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Is it acceptable for men to grow long hair?

Weekly Q&A

Is it acceptable for men to grow long hair?
Posted on July 1, 2019  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

Could you clarify the portion where it says men shall not have long hair? A lot of male believers where I went to college, especially those heavily involved in music, had long hair, sometimes down to their thighs — styled in dreads or in man buns. As for a female perspective, I personally had my hair cut up to my collar bones for a long time because of the heat and for general convenience. However, one of the elders at the church I go to mentioned that women with short hair were disgraceful and that our glory was in our hair. All of this has made it a little confusing to understand and to explain to some of my peers who are new to the faith on where to draw the line. How do we understand what Scripture has to say on this subject?

In the Bible, Paul discusses hair length regarding both males and females living in Corinth. 

In 1 Corinthians 11, he states:

But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 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. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself 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 for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

A little background

In the city of Corinth, Gnosticism was on the rise. This was also a significant issue with which other New Testament authors had to deal. The Gnostics were teaching that women were created before men. They were also teaching that it was acceptable to sin in the body if your soul was pure. They used this form of teaching to practise all kinds of fornication. Additionally, in Corinth, there were prostitution temples. The women in many of these temples shaved their heads. They did so for people to know they were prostitutes and subject to no husband. In the Corinthian society, a woman would wear a veil to show submission to her husband.

The Gnostics were teaching that it was acceptable to sin in the body if your soul was pure. They used this to practise all kinds of fornication

Paul is concerned with the integrity of the church. He desires that the women in the church not act like the Gnostics teaching false doctrines. He also desires that they not be associated with the temple prostitutes as that practice has no place in Christian worship. By removing the veil, some women in the church were appearing rebellious and being associated with prostitutes. 

By the time we get to verses 14 and 15 in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul states that men should look like men and women like women. This standard may vary from culture to culture, but the thrust of the argument is found in verse 16. People in the church should not act in a rebellious manner for the sake of causing problems. This is true of our physical appearance and our personal actions.

The heart of the issue

The issue in Corinthians has less to do with physical appearance and more to do with causing problems and making the church look bad. Paul expects members of the church to act appropriately in their cultural contexts. In verses 11-12, Paul recognises the equality of men and women. Eve was made from Adam, but all men are now born of women. As Christians, we believe that men and women are equally made in the image of God.

Both Peter and Paul elaborate on our appearance in other letters. 1 Peter 3:3-4 states:

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

In other words, Peter recognises that women in the church should be more focused on their hearts than on the way they look on the outside. Christian women should desire to have a gentle and quiet spirit. They should not be caught up with gossip, quarrels, etc. They should be peacemakers.

1 Timothy 2:8-10 reads:

I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.

Again, we see an emphasis placed on good works over outward appearance.

No place for rebellion

In many cultures today, it is acceptable for men to have long hair and for women to have short hair. This means that Christians in these contexts should not be worried as much about the length of their hair as much as the status of their hearts. If a person loves the Lord, his or her actions should display the genuine nature of his or her faith.

If a male is growing long hair as a symbol of rebellion, there is no place for that in the church. We should be mature in our thinking, and act in a way that draws others to the Gospel

If a male is growing long hair as a symbol of rebellion, there is no place for that in the church. If a woman is cutting her hair as a symbol of rebellion, there is no place for that either. But if the person is living in obedience to the Lord, seeking godliness, not showing a lack of respect for the culture in his or her actions, and the person is doing good works for the cause of Christ, then those actions speak well for the cause of Christ.

Women having long hair and head coverings and men having short hair showed that people in the church were not living in rebellion to their cultural norms of masculinity and femininity. In some cultures, we see people being mistreated because of their gender (especially women). It is right in all circumstances for the church to stand up for the abused or mistreated. This passage is not saying that the culture norms should be accepted if they deny the value God has given to every human being. But the passage does show that Christians ought not to do things differently for the sake of rebellion. Instead, we live differently than the world for the sake of the Gospel.

Honour Christ in all you do

In conclusion, we are not to make decisions about how we look or what we do for the purpose of rebelling against authority. Our goal is never rebellion against the church or against other authorities. Instead, we should be mature in our thinking. We should make decisions to honour the Lord and we should act in a way that draws others to the Gospel.

I personally do not have any problems with men having long hair or women having short hair. In my culture, the length of hair says very little about gender roles. However, that may not be the case in all contexts today. Therefore, if you choose to cut or grow your hair, do not do it as a sign of rebellion. Seek to honour Christ in all you do. In many places today, it is acceptable for Christian men to have long hair and for Christian women to have short hair, but regardless of cultural standards, both men and women should be seeking obedience to Christ above all.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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