What did long hair mean in the Bible?


A passage that mentions hair length in the New Testament is in First Corinthians, “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. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 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. 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. 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. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 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.” 1 Corinthians 11:3-15

The Corinthian church was in the middle of a controversy about the roles of men and women and the proper order of authority within the church. In the Corinthian society, women showed submission to their husbands by wearing a veil. Some of the women in the church were discarding their veils, something that only pagan temple prostitutes or other rebellious women would do. For a woman to come to church without her veil would be dishonoring to her husband, as well as culturally confusing. By the same token, for a man to wear a veil or to somehow have his head covered during worship was not culturally acceptable in Corinth.

Paul appeals to biology to illustrate the appropriateness of following the cultural standards: women naturally have longer hair than men, and men are much more prone to baldness. That is, God created women with a “natural veil” and men with an “uncovered head.” If a woman spurns the mark of her submission (the veil), she may as well shave her head (1 Corinthians 11:6). His point is that if the culture says a woman should not be bald (going without her natural covering), then why would she reject that same culture’s standard of wearing a veil (going without her cultural covering)?

For the man’s part, it is unnatural for him to have “long hair” (1 Corinthians 11:14). His hair is naturally shorter (and thinner) than the woman’s. This corresponds to the Corinthian tradition of men not wearing a head covering during worship. Paul urges the church to conform to the generally held ideas of male and female appearance.

While hair length is not the main point of this passage of Scripture, we glean the following applications from it: 1) We should adhere to the culturally accepted indicators of gender. Men should look like men, and women should look like women. God is not interested in, nor does He accept, “unisex.” 2) We should not rebel against the culture just for the sake of rebelling, in the name of some sort of Christian “liberty.” It does matter how we present ourselves. 3) Women are to voluntarily place themselves under the authority of the male leadership of their husbands and the male leadership of the church. 4) We should not reverse the God-ordained roles of men and women. Our culture today does not use veils or head coverings to indicate submission to authority. The roles of men and women have not changed, but the way we symbolize those roles changes with the culture. Rather than establish legalistic standards of hair length, we must remember that the real issue is our heart condition, our individual response to the authority of God, His ordained order, and our choice to walk in submission to that authority. Men and women have different, God-ordained roles, and part of that difference is shown by their hair. A man’s hair should look masculine. A woman’s hair should look feminine.

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