Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Does the Bible Really Say Concerning Hair Length?

Some church denominations and organizations teach that women and girls should not cut their hair - ever. The basis for this teaching is, in part, due to several passages included in 1 Corinthians, such as 1 Corinthians 11:5-6, which reads, “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.” Another verse used is verse 15, which states, “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” But the real question is does this really mean that women should not cut their hair?

These same churches generally preach that a woman’s hair is her covering, while most commentaries refute this belief and advise that the word “covering” is actually referring to a separate article of clothing, such as a veil or prayer shawl. In fact, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the word covering is περιβόλαιον (peribolaion) and is defined as (1) a covering thrown around, a wrapper; (2) a mantle; and (3) a veil. Therefore, most conclude that this passage, as a whole, is discussing whether or not a woman should wear a separate covering; and that it is not implicitly stating that a woman’s hair is her covering. And really, this issue of whether or not the hair is a covering is a side issue to the question of cutting one’s hair, but it is mentioned here because many use the fact that it is a “covering” as additional support for why hair should not be cut.

In order to understand the issue of whether or not hair should or should not be cut, it is important to have a clear understanding of the Biblical terms used in referenced to hair. Specifically, words translated as “shaven”, “shorn”, and “cut”. It is also important that one looks at all the references to “hair” in the Bible, which is what we will discuss first.

Overall, hair and hairs is referenced in more than 60 different verses. The first six references occur in the book of Exodus and are not referring to men or women’s hair, but actually to the use of goat hair for the building of God’s tabernacle. The next 16 verses are found in Leviticus and are discussed as part of the clean and unclean statutes of God. What is very interesting is Leviticus 13:40-41 talks about baldness, and while it specifically refers to men, we know that today some women suffer from male patterned baldness either through genetic disorders or hormone imbalances resulting in extremely thin or the complete loss of hair. Yet, these verses state, “And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean. And he that hath his hair fallen off from the part of his head toward his face, he is forehead bald: yet is he clean.” Therefore, if the hair naturally falls out and a woman suffers from a baldness that is beyond her control, is she not too clean?

The book of Numbers also has several references to hair, but these pertain more specifically to those that take the Nazarite vow. Anyone taking the Nazarite vow must follow some very specific instructions, one of which is to not cut their hair, at all, until the time the vow has been fulfilled. Upon the fulfillment of the vow, the head is completely shaved. But what is really important to note here is that both men and women were allowed to take this vow. (See Numbers 6:2.) And there was no shame placed upon that person when they shaved their head at the completion of the vow. In fact, the hair is burned on the altar under the sacrifice of a peace offering. (See Numbers 6:18.)

And so the references to hair throughout the Old Testament continue to refer to either goats’ hair or human hair, but never is there an admonition that the hair cannot be cut. It is talked about in relation to the Nazarite vow, as in the case of Samson, or the heaviness and cutting of it, as in the case of King Saul, or even the protection of it by God, as in the case of King Solomon. And hair is never referred to as being cut, but always as being plucked, pulled, shaven, or shorn. And the same holds true for the New Testament. So this means that we need to look at the terms used, such as “shave”, “shorn”, and “cut”.

The Hebrew word translated as “shaven” in English is גּלח (gâlach). This word has also been translated as shave, polled, and shaved. The Greek word is ξυράω (xuraō), and is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as (1) to shear, shave; and (2) to get one’s self shaved. The second word commonly used is shorn. In Hebrew, the word translated as shorn is קצב (qâtsab). What is interesting about this particular word is that it has been translated into English as “cut” only one time, and that was in reference to the cutting of a stick in 2 Kings 6:6. The Greek word is κείρω (keirō) and is defined in three different ways, as (1) to sheer: a sheep; (2) to get or let be shorn; and (3) of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head. It is only in this context that we see a reference to the cutting short the hair of the head.

The only time that hair and cut are found together, in the same verse, is in Jeremiah 7:29, where God instructs Jeremiah to advise the children of Judah to “Cut off thine hair, O Jerusalem, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on high places; for the LORD hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath.” No shame seems to be cast upon them for cutting their hair, but rather, that they are instructed to do it as a sign of repentance and lamentation unto God.

The next Biblical concept that we need to understand is “short” and “long” since both of these terms are tied specifically to hair. In the English language, the word “short” is primarily an adjective that is used to describe something - especially when compared to something of equal or longer length. However, in the Bible, the word translated as “short” in English has also been translated as cut and scrape; but even when described as “cut” it is talking about cutting or removing people (2 Kings 10:32 and Habakuk 2:10) or limbs of the body (Proverbs 26:6). It is not referring to hair. This word has also been translated as scrape or scraped, both in Leviticus and in reference to the clean or unclean status of a house - not hair. The same hold true for the Greek language; the words translated as short have also been translated for a variety of words, but none of which pertain to hair length.

The word “long” is not much better when it comes to the Bible. In the Hebrew language, one of the words translated into the English word “long” was also translated into over 30 other different words, having nothing to do with length or hair. The only word translated as long, as an adjective for measurement is ארך ('ôrek) and it is tied to specific measurement instructions for the Ark of the Covenant, the ark Noah built, and the measurements for the tabernacle. And so, that brings us to the Greek. The word used specifically in the 1 Corinthians passage discussing women’s hair is κομάω (komaō) and is defined as simply to let the hair grow, have long hair.

Defining what is “long” when it comes to hair really depends upon the person doing the “measuring”. My cosmetologist says that my hair is long (it’s about a hands width away from my waist - and still growing). Yet, a friend of mine whose hair reaches to her ankles (and took her 11 years to grow) describes my hair as being medium length since it is only about half the length of hers. And my mother complains that her hair is too long when she needs it trimmed back into shape around her head. Again, it’s all relative to the individual perspective. Churches must remember that setting rules, guidelines, or standards that go above and beyond the written Word of God risk becoming just like the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked in Matthew 23 for creating burdens upon the people - burdens that they are not willing to help with themselves.

The other thing that we need to consider is what the purpose is for a woman to have long hair, and our answer is found in 1 Corinthians 11:15, which states, “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” Now, we already discussed the “covering” issue briefly in the beginning and so we are going to focus on the first half of this verse, which states that “it is a glory to her”. The word “glory” here has also been translated as honor, praise, dignity, and worship. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has four different definitions for this word, including: (1) opinion, judgment, view; (2) opinion, estimate, whether good or bad concerning someone; (3) splendor, brightness; and (4) a most glorious condition, most exalted state.

Finally, not to keep referring back to the covering issue, but it is important to note that many women wore and still wear head coverings for a variety of reasons ranging from beliefs, traditions, to simply protecting their heads from the heat of the sun. The point here is that in most cases, one cannot even tell how long or short a woman’s hair is when covered; only God and her family would know.

In conclusion, the Bible teaches us that long hair on a woman brings her honor and praise; not God honor and praise, but her. Secondly, long is an adjective used to describe something, and in some cases does include an actual length; however, hair is an exception. No specific measurement is tied to it; it is simply described as long. Third, short hair, while it can mean cut, seems to more closely be defined as shaved or shorn with a razor. The question here was whether or not a woman should cut her hair. The Bible is not as specific as some churches and denominations may lead one to believe. I think that the Bible is saying we can cut our hair, but not shave it short; and that ultimately, we women with long here will be honored and praised for our long hair.

In today’s society though, honor and praise for length of hair is also tied to the overall health and condition of the hair. In other words, if a woman has long hair, but it is ragged, torn, dried out, or unhealthy, it is not always going to be considered beautiful or glorious. Remember, the hair is for the glory of the woman, and not God. A woman who has cut her hair in an effort to keep it healthy and well-maintained is not going to fall out of God’s favor. He is not going to love you less or offer you less protection, or decrease the protection around your family.

We live in the real world and are raising several daughters. For us, we have decided that we will continue to grow the majority of our hair as long as God determines, with minor trimming permitted to keep it looking neat, clean, and healthy. We have also cut our hair to provide bangs, eliminating eye irritations and food traps for our toddlers and young girls. As for myself, I have also opted to have bangs, so that I can have a softer frame around my face, eliminating the harsher appearance created when all my hair is pulled back tightly. But that’s our choice and our interpretation and understanding of the Scriptures. You need to decide for yourself what the Scriptures really mean and how to apply them to your life. We are not here to dictate or define how you need to live your life. We are simply Learning to Live God’s Way and sharing what we have learned with you.

No comments:

Post a Comment