Is short hair a sin for a woman?

Is short hair a sin for a woman?

Continuing on with our verse by verse discussion through the section of 1 Corinthians 11 about women, we come to verse 13:

1Co 11:13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Paul is asking the Corinthians now to make a judgment call regarding the evidence that he has brought them. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? What evidence has Paul brought that should cause the Corinthians to say “yes”?

1. Paul says that the woman is the glory of the man. Glory is never to be hidden from view. When Moses went in to speak with God, his face shone forth with the glory of God. Exodus 34:35 shows that Moses did not hide the glory of God from the Israelites.

Exodus 34:35 …the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone

It wasn’t until the glory was fading away that Moses would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not see the fading of the glory.

2 Corinthians 3:13 …and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.

Jesus said that our light was not meant to be hidden:

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see you good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

We are meant to shine forth God’s glory and that glory is not to be hidden. Also Moses himself took off his veil when he was in the presence of God. Is this not a powerful argument that women who are also the glory of God should also be unveiled when they come before God in worship?

2. Paul said that the woman has authority over her head (1 Cor. 11:10). If she has the authority and the right to make a decision regarding her own head, then is it not also right for her to make the decision to uncover in worship as she comes before God?

3. If the man has the preeminence in the creation and the woman has the preeminence since the creation, wouldn’t their interdependent equality make them equal in worship before their maker? Why would must one be forced to cover their glory while the other must uncover their glory? Shouldn’t the man and the woman both uncover their glory before God? Also if we interpret Paul’s writing to say that a woman must cover herself in coming before God, then how can we say that men and women are equal before God?

Paul has carefully crafted his argument concerning the issue of glory by showing that women too have glory. Glory is always to be uncovered. Where does God ever tell us to cover up the glory? He doesn’t.

Next Paul appeals to the fact that a woman has the right to made her own decision regarding her own head. Then Paul appeals to the equal premeninence of man and woman and their interdependent equality. Now we are at the point where Paul makes his appeal using one last argument from nature showing the equality of men and women regarding their hair. The NASB renders verses 14 & 15 this way:

1 Corinthians 11:14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
1 Corinthians 11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

However the ISV renders these verses very differently and without the question mark:

1 Cor. 11:14, 15 (ISV) Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings.

In order to understand these verses properly we need to understand a couple of very important things about these verses. The first thing is that the Greek was written without punctuation. Whether these verses are a question or a statement has to be determined by the context. The punctuation that we have in our bibles are there because of the translator’s interpretation of what Paul is saying but not all agree that Paul is asking a question.

Let’s look at the context to see if Paul’s words should be taken as a question. Does nature teach us that men should have short hair and that women should have long hair? No, nature doesn’t teach us that at all. The hair on a boys head grow just as the hair on a girls head. Nature does not teach us that there is a difference. Does nature teach us that it is a shame for a man to have long hair? How could nature teach us that? In many cultures men have long hair and they are not ashamed. Nature does not teach them to be ashamed. Why not? Because a man’s hair is designed to keep growing unless it is cut off.

Now we can see that God has designed some hair to show that these hairs are different. Look at the hair on your arms. Does your arm hair keep growing until you cut it? No, it doesn’t. The reason is that God designed the hair on our arms to be different than the hair on our head. But there is nothing in nature that allows us to see a difference in God’s design for hair on the head of a little boy and the hair on the head of a little girl. Each of them has hair that keeps growing until the hair is cut. There is no difference in nature. In nature, the hair on boys and girls are equally growing and nothing in nature shows that there is shame involved regarding the length of their hair.

This brings us to the second thing that we need to know about this passage. We need to know that the glory of hair belongs to “himself or herself” not to just “women”.

1 Corinthians 11:15 (ISV)…nor that hair is a woman’s glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings.

Each one of us male and female has been given hair by God for a covering so hair is not a glory just for a woman. Neither male nor female is required to have any outside covering on their head when they come before God.

So are men to be ashamed to have long hair? How can that be? Orthodox male Jews let the sides of their hair grow long and they believe that the bible tells them to leave the corners of their hair long.

Jeremiah 49:32 “Their camels will become plunder, And their many cattle for booty, And I will scatter to all the winds those who cut the corners of their hair; And I will bring their disaster from every side,” declares the LORD.

longhair1.jpg Here is a picture of an orthodox Jew. The “corners” of his hair are left long and he is not ashamed of his long hair.

Does nature teach them that men are to be ashamed of their long hair? No, not at all. The only command that God had regarding the length of one’s hair was the nazirite vow (Numbers 6:2-18). Both male and female were required in this vow to grow their hair out and when the vow was over, both men and women were required to shave their hair off and offer it as a peace offering to God. Since God required equal rules about hair for both men and women, (both had to have long hair and later both had to shave their hair completely off) how could God then have inspired a passage to say that nature showed that it was a shame for a man to have long hair? Nature says nothing of the sort and God said nothing about long hair being a shame so the words of Paul must be taken as a statement and not a question otherwise we have a contradiction with scripture as well as an illogical argument.

God has designed through nature that the hair on both men and women will grow until it is cut. God has a requirement for both men and women to grow their hair long in the nazirite vow. There is nothing in God’s requirement that would even hint that nature teaches us that it is a shame for a man to have long hair or that it is a shame for a woman to cut her hair.

If we take verses 14 & 15 without the question mark as the International Standard Version does, then it makes sense with the “nature” argument. Paul is arguing for our equality once again. Both men and women are to come before God without a head covering because they both already have a natural head covering and nothing more is needed. Paul isn’t saying that only a woman has her hair as her glory. Hair has been given to both male and female and nothing more is needed when we come before God. Again here we have Paul’s argument as equality between men and women.

Paul then sums up his argument regarding our equality in Christ and our equality in head coverings and hair. Paul says in verse 16 in the International Standard Versions:

1 Corinthians 11:16 (ISV) But if anyone wants to argue about this, we do not have any custom like this, nor do any of God’s churches.

Paul says that if one is inclined to argue about the matter – the matter of head coverings and the length of one’s hair – that one final proof that the head covering is not needed is that none of the churches of God have a custom of head coverings or a requirement for the length of one’s hair.

The NASB adds the word “other” to the passage … (we do not have any “other” custom)…but the word “other” is not in the original inspired Greek. The inspired word is the Greek word toioutos which means “of this sort”. Paul is saying that we do not have this sort of custom (head coverings and rules about the length of one’s hair) and neither do any of God’s churches.

The glory of God belongs to men and women alike. Both are to shine forth the glory of God and women are also to shine forth the glory of man. The glory of hair belongs to men and women alike and God’s only command regarding the length of hair shows equality for men and women alike before God.

Is Paul using this passage to force women to hide their glory with a veil and to force women to leave their hair uncut? Not at all! In fact, his arguments are completely opposite to the human tradition that forces the segregation of men and women. His arguments are also opposite from those who say that only men have  glory and women do not. This inspired passage is rather a tremendously powerful passage supporting men and women’s equality before God and their interdependence with each other. This is God’s way. God is not prejudiced preferring men over women or women over men. God wants us united together in the body of Christ giving each other equal respect as “sons” of God and fellow members of the body of Christ.

5 thoughts on “Is short hair a sin for a woman?

  1. Hello Cheryl

    Thank you for your thoughts on the passage.

    I need to roll up my ‘rusty’ greek sleeves and work through your points carefully.

    in the meantime… just an interesting ‘aside’ on veils/head coverings. Have you ever noticed that the “cloth that was on Jesus’ head” (a ‘veil’?) was laid distinctly separately from the other burial clothes when he rose from the dead… Jn 20:5-8 Can this be another wonderful illustration of God clearly demonstrating the ‘end’ of any veil coming between us and him? Wonderful stuff i think! What do you think?


  2. Kerryn,

    I did notice that the head piece was laid separately but I wasn’t sure why that detail was in scripture other than that it refutes the shroud of Turin which is a one piece sheet over the face and the entire body. Interesting thoughts! I will have to meditate on this and ponder the significance regarding Christ’s glory and the veil. Thank you my dear!

  3. In my understanding, there MAY be some contexts where short hair would be a sin for a woman; this would be where short hair is a coded symbol for wantonness in a culture. In Corinth, some of the Greek temple prostitutes cut their hair to indicate that they would do anything and some of the high status Roman women also did this as a kind of hooker chic. This is obviously inappropriate for a Christian. But notice it is all involved in the motivation for doing it.

    But there are lots of other reasons to have short hair that do not involve things like the above. As you mentioned, the Nazirite vows, where the hair indicated the time one was under the vow; it was cut at the start of the vow and at the end, the hair was then offered to God. If the person had to violate the vow, they then needed to restart the process, this is apparently what happened to Paul.

  4. The covering or veil Paul was talking about was a pagan custom for women to wear in Gentle temples. Some who had been converted were wearing it to worship at the young Corinthian church which was causing consternation. Here I believe Paul was comparing thkme hair length to the issue of wearing a veil. Neither is under regulation or a custom. However this has been used to bring in veils and or mandatory long hair in some church denominations. Women do tend to be spiritually sensitive and thinking has caused a lot of guilt over the hair length issue. Some rejoining the Apostolic church after an absence bemoan even a minor trim and feel God might abandon them. Or rather the church fellowship will.

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