A Plea For Caution by Daniel Seagraves
If we focus on what is good and avoid exposure to what is evil, “the God of peace will crush Satan under [our] feet” (Romans 16:20).
I have become aware of a teaching on I Corinthians 11:10 that takes its cue from reference works on witchcraft and reported conversations aboard aircraft. The idea seems to be that witches recognize that a woman’s long hair provides magical protection against evil spirits and that the power of a witch’s spell is increased when she lets down and shakes her hair.
Reports are circulating about remarkable results in the spirit realm following the laying of women’s long hair over the altar or on persons needing healing.
This teaching is misguided and dangerous. Here is why: (1) Scripture says nothing to support this notion· (2) Scripture opposes this idea; (3) This teaching will result in disappointment, and perhaps even despair, among those who try the recommended techniques and find they do not work. This belief may influence some to further investigate the claims of in order to discover other “insights” into the spiritual realm. Here is the text that is central to this teaching: “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels – I Corinthians 11:10).
This verse is the subject of an amazing variety of interpretational efforts. Although there are some things that can be said about with certainty: (1) It says nothing about evil spirits. Some may speculate that the reference to “angels” refers to fallen angels and thus to evil spirits. but that is speculation: (2) It says nothing about how a woman’s hair is arranged; (3) The verse, in fact, says nothing about hair (4) It does not clarify whether we should understand “head” (kephale) to refer to the woman’s physical head, to man, or to her source or origin. All of these are contextual possibilities. Let’s talk about each point in more detail.
Scripture Says Nothing to Support This Teaching
• I Corinthians 11:10 says nothing about evil spirits. The closest reference in the verse to spirit beings is the reference to “angels.” If Paul had intended to refer to evil spirits, it would have been easy for him to do so. He wrote about evil spirits on several occasions in clear language. Although the word “angels” may refer to spirit beings, it may also refer to human beings who are serving as some kind of messengers, which is what the word angelos means. For example, many Bible students understand the angels of the seven churches in Revelation to be the pastors of those churches. Even if the “angels” in I Corinthians 11 are spirit beings, the verse does not explain the connection between them and the “power” on the woman’s “head.” Those who believe the “sons of God” of Genesis 6 were fallen angels may suggest that women are to have this “power” on their heads to prevent fallen angels from lusting after them. If this is what Paul meant there could certainly have been clearer ways of saying it. Following the same line of thinking, some may suggest that the problem is that if women do not have this “power” on their heads, faithful angels may be tempted to lust upon seeing these women. Again, this begs the question of why Paul didn’t simply say this if that is what he meant.
Other suggested interpretations may not be quite as colorful, but the point is that this verse has been treated to a long history of interpretative efforts, none of which have yet been so convincing as to settle the issue. To read “spiritual warfare” into the verse seems to border, at least, on Scripture twisting. When Paul wanted to discuss spiritual warfare, he talked about things.like truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. (See Ephesians 6: 13-17.) He did not mention hair arrangement. When Jesus talked about our power over demons, He said it was available on the basis of faith. (See Mark 16: 17-18.) John said that the works of the devil were destroyed by the manifestation of the Son of God. (See I John 3:8.) If a woman’s long hair is a weapon against evil spirits, it is remarkable that it is mentioned only once in such obscure terms.
• I Corinthians 11:10 says nothing about how a woman’s hair is to be arranged. It may seem beside the point to say that there is no reference here to how a woman’s hair is arranged, but some are teaching that the power of a woman’s long hair in the spirit realm is especially heightened when it is down and loose. It has been suggested that remarkable things would happen in the spirit realm if women around the world would let their hair down and allow it to blow in the wind. If a woman’s long hair truly did give her power over evil spirits, it is difficult to see how this power would be enhanced by the arrangement of her hair. Paul said nothing about this. The notion apparently has its source in witchcraft.
• I Corinthians 11:10 says nothing about hair. To say that the verse says nothing about hair may at first seem shocking to those of us who appreciate what Paul says about the glory of a woman’s long hair. But when strange teachings are introduced, it is necessary to take a close look at the text. Although in the context of I Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul certainly did discuss hair both for men and women it is not universally agreed that verse 10 is about hair. It would have been easy for Paul to write, “For this cause ought the woman to have long hair on her head because of the angels,” but he did not do that. He wrote that a woman ought to have exousia on or over her head. Like most words, exousia has a range of possible meanings. But in a specific use, a word does not mean all it can mean. Context determines the one meaning among all possible meanings that a word can have. The possible range of meaning for exousia includes various kinds of authority. Although some assume that this word is a synonym for “long hair,” that remains an assumption. Many translations read this verse as referring to some kind of covering or veil that should be worn by a woman as a symbol or sign of authority. One common idea is that it is a symbol of the husband’s authority over the woman. But again, all of this is speculation. Not only does the word “hair” not appear in the verse neither do the words “symbol” or “sign.” Perhaps Paul’s point did have to do with something the woman was to have on her head as a symbol of some kind of authority, but the verse is not clear enough to know for sure. When we are not absolutely certain if the meaning of a verse, it is best not to be dogmatic about its meaning. It is certainly best not to insist on a novel reading that may eventually produce unimagined problems.
• I Corinthians 11:10 does not clarify how we should understand “head.” Like the word exousia, the word translated “head” (kephale) has a range of possible meanings. In the context of this verse, “head” is used to refer to man as the “head” of woman, Christ as the “head” of man, God as the “head” of Christ, man’s physical head, woman’s physical head, and as indicated in verses 8-9, 12 man as woman’s source or origin. In this latter use, kephale presents the idea of “head” as in the “head” of a river (i.e., the river’s source or origin).
Although verse 10 does not specify how we are to understand “head,” the closest contextual indicator-the two verses before and after verse 10-suggest that we should think about “head” as source or origin. Kephale is rarely used in Greek literature to mean “chief” or person of the highest rank.” The Septuagint almost never uses kephale with this meaning. It is almost certain that the only meaning “the Corinthians would have grasped, is ‘head’ as ‘source, especially ‘source of life.'” (See Lawrence O. Richards, Expository. Dictionary of Bible Words [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985], 327-328 and Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 502-503.) Scripture Opposes This Teaching Much could be said about the things the Bible connects with spiritual warfare and about the absence of any discussion of hair in those references. But due to limitations of space, I will mention only one indication that Scripture opposes the idea that a woman’s long hair gives her some kind of spiritual protection from evil.
Numbers 6 describes the requirements of the Nazarite vow. These requirements pertain to both men and women (Numbers 6:2). Although the masculine pronoun is used in Numbers 6:3-21, we are to understand this to refer to both men and women who take the vow, as seen in verse 2. In this case, the masculine pronoun refers to both men and women, in much the same way as the English masculine pronoun has been historically understood to refer both to men and women, given the appropriate context. At the conclusion of the Nazarite vow, the person who took the vow, whether male or female, was to shave his or her head and burn the hair as an offering to the Lord. Although this provision of the Law of Moses is no longer in effect, it is evident that the Lord would not require any woman to do something that would expose her to spiritual danger.
Some may think that if the New Testament declares long hair to be a glory to a woman, it would be a contradiction for the Law of Moses to provide for a woman of faith to shave her head under any circumstance. But this is to confuse the Old and New Covenants. There were many practices and even commandments under the Law of Moses that are not in effect under the New Covenant. For example, the Law commanded death by stoning for anyone who violated the Sabbath. There would be no penalty today for plowing with an ox and donkey together, although it may be quite awkward! This Teaching Will Result in Disappointment It may indeed be that some women who have followed this teaching have had things turn out as they had hoped. But it is a fallacy to think we can definitely trace every event in our lives to specific causes. We do not know what would have happened in other circumstances. But one thing that is for sure is that many who follow this teaching will not have things turn out as they had hoped.
God’s people are not immune to disappointment, tragedy, and grief. People of faith suffer and die. (See Hebrews 11:35-40.) There is a good possibility that women who attempt to follow this teaching will question themselves and even God when things do not work out. This can lead to despair. It has been said that a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument. This is not true. In many non-Christian religions people have testimonies of experiences that they think is the result of following some religious ritual. The fact that they think their experience validates their religion does not make it so. For the Christian the final authority is belief in prayer with the promise that God will answer, although His answer may not be what we want to hear. It could be yes, no, maybe, or later. But the claim that women have enjoyed specific positive results from letting down their hair, laying it over the altar, or otherwise following this teaching is based on no biblical text.
John wrote, “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we-keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (I John 3:21-22). It is important that we note John’s additional comments on answered prayer, for they qualify the phrase “whatever we ask we receive.” John wrote, ”And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (I John 5:14-15).
It is certainly true that God answers prayer, but the prayers He answers in the affirmative are those that are according to His will. A woman’s long hair can be a sign of obedient faith. If she walks by faith, she can have confidence in her prayers, even though we cannot endorse any doctrine that seemingly allows us to manipulate God. There Is Danger in Investigating the Claims of Witchcraft We are to be simple concerning evil and wise concerning good. (See Romans 16:19.) An idea included in the word translated “simple” is that we are to be innocent about evil. It is dangerous and counterproductive for Christians to investigate falsehood, deception, and evil-especially if it is done with the idea that there may be
some truth there that can help in the development of spirituality!
If this teaching alleging a connection between a woman’s long hair and power over evil spirits continues unchecked, we may be sure that some will be encouraged to further investigate possible links between witchcraft and biblical spirituality. This is a dangerous violation of Scripture, and it could result in the loss of salvation for some sincere person. Instead of seeking insights from occultism, we must seek the true God. (See Isaiah 8:19-20.)
If we do focus on what is good and avoid exposure to what is evil, “the God of peace will crush Satan under [our] feet” (Romans 16:20). This will be a far better result than attempting to manipulate the spiritual realm by means of novel interpretations of Scripture with questionable origins linked to occultism. Authority in the realm of the spirit comes from knowing Jesus, not from ritual incantations or actions.
“We wholeheartedly disapprove of our … women cutting their hair.”
United Pentecostal Church International-Articles of Faith: Holiness (Pages 34-35).
www.pentecostalherald.com NOVEMBER 2009
Daniel L. Segraves is academic dean and assistant professor of biblical theology at Urshan Graduate School of Theology. He served as president of Christian Life College (Stockton, California) for several years. He has written eighteen books, including commentaries on eight books of the Bible. He has been an ordained minister since 1968.