John Wesley’s commentary, who was an early founder of the Holiness movement fails to make the connection of uncut hair, in fact, he says, paraphrased, if she is not going to wear her veil she might as well have her hair cut as a man would cut his hair (short).
He goes on to say, “let her, for this same reason, keep her veil on.” That is, in this culture and at this time, a woman showed subjection to her husband by veiling her face in public. If she wanted to cast off that subjection and remove herself from his authority, she might as well be like a man and cut her very hair down short like a man (shaven, shorn).
Most importantly, understanding the meaning of ‘shaven’ or ‘shorn’ in the Hebrew culture makes it clear what was being said. A woman who was shamed, caught in adultery, or taken as a slave had her head shaven as a sign of shame or humbling. Thus, when Paul says, ‘For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn:‘ he is not indicating that if a woman trims her hair, she is shamed and you might as well shave it all of. Again he is talking about the veil over her face. The komē, not the thrix.
It is a far stretch to say that it is ‘cut’ or ‘trimmed’ hair that uncovers her, and thereby she rejects the authority of her husband. Also, contextually, the cultural difference between the time of this writing, and now, must be taken into consideration. No longer do we require nor think it normal to cover the face of a woman in public. There are societies, such as heavily Muslim populations that still practice this today, but Western societies do not.
Thus, when looked at completely, contextually and through the lens of the society in which certain passages of Scripture are written to, it becomes very clear that the vague dogma of uncut hair is a very modern, un-Scriptural, and thus, incorrect doctrine. It is a form of legalism that pervades fundamental sects within Christianity.
In the cult that I left, they taught that a woman who cut her hair would never make it to heaven. This legalism took further steps to say that a woman who wears her hair down is being seductive, and thus the married woman was to keep her hair up – which is why you see the traditional ‘bun’ on many Pentecostal ladies.
While the Scripture makes it clear that the genders be unique and identifiable, it is a false doctrine or a vague dogma to declare that Scripture teaches that women cannot cut their hair by any length and that doing so is considered sinful.
It is also of note how many dogmas like this one are a cherry-picked Scripture that fails to take the context, culture, and timeline into account when determining the meaning of particular passages. Understanding the culture the Bible was written by, and written to is critical to rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
With all of that said, posts like these I almost always end up getting a comment or two that says, ‘God convicted me of this and so I do it…’, and if you truly feel that way (Romans 14:22) then your personal convictions are between you and God. However, we cannot say a ‘personal conviction’ supersedes the Scripture as that would mean God gives ‘salvation standards’ to individuals differently, which would be incredibly confusing.
I look forward to your comments on this vague dogma of uncut hair and hope you will continue this series as we explore other Christian dogmas in the coming weeks and months.