By Daniel L. Seagraves
Objection: Paul had long hair at Cotinth. Answer; There is no doubt that I Corinthians 11 means that it is a shame for a man to have long hair. Verse 14 says, “If a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him.”
Paul did not have long hair while at Corinth. It is true that he took a vow, and during the time of the vow he did not cut his hair (Acts18:18). But in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, long hair is hair that has been allowed to grow; it is hair that has not been cut. Paul must have been in the practice of regularly cutting his hair, or else his abstention from cutting it for a period of time would not, have been worthy of mention. What Paul did was unusual, out of the ordinary. He was in the regular practice of having his hair cut, and he did not allow it to grow as women did.
•Objection: Part of I Corinthians 11 may not be Paul’s words but the quotation of a letter from the Corinthians.3
Answer: This objection is an awkward attempt to ex-plain away the clear meaning of the passage. No serious scholar has adopted this view. It is dangerous to categorize a portion of the eternal Word of God as uninspired opinions of fallible men, especially in order to avoid the clear teaching of that passage.
A number of the objections are offered in an attempt to argue that part of I Corinthians 11 is not valid because it supposedly contradicts the rest of Scripture. Let us ex-amine these objections individually.
•Objection: Nothing else in the Bible indicates that a man should not cover his head while praying or prophesying. To the contrary, the high priest in the Old Testament was to cover his head as he ministered. (See Leviticus 8:9, 13; 10:6; 21:10)4
Answer: We have already seen that the covering mentioned in I Corinthians 11 is long hair itself, not a covering of cloth. Nevertheless, let us examine the scriptural references given.
First, we will look at Leviticus 21:10 in context: “And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes; neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the LORD. And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife” (Leviticus 21:10-14).
This passage deals specifically with the requirements God had for the high priest. It does not speak to the issue of what was proper for the vast majority of Hebrew men. God had special expectations and demands of those in the priesthood. We may not know all the reasons for His requirements, but it is sufficient to know that God had a purpose. It would be a mistake, however, to say that what was required of the high priest was the norm. If this passage taught that the high priest should not uncover his head when he ministered, it would still have no bearing on the issue at hand, that is, whether a New Testament Christian male should pray and prophesy with an uncovered head.
But Leviticus 21:10 may not teach that the high priest could not minister unless he had an artificial covering on his head. The Hebrew word para, translated “uncover,” carries the meaning “to loosen, to disorder, to disarrange.” Some Bible translations render the word in such a way as to suggest that the issue was the priest’s hair, not another covering: “The high priest . . . must not let his hair become unkempt” (NIV). “But he who is the high priest . . . shall not let the hair of his head hang loose” (Amplified).
The same Hebrew word is used in II Samuel 6:20: “Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself.” This “uncovering” seems to speak specifically of David’s actions in leaping and dancing before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:16) That is, in Michal’s opinion, David acted in a disorderly way. It is not a reference to removing his clothing, for David was dressed in a linen ephod, which was priestly attire (II Samuel 6:14).
It is doubtful that Leviticus 21:10 can be used to prove conclusively that the priests were commanded to wear an artificial head covering when ministering. Instead, the command seems to have to do with the proper care of their hair; they were not to be disheveled or unkempt.
From Leviticus 8:9, 13; 10:6 it appears that Aaron and his sons wore a type of headdress during their rituals, but again, what was commended for the priesthood was not necessarily the broad practice among the Israelites. It would be wrong to use these verses of Scripture to say that, as a general rule, God approved of men covering their heads with veils when they engaged in spiritual exercises.
Leviticus 8:9 reads, “And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, even upon his forefront, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown; as the LORD commanded Moses.” The “mitre” was certainly not a veil, but a sort of turban.’ A turban does not hang down as does a veil, but it covers essentially what a hat does.
Leviticus 8:13 reads, “And Moses brought Aaron’s sons, and put coats upon them, and girded them with girdles, and put bonnets upon them; as the LORD commanded Moses.” The “bonnets” were headbands, hardly the equivalent of a veil.’ These verses do not prove that God is pleased with men veiling themselves when they pray or prophesy.
Leviticus 10:6 uses the same Hebrew word, para, as Leviticus 21:10. Thus, none of the verses cited prove anything about I Corinthians 11.
•Objection: It was not wrong for Ezekiel, Moses, Elijah, and David to pray or prophesy with something on their heads.7 (See Ezekiel 24:15-21; Exodus 34:32-33; I Kings 19:13; II Samuel 15:30-32.)
Answer: Again, it is important to understand that I Corinthians 11 teaches that men are not to have a covering of long hair. Nevertheless, let us examine each of the Old Testament passages cited to see if wearing even a covering of cloth was typical or appropriate when praying or prophesying.
In Ezekiel 24:15-24, God told Ezekiel to bind a “tire” (an ornamental headdress) on his head. A study of the entire passage reveals that this action was a sign to the Israelites, an object lesson. What Ezekiel did was highly unusual, prompting the Israelites to say, “Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou doest so?” (Ezekiel 24:19). We should also note the crisis nature of this story: Ezekiel’s wife died, but instead of mourning, he went about as if nothing had happened!
This passage does not establish that it is pleasing to God for a man to veil himself when praying or prophesying. Rather, it demonstrates something that varies from the norm, something highly uncommon. Rather than proving that it was normal for a prophet to minister with his head covered, the passage proves just the opposite.
In Exodus 34:29-33 Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with his face shining. And until he finished speaking with the Israelites he put a veil on his face. Again, this event was highly unusual and extraordinary, and it is doubtful whether Moses’ talk with the Israelites was “prophecy.” Moreover, Exodus 34:34 explicitly states, “But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out.”
Elijah “wrapped his face in his mantle” when he talked to the Lord at Horeb (I Kings 19:13). A study of I Kings 19 reveals that this was a unique event in the life of Elijah. He was running in fear from Jezebel, who had threatened his life. Even though he had recently been used of the Lord to work a miracle on Mount Carmel, he despaired for his life, and he even prayed that he might die. His fear and lack of faith displeased the Lord, as is evident from God’s question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9). God had not told him to flee from Jezebel; Elijah had acted on his own. The prophet attempted to justify his flight, whereupon God commanded him, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD” (I Kings 19:11). There followed a strong wind, which rent the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces. Next there was an earthquake, followed by a fire. Finally, the Lord spoke in a still, small voice.
By this time, Elijah must have sensed the displeasure of God with his desertion from the scene of action. so when he went to stand before the Lord, he wrapped his face in his mantle. Apparently he did so as a sign of the shame he felt. Elijah had nothing to cover his face with except the mantle. He was not in the habit of covering his face when he talked with the Lord, or he would have had something more appropriate with which to do it. The mantle was not normally used for such a purpose. It was a makeshift covering, adapted on the spur of the moment because of the emotions of guilt and shame sweeping over Elijah because of his lack of faith.
When David fled from Absalom, he and the people with him went up Mt. Olivet weeping, with their heads covered (II Samuel 15:30). When someone told him that his counselor Ahithophel was one of the conspirators, David prayed that the Lord would turn his counsel into foolishness (II Samuel 15:31).
Again we see a very unusual situation. David and the men with him were in humiliation and mourning, for his son Absalom was attempting to overthrow him. David wept, went barefoot, and covered his head, all of which were signs of humiliation and shame. When he arrived at the top of the mount, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and earth upon his head. The highly emotional nature of this scene shows that these were things David did not normally do. He did not usually weep, go barefoot, and cover his head. It was not common for men like Hushai to go about with dirt on their heads. While it was not wrong for David to pray with his head covered, neither was it normal.
•Objection: The men of Jerusalem and Judah “covered their heads” (Jeremiah 14:3), and ‘modern Jews at prayer cover their heads with a shawl or a skullcap.8
Answer: It is a mistake to try to determine the will of God by observing the practices of modern Jews. “Blind-ness in part is happened to Israel” (Romans 11:25). “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ” (II Corinthians 3:14).
The modern practice of Jews covering their heads when they pray is without scriptural support. The men in Jeremiah 14:3 covered their heads in humiliation and distress: “And their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters: they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads.”
•Objection: The questions in I Corinthians 11:13-14 can be translated as statements meaning it is proper for a woman to pray without a covering and that nature does not teach it to be shameful for a man to have long hair.9
This proposed translation would break the unity of the passage, for earlier verses say that it is a shame for a woman’s head to be shorn, shaved, or uncovered and that it is a shame for a man’s head to be covered. No major Bible translation adopts the proposed translation, which would actually reverse the true meaning.
Verses 14 and 15 make use of the men . . . de conjunction, which is used in contrasting statements, meaning “on the one hand” and “on the other hand.” In this case men . . .e is translated by “but” in verse 15. Thus, the men in verse 14 and the de in verse 15 tie the two verses together in contrast. The proposed translation for verses 13-14, however, would make the contrast with verse 15 meaningless.
In both verses 14 and 15, the mood of the verb koma (“have long hair”) is subjunctive, signifying action that has the potential of taking place, and each verse shows the consequence of the contemplated action: If a man wears his hair long, then it is a shame to him (verse 14).
On the other hand, if a woman wears her hair long, then it is a glory to her (verse 15). And every translation preserves this meaning.
The textual evidence and scholarship over the centuries unanimously affirm that verses 13-14 are in the form of two questions: “Is it proper . . . ?” and “Does not even nature itself teach you . . . ?” Every translation renders these two phrases as questions, and every Greek text includes the Greek equivalent of two question marks. It would be a great mistake to throw all of this evidence away and ignore the providential work of God in preserving His Word, in an attempt to support a questionable interpretation.
•Objection: When we appeal to nature, the hair of both men and women will grow long if not cut.
Answer: As I Corinthians 11:14 states, we do indeed learn a lesson from nature—instinct, or the natural course of things—about the proper length of hair on men and women. As a general rule, women in the Scriptures did not cut their hair, while men did cut their hair. In virtually every society of the world for thousands of years, it has been considered proper for men to cut their hair and for women to leave theirs uncut. While this basic principle has been violated from time to time, the violation has been the exception which proved the rule. While a man may grow his hair as long as that of a woman, historically this practice has not been widespread.
•Objection: Absalom had long hair, and it was not considered shameful.’°
Answer: Absalom is not an example to follow. He was a rebel in every sense of the word. He attempted to over-throw his father’s kingdom and brought great shame upon David. Elizabeth Rice Handford, an independent Baptist, answers this objection well:
How short is short hair for a man? Evidently, short enough that there is no question that he is a man, not a woman. Absalom, the son of King David who tried to wrest the kingdom from his aged father, was a real rebel. His long hair was his pride and a symbol of his rebellion. He cut it once a year (II Sam. 14:26) and that evidently was not often enough. In the civil war that followed Absalom’s seizing of the throne, Absalom was defeated. He fled on a mule, but his head caught in the thick boughs of a great oak (II Sam. 18:9). The mule ran on, leaving Absalom to hang until the leader of David’s army found him and killed him. It seems probable that Absalom’s long, luxuriant hair tangled in the tree branches. God evidently used Absalom’s hair, the manifestation of his rebellion, to cause his death.11
Men in ancient times sometimes had hair that would be considered somewhat long by today’s standards. But their hair was noticeably shorter than that of the women of their times. They did not have long hair according to the definition of I Corinthians 11, for as a general rule men in various cultures and times have cut their hair with at least some degree of frequency. Even Absalom cut his hair once a year.
•Objection: If it was a shame for a man to have long hair, why were the Nazarites—men especially dedicated to God—required not to cut their hair? 12
Answer: Elizabeth Handford has offered a sound and thorough response:
Some confusion about long hair for men arises because of the instructions concerning the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6. A man (or woman) setting himself apart for the Lord could make a vow for a specific time. At the end of that time he was to bring an offering to the Tabernacle, and shave his head to show that the vow had been fulfilled. It was made for a specific number of days (Num. 6:13). We know of only three men in all Bible history who were Nazarites for their whole lives (Samuel, Samson, and John the Baptist). That seems to have been an uncommon, God- determined decision. Since I Corinthians 11:14 tells us it is a shame for a man to have long hair, this vow not only set a man apart, but also shamed him, perhaps signifying the shame Jesus endured (Heb. 13:13). It’s obvious that these Nazarite men were not showing rebellion like the anarchist, Jerry Rubin advocates. Jerry Rubin said: “Young kids, identify short hair with authority, discipline, unhappiness, boredom, hatred of life and long hair with letting go. Wherever we go our hair tells people where we stand on Vietnam, Wallace, campus disruption and drugs. We are living TV commercials for the revolution. Long hair is the beginning of our liberation from sexual oppression.”13
•Objection: When the Bible says it is a shame for a woman to be “shorn,” it means to cut the hair off completely, to the scalp.14
Answer: The word shorn is the past participle of shear. The word shear simply means “to cut,” without specifying how much. (See the comments on I Corinthians I:6 in chapter 2.) When a piece of cloth is shorn by a person using a pair of shears, it is shorn regardless of how much is cut off.
According to I Corinthians 11, it is a shame for a woman to be shorn, or to have her hair cut. The chapter also says that her long hair (her uncut hair, hair which she has allowed to grow) is a glory to her. This teaching is still true today, for the Word of God does not change with fashions and fads.
•Objection: A woman’s shaved head was a shame at Corinth because of its association with cult prostitution, but it was not necessarily a sign of shame elsewhere. In-stead, it was a common sign of mourning.15 (See Ezra 9:3; Isaiah 3:24; 15:2; 22:12; Jeremiah 7:29; 16:6; 48:37; Ezekiel 27:31; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16.)
Answer: Most of the cited verses refer to men, not women. Many of the verses are written in a dramatic, poetical style, not necessarily speaking of literal baldness or shaving but of the shame which accompanies such action. They have reference to the judgment of God coming upon the disobedient.
Isaiah 3:24 speaks particularly of women, but the con-text of Isaiah 3:16-26, especially verse 17, shows that the baldness to come upon these women was the result of the scathing judgment of God.
•Objection: If a soldier of Israel took a wife from among the captives of war, her head was to be shaved.16 (See Deuteronomy 21:10-14.)
Answer: This passage gives instructions for a Hebrew
4Ian taking a non-Hebrew wife from among the captives of war. There had to be a complete repudiation of her past. She had to become, in a sense, a new woman. This process included shaving her head, paring her nails, discarding her old clothing, and mourning for her mother and father as if they were dead. She was to begin a new life, almost as if—in a limited sense—she were being reborn. If after all of this preparation, however, the man decided that he did not want her, he was to let her go wherever she wanted. He was not to sell her for money, because he had humbled her. The shaving of the head was part of the process of humiliation. Thus, this passage of Scripture gives no support for the idea that it is acceptable for Christian women to cut their hair.
•Objection: Long hair piled on a woman’s head can cause headaches.”
Answer: A woman does not have to pile her hair on the top of her head. Many simple hairdos can alleviate this problem. Moreover, the Bible does teach the doctrine of healing. God will surely help a sincere Christian woman who has a problem of this nature.
•Objection: Women who have long hair usually wear it on their heads in such a way that it covers little more than a man’s short hair does.18
Answer: A woman’s hair is a symbolic or spiritual covering. Moreover, the Bible does not tell a Christian woman that she must style her hair in a certain way. Since women’s hair naturally grows to different, lengths, it is clear that its scriptural significance as a covering does not depend on whether it covers the ears, neck, shoulders, or back. A woman whose hair will not, grow past her shoulders would be unable to meet the requirement if her hair must cover her back. But the outward symbol of uncut hair, however long, is to con firm the inward reality of a woman’s spiritual condition in submitting to God’s plan. It makes no difference how a woman’s hair is styled unless it is extremely elaborate, distracting, or an expression of pride. (See I Timothy 2:9; I Peter 3:3.)
Some people have suggested that a woman should fix her hair up or bind it to her head. That is, she should not permit it to hang down. These people commonly appeal to the description of the jealousy trial in Numbers 5:18: “And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse.”
In this passage, the Hebrew word for “uncover” is para, which can mean “to unloose.” Thus, some suppose that Hebrew women ordinarily bound their hair to their head and that this practice symbolized their being bound to their husbands. Some even appeal to Tertullian, who suggested that a woman’s long, flowing hair has sexual attraction, an attraction that may have caused some angels to fall.
This view seems unlikely, however, because other verses use the Hebrew word para with reference to men. Moses said to his sons, “Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die” (Leviticus 10:6). The high priest was not to “uncover his head, nor rend his clothes” (Leviticus 21:10). If the reference to “uncovering” women’s heads means that their hair was ordinarily bound to their heads in some way, the same would be true for men. But it is doubtful that anyone would suggest that a man should fasten his hair to his head with an artificial binding. To do so, he would have to have fairly long hair.
Instead, “uncovering” an accused woman’s head apparently referred simply to loosening her hair in the sense of disorderly disarrangement. This would have been a humbling experience for her, as was the entire trial. The Hebrew para, translated “uncover,” can mean “to disorder, disarrange.” 19
The woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with her hair received no rebuke from Him (Luke 7:38). She could not have performed this ministry if her hair had been bound up on her head, and surely He would not have allowed her to perform a shameful or sinful act.
Tertullian’s comments on many subjects are extremely fanciful, and neither he nor any other man is a final authority on this issue. Only the Word of God itself is in-fallible, and the Bible nowhere requires a certain hairstyle for women.
•Objection: If a woman cannot cut or trim her hair at all in order to have “long hair,” then a man who has hair hanging down to his shoulders does not have “long hair” if he simply cuts a few inches off occasionally.”
Answer: A man’s hair is not long by the definition of I Corinthians 11 if he is in the habit of regularly having it cut. However, the intent of the passage is to distinguish men from women in outward appearance. Thus, a man’s hair should be clearly and noticeably shorter than that of women in his culture. Moreover, in our society longer hair on men became a sign of rebellion in the sixties and seventies, and a Christian man will not want to be identified with such rejection of authority. (See the comments on I Corinthians 11:14 in chapter 2.)
•Objection: If a woman had to have hair hanging down her back to please God, many women could not do so, for their hair simply will not grow very long.21
The definition of long hair in I Corinthians 11 is uncut hair that is allowed to grow. However, a woman need not have hair hanging down her back in order to please God. Women’s hair grows in varying lengths. But regardless of the length of a woman’s hair in inches, it is long if it is uncut and allowed to grow.
In summary, I Corinthians 11:2-16 teaches that it is a shame for a woman to have her hair shorn (cut), that it is a dishonor for her to pray with her head uncovered, that long hair is given to her for a covering, and that long hair is a glory to her. The same passage teaches that it is a dishonor for a man to pray with his head covered; specifically, it is a shame for him to have long hair. And these teachings are the commands of God, for in I Corinthians 14:37 Paul declared, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
The above article, “Answers to Objections about Long Hair for Christian Woman” was written by Daniel L. Segraves. The article was excerpted from the 4th chapter of Segraves book Hair Length in the Bible.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.