What are the biblical principles regarding hair length and dress for men and women?


In last week’s Q&A, we addressed some general principles regarding the kinds of clothing and style that should be worn. We emphasized the importance of right balance and modesty.

Paul also instructed the Church of God regarding the length of hair that both men and women should wear:

“Judge among 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. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:13-16).

We can derive from these guidelines that men and women should appear differently in hairstyles. God permits differences in length of hair, and we note that varieties occur in hair color and texture among people. Some men will wear very short hair while others will have fuller styles; the same might be true, to an extent, for women. The key for falling within the guidelines instituted by God in His Word is for men to avoid having female type hairstyles and for women to maintain a proper length to serve as a covering and as an unmistakable woman-like appearance.

We discussed the issue of hair style in a previous Q&A. We are quoting the following pertinent portions:

“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…’

“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’ [1 Corinthians 11:15] or, as some translations render this, ‘as a veil’…

“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… A ‘shaved’ head describes a bald head. In contrast, a woman should wear ‘long hair’…

“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 hair is a ‘dishonor’ to a man.”

On this subject, we note and utterly reject the false image that has been promoted as the likeness of Jesus Christ. Not only does this contradict the teaching by Paul against men having long, feminine appearing hair, it violates the clear command against making any image representative of God as found in the Ten Commandments!

Some teach that Jesus was a Nazirite and that He was therefore permitted to wear long hair. This teaching is false. We have addressed this issue in much detail in a previous Q&A. The following excerpts should be helpful in this context:

“Jesus was called a Nazarene, because He lived and grew up in the city of Nazareth. He was not a ‘Nazirite.’ The sixth chapter of the book of Numbers describes the law of the ‘Nazirites.’ Those who took the vow of a Nazirite did not cut their hair, but they were also prohibited from drinking any wine or touching a dead body (Numbers 6:4-6). Christ, however, did drink wine (Luke 22:14-18; Matthew 11:19), and He did touch dead bodies (Luke 8:51-55).

“If Christ had been a Nazirite, He would have broken His vow and thereby violated one of God’s laws. But He said that He had kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10), including all ritual laws still in force and effect at His time, and we read that He never sinned. The Bible defines sin, however, as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4, Authorized Version). Therefore, Christ could NOT have been a Nazirite.

“Christ was a Jew, and He looked like an ordinary Jewish man, without special beauty in appearance (compare Isaiah 53:2). Judas had to identify Him to others with a kiss. He was able to escape on occasion, by mingling with the crowd and going ‘through the midst of them’ (Luke 4:30; John 8:59). Apart from the Bible, archeology and history also confirm as well that the Jews at the time of Christ did not wear long hair. Christ, therefore, did not either–otherwise, He would have stood out in a crowd, and a special identification through Judas would not have been necessary.”

In reviewing hair length and hair style of men and women, we conclude, based on biblical principles, that one should be able to determine the gender of a person at first sight. To put it bluntly: A man should look like a man, and a woman should look like a woman. The difference should be recognizable based on outward appearance. When the length or style of hair, all by itself, does not allow to make that determination, then the particular hair style or hair length would need to be modified.

In addition, we must consider more of what God specifically instructs concerning how we ought to wear our hair, and how we ought to dress.

Our hair style should be “normal.” It should be viewed by the overwhelming majority of society as “acceptable,” rather than as outlandish. Somebody who colors his or her hair in such a way that he or she looks like a circus clown places him- or herself within the fringes of society. During the Hippie-culture of the 1960s, young men would wear long hair, but this was never accepted by the majority of our Western society. Parents might have grudgingly “given in” to their “rebellious” sons, but they never liked it. Today, a man with long hair is normally looked upon as “different.” The types of hairstyle propagated today by the MTV generation, with hair sticking out like that of a porcupine, or uncombed, giving a sloppy appearance, or hair which is just too long for a man, is simply not in line with how a Christian man should appear in public. This would also include wearing an uncultivated beard or not shaving for several days (unless it is for the purpose of wearing a well-trimmed acceptable beard).

Regarding dress, in Deuteronomy 22:5, we have this admonition: “’A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God.’”

In recent years the design of clothing worn by women has come to include the wearing of pants and pantsuits. While some believe that this type of apparel crosses the line and violates God’s instructions, the designs of these types of garments are, for the most part, gender-specific. That is, women’s pantsuits are designed for the female anatomy. However, even in this circumstance, care must be taken to purchase appropriate garments that clearly compliment a feminine appearance.

Further questions have arisen concerning whether these kinds of pantsuits should be worn in services conducted by the Church of God. In the spirit of what God states in Deuteronomy 22, verse 5, we find no reason to recommend that pantsuits not be worn—specifically, because they are designed for women and not men. However, it would not be advisable to wear pantsuits in Church services all the time, to the exclusion of wearing appropriate dresses. We might note that in ancient times the apparel of men and women had similar looks, but they had unique characteristics that identified with the gender of the wearer.

Regarding men, in our Western world, this would include wearing a suit and a tie for Church services (or a nice combination of jacket, tie and pants). In other parts of the world, different attire might be appropriate, but it is always important that it is in line with the desire to honor God and our fellow brethren by how we dress. Attending Church services in jeans and open shirt is disrespectful to God and simply not acceptable in His eyes.

We are addressing those who are members of the Church of God, and we are specifically offering guidelines to help us all set a right example. However, as in all matters of Christian growth, we must be patient with each other–particularly with those who are new to the faith (compare James 2:1-9).

Finally, we have this instruction from the Word of God:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:12-17).

Lead Writers: Norbert Link and Dave Harris

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