Does the Bible teach that women shouldn’t cut their hair and that God requires a woman’s hair to be long? My wife and I were discussing this today.

Now as a point of clarification, I have encountered a lot of people over the years who interpret Scripture this way who I believe are Christians. It’s not that I am judging their salvation or their intentions. I simply cannot go along with an interpretation of Scripture that has so many problematic issues! Why? Simple…

This is a hermeneutical disaster! Yet there are entire denominations and churches that read Scripture in the same way and come to the same conclusions. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous way of misreading the Bible.

The main passage that leads people to believe that the length of a woman’s hair is a matter of theological importance is from the apostle Paul’s 1 Corinthians. For example, Paul writes,

” For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head… Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.” (1 Cor. 11:6, 14-15)

At first glance, it may seem obvious that Paul clearly believed that women with short hair were disgraceful. But is that really what Paul was attempting to communicate? I think not. In fact, I think that suggesting that Paul is concerned with the length of a woman’s hair is to completely miss the point of this passage.

I’m not sure how Paul’s statement that a woman’s long hair is her glory gets transformed to “long hair equates to glorifying God.” It’s simply not what Paul says. The apostle is discussing the issue of head coverings and is actually stating that even though the women in the ancient world had longer hair, which was their glory, they needed a head covering. This is the point. It has nothing to do with Paul teaching that women were required to have long hair. His observations about the reaction in the 1st century to women with shaved heads is simply an indication of what was normative in that time period. It’s not an imperative that transcends all time and all cultures. Again, to make this passage about hair length is to miss the entire point of the text. Garland makes this clear when he writes,

“That he specifically mentions hair in these verses does not mean that hair has been the topic throughout this section… It is brought up only as a final illustration as to why women should have a cover but men should not.” (1 Corinthians, 530; cf. )

I know of no NT scholars who suggest otherwise. Fee, the world class Pentecostal NT scholar writes,

“Most likely, therefore, just as in vv. 5b-6, Paul is arguing by analogy that since women have by “nature” been given long hair as a covering, that in itself points to their need to be “covered” when praying and prophesying.” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 529)

The simple fact of the matter is that nowhere does the Bible give an explicit commandment that women are required to have long hair because a woman’s hair length is directly related to whether they are glorifying God or not. To use Scripture to “teach” that concept is to completely misread and misinterpret the Bible. As the often referenced quote goes, if you take a text out of context, it becomes a pretext. If you take a verse of the Bible and rip it from the author’s intended meaning, it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

Now, this does not mean that a woman’s hair length (or a man’s hair length) doesn’t matter. On the contrary, it can matter greatly. However, the issue is not as simple as saying that “men must have short hair” and “women must have long hair.” No, that is to completely misread the text. So what’s a better way to understand how we approach hair length? Blomberg helpfully writes,

“Careful attention to the nature of Paul’s argumentation in this passage supports these consensus views. When he speaks explicitly of length of hair, he grounds his arguments in what is proper (v. 13), normal practice (vv. 14–15) and contemporary custom (v. 16). None of these verses, as we have seen in the discussion of original meaning, implies a timeless, transcultural mandate, even if the customs were widespread in the first century and have often been imitated in other cultures and eras. When Paul does ground his commands in the order and purpose of creation (vv. 8–9), he does so to support his statements that husbands are the image and glory of God and that wives are the glory of their husbands (v. 7). When in a particular culture, appropriate honor to God and husband cannot be maintained without certain head coverings, such coverings must be used. When covered or uncovered heads and long or short hair imply nothing about one’s religious commitment or marital faithfulness, worrying about the appearance of one’s physical head in these ways becomes unnecessary.” (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, 215, emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? Those who suggest that the length of a woman’s hair is directly related to an issue of obedience to Scripture need to demonstrate that the surrounding culture shares the same concerns. Yet in the surrounding culture where this conversation took place, the length of a woman’s hair is not viewed as having anything to do with whether she is submissive to God or submissive to her husband (if she is married) or submissive to the authorities that she may or may not have.

In the ancient world of Paul’s day, hair length had a bearing. Yet there are radical differences between the culture of 1st century Corinth and northwestern Wisconsin… radical differences.

Here are questions I have for those who suggest that Christian women are biblically required to have long hair:

  • Just how long is long enough? Must it be to the middle of the back? Or must it never ever be cut? What is the appropriate length, and how is that determined? What Scriptures give that length?
  • The Bible can also be read in a way that would require women to never wear gold because both Paul and Peter state that women should not wear gold (1 Tim. 2:9; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3). Yet the vast majority of those who state that women are required to have long hair tend to also have wedding rings, often made of gold. Why must the cultural requirements that may or may not have existed in 1 Corinthians 11 still stand, yet the “biblical” requirements of 1 Tim. 2:9 and 1 Pet. 3:3 may be ignored? Who gets to decide which cultural standards still matter? And how does one reach that conclusion?
  • In the same passage where some suggest that Paul says that long hair equates to women glorifying God, he also states that “every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Cor. 11:5). I have also observed that many of these same people who state that women with short hair are disobeying Scripture rarely wear head coverings (hats?) during public worship gatherings. Why? Because that was “cultural” and women in America aren’t required to wear a head covering anymore. Hmmm. Sounds like selective biblical interpretation to me!

There are many other issues with this type of biblical interpretation. I simply see it as completely misunderstanding and misapplying Paul’s intended meaning.

What do you think?

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