Long Hair–or Short Hair?
Why Do Some Women Forget that their Long Hair is God’s Glory?
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The hair has always been considered one of the most prominent and important aspects of our physical appearance. In all nations and in all cultures, people give much attention to their own hair and pay attention to the hair of others. Generally it is one of the first features that we notice about the people whom we meet. Let us discuss what the Bible says about hair and how we should consider this aspect of our appearance.
In some cultures men or women may shave their heads or crop their hair very short. In other cultures, women allow their hair to grow freely and even men may allow their hair to grow fairly long. In still others, women adorn their hair with elaborate hairstyles, arranged with jewels, or intricately curled or braided. In the United States women traditionally allowed their hair to grow naturally long but this drastically changed by 1920. “Probably the greatest change in womens hair modes came in the early 1900s when the hair was bobbed. Up to this time, no matter how the hair was worn, it was long. By 1920 short hair had become the dominant fashion. About this time also the hair styles worn by popular motion-picture stars in Hollywood began to start trends in womens coiffures” (Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia, 1998). “At the end of World War I a short haircut for women, called the bob, was considered scandalous. . . . Women all over the world quickly adopted the styles and colors of Hollywood actresses” (Ibid.).
At the same time, men wore their hair much shorter than women and this continued until the 1960s and 1970s when rebellious young men dared to break with convention, allowing their hair to grow longer than before. “It was the singing group, The Beatles, that repopularized longer hair for the first time in many decades with their bowl haircuts” (Ibid.). About the same time, many girls began to allow their hair to grow longer than their mothers did. Paradoxically, some girls even today wear their hair much longer than their mothers and grandmotherswhile these older women cut their hair very short! Through the influence of Vogue (1892), Mademoiselle (1935), and Glamour (1939), women are very concerned about their hairstyles and fashion in general.
Hair in the Bible
The Bible has a variety of incidental information about hair. Jesus shows the futility of changing nature when He says, “You cannot make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:36). He also uses the hair to illustrate the tender care of God our Father: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30). Hair was sometimes anointed in Biblical times (Matthew 6:17). Although there were variations in style from time to time, there was a basic difference between the appearance of the man and the woman in clothing and hairstyles (cf. Deut. 22:5; 1 Cor. 11:14-15). The male gender generally had short hair; the female gender generally had long hair.
Under the Law of Moses, a man who took the Nazarite vow allowed his hair to grow long until the end of the vow, after which he shaved his head (Numbers 6:5, 18). Samson said, “A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mothers womb” (Judges 16:17; cf. 13:5). Hannah appears to have committed her son Samuel to a Nazarite lifestyle from before his birth (1 Samuel 1:11). There is the possibility that John the baptizer also was a Nazarite (cf. Luke 1:15) and Paul appears to have had a Nazarite vow for a short time (cf. Acts 18:18). The long hair of the Nazarite was in contrast to the common Israelite who wore shorter hair. Many have made the mistake of thinking that Jesus was a Nazarite and therefore had long hair. The truth is that Jesus was a Nazarene, one from the town of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23).
Instructions about Hair
Nearly everyone in our day assumes that each person has the inherent right to do whatever he or she wishes in regard to the hair. If a young man wishes to dye his hair orange or green, this is his right. If a girl wishes to curl her hair, wear a wig, or wear some bizarre style, this is her right. If an older woman wishes to cut her hair short or style her hair, this is her right. If a man wishes to allow his hair to grow two feet long, this is his right. In the time of the Judges of Israel, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), and this well describes our own day. People assume they can do whatever they want to do in regard to their hairand in regard to lifestyle in general. To restrict ones choices of hair style and length is thought to be legalism.
Does God have anything to say in regard to our hair? We must ask, in the words of Paul, “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3). Only the Word of God is able to give directions by making the mind of God known to us. Let us go to the Scriptures to determine what God wants for His people today.
We may begin in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. In this significant but commonly overlooked passage, Paul taught that a woman should wear a covering or veil when she prays or prophesies and a man should not wear a veil when he participates in these spiritual activities (cf. vv. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16). In the midst of this discussion, the apostle writes, “If it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head” (v. 6). The word “if” here may be translated “since.” In other words, “If it is shameful (and it isnote the condition of fact) for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, then, of course, she should have her head properly covered” (H. Harold Mare, The Expositors Bible Commentary). The term, “disgraceful” here is aischron, from aischros, which means, “base, shameful, of that which is opposed to modesty or purity” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Arndt and Gingrich state that the term means, “ugly, shameful, base” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Notice that the same term is found at 1 Corinthians 14:35 regarding the shame of a woman who would dare to speak in the public meetings of the assembly, and it is found in Ephesians 5:12 of the disgrace of speaking of the perverse things done by sinners in secret. Therefore, according to Pauls comments, it is disgraceful, shameful, and ugly for a woman to “have her hair cut off” (which some women do) or have “her head shaved” (which few would do).
The apostle says more about this later in the chapter. In order to enforce his main teaching in the section, Paul writes, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:13-15). In this passage, Paul says if a man has long hair, it is a “dishonor” to him. The term here is atimia, meaning, “dishonor, disgrace, shame” (Arndt and Gingrich), “shame, disgrace” (W.E. Vine), “dishonor, ignominy, disgrace” (J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Although certain passing fads in our age may allow a boy or man to have long hair, both nature and Scripture calls this a dishonor or disgrace. Robertson and Plummer state, “Even if the internal feeling should not arise, does not even nature by itself show that, while doubtless man, being short-haired, is by Divine order unveiled, woman, being long-haired, is by Divine order veiled?” (ICC: First Corinthians).
Until the Modern Era, All Women Allowed their Hair to Grow Long Naturally
(Note: We would not necessarily endorse this apparently vain display of one’s hair!)
On the other hand, Paul says that if a woman has long hair, “it is a glory to her” (1 Corinthians 11:15). C.K. Barrett points out, “Nature (i.e., God) has made men and women different from each other, and has provided a visible indication of the difference between them in the quantity of hair he has assigned to each; that is, in point of fact men have short, women have long hair, and though art can reverse this difference, the reversed distinction is, and is felt to be artificial” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians). How is a womans long hair a glory to her? Barrett adds, “Obediently to be what God intended them to be is the highest glory that human beings can achieve. To wear her hair long, in a womanly fashion, is an outward sign that a woman is fulfilling her role in creation.” If God says that long hair is a “glory” to a woman, who dares argue with Him? Paul says that there is a basic difference between the length of a mans hair and that of a womans hair. We honor God as Creator, Father, and universal Lord by obediently submitting to Him.
(Again, we would not necessarily endorse this display of one’s long hair.)
Some may ask, “How long is long?” It may be interesting to note the length of womens hair at the time of Jesus, the very period in which Paul gives his instruction. Immediately before He died, Jesus was invited to a meal where Martha was serving. The text says that Mary “anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3; cf. 11:2). Her hair was long enough to wipe our Lords feet! The woman in Simons house did likewise: She “began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head” (Luke 7:38, 44). Would most women of our day have long enough hair to use it as a towel? Rather than having her “hair cut off” (1 Cor. 11:6), would it not be fitting and a glory for women to allow their hair to grow long?
Another Scriptural instruction may be added. Paul says that women should “adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.” Instead, they should adorn themselves with “good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Peter adds this instruction to women: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in Gods sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4, NIV). In both of these instructions, the apostles emphasize that Christian women should not wear braided hairapparently a reference to the elaborate hairstyles and intricate coiffures in which women would place jewels and other expensive items to attract the attention, desire, or admiration of others. Even today women may wear hairstyles that are specifically designed to attract the attention of men or other women. The apostles emphasize that true women of God must not become involved in this ostentatious display. Rather, they should devote themselves and their time to good works. They should emphasize the inner person which God finds of great value. True men of God will also find this inner beauty of priceless worth (Proverbs 31:10, 31)!
What is all of this saying to us? What applications may we make? Scripture should lead women to wear long hair. Scripture would lead men to have short hair. Men should not look feminine and women should not look masculine! The unisex look is an abomination to the Lord. The Word of God would instruct us to not have elaborate hairdos or hair arrangements that are meant to entice the opposite sex. Surely sisters in the Lord (or even brothers) should not succumb to worldly hairstyles. Plain, simple and natural hairstyles should be sought by the true believer. The Christian woman should avoid becoming a beautician or hairstylist, for surely nearly all of their procedures would involve Scriptural compromise and disobedience, and thus be displeasing to God (cutting womens hair short, providing worldly hair arrangements, dyeing hair, etc.). Many barbers would also be tempted to acquiesce to many of the faddish, foolish, and shameful hairstyles of today.
We should keep several points in mind. If a woman comes to Christ, this sister may have short hair and it may take years before her hair grows long. She should not be condemned for what she did as a sinner. Further, a sinful Christian woman with short hair who repents should not be condemned but rather encouraged in her desire to become a modest woman of God and allow her hair to grow long to please the Lord.
A further consideration is that some women have longer hair by nature. One woman in India had hair 13 feet and 10 inches long, and one girl in the United States grew hair 12 feet and 8 inches long! However, some womens hair simply will not grow very long at all. This, in fact, may give them much grief. Again, these sisters should be commended in the Lord and should not be made to look inferior because of genetic limitations. If they are allowing their hair to grow long, this should be praised (Proverbs 31:31). (We might also add that a woman who has a physical disease or scalp condition that limits hair growth should not be condemned.)
Some women say that caring for long hair is somewhat time-consuming, and this does present a daily problem. (However, I just received a letter from a sister who stated that caring for long hair is quite easy for her.) There are individual differences between people and texture of hair. A sister who is burdened with this problem should seek ways to manage her hair (washing, combing, etc.) as efficiently as possible to save time (cf. Eph. 5:15-16). Seek advice from other seasoned women of God. The Lord will help the willing heart.
Another point should be mentioned. Fathers and mothers, God has given you a great responsibility to bring up your children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). You may say that the Biblical instruction is only to adolescent and adult women, but remember that your daughters will grow to become women. They should be taught that God wants women to have long hair, thus young girls should also be trained to have long hair. Just as you want your girls to be modestly clothed, you should not want your daughters to have short hair. Your sons also should be taught to not have long hair for they too will become men one day. Do not sin against your child during their young and impressionable years!
A final point of caution is that a woman may employ her long hair to achieve sinful purposes. Solomon warns his son, “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, nor let her catch you with her eyelids” (Proverbs 6:25). Jesus warns of the danger of looking on a woman to lust for her and thus committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Pope wrote, “Fair tresses mans imperial race ensnare, and beauty draws us with a single hair.” Goethe added, “Beware of her fair locks, for when she winds them round a young mans neck, she will not set him free again.” Hairstyles that are specifically designed for seductive purposes may arouse lust in the heart of the man. A woman who thus displays her hair is likewise guilty of sin as she seeks to arise lust in the hearts of men (Luke 17:1-2).
Let the true follower of Christ seek modesty (1 Timothy 2:9), humility (1 Peter 5:5), and separation from the world (Romans 12:2). As we pursue this type of lifestyle, we will avoid the focus of the world on ungodly hairstyles so popular in our day. In the words of Scripture, “Do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:14-15). Let us display the love, simplicity, reverence, purity, and obedience to which we are called by our Holy God. Let us display Christ in thought, word, and deedand in our physical appearance!