Arguing legalism is like staring down an angry beast – no matter your intentions or demeanor, the animal still believes you have invaded its territory. Its fangs are out, hair is standing on end, muscles are taught, and any movement could trigger the explosive reaction that results in a melee.
Yet, for all that, we enter the fray for the purpose of dispelling the fear that legalism always creates. And, legalism comes in so many forms that you simply can’t tackle them all, and while I’ve talked about the ‘Uncut’ hair theory before, I want to talk about it again.
There are ultimately three camps or trains of thought that have come out of 1 Corinthians 11 and the topic of long hair on men and woman in Biblical times, and whether it was a universal, eternal commandment.
- The long hair was interpreted as the actual ornamental veil worn by women, and that praying or prophesying in public without that veil was viewed as a shameful act. This seems to be the most factual or Scripturally supported view. It was specific to an event of worship, not a lifestyle commandment. This was, however, relative to the time and culture in which it was written and does not apply to Christians today.
- The long hair was interpreted as the actual ornamental veil worn by women and as such, some sects still believe it should be worn by the woman, even today.
- The long hair was interpreted as ‘uncut’ hair, and that while it speaks specifically of the act of public prayer and worship, certain sects believe it unholy for a woman to trim or cut her hair at all and this is a lifestyle commandment, not just pertaining to prayer and prophesying or public worship.
My followers know that I came out of a conservative sect (cult) of Christianity that teaches the latter point, that women were not to cut their hair, and furthermore, made audacious claims that the phrase ‘long hair’ in 1 Corinthians 11 was actually ‘uncut’ in the original Greek language. This claim has zero historical or linguistic support, making it a dubious claim at best but more than just a lie, a lie used to perpetrate spiritual abuse.
I’ve written about the Greek claim in another article so I won’t rehash it here. Needless to say, it is a complete lie, either spoken in ignorance, or in willful deception. There are, however, several other interesting facts about this passage of Scripture that helps us dispel this interesting dogma altogether.
So what does 1 Corinthians 11 actually say about hair? On the surface, it’s clear that it isn’t saying ‘uncut’ but let’s check it out.
For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
There are three main veins of thought to dispel the idea that the two words ‘long hair’ actually mean the verb or action of cutting one’s hair, as some teachers propose.
Yes, I know, this is quite uncommon actually. And, I know, that mainline fundamental Bible believers and teachers interject the notion that you cannot interject human understanding to understand the Bible. Which is just nonsense because it was written by Humans, for Humans, intended for them to understand it!
But what does human understanding and common sense have to do with this conversation?
Well, think about this. If this passage is to command that men are to have short, trimmed (cut) hair and that woman are to have long (uncut) hair, the Bible would then be contradicting itself by virtue of this interpretation. For instance, if ‘long hair’ actually meant ‘uncut hair’, then a mans hair could be just as long as the woman’s so long as he cut it.
If, as teachers of the ‘uncut’ theory say, that the long hair wasn’t in reference to length but to being cut, then their own dogmas of men having short hair contradict their own teaching. The uncut/cut theory would allow men to have hair as long as they wished so long as it was cut.
And, these teachers would need to re-arrange the Scripture to say this:
Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have uncut hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have uncut hair, it is a glory to her:
Furthermore, some teachers of the ‘uncut’ doctrine have made the false claim that the Greek word for ‘long hair’ in reference to a man and a woman is different in that verse. However, it takes a simple 60 seconds to look at the Biblical dictionary, Concordance, Lexicon, etc, to reveal that it is actually the very same word.
The problem with the above re-arrangement of 1 Corinthians 11:13-14a is that you cannot place ‘cut’ or ‘uncut’ in place of the word ‘long’. First and foremost because the word ‘long’ is interpreted from the same Greek word komaō in both places, which means tresses, not cutting.
You could make the argument that there were different connotations (cut vs. uncut) between the man’s hair and the woman’s hair if the Greek word being translated as ‘long’ was different in each case. It was not different, however.
Furthermore, commentaries, scholars, Biblical dictionaries, etc, agree that this was speaking of the ornamental veil worn by a woman during the time frame, as custom to Grecian woman when entering the temple/synagogue.
And, knowing that Paul was a learned man, well versed in the Scriptures, we must assume he knew what he was talking about, and that he had full command of the language he was using, or should we say, writing. The word komaō (G2863) and komē (G2864) both speak of the ornamental locks or tresses of hair but are not referencing the anatomical hair of the head.
Even the Strongs Concordance tells you when looking at komē (G2864) that this is different from the Greek word thrix (G2359) and that it is not speaking of anatomical hair. When looking at the word thrix (G2359) we see it declaring this to be the anatomical hair on the head, or of animal hair.
Why didn’t Paul use thrix if he was saying that a woman’s anatomical hair on her head was the covering?
Furthermore, there are eight basic Greek words to denote cutting or severing, while certainly, this list does not cover all of the words that could be applicable, it shows that there were many options plausible but that was not used in Paul’s teaching on hair.
- tomí̱ – incision, cutting, scission
- kópsimo – slash
- kóvo̱ – sever, pluck, cut out
- charakiá – to nick
- elátto̱si̱ – to reduce, or dimish
- kópto̱ – slash, or chip away
- charásso̱ – incise or carve
- apokoptō – to cut off, amputate
Why did Paul not use any of these words in 1 Corinthians 11? If the teaching was that men should cut their hair, and woman should not cut their hair, why did Paul not use a word that truly meant to cut, or sever?
If we simply take the concept that Scripture speaks for itself, and means what it says, and says what it means, we would trust that God inspired men to correctly write what He wanted them to write.
Thus, we can make the clear and bold claim that IF a woman cutting her hair was sinful, shameful, unholy, incorrect or even just culturally ‘not the norm’, it would have clearly defined this, and in multiple places. (Remember the Biblical rule that Scripture Translates Scripture)
There is no evidence in the Old Testament that a woman cutting her hair (trimming but leaving it long?) was seen as wickedness, or shameful, nor in the New Testament.
If you search the King James Version of the Bible for the word ‘cut’, you’ll find 308 verses, with 320 usages of the word. None of which, declare it incorrect for a woman to cut her hair. And we can research to see that the words used definitely imply severing, such as the word apokoptō, found in Acts 27:32.
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. ~ Acts :27:32, KJV
Or, since this word has the connotation of amputation or complete severance, we can find another word suntemnō which means to cut short, which would make more sense in the hair conversation, found in Romans 9.
For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. ~ Romans 9:28, KJV
This word means to cut into pieces or to cut short. Certainly, Paul would have had the ability to use this word had he truly meant to say, in 1 Corinthians 11, that a woman’s glory was her hair that was not cut short or cut/severed at all.
We must concede, that while it is culturally normal, even in modern times for a woman to appear more feminine than the man somewhat based upon the length of her hair, that there is no clear teaching in Scripture that a woman trimming even an inch of her hair has committed a sin before God.
There is neither Scriptural reference, hermeneutical findings nor historical findings to evidence this claim, made by fundamental Christian sects that a woman rebels against her authority or headship (husband) when trimming her hair, for either function or beauty.
I grew up attending a very strict Pentecostal church that taught this as well. They would use scripture 1 Corinthians 11:15 when teaching this. I have 3 sisters and all of them told me in order for their hair to grow properly they needed to cut their dead ends or split ends. For years none of the women in that church or organization would cut their hair. When some of the 1st ladies started trimming their hair it no longer was a problem. Great article!!
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Once again proves it is not a ‘personal conviction’, nor is it a God given conviction. It was a man-made commandment, and as soon as the man changed, the people changed.
Thank you for sharing!
In the excellent book- “Man and Woman, One in Christ” Philip Barton Payne, he says that the word “head” in 1 Cor. 11 does NOT refer to being an AUTHORITY or a BOSS, but that the term in that era meant SOURCE: the man is the “source” of the woman, but God is the Source of all things. This takes away the argument that man is the woman’s boss or authority. He also says that the word “cover” from the greek means a woman should have her hair fixed up if she is leading a prayer meeting or the like, and that it is a shame for a man to have his hair coifed in a womanly fashion or hair style. In either case, it had nothing to do with CUTTING one’s hair. Whatever one’s view of this book, it is quite convincing. Philip Payne’s book is a real eye-opener and has many back-up quotes from history and the customs of that era, as well as the greek meaning of words as understood in that era. Thanks!
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Thank you very much for your comment
So is it actually a sin for a man to have long hair?
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Hello – and thank you for the question.
The easiest answer is no – it is not a sin, under our perception of sin and what constitutes long hair. What was a sin to have the purposeful blurring line of sexual distinction and for a man to try to take on the appearance of a woman, and for a woman to attempt to take on the appearance of a man. In the ancient days, men had longer hair commonly, but a woman’s hair was always longer. Yet even then, the most important distinction between man and woman was a man’s facial hair.
This is why Christ said the ‘law’ would be written on our hearts. It’s a heart condition, not a legal condition that would have us take out a ruler and try to define line vs. short. If the heart of a woman was to crop her hair to be ‘manly’, then in her heart she sins against the creation of God. If a man tries to let his hair grow out for the reason of feeling feminine and trying to be like a woman then he equally sins against the creation of God.
I appreciate the passion you have for the Word of God. I would agree that to insist that long means uncut is not accurate in this case, however, the scripture clearly does call for a woman to have LONG hair. Do you teach/believe that is pleasing to God?
Further, do you feel it is crazy or misguided for a woman who wants to submit fully to God, and who wants to value what God values, would in turn say “I choose to allow my hair to be as long as it can be”?
I am of the opinion that many have focused on the “uncut” element of the argument and in doing so have all but ignored the clear biblical teaching. It further seems evident to me that this can not be placed into a “cultural” context because Paul clearly gives reason that transcends the culture, he points to creation, and “all” the churches, which would include many that were not in the same circumstance of Corinth.
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Thank you for reading, and commenting. I love the interaction, iron sharpens iron after all!
On your first question, “Do I teach/believe that is is pleasing to God”, in regards to Long Hair, my answer is two-fold.
First and foremost, one must define long hair, and then secondly, one must understand what was at stake in the conversation between male and female – which of course was gender distinction. How do you define long hair? Does a woman have long hair if it is simply longer than the average males hair? And is a males hair short just so long as it is shorter than the average womans hair? And who makes that call? You? Me? You later mention that this transcends culture and that is where I wholeheartedly disagree, because just like modesty, or standard of dress, it is entirely drive by culture. One man said to me once, “I was going to teach a Bible Study on Holiness (which was the version of Holiness Pentecostals adhere to, no short sleeves, no pants on women, no makeup, no jewelry, etc) and I couldn’t find a single Scripture that clearly defined the lines we have taken.” And that’s precisely the point. Who decides what is long and short? Is short cropped, above the ears? Is short above the shoulders? Is long past the shoulders, the mid back, past the bum, behind the knees, dragging the floor?
And on top of all of that, we must correctly divide the Word of Truth to find the reason Paul even taught what he did, when there is no other place in Scripture that has a commandment of hair length. And, as this article displays, the original Greek words used in the context was not speaking about biological hair in every sense, so why was this even being spoken of? Well, Paul was clearly dealing with a cultural issue relevant to the Corinthian Church that he didn’t seem to deal with in any of the other churches, for he never repeated this commandment to the Ephesian Church, or the Roman Church, nor did he include it in his Pastoral teaching to Timothy, etc.
So I would answer Yes – if you feel convicted of something and want to please God, then you should do that, individually – but we should not hold our personal convictions as standards for the rest of Christendom. I don’t take Paul’s teaching as a universal commandment to the Body of Christ because if that was the case – he did a horrible job of defining what he was speaking of – UNLESS we correctly look to the culture of the day to ascertain his meaning, which this article aimed to do.
In regards to your second question, “Do you feel it is crazy or misguided for a woman who wants to submit fully go God, and who wants to value what God values…choose to let my hair be long?”
Of course I would not consider that crazy – or misguided, but I have to ask the question again – What is Long Hair? Who defined it? The misguided people, and the misguided leaders are the ones who take their own personal conviction (Romans 14:22) and force it on others as the ‘only’ way. Your question however still has the slant that I have heard from many Holiness/Apostolic adherents, and that is to say (please correct me if I have misunderstood your implication – talking in text makes it hard to capture someones spirit!) going all the way with God, or as you said, ‘fully submitting’ to the values of God means never cutting ones hair, as ‘long as it can get’ indicates not cutting in a sense.
Hope that helps clarify my stance and the answers to your questions! I for one am always seeking to get a better understanding of the Word and appreciate all feedback and conversations. Everything we do should be to God’s glory –
P.s. I in no way meant to lump you into any category in my response – I was just answering the questions as they were understood – the real downside to textual commentary is the inability to see, hear and understand the heart and spirit of the speaker!
Thanks for your reply – I don’t mind being seen as a conservative “holiness” guy, but I certainly do NOT adhere to or identify with the idiocy you mentioned in your reply or the one you shared on your “about me” post. I love (and I believe you do to) people that respond to the Word of God with biblical active faith.
Everything we promote and teach should be a faithful response to the Word of God. If it is in the Word I want it reflected in my life. Ultimately this may be a topic we respectfully disagree on. You mentioned a need to rightly divide the Word to discern Paul’s reason, and I actually feel the opposite. Paul gives a clear reason. Far be it from us to impose upon the text a “better” reason, or for us to say the reason Paul gave wasn’t the “real” reason. Further you mentioned that Paul never taught this in any other church, and while we may not see it in other epistles, that statement is in direct conflict with his statement that the practice was universal.
Please don’t mistake my intention. I am not dogmatically saying that this is a hard fast rule that every believer must adhere to or they will “split the pit”. I am however saying that I feel many have too quickly dismissed this clear teaching because it may seem odd or out of place in our culture, and that is something that shouldn’t be so. We ought to lovingly and patiently call people to love what the Word of God loves, and hate what the Word hates. I would urge every woman to consider that this passage is not just cultural – the scripture itself indicates it to not be so, and ask them to humbly seek God as to how they should obey.
Some will say long is here, and some will say short is this – I get that, and far be it for us to become the judge of one who serves another, but also we cannot afford to dismiss lightly what in scripture bares much weight.
Thank you, I have recently been hunting for facts about this subject for ages and yours is the best I’ve located so far.
Then what about the women who cannot grow long hair, such as African American people? Are those women not to pray?
African American women can grow long hair.
I’ve heard this before. If a person hair doesn’t grow long it isn’t your fault
Is it a sin for a man to have his hair long?
Never understood why, with all the ‘glory, power, protection’ long hair is supposed to provide for women, it’s the first thing to go when sick. When you need that the most in your entire life. How many balding, wig-wearing saints have had to feel shame and humiliation over this great cosmic joke. Most conservative churches really do not care anymore if women never cut their hair or even how long it is, they gave up that notion long ago, usually when the pastor’s daughters realized the terrible burden uncut hair for their entire life really is. Hair is only important if it can be up in a holy bun when needed. That bun gets you in any door, on any platform and in any musical setting. No bun? No service.
Thank you for this post. My background is also UPCI and the hair cutting issue has always been my Achilles heel. Thank you for providing linguistic information to back my own understanding of that verse. I don’t think I will ever have a haircut (no matter how long my hair remains) without some feeling of guilt and shame because those “truths” were drilled in so early and so forcefully. I am beyond drained from the residual emotional strain caused by going against these misinterpreted teachings from my childhood. Thank you for shedding light on this.