A woman's shorn or shaved head dishonors God and Christ
1 CORINTHIANS 11:14-15—AN ANALYSIS OF THE LONG HAIR & UNCUT HAIR POSITIONS (Rv 6/15/2012)
As I mentioned, there are several troubling inconsistencies with the Uncut viewpoint throughout 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.
One of these, a serious oversight, is found in verses 5 and 6. Here's how the NASB reads for 1 Corinthians 11:5-6:
For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off [keirō]; but if it is disgraceful for a woman
to have her hair cut off [keirō] or her head shaved [xuraō], let her cover her head.
As mentioned previously, the Uncut position insists that it is sinful for a woman to trim her hair.
On the other hand, she is fully permitted to have short hair or a shaved head (that is, if she has resolved to no longer cut her hair).
In other words, worshiping with a shaven or shorn head is certainly not considered sinful by Uncut proponents.
Again, as stated previously, it's "growing hair" that is considered a woman's glory per the Uncut position, not "long hair."
Long hair can obviously result from not cutting the hair, but it is irrelevant to God per the Uncut position.
On the other hand, as stated previously, length of hair on men is certainly relevant--even though the identical Greek
word--koma--is used in the same context, indeed, in the same verse (verse 15), as for the woman.
Yet, the Uncut position holds that length is relevant only for the man, but not for the woman.
For example, in today's church we see women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy,
or who have very short hair (perhaps recent converts). According to the Uncut position, these women are not living in sin--even
if they pray / teach (privately) with their bald / shorn heads.
The problem is, of course, that the Bible plainly states the opposite: that praying / prophesying in this state disgraceful.
Again, it says: "...it is disgraceful ["a shame," "shameful," "a disgrace" per other common translations] for a woman
to have her hair cut off [keirō] or her head shaved [xuraō]..."
The English word "disgraceful" comes from the Greek aischron, which is the same word used in
1Cor 14:35 ("it is a shame for women to speak in the church...") and
Eph 5:12 ("for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret...").
Amazingly, and tragically, Uncut women today openly worship in a state the Bible calls "disgraceful" due
to the commonly taught misconceptions.
Not to be facetious, but sometimes our Bibles mean exactly what they say.
The same Bible that teaches that "a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (James 2:24), and
"baptism...saves you..." (1 Peter 3:21), and,
regarding the Communion, "Do this [i.e., what Jesus did, rather that what modern men are doing in Communion] in remembrance of Me..." (1 Corinthians 11:24, 26),
and so forth,
"...it is disgraceful for a woman
to have her hair cut off [keirō] or her head shaved [xuraō]..."
"...if a woman has long hair [koma], it is a glory to her..."
But, of course, that thinking does not harmonize with the Uncut position, a clear signal that our position needs adjustment.
But rather than do so, the Uncut proponent "mentally re-translates" the above verse
to include--not just shaved or sheared hair--but "slightly trimmed hair" as well.
(I know this because I used to hold to the Uncut position.)
The word "shorn" is widened to include the concept of "trimmed."
To illustrate, here's what the Uncut position might suggest as the preferred reading for 1 Corinthians 11:5-6:
For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off [keirō] or trimmed [added by Uncut position];
but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off [keirō] or trimmed [added by Uncut position] or her head
shaved [xuraō], let her cover her head.
The concept of "trimming" the hair not found in any English text.
That's because the concept of "trimming" is not included in the meaning of background Greek words (keirō and xuraō).
How Greek scholars defined and translated keirō and xuraō
To show what I mean, here's how Thayer defines the Greek words that are used above in verses 5 and 6:
keirō: "to sheer: a sheep/to get or let be shorn/of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head" (used in verse 6 of this passage).
xuraō: "to shear, shave/to get one's self shaved" (used in verses 5 & 6 in this passage).
Accordingly, here's how the major English translations (and others) ACCURATELY translated keirō and xuraō:
King James Version: shorn / shaven
New King James Version: shorn / shaved
New International Version: cut off / shaved off
English Standard Version: cut off / shave
New American Standard: cut off / shaved
Revised Standard Version: shorn / shaven
American Standard Version: shorn / shaven
Young's Literal Translation: shorn / shaven
Darby's Translation: cut off / shaved
Webster's Bible: shorn / shaved
The Living Oracles: shorn / shaved
Once again, just as with komaō, there is absolutely no disagreement here among the scholars.
Neither keirō nor xuraō imply any
slight trimming of the hair; both refer to either entirely removing all hair, or cutting it very short (as in the shearing of a sheep).
They do not include any notion of a mere, or slight, "trimming of the hair." This is a serious Biblical discrepancy
of the Uncut position.
In other words, it is a violation of Scripture for a woman, when praying or prophesying, to have hair
that has been completely shaved off or sheared--if she is not otherwise appropriately covered (v 15).
However, the Bible DOES NOT disallow hair that has simply been trimmed, provided, of course, it remains long
after trimming. This completely harmonizes with the Long Hair position, but exposes another serious conflict in
the Uncut viewpoint.
How the Uncut Position circumvents this obstacle
Some time ago I asked a highly respected (by me) Uncut position advocate to explain how he could feel comfortable believing and teaching such
a plain discrepancy of Scripture.
His basic answer was that, when Paul spoke of "shorn / shaved heads" in verse 6, he was dealing with exceptions to the rule.
So, he explained, if a woman enters the church today without any hair (or with short [shorn] hair), this represents an
exceptional case, and we cannot base our rules on exceptions. So, he believed, a woman cannot cut her hair;
a shorn or shaved head, however, after repentance, is fully acceptable to God when a woman is praying / prophesying.
In other words, as long as a shaved woman is trying to let her hair grow, then a sheared or shaved head is not considered "uncovered"
in the sight of God.
But there are problems with this reasoning. First, regardless of whether or not one wants to call it "an unusual situation" or "a
typcial situation," Paul plainly stated that it is shameful for a woman to be shorn/shaved when praying/prophesying.
If you prefer to call shorn/shaved an "exceptional situation" (though that is debatable),
then please realize that Paul is pointing to the "exception" specifically when he stated that shorn/shaved
heads were unacceptable for Christian women when praying/prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:6).
He was actually pointing to the so-called "exception" itself as an
unacceptable condition in which to be if a woman was to be "covered."
For example, take the command to be baptized. We believe that it is at the point of baptism that we become saved Christians, since
that's when our sins are actually "washed away." But what if a person was crossing the street to be baptized and was killed by a car?
Would he still be saved? Many might argue that he would be, since God knows our intent and since he was "doing his best" to obey, and that
this was an "exceptional case" and not the general rule. However, what if the Holy Spirit had written:
"Baptism saves you, but if you're killed while
going to be baptized you will not be saved"? Would we still believe the "exception" modified the rule?
No, because now the so-called "exceptional case" itself is specifically described to be "unacceptable to God."
Many, many other examples could also be provided to demonstrate the falacy of this argumentation. For example, in Colossians 3:9,
Paul commands Christians: "Do not lie to each other." Was lying among Christians an exception to the rule?
If we say "exceptions cannot define the rule in any situation," this means any command of the Bible can be ignored if
we think it represents an exception. So, if lying is an exceptional situation, then we would not be required to be honest.
This suggests that as long as any sin is not common in the church, it's permissible for us to practice; the moment it becomes common,
we must cease and desist. Obviously, this is unsound reasoning.
(The marriage question can be similarly analyzed [Matt 5:32]. As you likely realize, Jesus specifically addressed the exception of
adultery [via inference] if remarriage is to be allowed; therefore we do not ignore the exceptional case.)
Now, let's go back to 1 Corinthians 11. When the Holy Spirit specifically addresses the state of "shorn" or "shaven" heads and
calls these conditions "shameful"--regardless of whether or not we want to call them "exceptional" cases--are they not clearly
unacceptable to God? Scholars of the past and present have had no problem understanding and accepting these plain
meanings of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.
Of course, the Long Hair position harmonizes perfectly with these teachings, requiring no long-winded, logically unsound
explanations as to why what we believe apparently (again) violates plain Biblical teaching. In these verses, Paul was making an incredibly simple
observation that was common in nature. He pointed out that it was shameful for women to be shaved bald, but glorious for them to
have long hair. This is quite obvious to any general observer of societies worldwide. It was a general fact of nature and society then,
just as it is today. After all, what normal woman would desire to be shaved? What normal woman would not feel ashamed?
Is such a condition natural for women?
Does not nature teach us that it is glorious for a woman to have long hair, and shameful for her to be shaved or have a sheared head?
Just as it is today, women in New Testament times also generally had long hair
(please consider also Revelation 9:8: Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth....).
On the other hand, "growing hair" has never been naturally considered a glorious condition for women; any more than growing hair is
inglorious for men. As stated repeatedly, both men and women always have growing hair on their heads.
Instead, Paul is plainly speaking of a literal, visible covering in 1 Corinthians 11. Just as there is a literal cup (11:23-29),
so there is a
literal covering (11:2-16). And in both cases, what is literal is symbolic of something spiritual. To take away a symbol of authority
because we feel it's an exceptional case violates Scripture.
Sadly, modern churches continue to ignore these plain, basic teachings of the Bible, thereby encouraging women with short hair to
continue to sin by worshiping God with their heads not properly covered.
"But what is a woman to do woman if she doesn't have long hair?"
Remember, koma is in the Present tense, Active voice, and Subjunctive mood. Remember also that "subjunctive" suggests that it
"may or may not" be the case.
In other words, it is quite obvious that long hair "may or may not" always exist on a woman. (It is not obvious that
"continuously growing hair" may or may not exist on a woman, rendering the Uncut position illogical.)
As you know, there are instances in the church when a woman does not possess long hair. In some cases, a woman simply
cannot have long hair, even if she desires to have it.
Is it therefore impossible for her to obey God by honoring her spiritual Heads?
Obviously not. In fact, the Bible clearly provides the solution in verse 15, which reads:
Does not even nature itself teach you that...IF if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her [long]
hair [komē] is
given to her for a [anti] covering [peribolaion].
(1 Cor. 11:14-15, NASB) [Note again: Thayer indicates length of hair is suggested for komē.]
Here's how Thayer defines the above three bolded Greek words:
komē: "hair, head of hair" (Thayer comments that the hair is to be worn as "an ornament"; and, again, that the
notion of length is suggested).
anti: "over against, opposite to, before/for, instead of, in place of (something)."
peribolaion: "a covering thrown around, a wrapper; a mantle / a veil." (Note: This is a literal covering.)
Please pay particular attention to the Greek word anti, translated "for a" in the NASB. You can see that anti basically means
"in the place of" or "instead of."
Next, please take a close look at the Greek word peribolaion, which is basically an "artificial head covering," simply stated.
As you can see in the above definition, it could secondarily mean "a veil," although most translators have chosen the primary
meaning for this word: "covering"--or, in this context, a "head covering." (Note that the RSV chooses the secondary definition,
"veil," which most Christians of that day likely would have considered the head covering to be when reading this passage. Personally, I believe the more
generic word--"covering," or "head covering"--is a better translation, as most other translations have rendered it.)
So, peribolaion indicates essentially an "artificial head covering." As you undoubtedly realize, today there are a wide variety of
artificial head coverings. Of course, in Paul's day, veils were quite common--along with perhaps shawls, scarves, or the like.
Wikipedia states that "Early Christian art shows women wearing headcoverings. During the ensuing centuries, women definitely
wore the head coverings during the church service, especially when praying or prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5)."
In our current day and age, artificial hair is a modern example of how women sometimes cover their heads in the absence of hair
(for example, due to chemotherapy). Interestingly, some early Christian writers considered "unbound long hair" (which reached
at least to the shoulders) to be the proper Biblical meaning for "long hair" for women. Note that the hair was not only long, but
"unbound," or, "descending"--as is suggested in the Greek word kata in verse 4 of this passage (kata
means "down from"--or in this context, "down from the head"). I call this the "Kata Principle," discussed shortly. Please note
that the very use of kata strongly suggests length is certainly necessary for a proper head covering, natural or artificial.
So, with these definitions in mind, let's take another look at 1 Corinthians 11:14-15:
...if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her...For her hair [per Thayer, length is suggested] is given to her instead
of a [an artificial] covering.
What you just read is exactly the interpretation that the "most liberal" early Christian writers held (in other words, long
descending hair, at least to the shoulders--rather than uncut hair--was literally necessary, with the artificial covering necessary only
in the absence of long descending hair. On the other hand, the most "conservative"
interpretations held that the covering was to be worn at all times in public, regardless of a woman's length of hair. Not a
single early Christian writer I've found even remotely suggested a woman must have "uncut hair" after being baptized.
(More on the specific views of early Christian writers shortly.)
So, a woman's long hair serves to replace any artificial head covering (which women commonly wore in that day; please
note that Paul's teaching represented an act of freedom from this custom, for long hair was now considered a proper
substitute for the head covering).
This is a simple and sensible statement: "long hair replaces the artificial head covering." Since this is the case, by
necessary inference we can also conclude that in the absence of long hair, an artificial head covering would be necessary--just
as early Christian writers unanimously believed (noticed later).
The Kata Principle
One concept I believe Christian women are overlooking in their obedience on this issue is what I call the "Kata Principle."
It's called the Kata Principle due to the Bible's use of the word kata in verse 4 of this passage.
Kata means "down from," or descending.
Please read Thayer's comment on kata: Thayer defined kata as a “preposition denoting motion or diffusion or
direction from higher to lower."
Here again is 1 Corinthians 11:4-5:
Every man who has something [kata: i.e., something "down from" his head] on his head while praying or
prophesying disgraces his head.
But every woman who has her head uncovered [akatakalyptos: i.e, "not covered, unveiled", which I believe implies
"not having anything hanging down from her head"] while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as
the woman whose head is shaved.
Now, it seems apparent that Paul is making a contrast between the man and woman. Whatever the "head covering" is for man,
it is the opposite for the woman.
If this is true, then this means the following:
man MUST NOT have any head covering that proceeds in a direction of "higher to lower," and,
woman MUST have a head covering that descends from a drection of "higher to lower" (when praying/prophesying)
Clearly, kata is strong evidence that length is most definitely an intended meaning of the Holy Spirit in this passage.
For man, long hair is not acceptable; for woman, long hair (or, in the absence of it, a long head covering [veil, shawl, artificial hair, or
any other respectful head covering]) is required when praying/prophesying.
In addition to kata, several other Greek words seem to imply the "down from" characteristic of the
Head Covering: akatakalyptos
("not covered, unveiled," [v. 5, 13] or not
having something "down from the head") and katakalypto ("to cover up / to veil or cover one's self," [v. 6-7]
which implies a descending head covering [such as a veil], since head coverings typically hang "down from" the head).
So, the "down from" principle, or "Kata Principle," is an embedded meaning of this passage.
Let's take a closer look at kata (again, meaning "down from", or descending) and akatakalyptos ("not covered, unveiled") as
they're used in verses 4 and 5:
Hopefully you can see the contrast that the Holy Spirit is making between the uncovered head of the man versus the descending and obvious covering of the woman. The teachings here seem plain:
(1) If a man has anything "descending" from his head when praying / teaching it is a dishonor to God and Christ, and,
(2) If a woman does NOT have a covering that "descends" from her head when praying / teaching it is a dishonor to God and Christ.
These are serious statements indeed. In fact, the casual attitudes with which many women of our churches ignore point #2 above is disconcerting. Do we really realize what it means to dishonor God and Christ--and to do this at the very time we are assembled to honor God and Christ? Can women really say "we didn't know that a shorn or shaved head, or short hair, dishonored God--especially given the plainness of these verses?
In addition to all of this, it should also be noted that several other words in this passage imply the "down from" principle:
xurao ("to shear, shave/to get one's self shaved"--or, simply stated, to not have hair that descends from the head but is instead short or extremely short--used in v. 5 & 6);
keiro ("to sheer: a sheep/to get or let be shorn/of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head"—used in v. 6);
komao (translated as "to have / wear long hair" by virtually every translation committee, denoting hair capable of descending from the head--used in v. 14 & 15); and,
kome ("hair, head of hair," which Thayer said was hair that was to be worn as "an ornament," and that the notion of length was suggested when Paul used this word—v. 15). Please note that the infinitives are used above rather than the actual words in the Greek.
Furthermore, regarding the verse which states: "Does not even nature itself teach you that…if a woman has long hair [koma], it is a glory to her…", one can see that long descending hair has a beautifying effect for women, apparent in our observation of the natural world. This should not be confused with the thinking that a woman must let her hair grow "as long as nature will allow" or that a man should wear his hair "as short as nature will allow," as some erroneously believe.
On top of all these, let's not forget the first word we noticed, peribolaion, which (again) means "a covering thrown around, a wrapper; a mantle / a veil." Obviously, peribolaion can be taken to mean "an artificial covering that descends from the head," similar to naturally growing (and "glorious") long, "unbound" hair on a woman.
So, the notion of not only long hair, but long descending hair ("unbound hair"), or a long descending covering (when a woman is praying / teaching), seems to be strongly suggested in this passage.
This, by the way, is exactly the way Paul's early Christian readers would have likely understood peribolaion: an artificial covering descending from the head. Descending, artificial coverings were common in their societies, and remains a common practice in much of the modern Middle East. Again, I'll notice what early Christian writers had to say on the Head Covering shortly.
So, summarizing, here is what Paul seems to be saying:
...if a woman has long [descending] hair, it is a glory to her? For her [long, ‘hanging down'] hair is given to her for a [in the place of / instead of] an [artificial, ‘hanging down'] covering.
(1 Corinthians 11:14-15, NASB)
In other words, in the absence of long hair, a woman is still required to have her head appropriately covered whenever she prays or [privately] teaches. As mentioned, I believe many Christian women--of both the Long and Uncut persuasions--are quite obviously, albeit unintentionally, not living in obedience to these teachings.
Of course, the Kata Principle reinforces the Long Hair position in a logical way. A man must not have hair that "hangs down from the head" or it is a shame. On the other hand, a woman must have "long descending hair / or a descending artificial head covering" whenever praying or teaching God's word.
I believe that the Kata Principle--though incredibly simple and obvious--cannot be overlooked or ignored for proper understanding, harmonization, and obedience to this passage.
Doesn't that fact that Kata is "intensified" suggest hair "so long" that it's "uncut"?
Some have observed that kata, when sandwiched together with another Greek word, is often "intensified." "Intensified" simply means it's "increased in extent or intensity; made more intense, stronger, or more marked." Kata is not the only word that intensifies other words in Greek (so to ek, apo, dia, and others, but these are beyond the realm of discussion here).
For example, the Greek word esthio means "I eat." However, the word katesthio means "I devour." The "action" of eating has been intensified to "devouring." However--and this is important to understand--eating is still involved. In other words, simply because eating has been intensified certainly does not mean the man is eating so much that the food is simply transferred to his body without any eating at all.
The reason I mention this is easier to understand when we take a look at how the Uncut position explains the "intensification" of katakalypto, used in verses 6 and 7. Here's how katakalypto is defined by Thayer:
?ata?a??pt? (katakalypto): "to cover up / to veil or cover one's self" (used two times in NT: verses 6 & 7—Strong's #2619)
Notice the "kata" at the front of the word, meaning the "covering up" action is now more intense, marked, and obvious.
But here's the problem: Uncut proponents suggest that since katakalypto has been "intensified,"
this means the "down from" concept becomes "so intense" that it could mean only "uncut hair." And since uncut hair can be any length, length is not longer intended in any direct way in this passage. Instead of (per Thayer) length being suggested, it's not suggested at all. In other words, "down from" is "so far down" that it need not be "down from" at all anymore. The "kata" concept simply evaporates out of the text. Now, sheared and shorn heads are no longer shameful.
Unfortunately, this incorrect interpretation (not held by any known early Christian writer, typically men far more knowledgeable in Greek usage than modern preachers of our churches), results in a complete reversal of the intended meaning, now suggesting the exact opposite of the meaning of kata. Said another way, "down from" becomes so intense that it, literally speaking, ceases to exist. This is a dangerous use of Scripture.
For example, suppose you were told "to run." Then, suppose the word "run" was "intensified." Would you be running fast, or would you now be running "so fast" than you need not be running at all? Appropriately, the Long Hair position interprets this to mean that the hair is not simply "descending," but is also "long and descending." Early Christian writers evidently believed the same. None of them could be found who believed that "long" became "so long" that it was "uncut," in spite of their arguably great familiarity (in some cases) with the original Greek language and its common uses.
In fact, it should be noted that even when long hair is present, Uncut Hair women see no need for their long hair to hang "down from" their heads. Clearly, in their minds, no "down from" principle exists in the Uncut position--it has simply evaporated from the text. Indeed, it's never mentioned, except in context that the kata concept is unnecessary. Why then did Paul even use the word?
Another problem for the Uncut position's suggestion that "kata intensified" means "hair that hangs down so far that it is uncut", is that in the very first kata word, it is certainly not intensified, but used alone (see verse 4). In fact, although kata is used when referring to the man, it's somewhat amazing that so many cannot see the contrast the Holy Spirit is trying to make between the man (who must have nothing "down from the head"), and the woman (who must have a covering "noticeably down from" the head) when praying / teaching. The early Christian writers had no problem understanding this intended contrast, never once suggesting it could possibly mean, as the Uncut position assumes: "uncut hair of any length."
Additionally, the word peribolaion (v. 15) has no intensification in it whatsoever, yet clearly includes the concept of "long and descending."
Unfortunately, in overlooking these teachings, women of the church are actually taught to ignore one of the simplest and most obvious concepts of 1 Corinthians 11, making it almost universally disobeyed among our churches. Even women of the Long Hair viewpoint commonly don't observe this principle, sometimes wearing their hair in the traditional "bound up" manner.
Again, early Christian writers had no problem understanding the intensification of kata--they properly interpreted this to be a long, "hanging down" covering, that was either long hair, or mimicked naturally arranged long hair on a woman ("unbound" long hair, as they called it, reaching at least to the shoulder). However, no known early Christian writer considered it acceptable for a praying woman to have an otherwise uncovered head--under any conditions. By no means did they take the modern view that long hair could be "so long" as to be considered "uncut," and therefore, didn't need to be long at all (or even exist), and could be shorn or shaven (in direct violation of verses 5 & 6). They believed that if a woman had a shorn or shaven head, she would be required to wear an artificial veil (at the very least) when praying. Otherwise, it would be disgraceful and disrespectful of their spiritual Heads.
So, again, the notion of not only long hair, but long descending hair, or a long descending covering (when a woman is praying / teaching), is strongly suggested (intensified) in this passage.
(1) The Head Covering: An overview
(2) A closer look at why people believe the "Long Hair" viewpoint
(3) Why scholars avoided the use of "to let the hair grow"
(4) A woman's shorn or shaved head dishonors God and Christ
(5) The Nazirite Vow
(6) What early Christians believed about the Head Covering
(7) Stunning comparisons between the LONG HAIR and UNCUT HAIR positions
APPENDIX A: Brief overview of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
APPENDIX B: Key Greek words used in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
"...tradition is not necessarily 'bad,' as long as it was developed due to a habit of obedience to the Word--and
as long as we never forget that it is our tradition that must match the Word, and not the other way around."
"Sometimes in our zealous quest to do what is right we can forget about Who we're actually trying to please."
"Most of us do not want to deal with the uncomfortable thought
that what we've always known to be 'true' may in fact need to be more deeply examined, or what we've always practiced
may in fact need to be changed."