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Title: Is hair cutting on women a sin?
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(Date Posted:01/23/2011 12:41 AM)
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Rev Claude Purser

Should Women Cut Their Hair?

There are some churches that believe and teach that a Christian woman must never cut her hair. A woman's hair is not to be touched by sissors, they reason, for it is "a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven" (I Cor. 11:6). Those who hold this view seem to think that "shorn" means any cutting of the hair. This, however, is not the case. "Shorn" is simply the past participle of the word shear. If a woman has her head shaved or shorn, the hair is removed right down to the scalp!

There were at Corinth certain cult prostitutes who had shaved heads, though, as Lenski points out, "only a few of the very lowest type had shaved heads" (Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 439). Because of this, we can understand why a woman's shaved head was a sign of "shame" at Corinth, and thus the reference in I Corinthians 11:6. But what does any of this have to do with a Christian woman today merely having her hair cut? There is no connection whatsoever.

While the shaved head was considered a shame at Corinth, because of its association with harlotry there, it was not necessarily a sign of shame elsewhere. Instead, shaving of the hair of the head, as strange as this practice would appear to us today, was a common sign of mourning. In the scriptures, there are numerous references to people making themselves bald by shearing or shaving off the hair of their heads.

Job, for example, shaved his head and mourned (Job 1:20; 2:11, 13). Other verses include the following: "They shall make themselves utterly bald . . . they shall weep" (Ezekiel 27:31). "Make thee bald, and poll thee for thy delicate children . . . for they are gone into captivity" (Micah 1:16). ". . . all of them mourning. . . and baldness upon every head" (Amos 8:10). "On all their heads shall be baldness . . . weeping abundantly" (Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:37; Isaiah 22:12; Ezra 9:3; etc.).

Both men and women shaved off their hair in times of extreme mourning, not just men. Troubles that were to come upon Jerusalem would cause the daughters of Zion to mourn and put on sackcloth. Instead of well set hair, they would have baldness, the result of hair being shaved off in mourning (Isaiah 3:24). Jerusalem, likened to a woman, was told: "Cut off thine hair, 0 Jerusalem, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation" (Jeremiah 7:29).

If a soldier of Israel took a wife from among the captives of war, the instructions were that "she shall shave her head", mourn for her parents for one month, and then become his wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). If it is a sin for a woman to cut her hair, as some suppose, how can we explain the instructions here in which a woman's hair was not just cut, but even shaved off? if it was not a sin in the Bible for a woman to shave off all the hair of her head in a time of mourning, as the custom then was, how can it be a sin for a Christian woman today to merely have part of her hair cut off?

Churches which make legalistic rules about women's hair have caused unnecessary confusion and unhappiness. While they pride themselves in having a high standard, they sometimes become judges, judging by the outward appearance. A Christian lady I know visited a church which does not allow women to cut their hair. Her hair was a normal length for a woman, but not the length required by this church. Anyhow, the minister called on the congregation for testimonies, asking all who were going to testify to stand up. Finally it got back to where this lady was standing, waiting her turn. Then the preacher, sounding somewhat hostile, said: "I don't allow women with short hair to testify in my church!" She was told to sit down.

At different times, a number of women from this same church had gone to a Christian doctor asking what they could do for headaches. In several cases the doctor felt the weight of their uncut hair piled on their heads was a contributing factor to their problem. But the "hair" thing was so big in their church, they could not cut part of it off!

I have seen women who give others the impression that they are "especially holy" because they have long, uncut hair. They feel they are given this long hair for a covering! Yet what does it cover? It is commonly worn on top of their heads instead of hanging down. It neither covers their face, back, or neck. It covers little more than the short hair on a man's head would cover!

Some insist that a woman is to have "long hair" which, to them, means hair that is not cut or trimmed by sissors. Yet if they see a man with hair that hangs down over his ears, even though a several inches have been cut off by sissors, they smoothly change their definition and say he is a shame because he has "long hair," quoting 1 Corinthians 11:14.

If the explanation we gave earlier is correct, "Even nature itself does not teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him. But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering" (I Corinthians 11: 14-15). The word translated "covering" in verse 15 is not the same Greek word that was used earlier in this chapter when it spoke of a woman covering her head. The word "covering" in verse 15 is peribolaion (Strong's Concordance, #4018), which means "something thrown around one." This word appears one other place and is translated "vesture" (Hebrews 1:12). It means simply clothing. The line of thought connects verses 14 and 15 together. The point is, according to "nature" a man's long hair is not a shame ; nor is a woman's long hair her glory, as though it were given to her for clothing (or literally, instead of clothing)!

On the other hand, if we are to understand this passage about what "nature" teaches as a rule that women must have long hair, this is still not the extreme view that the hair can never be cut. "Long hair" does not, necessarily, mean hair that is never cut or trimmed. Furthermore, if a woman had to have hair hanging down her back in order to be a Christian, millions of women would be automatically excluded. Women of some races simply do not have hair that grows lonq!

The Bible does not instruct us to take a measuring tape to see if a woman's hair is long enough to qualify her for church membership! Instead, the Christian woman is left at liberty to wear her hair the length she finds comfortable, practical, and appropriate within the realm of her own Christian convictions.

While it may be true that most women in the Bible wore their hair in a long style, there is no direct Biblical commandment for so doing. There would actually be more Biblical support for men wearing beards, than for the idea that a woman must never cut her hair. Yet, the vast majority of those men who insist on uncut hair for women, do not, themselves, wear a beard!

For a moment, consider a few things about beards. Men in the Bible such as Aaron (Psalm 133:2 ), Mephibosheth (II Samuel 19:24), David (I Samuel 21:13), Ezra (Ezra 9:3), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 5:1) are all specifically mentioned as having beards. A verse, commonly applied to the sufferings of Jesus, indicates that he had a beard: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair" (Isaiah 50:6). The apostles apparently also had beards, for Jesus and his apostles looked enough alike that Judas had to point out which one was Jesus (Matthew 26:48).

All of David's servants had beards. We read that Hanun, supposing them to be spies, "took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away" (II Samuel 10:4). Even though their garments were cut off, they seem to have been especially embarrassed because of what happened to their beards! "The men were greatly ashamed"; so David told them to stay at Jericho "until your beards be grown, and then return"!

Since boys before reaching the age of manhood, and also eunuchs, were without facial hair, primitive man reasoned that a beard was not only an indication of male virility, some believed it was the very source of it! But for whatever reasons men in the Bible wore beards, they did so because of custom, not divine commandment.

That the wearing of beards was not an inflexible command is seen by the fact that Joseph "shaved himself" (Genesis 41:14) when he was taken from the dungeon to appear before Pharoah. Since the Egyptians did not wear beards, it seems probable that Joseph followed the Egyptian custom in order to appear acceptable before Pharoah. On this same basis, whether a man wants a beard or not is entirely up to him as an individual. The Bible does not command it.

I believe it is proper for a woman to look like a woman and a man like a man in matters of dress and appearance according to time and place. However, this rule must have its necessary limitations, otherwise a beard would be an absolute requirement for all men. A beard clearly identifies the face of a man from that of a woman. It is also true that among people who normally wore beards, when some men began to shave, they were accused of trying to look like women! In view of these things, it is not very consistent for men to accuse women of trying to look like men, because they wear slacks or have their hair cut, when these men shave off their beards.
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