Bad Hair Day

I have been arguing with nlj21 in another place. I must tell you that God gets quite irate about women with short hair, and about men with long hair (but beards are OK). My burden to see that the Scriptures are obeyed in this matter has caused me to seek a wider audience for my views, namely the countless tens of people who will read this. I may also look at establishing if someone hasn’t already pinched it. Let us examine the matter:

<lj-cut text=”Grab your hermeneutics and exegete!”>
Our discussion started with an explanation of the Christian doctrine that a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ does over the church, as explained in Ephesians 5:22-25. Compare this with 1 Cor 11:1-3, where the Apostle Paul draws a similar relation between Christ, men and women, again using the analogy of a head (the same word for head is used in the Greek throughout, as you can verify at Blue Letter Bible).

Now, the Apostle’s argument the rest of the passage is not merely about marriage, but about hair. In the key verses 14 and 15 he writes: Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? (NIV), a rhetorical question which clearly expects the answer “Yes”, given the context.

We find a similar argument for the unnaturalness of homosexuality in Romans 1:27. We can see that when Paul argues from nature, his mind is on the divinely created order (here, he perhaps recalls Genesis 2:24).

Some might argue that this teaching on hair reflects Paul’s cultural background. However, the fact that Paul wishes us to consider the created order is made even clearer in a similar passage, 1 Tim 2:11-15, where Paul again writes about male authority, this time in leadership of the church. As others have also argued, when Paul writes that I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent, he writes not merely of his culture but of the created order, as 1 Tim 2:13 makes clear.

Returning to 1 Corinthians 11, we see that Paul again argues from the created order, in verses 8 and 9: For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (NIV again). Therefore this teaching (and the related implication about the importance of women wearing a hat or other head covering while praying) cannot be taken to be cultural.

What about the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6, which seems to show divine approval of long hair for men? This is a hard passage to understand, but let us concentrate on four points. Firstly, the vow was temporary, and does not sanction Christians who habitually sin by having long hair (or short hair if they are women). Secondly, the vow was an Old Testament sacrifice of a kind which is no longer required of Christians (q.v. most of the book of Hebrews). Thirdly, note that the eventual cutting off of the hair was pleasing to God. Fourthly, Numbers 6 in no way sanctions short hair for women.

To return from this somewhat technical digression, it is clear that Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 is that long hair on men and short hair on women goes against the divinely created order.

Some might dispute the importance of this passage, given that Scripture does not mention God’s concern with hair elsewhere, but I would remind them that, as Paul writes in 2 Tim 3:16, all Scripture is God-breathed (NIV). Christians cannot pick and choose in these matters.

It is my hope that Bible-believing Christians will take this teaching seriously and act to remove the evil of bad hair in their churches, though this is probably somewhat forlorn as hair isn’t as exciting as bondage or buggery.

So say we all.

12 Comments on "Bad Hair Day"

  1. Oh good. I’m glad you posted it here, as was feeling slightly reluctant to thrust such arguements into journals of others where they might not be wanted! Here are more of my thoughts:

    I don’t think that just because the same sort of words are used means that that Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? is an arguement from creation. As you observe, in other examples you cite there are instances in the Genesis creation account which the arguement is being linked to.

    I can think of nothing in Genesis about hair length which Paul could be refering to, which would suggest to me the statement is not appealing to creation. Without this I do not think we can say the arguement are similar. Just because they feature similar words does not make the arguements the same.

    Verses 8 and 9 would appear to me to be a creation justification for authority rather than hair length. The hair length being linked in as a cultural application of that authority.

    I disagree with your comments about Nazarites: The vow was not always temporary (as lisekit comments: Samson. Nazarite from birth). Points about OT sacrifices miss the point, as the purpose of bringing Nazarites into the arguement is that it would appear to contradict a creation ordinance against long-hair for men. Surely Paul would be aware of this, so again would make it unlikely he is appealing to creation for long-hair for men. Again (re: short hair for women) I am not looking to such passages to endorse long/short hair, but to help us understand how we should interpret the Corinthians passage.


    1. I agree that there’s nothing mentioned directly in the Genesis account which supports this, however, 1 Cor 11 links it to the created order of authority, in the same sort of way as Paul’s teaching that women should not speak in the church does. Paul argues that men have authority over women, and therefore women ought to have a sign of this authority in the form of a head covering in church. He then argues that the woman’s need for a head covering stems from the very fact that to have short hair would be a disgrace to her (v. 5).

      Samson does present a problem, I suppose (though I’m not sure Samson the Suicide Bomber is a great example for Christians, he’s clearly approved by an inerrantist reading of the Bible, since we’re told the Spirit was with him). That said, it still seems that the Nazarites are exceptional, and that long hair for men is not the norm.

      Of course, if I wasn’t gunning quite so hard for the reductio here, I’d say that what Paul intends is that women should be submissive to men (Paul’s aim is broader than just husbands and wives) and that men should dress in a manly way and women in a womanly one.

      Actually, that’s probably enough make inerrancy sound absurd in and of itself, I’d’ve thought. I downloaded the MP3 of a sermon on this passage from StAG’s site, and found poor CJ Davis, a man of integrity and decency if ever I met one, struggling to find something to say about 1 Cor 11 (in what sounds like a guest service), a passage he’s clearly not comfortable with himself, without making evangelicalism sound barkingly misogynistic. I’m not sure he entirely succeeds.


      1. Reading your first paragraph it sounds like you are agreeing with me? If I’ve understood what you are saying in “Paul argues that men have authority over women, and therefore women ought to have a sign of this authority in the form of a head covering in church.” you are agreeing that the head covering is not derived directly from creation, but is derived from the authority. If that is the case, combined with the abscence of other teachings supporting moral absolutes about hair length, then I think that is grounds to consider the head covering a cultural application of the creation principle rather than a moral absolute.

        I agree the aim is broader that just husband and wives; the passage is clearly talking about authority in the church also. I don’t think we can broaden it further than that though.

        I disagree with you linking evangelical teaching with misogyny. It is a complete misrepresentation to suggest that the evangelical view leads to the a hatred of women. Although I will agree that such a view of marriage in the abscence of the rest of the Bible’s teaching (eg. husbands love your wives) can lead to misogyny. There are a number of studies (in the US) which show that the wives of men who regularly attend traditional Protestant churches with a convervative theology are less likely to suffer domestic abuse that those outside the church living in an egalitarian marriage. Whereas those living in a traditional marriage (ie. with male authority) outside of the church are the most likely to suffer abuse (10.7% in the last year if I remember correctly).


        1. What do those studies say about men in other sorts of churches? From the data you’ve given so far, the most natural conclusion seems to be that a notion of “male authority” promotes abuse, but that other features of conservative Christianity have a stronger countervailing effect. It would be interesting to know what happens with varieties of Christianity that lay less emphasis on male authority. ‘Course, they tend to differ from conservative Protestantism in all sorts of other ways too…


          1. Unfortunately I can’t answer that question as the book I’m grabbing my stats from doesn’t give it. But its references might:

            W Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004)

            Ellison, Bartkowski, and Anderson, “Are There Religious Variations in Domestic Violence?”

            Annis and Rice, “A Survey of Abuse Prevalence in the Christian Reformed Church”

            If I get time I’ll try to get my hands on some of them and let you know if they answer your question.

            Having said that, on the basis of other books I’ve read, I suspect the greatest statisical correlation you will find will not be with what doctrines people subscribe to in questionnaires, or with the sort of churches people attend, but with the level of involvement and social connectedness in the church they attend. (The reasoning being that when people are in social contact with each other they watch over each other which discourages each other from doing bad things).

            There are statistics which show that attendance of church activities is higher among Evangelicals that other mainline Protestant denominations.


        2. I think that is grounds to consider the head covering a cultural application of the creation principle rather than a moral absolute.

          My Biblical sensibilities were formed at StAG and CICCU, so if I’m going to pretend to be an evangelical, I’d find the sort of explanation that CJ proposes more sensible than a straight reading of the text. Although it raises more questions than it answers, doesn’t it? It’s all very well for CJ to say that God would have made it clearer if he’d wanted Christians to know what Paul was on about, but then we’re left with a teaching, which (Paul says) is to be absolutely obeyed in all churches, if only someone actually knew what it meant.

          Nevertheless, you will find Christians whose reading of this passage is the same as the more literal viewpoint I adopted, and if I really wanted, I’m sure I could go on from that viewpoint (dispensationalism looks like fertile ground for doing away with objections about Samson, for example). However, that’s not really what I’m about here.

          As indicate in the penultimate paragraph, there’s some selectivity about how literally or how strictly things are read. This selectivity is a political choice. That’s my point. I say evangelicalism has institutionalised hypocrisy (which I think is different from the obvious point that not all Christians are very nice people).

          I disagree with you linking evangelical teaching with misogyny. It is a complete misrepresentation to suggest that the evangelical view leads to the a hatred of women

          I don’t think the evangelicals I know are misogynistic, although obviously I haven’t experienced evangelicalism as a woman, so I don’t know for sure how women find it. I do recall some women being critical of the “there, there, little girl” approach of evangelical churches.

          What I do think is that Paul’s teaching lends itself to the re-inforcement of sexist attitudes to women. If evangelicals have avoided such things, I wonder how much they owe to the improvements in the rights of women in the surrounding culture.

          CJ’s use of words like “unpalatable” shows that he’s aware of how what he’s saying sounds to someone who is not already sympathetic to Christianity, or someone who knows that Christian men are more or less like everyone else, and don’t tend to mistreat women they love any more than anyone else does. I know that most evangelicals I’ve met don’t want to turn this country into The Handmaid’s Tale, but someone hearing Paul preached could be forgiven if they thought so.


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