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Q: Would you please explain 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (instructing men to wear short hair, and women to wear long hair), especially in light of the fact that some of God's male servants did not cut their hair. Didn't Jesus Christ wear long hair, too?

A: In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul sets forth the timeless principles of proper hairstyle and hair length for men and women. After explaining in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that the Head of Christ is God the Father, the Head of a man is Christ, and the head of the woman (wife) is the man (husband), Paul continues: “(verse 4) Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. (verse 5) But every woman who prays or prophecies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. (verse 6) For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. (verse 7) For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God… (verse 10) For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels… (verse 13) Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (verse 14) Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? (verse 15) But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.”

The context of the Scripture discusses the length of hair — not the wearing of a veil or of a hat (There is, however, nothing wrong in God’s eyes for a woman to wear a veil or a hat, if she so desires, following the culture of her upbringing). We read that a woman should wear long hair, which is given to her “as a covering” or, as some translations render this, “as a veil.” The Church of the Eternal God and its sister churches are not going to engage in a “yard-stick religion” of defining and regulating how long and how short hair should be worn. However, the following Biblical principles are helpful:

We read that a woman should have “long hair” as a covering, as distinguished from an “uncovered” head, a “shaved” head, or a “shorn” head. A “shorn” head pictures very short hair. One might think of the analogy of a “shorn” sheep. In Acts 8:32, the Greek word for “shorn” — “keiro” — is applied to a “shearer” engaged in shearing his sheep. A “shaved” head describes a bald head. In contrast, a woman should wear “long hair,” showing that she accepts the authority of her husband over her, “because of the angels.” The thought is conveyed here that a wife cannot rely on angelic protection, if she shows through her conduct that she does not accept the God-given authority of her husband over her. (This is not to say, however, that a husband should ever abuse his authority. Our free booklet, “The Keys to Happy Marriages and Families,” explains the God-ordained husband-and-wife-relationship in much detail.)

At the same time, we are told that a man is not to wear “long hair,” and that even nature teaches us that wearing long hear is a “dishonor” to a man. The Greek word for “dishonor” is “atimia.” This word, or a related form (“atimos”), can be found in the following additional passages: Romans 9:21; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 2 Corinthians 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:20; 2 Corinthians 11:21 (translated as “shame”); and Romans 1:26 (translated as “vile”). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance points out that “atimia” can describe a comparative indignity or disgrace (under No. 819). The related word, “atimos,” can describe something “less honorable [comparative degree]” (under No. 820).

Please note that the word for “shameful” in verse 6 (“But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved…”) is a different word in the Greek. It is “aischron” (derived from “aischros”) and can also be found in 1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:12; and Titus 1:11 (translated as “dishonest”). (The noun, “aischrotes,” is found in Ephesians 5:4 — translated, “filthiness.”) Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines these words as “a shameful thing, i.e. indecorum:–shame,” and as “shameful, i.e. base (spec. venal):– filthy” (under Nos. 149 and 150).

The reason for the different choice of words may be seen in the fact that the Old Testament permitted a man on special occasions to wear long hair. This exception is set forth in Numbers 6, known as “the Law of the Nazarite.” Men were permitted to make a temporary “Nazarite vow” to God. During the time of their vow, a Nazarite was not to cut his hair, but let “the locks of the hair of his head grow” (verse 5). In addition, he was not to touch a dead person, eat any fresh grapes or raisins, or drink anything made from grapes, including wine. This law was inseparably connected with the ritual law of sacrifices: At the end of the separation, the Nazarite had to bring several offerings, and he had to go through additional rituals before the priest.

The long hair of the Nazarite vow reflected, in physical terms, the willingness of the person to be under authority — under the authority of God. Sometimes, certain people were consecrated from their birth as Nazarites, to be separated to God throughout their lives. Famous examples are Samson (Judges 13:5,7); Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11); and — perhaps — John the Baptist (Luke 1:15; Luke 7:33).

Jesus, however, was not a Nazarite. He grew up in the city of Nazareth and was therefore called a “Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23) — which is of course quite different from being a Nazarite. Christ drank wine (Matthew 11:19; Matthew 26:29), and He touched dead people (Luke 8:49-55) — things a Nazarite was prohibited from doing. Archaeology and history have established that the Jews at the time of Christ did not wear long hair. Jesus did not wear long hair, either. He looked like a Jew — so much so that Judas had to kiss Him to identify Him to the soldiers that had come to arrest Him. After all, it was He — the Word of God — who inspired Paul to write that a man is not to wear long hair. For Paul, this fact was so self-evident that he asked his readers, “Does not even nature itself teach you” this truth? (1 Corinthians 11:14).

In the early New Testament church, we do find occasional references to some who continued on occasion to make a temporary Nazarite vow (compare Acts 21:23-24, 26-27). It is possible that even Paul made a temporary Nazarite vow for a short time (compare Acts 18:18. Incidentally, the word for “shorn,” i.e. “keiro,” is the same as used in 1 Corinthians 11:6). However, these vows ceased within the church when the temple was destroyed, as the purification ceremonies could not be carried out any longer.

Today, the rules and regulations pertaining to a Nazarite vow are no longer of any consequence for us. We are rather to follow the clear principles given in 1 Corinthians 11 — that a woman should not wear her hair as to look like a man, and a man should not wear his hair as to look like a woman. If one cannot tell, by just looking at hair styles and hair lengths, whether a person is a male or a female, then the clear guidelines set forth in 1 Corinthians 11 have not been followed.