I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
A man ought not to cover his head,since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
1 Corinthians 11:2-15
New International Version
This passage was a favorite ‘clobber verse’ of my first husband*, and is an old standby in Conservative and Fundamentalist circles of the Christian faith. Apparently, if men have long hair, and women have short hair then it is a sign of Lesbianism and Homosexuality. Hence the reason why he would complain when I wore my hair short, citing this passage, and stating that he wanted a woman not a man.
Long story short, this ‘clobber verse’ is another example of The Enemy taking advantage of paraphrased translations of Greek, and the general ignorance of most believers about the history of their own religion. This passage, (despite its traditional interpretation that I am sure many of you will wrestle with), is not a decree for all time for men to wear their hair short, and women their hair long, or cover their heads during worship.
Let’s look at the history, shall we?
Jewish women were required to wear their hair bound up whenever they left their homes. unbound, flowing hair was regarded as sensual, and akin to nudity. If a woman let her hair down in public, she was viewed as a temptress. Greek prostitutes wore their hair quite short, with the exception of the hetairai who were high-class courtesans who wore their hair long, and braided with pearls. Hence, the following scripture from 1 Timothy 2:9-10 (NIV) -
“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
This is not a command for women to never wear jewelry, it was a direct reference to the hetairai who were schooled by more experienced courtesans in cosmetics, fashion, and adornment in order to attract the high-paying customers. One of their practices involved braiding pieces of gold jewelry or pearls into their hair, and it was imitated by wealthy women within Roman society. Paul’s writing, in this context, is an instruction for women of the early Church to avoid dressing like the local prostitutes while simultaneously telling the prostitutes to dress more modestly.
Now, we get to the other aspect of this ‘clobber verse’, the one about men with long hair. This one is the reason why Christian metal band P.O.D. is an anathema to other brothers and sisters who believe in the traditional mistranslation. In reality, if we go with that ‘teaching’, then we are going to have to damn a lot of men of the Bible, and also revise every single depiction of Christ who is universally shown as having shoulder-length hair.
What, did God make an exception for His son? Not likely, and when we examine the social, cultural, and political history Paul’s writings return to their original context, and we uncover the actual instruction contained in this passage.
The caution against men having long hair is referring to the male prostitutes of Corinth who would wear their hair long, in order to attract customers of both sexes since – to be blunt – Corinth was a hotbed of sexual immorality and perversity. Due to the political control of the Roman Empire, the area was heavily influenced by their culture and religion, much of which was borrowed from the Greeks. The main religious practice, was the cult worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, and it is the way these pagan worshipers dressed that gives us insight into this passage from Paul.
According to theologians, the female worshipers of Dionysus would dress like men, cut their hair very short, or completely shave their heads. The men, in an attempt to imitate women, would grow their hair long, dress as the opposite sex, and in some cases castrate themselves. This practice is depicted on numerous Roman reliefs, and a vase discovered during an archaeological dig in Corinth shows a woman dancing before Dionysus with a shaved head.
Therefore, it becomes apparent that the focus of this epistle was to advise Corinthian believers to avoid hairstyles and dress that would have been associated with prostitution, and pagan worship. Paul tends to be a situation-specific writer, addressing key social, cultural, and political issues that were affecting the early Christian church. In this case, dealing with new converts who used to work the streets to earn their bread.
Also, his advice fits in with the cultural context of Jewish society, which Paul had to address, along with the pagan Greeks of Corinth who would have balked at the idea of adopting Jewish customs, just as the Jews would have balked at theirs. If a man were to cover his head with the ceremonial covering, then it would be akin to stating that said male was ashamed of Christ, who is the image and glory of God, and were instead imitating Moses who required men to wear a ceremonial veil while praying. Jewish tradition also required that women also cover their heads, if they were married they were required to keep it bound up on their heads, or else covered over whenever they appeared in public since – as we have established – wearing it loose and flowing would have been the akin to parading about nude. Therefore, if a Jewish woman let down her hair in public, or appeared before the congregation with it hanging loose then it was akin to wearing their hair like the prostitutes whom – in the same breath – he was advising to adopt a different style to show they were no longer in the business (i.e. grow your hair back).
As for the men, if we are to assume that this passage is an admonition against having long hair, then we need to condemn not only Samson, but John the Baptist (Jesus’ own cousin), Samuel, and Paul himself! A far easier process than accepting what Paul really intended which was if you were a guy in Corinth, don’t wear your hair in the same manner as the male prostitutes who likely styled it like the women with the gold and the pearls. Once we realize that this was his context, then his writings fall in line with the rest of the Bible since according to scripture, John the Baptist was a ‘Nazirite from birth’ per Luke 1:14-15 (NIV) -
“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”
The angel Gabriel is referring directly to the Nazirite vow from Numbers 6:1-21 (NIV) -
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.
“‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.
“‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.
“‘If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing. Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The priest is to offer one as a sin offeringand the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.
“‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast—thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil.
“‘The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering.
“‘Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.
“‘After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.
“‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfill the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite.’”
Now, if God does not contradict Himself, and consistently confirms previous themes found in the Old Testament are we now to presume that He changed His mind? True, God has been known to do that, but if long hair on men was an actual Kingdom commandment, He would have said as much. So, either Paul is contradicting God, or Paul is writing to address a specific situation in Corinth. Not only that, Paul would be a hypocrite per his actions in Acts 18:18 (NIV) -
“Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.”
Paul was a Pharisee, an expert in the law. If he took the Nazirite vow, it would symbolize to other Jews whom he was trying to bring to Christ that he was indeed a man of God, and set apart in that manner. Therefore, if he were writing that long hair on men was shameful for all time, he would have to include himself in that list. Instead, he is writing for the people of Corinth to avoid adopting hairstyles or dress that would cause their newborn brothers and sisters in the faith to stumble. This is in line with scripture since, if we are indeed born again, we become a new creation, and thus God begins work in us to separate us from our former lives.
So, it is not a sin for men or women to have short or long hair, the teaching is situation-specific based on the antics Paul was dealing with in regards to the church in Corinth. Since customs have changed and hairstyles no longer mean what they did in his time, these instructions are not relevant to modern Christians. However, the principle behind these instructions, of being aware of what message our clothing and style conveys to others, still holds.
*Admin Ryan Knight was previously married and widowed.