Is it wrong for a woman to cut her hair?
When the woman responded to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, one of the mistakes she made was to add to the instruction that the Lord God had given. The specific directive was that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not to be eaten, but Eve in her reply added ‘nor shall you touch it’, Gen. 3. 3. Several thousand years later Israel’s religious leaders were guilty of perpetuating precisely the same error. The spiritual hierarchy had introduced a framework of regulations which, despite being a man-made addition, gained equal status with the law of God, and the Pharisees were fastidious in their adherence to these traditions.
Two millennia later brings us to our day, but some things have not changed despite the passage of time. The same tendency that was evident in Eden, and at the time of Christ, has not gone away and the human inclination to interpolate our notions into the word of God continues. Many of these ideas might be praiseworthy and are the product of a sincere desire to honour the Lord. We would be ill advised to sweep them all aside as though they are of no value. However, there are two issues we must ever remember.
Firstly, no matter how saintly the person is who initiated these suggestions, nor how admirable their motives were, these instructions are not divine mandates and we are not being disobedient to the word of God if we decide to amend or move away from them. Secondly, we must examine all ‘received wisdom’ by the scriptures and not allow it to exert a powerful influence over our thinking just because it has been blended with Bible references and dignified by the passage of time.
One issue where additions have supplemented the specific teaching of scripture relates to the matter of a woman’s hair. There are eighteen verses in the New Testament which refer to hair, and ten of them contain no direct reference to a woman. Of the remaining verses, four relate to incidents in the Lord’s life when women wiped His feet with their hair, and one verse describes the hair of locusts that shall invade the earth during the second half of the Tribulation. This leaves three verses to give explicit teaching concerning a woman’s hair.
Writing to Timothy, Paul states, ‘In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair’, 1 Tim. 2. 9. In his First Epistle to the persecuted and scattered believers of his day, Peter exhorts various sections of the Christian community, including the wives, and says, ‘Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel’, 1 Pet. 3. 3. These two prohibitions may not be identical, but they are similar, for both Paul and Peter are teaching the sisters that to be lavish and ostentatious is contrary to being modest and godly. However, in neither of these passages is there any comment as to the length of the woman’s hair and neither of them infers any prohibition on the hair being cut.
Let’s now consider the final verse that refers to a woman’s hair for it is the only one that makes a definite comment on the length of her hair, ‘But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering’, 1 Cor. 11. 15. Paul establishes that a woman’s hair is given her for a covering; the word in its primary meaning refers to a veil, a vesture, or a mantle. A closer examination will reveal that the phrase ‘long hair’ is the translation of one Greek word and the word is a verb not a noun. Therefore, where nature allows it a woman’s hair should be long and she should be proactive in achieving this requirement. A woman who chooses to have hair so short that it looks like a man’s hair is acting against the spirit of scripture. Thus, that which is a shame for a man in verse 14 is stated to be a glory for a woman in verse 15.
However, it must be remembered that not all women can grow their hair long. Consequently, we must guard against reaching a verdict based solely on appearance – the absence of long hair does not, by itself, indicate that a sister is being contrary to the scriptures. Greater harm will be caused by a legalistic and inaccurate judgement of their motives, than by their failure to grow their hair to a length some arbitrarily deem to be ‘scriptural’.
Based on the foregoing there are two questions that need to be answered. Firstly, do the scriptures teach that a woman’s hair should be long? The honest answer has to be yes, where this is physically possible, they do. Secondly, do they teach that a woman should not cut her hair? The honest answer has to be, no they don’t. Therefore, let us ensure that we abide by what the word of God teaches, but do not fall into the age-old error of adding to it.