So guess what? This post is about hair in I Corinthians 11.
Please bless it, Lord Jesus, to the glory of your name.
We open this brief study of hair in I Corinthians 11:4-15 by quoting verses 14 and 15. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman wears long hair it is a glory to her?” These are the key verses in our study. We’ll get to them shortly.
To begin, length of hair, as such, is not an issue for women in this passage on head coverings and hair in I Corinthians 11. However. It is for men. We will see this soon.
Paul says in verse 4 that men are not to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy.
When they operate heavy equipment. Yes. Then they should cover their heads.
But let’s begin by talking about a woman’s hair.
Shaving and shearing
As I said. The central issue in this passage is not the length of a woman’s hair, but that her head is covered when she prays or prophesies. To have her head uncovered, Paul says (vv. 5,6), is one and the same with the woman who is shaved. So if a woman’s head is not covered, let her be shorn. But if it is a shame to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. Paul is simply drawing logical conclusions. The Corinthian believers would understand this. May the Spirit give us an understanding of its meaning for us today. And its relationship to submission. For that is the lesson. As well as roles. There are God-given roles for men and women.
It is not the aim of this post to address the subject of women’s head coverings.
So, having summarized verses 5 and 6. . .
Notice. Shaving and shearing in these verses are not meant in the simple sense of “cutting” one’s hair, as when a woman styles her hair. But in a sense that brings shame. For a woman to be shaved brings obvious shame socially. But to be shorn can also be shameful. Why? A fundamental meaning of the word is the shearing sheep experience (see Acts 8:32). Anyone who has witnessed it knows it’s not a pretty sight. For a sheep, a shearing is more or less a shave. Sometimes they even bleed. A sheep doesn’t usually have a reason to feel all that pretty when it runs from its pile of wool. It’s a humbling experience. Fantine in Les Miserables resembles a shorn sheep after she sells her hair. It is not attractive.
The two words “shaved” and “shorn” are used by Paul in a way that is closely related, nearly to the point of being interchangeable. They are actually very similar and in this case, both relate to shame, not a haircut.
Now to verse 14. I told you this would be brief. I know. This is about as brief as it gets!
Wearing long hair
We are continuing our theme: hair in I Corinthians 11.
In verse 14 we read, “Does not nature itself teach you?” So, what do you think? Does the absence of a Scriptural measuring line for a man’s hair length justify a casual disregard for what Paul says? Think of it in another way. If we cannot determine how long long hair is, does that mean nature has nothing to teach us? It seems unlikely. Unfortunately for nature, it can’t write any books on the subject. But, even so. Paul says it does teach us. Evidently, the lesson it gives us is not incomprehensible. Therefore. We have no excuse if we ignore it.
So watch out! The words “Does not” will not tolerate an inarticulate response. It is no time for stammering or stuttering. They anticipate the kind of answer a drill sergeant looks for.
“Does not nature itself teach you?” Yes, Paul! It does! Even though no one has offered me a measuring line for hair. Perhaps its tone is more restrained. “Day to day utters speech, and night to night shows knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”
Paul says nature teaches us in a present, continuous sense. The teaching is “timeless,” unrelated to culture or historical practices. And it is non-stop.
“. . .that if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him.” He is not breaking or ignoring a legal code when he wears long hair. So, you are not “freeing yourself from legalism” or becoming a beacon of “grace” when you wear long hair. That is not the point. The point? It is dishonorable for a man. In case you missed that. These are not my words. Their address is I Corinthians 11:14. I know. Some cultures don’t look at it that way. But it is not our custom to sidestep the Word of God in favor of a cultural practice if the two are at odds. Culture and social custom are not a measuring line for us. Unless they are in agreement with the Word.
I’m aware of the Spartans and the “military prowess” associated with long hair on men. (This is no reason to hang up posters of Spartans.) And long-haired hunks in movies who break down doors. And Absalom and Samson (and Nazarites in general) who actually show us it is not a normal thing for men to wear long hair (it is an exception) and that it has its pitfalls. But isn’t there more? It seems convenient for advocates of long hair on men not to mention the fact that when a Nazarite’s vow was complete, and the days of his separation were fulfilled, he shaved his head: i.e. he cut his hair (Num. 6; cf. Acts 18:18; 21:23,24). Even Absalom cut his hair once a year (II Sam. 14:26). What does this teach us? Men aren’t meant to wear long hair all the time.
I’m aware of Alexander the Great, Louis XIV, Charles V. And the “long hair” CDs I enjoy. From Beethoven to metal. The little rascal ran into a hole! (I’ve gotten off on a rabbit trail.)
I once had long hair myself and admired it on men. But I admired it more on girls! 🙂
Jesus knows I’m concerned most of all about the casual disregard some pastors give for the Word of God in this verse when they speak about it in a sermon. (It can, in fact, be “tossed in a wastebasket.” Dismissed, offhand.) But it is no surprise. Some of them have long hair.
But how can someone teach and at the same time live in opposition to the Word of God? To say by their actions that the Word they teach has no authority over them: to make it unclear who they are following. And who we should follow. And not even bother to explain what Paul is saying. I hope we realize. . . Paul is not just filling space on a page in our Bible with these words. God’s Holy Spirit gave them to us. Should we just ignore them?
Jesus alone knows our hearts. And these men are still my brothers whom I love.
Paul’s question continues. Verse 15.
“A woman on the other hand. . .” So we have a contrast.
“If she wears long hair, is it not a glory to her?” Paul is expecting the same affirmative response here. Also, notice. “If” suggests that it is a choice and that not all women wear long hair. There is no actual command here for a woman to wear long hair. But “if” she does, it will be a glory to her. It is a natural endowment to make her more beautiful. The benefits are good. To a man long hair brings dishonor. But to a woman it brings glory. And it is a glory largely meant for men to enjoy. And an endowment, a covering, showing her submission. That is for the benefit of angels (v. 10).
So. A significant part of a woman’s glory is her hair.
Speaking of which. The word “hair” in verse 15, “her hair is given to her in the place of a covering,” is a simple reference to her head of hair. Nothing surprising there. The notion of length is only secondary or suggested (Thayer). A woman’s hair is an ornament (also Thayer). It can be modified by cutting and/or styling to enhance its appeal. Why is that? Because a woman, unlike a man, “wears” her hair, in the true sense of the word. Therefore every woman’s hair is meant to be an ornament. Its relative length does not change that.
So for now at least. That’s all I have to say about hair in I Corinthians 11.
(But there is more about this subject in Disregard for the Word of God [also in the link above] which I wrote near the end of 2019.)
May our Lord Jesus, through His Spirit, give you understanding. God bless.
© James Unruh 2018 and beyond