1 Corinthians 11 and uncut hair
I had read it, but I didn’t process it. I didn’t study it. In the 5 years I had been Christian, I’d never heard a minister preach on hair length or even gender distinction at all. Several times I had read Corinthians without stopping to think on this issue. After all, it’s become so common in American culture for women to have short hair and men now having long hair that it’s easy to forget how many hundreds of years went by that this was unaccepted. Was the tradition of short hair for men and long hair for women cultural or biblical?
One of the first things I noticed when I was new to the Apostolic Pentecostal church was the women were all wearing skirts, dressed modestly, and their hair was usually long. Not only was it long, but it looked natural. No dye, no unnatural color, no highlights, no layers, no chopped appearance. I came to learn that for most of them their hair was uncut. Yes, they do not cut their hair. Traditionally, they do not even trim it.
I had never heard of any church or denomination teaching this. I certainly didn’t mind the look. I’ve always loved long hair. I’ve had short hair several times when I was younger, and I hated it. I prefer my hair hip length if I can get it to grow that long. All these women at church looked so beautiful. They looked so feminine, but in a different way. It wasn’t feminine in a worldly way with makeup and nails and accessories to strut a womanly look. It was deeper than that, purer than that. In a way, it fascinated me to see this whole group of people look like men and women used to. It felt like finding something of old that you don’t see often anymore.
But why did they all follow this way?
1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (NASB)
3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.
5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
6 For if a woman does not cover her head, have her also cut her hair off; however, if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, have her cover her head.
7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
10 Therefore the woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
12 For as the woman originated from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
14 Does even nature itself not teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her as a covering.
16 But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor have the churches of God.
Was this cultural? Verse 16 implies that it was not. “But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor have the churches of God.” To be contentious is to be argumentative or controversial. I take that as, ‘If you want to argue about this, we as a church don’t even have any practices.’ Of course, the churches had their practices and their way of life.
When I thought about it, hadn’t it always been tradition among Christians and Jews for there to be gender distinction with clothing and hair length? Perhaps, modern times are not the right gauge to use to measure what is acceptable to God.
I knew this was something I didn’t fully understand. I wanted to know. Was it okay that I cut my hair? Is trimming fine? Should it be uncut? Should it be natural? What do I do or what do I stop doing? I struggled to understand, especially with so little actually spoken on this topic.
To be honest, I struggled with this topic for years. My hair is thin and the ends get damaged easily. I was introduced to the idea of uncut hair in 2011, but I didn’t have conviction on it or real understanding. I grew my hair as long as I could, but would continue to trim the ends once or twice a year to make it healthier. Until recently, I spent all those years interpreting this that hair needed to be long but did not need to be uncut. Still, every time I would trim my hair I felt so conflicted on whether or not it was okay. It always bothered me so much to ‘need’ to trim my hair. I’d get all worked up about it. Every time I would revisit the issue.
Searching the internet was little help. There are so many opinion pieces out there saying things every which way. One thing that I found works for me is to look at different ways people interpret something and test that against scripture for a process of elimination. I’ve heard a lot of things when this topic comes up. Let’s take a look at 10 of them (aside from people who will distract by switching the topic).
This seems to be what most people do, but this is New Testament. So, I don’t see how it’s valid to say it’s not relevant.
2 Say it was cultural at the time, but give no explanation
This seemed to be the main reaction when I would bring up the topic with non-Apostolics. They said it was cultural, but they didn’t actually talk about the culture. They just thought that it wasn’t for us anymore.
3 Men having short hair and women having long hair is still relevant and something we need to follow.
This is in line with scripture.
4 It’s disgraceful for a woman to have her head shaved or her hair cut off.
Cut off short or cut at all? I would think it’d be hard to notice a little trim. Cut short though is certainly noticeable. For countless years, this was a disgrace. In the Old Testament, when a woman was taken captive they shaved her head. Even today despite the insanity of modern times, even the secular world finds it shocking when a woman shaves her head. Even the world knows long hair is glorious and feminine. What about short hair though? Cultural norm or biblical disgrace? It’s hard to make such judgment calls when we do not desire to control or offend. We have to make these decisions for ourselves.
5 Women need to have uncut hair.
I think this is where the confusion comes in. Does it need to be uncut or does it need to not be cut off as in cut short? We’re going to get into that more.
6 Women need to have a covering. Wear a head covering at least when praying.
There are some conservative churches that teach this: Amish, conservative Mennonite, other Plain societies, Orthodox, historically Catholic churches did as well. It seems more common in the Eastern world than the Western. However, verse 15 says that if a woman has long hair her hair is given to her as a covering.
7 A covering is needed for women, but their long hair counts as a covering.
This is in line with scripture. That also begs the question: Should women with short hair wear a covering?
8 This is only about praying or prophesying uncovered.
While that does technically fit, what about where it says long hair is a woman’s glory? Shouldn’t we always be ready to pray? I wouldn’t want to have to go get a head-covering to pray with if I can have a covering with me always.
9 This is about authority in the household. The man is the head of woman, and she should have a symbol of authority on her head.
I don’t know that I understand how this is a symbol of authority, but the scriptures are there. Still, how is saying this an excuse to not be obedient to this? There are some that say this is just for wives. I can see where they get that from verse 3, but the words chosen are men and women. It doesn’t say wives only. Besides, shouldn’t unmarried women be prepared to get married and look like a wife?
10 These verses are about shrine prostitutes. Shaved heads were for prostitutes. This was an issue in Corinth. The instruction is to not look like them.
I find this response particularly interesting. I’ve heard many people try to dispute women having uncut hair or requiring long hair by saying that these verses were about prostitutes. Let’s get into this one. At that time this was written to the Corinthians, there were pagan temple prostitutes that were distinguished by their shaved heads. It’s reported that some cultures also shaved a woman’s head as a punishment for adultery. Women of God were not to look like these women living a life of sexual sin. And when these prostitutes and pagans would come to believe in Jesus and come into the church, it was quick to see they were a convert because of their hair. So, they were instructed to wear a covering over their hair because being shorned was disgraceful. However, for the women with long hair no covering was needed because their long hair was given to them as a covering. And people use this as a reason to not have distinction. Wouldn’t that mean that the women of God had long hair? Wouldn’t that mean that the people following Jesus looked different than the pagans? They lived different. They looked different. I can’t help but wonder how this relates to modern times. When we’re studying the history of the church, it’s easy to think of things as way back then. Isn’t it the same thing now? Christians often live and look different than non-Christians. How often can you immediately recognize a new member to the church? Why? Because they look like the world, right? Back then the prostitutes were distinguished by their shaved heads. Think about it today. If someone comes into church looking like a prostitute looks in modern times, you know that they are a visitor or a new convert (and it’s great that they are there!). What happens? Gradually, their looks change along with their inner transformation. Now what would you think if one of those women who resembled a person living a life of sexual sin started prophesying? Most would hesitate to listen to someone who looked like that. If we live for the Lord and walk a lifestyle of holiness, we look different than those walking a lifestyle of sin. You can look right and live wrong, but if you live right and you look like you don’t how does that affect your witness? Should a person dressed disgracefully be leading the prayer group? No. (It’s not that they can’t have a heart for God, but they haven’t matured enough to lead if they are lacking in the basic fruits of holiness.) The principle behind this is not that different. We are called to be set apart. Those who follow Jesus should not dress or put together their appearance in a way that resembles those who live a life of sexual immorality.
Another thing I learned that goes along with this is in the Jewish Encyclopedia 6th edition on page 158 it says “Among women long hair is extolled as a mark of beauty (Cant. iv. 1, vii 6). A woman’s hair was never cut except as a sign of deep mourning or of degradation (Jer. vii. 29; comp. Deut. xxi. 12).” Given this history, it appears that uncut hair would have been the norm in the early church. Aren’t we continuing the faith and practices of the early church?
I’ve heard quite a few things over the years when this topic has come up. Many ignore or say it’s not relevant in our culture. Let me ask you this. Is our culture living for God right now? Are we a holy nation? A righteous people? Abstaining from sin and impurity? No. Should current culture be our measuring stick for what’s acceptable to God? No.
Let’s test these different interpretations. What fits scripture?
To cut off short or cut at all? That is the thing that I struggled with understanding. I will confess it was 11 years into being Apostolic before I really understood this. It wasn’t until researching for this blog that I learned more of the history and the language and finally felt like I had understanding. I’m being transparent here because this blog is about sharing my journey in coming to understand this aspect of the faith lifestyle. I don’t profess to be a professional minister. I simply share my faith and invite people to hear my faith journey.
Bible translations were a big factor in my confusion. Older translations including King James Version and the American Standard Version say “shaven” in verse 5 and “shorn or shaven” in verse 6. However, modern English translations talk about it being cut off or shaved.
King James Version
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
American Standard Version
But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.
New American Standard Version
But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, have her also cut her hair off; however, if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, have her cover her head.
But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head.
but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 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.
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
At this point, I would get confused with what translation is accurate. All the modern English ones I look at say to cut off. And I only pay attention to translations that are focused on literal translation. I avoid anything paraphrased or loosely phrase for phrase. Yet the older translations say shorn.
I am definitely a modern English gal. All these years I’ve been reading not to “cut off” our hair, and I had an image in my head of short hair that had been chopped. Perhaps, my mistake in that was the image that came to mind was an assumption more than an interpretation. The only way to cut hair is to cut some off. Cutting off an inch at the ‘dead ends’ is still cutting off.
Am I understanding what it means to be shorn? Some dictionaries list this as to cut short or nearly shave. Others define it simply as to cut. Common context is to compare is to shearing a sheep and cutting their hair short (taking off their covering). Is that an accurate comparison? How was the word used when these translations were written? To get to the bottom of a question when I feel bible translations are confusing, I go straight to the original. An interlinear bible is a great study tool. In the interlinear bible, it translates it to English as “disgraceful to a woman to be shorn or to be shaven let her cover her head”. In verse 6 when it says “to be shorn”, the Greek word is “keirasthai”. The listed Strong’s concordance 2751 lists “Keiro” as a verb defined as “to shear” with usage “I shear, cut the hair of”.
Merriam Webster defines shear as
1a: to cut off the hair from
1b: to cut or clip from someone or something
1d: to cut or trim with shears or a similar instrument
Interestingly, before scissors were called scissors they were called shears.
We could certainly split hairs on the controversy over whether it is supposed to be uncut or simply be long. We could talk about the what ifs. What if somebody’s hair hits the floor? What if somebody’s hair won’t grow? What if they have health issues that make their hair fall out? What if their hair is thin? What if the ends are damaged? What if it doesn’t look as good as it would if you cut it?
Okay. Those are valid questions. Do they matter though? You need to refine your idea of beauty. The world convinces you that women need a fresh cut, a new color, a bold look. They train you to think that your hair must not have split ends (even though the ends of hair will split no matter what). A chopped straight across is beauty agenda is not the same thing as godly beauty. Natural hair is beautiful. Long hair is beautiful. There is a feminine elegance that takes years of dedication to achieve. Uncut hair has a different kind of beauty to it.
We each have to decide for ourselves how we interpret this and what we will follow. As for me, I think it’s still an instruction for us. If the bible says we aren’t to be shorned and shorn means to shear and shear means to cut, should we cut it? I won’t argue that it could mean to cut short. I agree that cutting short is disobedient to this scripture. Nevertheless, to shear technically means to cut (period) regardless of the context we usually use it in. So, I don’t want to. I want long hair. I want glorious hair. I want the covering. I want to be obedient to scripture the best I understand it. I interpret this as I, as a woman professing holiness, need to have uncut hair and however long it grows is up to the Lord.
And that is why Apostolic Pentecostal women do not cut their hair.
This is something that as women we each have to figure out what it means and what we are going to do about how we interpret it. I share this blog because it was a hard topic for me, and I know there are women searching the internet for this topic as I was for so many years. I invite you to consider these things and take time to think on it, pray about it, and genuinely seek the Lord on the matter. We all take time to grow. I feel like it’s unfortunate that it took me 11 years to understand what could have taken a day if someone had taken the time to really explain this matter. I hope this blog is enough to teach you that you don’t spend a decade feeling conflicted or going back and forth.
If you are a seasoned saint in the faith, I nudge you to bring up the topic with the newer in Christ and open a discussion on these scriptures.
If you have any questions, you are welcome to comment on the blog. Questions are always welcome; answers are always honest.
www.biblegateway.com to look at different scriptures
https://biblehub.com/interlinear/1_corinthians/11.htm for the interlinear of 1 Corinthians 11
https://biblehub.com/greek/keirasthai_2751.htm The Greek word for “to be shorn”
https://biblehub.com/greek/2751.htm Strong’s concordance for shorn
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shear Webster’s definition of shear
https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/singular-of-scissors Scissors used to be called shears
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Jewish_Encyclopedia_Volume_6.pdf Jewish encyclopedia referencing women’s uncut hair on page 158 (169 in the PDF)
Thank you so much for sharing this post. I was in my home church (an apostolic Pentecostal church) as a child, and I never really got back in until after my first year of college. After about a year of striving to be obedient to the Lord and his word, I receive the Holy Ghost (about 7 months ago)! I wanted to say that I also went through the same process of wanting to take care of your hair because a woman’s hair is her glory! I would see internet stuff about how if you trim your hair, it would help it grow, which sounded great to me, because I felt the need to make “catch up” with other women (which was wrong to compare and my hair was already somewhat short at the time). But every time I would trim my hair I would STRUGGLE.. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was feeling was conviction. When doing some research I came across a video that pointed out the translation to mean “uncut.” I felt that was the Lord confirming me that I wasn’t supposed to cut my hair.
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