1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and the Meaning of Covered and Uncovered Heads

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (NIV)

1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 can be quite vexing. The Greek and the way the passage reads in many English translations makes deciphering the meaning of these verses all the more difficult. However, if we pay close attention to the context, we will discover what Paul told his audience. In other words, this isn’t a case of “which way do you take it?” because the context should get the higher priority. True, good, and reasonable arguments exist for two or more interpretations of these sixteen verses. But one cannot rely on the language alone when trying to understand Scripture because context is so important and not something we can ignore or dispense with on a whim. When given two options of interpretation, it is most likely that the view with both the language and the context in its favor is correct (as opposed to just the language, which we could take in multiple ways). And sometimes, if the verses are obvious enough in Greek and English, the context can stand alone and speak for itself. I believe that (as was the case with our interpretation of 1 John 5:16-17) the context does most of the heavy lifting here. With that said, allow me to say that I’m afraid I have to disagree with other interpretations that say these passages refer to hats, shawls, or veils. It is safe to say that most believers throughout church history have seldomly ever practiced this consistently.

As to the structure, theme, and purpose of the entire book of 1 Corinthians, we need not say much about it because we are only here to examine the first sixteen verses of chapter eleven in that context alone. Nothing outside of this portion of Scripture (before chapter eleven) contributes to helping us understand what Paul means with the words “covered” and “uncovered.” As mentioned, the answer to those questions lies within these sixteen verses. We need only to briefly touch on anything before chapter eleven to help with a few of our verses (such as chapter eleven, verses one and two). Our main goal is to explain the meaning of our present context. With that, we will begin.

1 Corinthians 11:1

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Verse one should belong to chapter ten, even though it isn’t in some or most versions. Nevertheless, Paul spoke these words to the Corinthians to exhort them to follow his example in refraining from certain activities around weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 8:13, Paul went so far as to proclaim that he would never eat meat again around any of his weaker fellow believers to prevent them from stumbling through defiling their own consciences. He wanted the Corinthians (and all believers in general) to become all things to all people without compromising the truth and giving in to legalism. That was the example he set and intended for all to follow. The apostles followed Christ’s example. Therefore, all their hearers should have done the same.

1 Corinthians 11:2

1 Corinthians 11:2 (NIV)

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.

Paul had to reprimand his recipients on multiple points throughout this letter. So it isn’t as if he told them they were doing a great job in everything (far from it). The Corinthians were well known for misusing the truth (such as the case with the abuse of the Lord’s supper and the immoral brother as but only two examples out of many) and tossing out whatever didn’t suit them (until Paul corrected them about it). Understandably, doing the right thing was difficult because they lived in a very pagan society heavily influenced by sexual immorality and all kinds of sinful behavior. Nevertheless, although the Corinthians were among the most spiritually immature congregation Paul had to deal with (two of some of the longest New Testament epistles dedicated to them alone), they did come to heed his words whenever he saw fit to steer them away from their prior conduct. They may have had many problems in the beginning but did come to take Paul’s words seriously as they progressed out of their former ways of life. Instead of forgetting Paul and his instructions (the apostle’s specific teachings they had to apply in faith), they remembered him and everything he spoke. This fact alone showed that despite all their initial failures, the church was willing to learn and improve. That is the attitude of repentance.

Paul did not want to come down too strongly on these believers because he had just spent much of the first ten chapters of his letter correcting many of the abuses within the assembly. He didn’t want to demoralize them to the detriment of their faith (even though he rebuked them for their benefit). So he tried to encourage them that all was not entirely bad and that there was much they had done right. The apostle rightfully felt it necessary to interject a few words of encouragement because more instructions were to come. This was appropriate for Paul to do because he was about to call the Corinthians out on another issue. The Corinthian church heeded Paul’s words to assemble (as all believers are to do) but had carried some pagan practices with them that had no place in the assembly of worship or just in their lives (generally speaking).

1 Corinthians 11:3

1 Corinthians 11:3 (NIV)

3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

The head mentioned in verse three doesn’t refer to any physical head but (in the comparison between man and God) ultimate superiority in every way in every sense of the word (Hebrews 1:4-14). Although we His creatures are loved and have worth and value in His eyes, we are still inferior to the Lord in every way.

On the contrary, the Son is not inferior to the Father but is equal with Him in every respect because they are both one as two members of the Trinity (John 10:30). Likewise, men are not superior to women because both are equal in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28). So this verse refers to authority, leadership, and administrative duties between men and women (likewise for the Father and the Son). Men are natural leaders (initiators), whereas women are followers. That is how it is in a marriage relationship and within a local church (worship) setting (the particular scenarios Paul has in mind). That is because the relationship between a husband and wife represents or symbolizes the believer’s relationship to God (the groom). This principle is roughly similar to that of the Father and the Son. However, we will never be able to come close to perfection in our understanding of the relationship between all members of the Godhead. The Father is the planner the Son submits to by obeying His will (Philippians 2:5-8).

With all that in mind, Paul is leading up to an important teaching by reminding the Corinthians of something they should already know (see above). Since a man and woman’s head(s) have important symbolism behind them, physically abusing or misusing them is improper for people who claim to know Christ (Matthew 5:16).

1 Corinthians 11:4

1 Corinthians 11:4 (NIV)

4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

The discontinued gift of Prophecy (foretelling and forth-telling the truth through the Spirit’s direct communication) was, during the early days of the church, a spiritual gift to be utilized among the assembly in public worship and not in private. Therefore, the man praying or prophesying in our passage would be doing so around others within the church (see 1 Corinthians 14), even if both could be done privately. So there is also this general meaning of the man having his hair “covered” wherever he goes (although Paul has a public worship service in mind). But what is the meaning of “covered” in our context?

The Greek phrase for “head covered” is kata kephales and means down (from) the head. I interpret these words to mean that a man has long, adorned hair so that he appears less masculine. This view is further supported by verse fourteen, which reads, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him.” Now, as to whether it is wrong or sinful for men to have long hair, generally speaking, and in our day, we will address that question later. But for right now, we will stick with teaching our present verse. I will point out that Paul taught in this passage a general principle for all believers because he references the creation analogy between the proper hierarchy and relationships between men and women. In other words, this is a universal rule.

Some argue that since verse fourteen comes a good bit after verse four, they must not refer to the same thing. But Paul brings the same topic back up by swinging it around again to show his readers what he actually meant when he says in verse thirteen, “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” That is the very same subject of verses four and five of the passage. Paul isn’t starting a new topic but further clarifying and restating what he was trying to say earlier. We see this again in verse fifteen, which says, “But that if a woman has long hair (as opposed to a man), it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” Paul clearly has hair in mind (the language and the context support that notion). The meaning is that a man has long hair hanging way down from his head to appear more feminine and less like a man (regardless of whether that was his intention). So, no matter how he styles it, his head would still be covered because his hair remains long. Either way, Paul pushed back against both extremely long hair and the practice utilized by some of adorning it so that they looked more feminine and less masculine.

God created both sexes to appear different to symbolize their differences in leadership and authority. To style oneself as something one is not (which a man with long hair could do) would be to jeopardize the very point of there being physical differences between the sexes. This point is crucial because it borders the sin of “crossdressing” (assuming the man styles his long hair similar to a women’s as opposed to just keeping it as it is). Men need to appear and act like men by fulfilling the roles God intended for them, just as women must also look and do their part. God gave man the authority in the marriage relationship so that he should not mark himself as the submissive partner. To do so would turn things upside down.

We should point out that long hair on men was an exception in Jewish and even Greek society (if we exclude the Spartans and a few others). Contrary to popular belief, it is unlikely that Jesus, the disciples, and many other great biblical characters had long hair. There are a few exceptions, such as Samson, John the Baptist, and others under the Nazirite vow, but that is slightly different than what we have in our passage. And even if their hair was a bit longer, our verse has to do with taking extremes (without precise measurements) that would startle the average person. Long hair for men was uncommon in ancient Greek and Jewish society during this time, so having it to the extreme was against the norms of society and those of the church. Therefore, it was seen as even more “out of place” among believers than pagans.

1 Corinthians 11:5-6

1 Corinthians 11:5-6 (NIV)

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

We saw in our last verses that Paul referred to hair when he said a man who prays or prophecies with his head covered dishonors his own head. Therefore, a woman who does the same with her head uncovered must have done something to her own hair. Again, the context supports the truth that hair is meant because verse fifteen says, “But that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” These words could not be more straightforward. In our context, a woman’s covering is her hair, not a hat, veil, or anything else. So how were some of the Corinthian women “kicking against the goads?”

It was not uncommon in Greek and pagan society for women (and even occasionally men) to dishevel their hair as a sign of grief, mourning, and displeasure. So it was this practice that some of the Corinthian women had adopted, which gave a poor testimony and caused chaos in the worship assembly. They carried this habit over (as they did with many other unbiblical things that Paul had to correct) into their worship services. This ripping and tearing of the hair defeated the whole purpose of the women having long hair by abusing and removing it. God created both genders differently to distinguish one from the other to help express the differences between them, their respective roles, and their relationship to God. Therefore, it was against God’s will for anyone to try and alter their identity in any way (regardless of whether that is the motivation).

Additionally, grieving in such a manner demonstrated a lack of faith and trust in God because believers are not to mourn as the unbelievers who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Since the women began to hate, abuse, and rip out their hair, they dishonored their heads so that it was almost as if they didn’t have long hair at all. This was an indirect way of despising God’s design for their purpose and benefit! We can’t say a person who harms their hair in such a way loves it. It most certainly isn’t a good way to care for it. If they tore some of it out, then they mine as well have gone the whole way and gotten rid of all of it. Verse six then says that if this is how the women will behave (continuing to dishevel their hair), then they might as well shave their entire heads. However, even they knew that such a thing was disgraceful in their society so that they wouldn’t dare do so. We can see just how clever Paul was in his argument here (although everything he said was true). He knew the Corinthian women would never allow themselves to be bald, so if he could get them to stop ripping their hair out by telling them that it isn’t that different from completely shaving their heads, the chances of them ceasing would increase. Paul’s point was that they should leave their hair alone and stop participating in this dangerous pagan activity that expressed a lack of faith in God. Additionally, these women needed to respect the Lord’s ordering of things.

1 Corinthians 11:7-12

1 Corinthians 11:7-12 (NIV)

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Paul continues to argue from the example of creation to demonstrate why men and women should keep their hair (their true and only head coverings) in the ways prescribed. We’ve already given the reasons as to why men should not have unusually long adorned hair (see verse four). But Paul now describes this reason with the words, “Since he is the image and glory of God.” Man was created in the image of God in that He was to reflect His (God’s glory) through submissive obedience to His will. Therefore, men need to distinguish themselves from women by not allowing their heads to be covered. If they did this, they would exercise obedience and thus better reflect Christ to the world through their godly conduct and behavior. An obedient life better fulfills man’s ability to positively respond to their Creator (the meaning behind possessing the image and glory of God).

To clear up any misunderstandings, both men and women possess the image and likeness of God (not the topic of our context per se). That being the case, we could ask, Why did Paul word these verses the way he did? Why say the male is the image and glory of God but that the woman is the glory of the man? Paul answers that question in verse eight. Both have God’s image and likeness, but Paul clarifies that it has to do with how God made and ordered things (not so much that both sexes possess God’s image and likeness). The man is the authoritative leader over the women because God created the male first and the woman second as a helper, aide, and companion. The woman came from the man (formed from one of Adam’s ribs) and was created for him, not vice versa. Since this is the case, the man needs to reflect his proper role and identity as such through how he wears his hair (keeping it as God created and intended).

Verses seven to twelve involve obeying Christ by properly reflecting one’s gender role and identity to the world. The man needs to keep his hair properly because he is a man, and a woman needs to do the same because she is a woman. They are both different and have differing roles in marriage and in a local assembly (only men may pastor a local church, for example). God created the man first to be the leader. He made Him with naturally shorter hair. Therefore, Christian men must keep it that way as a mark of their authoritative role within marriage and the church leadership. The same goes for women. The woman’s hair is a mark of authority in that it shows her respect for the male leadership within marriage and the local church assembly. There are also the words “because of the angels.” Now, this applies to both men and women, but Paul calls special attention to the women because they were the one’s who were probably acting up the most in the assembly by disheveling their hair.

As to the part on Angels (Because of the Angels), the two passages below give us a clue as to what this means.

1 Peter 1:10-12 (NIV)

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Hebrews 12:1-4 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (men and angels both), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

God created man to replace and surpass the number of the whole third of fallen angels that defected during Satan’s revolt. The ones who committed apostasy have since made up their minds to remain staunch followers of the Devil, while the other two-thirds of Angels (the elect) officially chose to stay loyal to God forever. So God created man to replace the third of the apostate fallen Angels (all who would willingly choose to believe in and follow Him). In doing so, through His dealings with humanity, the Father would also demonstrate His righteous, just, and loving character before the eyes of all the Angels (both elect and fallen). He did this by reconciling them to Himself through His death on the cross, solving the problem of sin and death. That is why 1 Peter 1:10-12 mentions the Angels wishing to look into this salvation because it helps them to learn more about the God they serve (how can He reconcile people to Himself in a way that fits His righteous character without forcing them to come to Him?). That is to say, they, like us human beings, have much to learn about their Creator through His handling of His creatures. Indeed, God created beings capable of responding to Him in faith of their own volition (let’s make man in our image and likeness Genesis 1:26-28). It is for this reason that Calvinism (which proclaims God forces our hand by choosing our destiny for us) is so unbiblical because it is so out of line with God’s plan. It defeats the whole purpose of humanity’s existence!

To continue, the Angels observe what goes on on planet Earth, particularly the war between God and the forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). They observe God’s justice in action whether we obey or disobey. However, they, like God, want to see willing followers because they are on the same side as us. So, although Angels don’t experience emotions (pain and grief) as we do, they, like their Master, expect to see us follow through on our initial confession (beginning from the believer’s reception of the gospel). You could say that, in specific indirect ways, they are cheering us on. We don’t worship them or answer to them. But they expect to see us give our best. Therefore, the church must strive to put on a good show to demonstrate further how a righteous Creator reacts to the obedience of His creatures. This helps them to learn more about the God they serve. Like their heavenly Father, they fight for us because they hold the same view as their Master.

All the above means that the men and women to whom Paul wrote his letter were to orientate themselves in a godly manner because of everything we have touched on above. We believers (just as the Corinthians were) are surrounded by a “large cloud of witnesses” (men, departed believers cheering us on in the third heaven, and Angels), so it behooves us to consider how we act to provide a good witness and testimony, both to those on earth and in Heaven.

In verses eleven and twelve, Paul stymies any possible imagination that women are inferior since they came from men and were made for them and not the other way around. The great apostle to the Gentiles did not want to lead anyone away from the truth that all created things originate from God. So, he specified what he meant further. Telling someone that women came from men is valid only in that Eve was taken from one of Adam’s ribs. Likewise, it is, in a sense, also correct to say that God made the woman for the man for companionship and reproduction. However, God created all people of all time for His glory to serve Him in good works (Ephesians 2:10, Isaiah 43:6-7). Both sexes need each other, so verses eleven and twelve head off another false lie that some may have created, which may have said that women weren’t that important. But they are because both men and women are inseparable from each other for obvious reasons. There is fairness in all of this because although the woman came from and for the man, man (after Adam’s creation) has entered this world through childbirth from the woman ever since the garden. So, Paul solidified his point that a hierarchy determines one’s appearance, orientation, and role in life. Yet, he did so without compromising the truth that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, created from and for Him.

Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

1 Corinthians 11:13-16

1 Corinthians 11:13-16 (NIV)

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

Verse thirteen through fifteen swing back around to give us the crux of the matter. It is hard to read these verses and come away thinking that verses four and five weren’t talking about hair. Again, interpretation requires that we take the whole context into account. Scripture builds on itself like building blocks and fits together like joints and ligaments in a body. It is improper to isolate a random verse or two from the rest and then form teaching and doctrine from that alone (even if there are plenty of exceptions). Long hair is what Paul has in mind in verse fourteen because the Greek verb komao (κομάω) means “to have long hair.” If that isn’t enough, the word “covering” in verse fifteen peribolaion refers to an article of clothing such as a hat or veil. But since Paul just stated that women have long hair as a covering, then natural hair in place of any made-made accessory is what Paul referred to. We have seen the creation analogy mentioned in some of our previous verses and the word “nature.” God created human beings with natural hair, not hats, shawls, or veils, which are manmade and no substitute for what God has already given us (they didn’t even exist when God created Adam and Eve).

In verse thirteen above, Paul leaves the matter of deciding whether what he has said is true to the Corinthians because everything he told them should have been obvious enough (the question expects a no answer). Paul explained to them why it was more natural, proper, and fitting for men to have shorter hair and for women to have longer hair. Additionally, women should not abuse (dishevel) what God has given them as a natural covering, especially when directly communicating with Him through prayer. It was one thing to tear and rip one’s hair at other times; it was even worse when worshiping.

The Greek word for contentious in verse sixteen is philoneikos; φιλόνεικος, and has the meaning of quarreling (or to quarrel). A quick google search of the English word contentious shows that it involves a person who wishes to argue or provoke a controversial debate. Paul meant that if anyone wanted to argue about everything he laid out in these verses, it would be to no avail because that is how things are or should be done in the church universal. In other words, this is a laid down rule. The Corinthians needed to stop abusing the truth to the harm of others because doing so caused many within the assembly to stumble. Shorter hair for men and longer hair for women was the expected norm in Greek and Jewish society, just as it was in the universal church (all born-again believers scattered throughout the world- the meaning of the words “nor do the churches of God”). Therefore, there was no other preferrable custom to follow. The customs will vary from culture to culture and church to church, so the point is that differing hair lengths (our verses give no specifics for a reason) will vary based upon the society one was in. In other words, it is a judgment call. This truth applies to the church today (we will explain more in our next section below). Men should not try to look like women and vice versa, whether in secular or church society. Church and secular opinions are (or would be) practically inseparable on that point because, chances are, that if a person looked way out of place in church, they would appear so as well outside of the congregation int that same society the church is in.

A Few Clarifications on this Passage

One observation we can all glean from our passage is that Paul never comes out and says that long hair on men or very short hair on women is sinful. Improper hair length, by itself, is not sinful unless the person in question has impure motives while trying to rebelliously make a statement to other believers and the world around them. Yes, some may have agendas they wish to push with their appearance (which leads to sinful behavior). Refusing to refrain from one’s desires can harm those around us by encouraging them to do the same through violating their conscience (Romans 14:13-23). Therefore, believers need to stick with the norms and the way God has established things.

Paul taught the way things should be in both secular and church society to distinguish the two genders (male and female). But the question arises: “How long is too long, and how short is too short?” Again, this has to be a judgment from the church/culture to decide. All individual Christians should examine themselves in this respect. 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 doesn’t give us any precise measurements because the issue boils down to an area of application as the individual or society sees fit. But don’t misunderstand these words! Paul did not encourage the Corinthians to act like busybodies going up to whoever “fit the bill” and tell them to ditch their hairstyle (we will discuss that more further below).

Naturally, we would all be disturbed over seeing a women tearing her hair out and would be inclined and in the right to lovingly say something to her about it. I think it is safe to say that (perhaps a few societies and cultures aside) this isn’t an issue we have to worry about in our modern day. Disheveling the hair was a common pagan, unbelieving practice in many ancient cultures (Greek in particular) that some of the Greek Corinthian believers had to unlearn because they carried it with them into their spiritual life. Needless to say, it is doubtful that few, if any, of our brothers and sisters would struggle with and witness such a spectacle today, especially here in the United States.

However, what about many women (especially older people but also the younger ones) who keep shorter hairstyles? The issue is how they appear to others within and outside the church. Again, our passage didn’t give exact specifications on hair length for the reasons we will delineate here. I just mentioned previously that this is a judgment call and that is because the individual and everyone else must determine what is appropriate or not. Most older women still have feminine-styled, longer hair than their male counterparts. That is a naturally accepted norm in most societies, so there is no issue, especially since we just said that their hair is still longer than most men in their country. Not only that, but older women tend to style their hair to look feminine, further distinguishing them as females.

The better question to ask would be what of those few individuals (women in this case) who wish to challenge society by shaving their heads or cutting their hair just as short or shorter than deemed acceptable? If we assume a believing woman does this, it could say something about the disposition of her heart (perhaps she has impure motives?). If members of the church and everyone else on the outside are startled at her appearance because she doesn’t look much different than a man, then there is a problem. So, how should she and everyone else go about handling it? We will discuss that after talking about the men (see further below).

No specific cut-off points exist for how long a man may keep his hair. But if other believers and outsiders can’t look at him without struggling to identify his gender, then this would fall into a category of “too long” (a judgment call based on the perception of those within and outside the body of Christ). Some of us are and may have experienced this ourselves while out and about or even around other believers. We may notice someone with extremely long hair and think to ourselves “I can’t tell if that is a guy or a girl.” The individual should also examine the situation and judge for themselves (1 Corinthians 11:13).

On the other hand, not all “somewhat” longer hair on a male is out of place (even if it may push the limits). If most people (both believers and unbelievers) can look at him and quickly identify him as a man without startled confusion, then there is no issue. So, what some may view as too long may not be so to others (it varies from person to person, culture to culture, and society to society). However, it would most definitely be out line for any man with longer hair to style it so as to look like a woman. I mentioned earlier that this borders crossdressing (whether done intentionally (which amounts to sinful behavior) or unintentionally (which amounts to inappropriate behavior not necessarily sinful)). I would not wish to limit the meaning of the Greek word kata kephales (down from the head) as always referring to longer hair dangling down from the head in every instance (even if that is the general meaning). Long hair allows one to style it as well so that to braid or pin it in a feminine way would still result in the man’s head being “covered.” The sign and symbol of his authority would be defeated as he (wittingly or unwittingly) advertises himself as the submissive partner (the woman).

To swing back to the issue of how the individual with “unusual” hair and those around them should react, the person (whether man or woman) needs to make the correct application of whether to keep or adjust their external appearance. Ultimately, it is their choice and decision and not something others should try to force or rudely pressure them into doing. That doesn’t mean there may not be a time and place to speak up in a loving and indirect way to ask the person on what they think about the matter (or to voice their own opinion). However, believers should not make it a habit of going up to said individuals to pest, judge, condemn, shame, and embarrass them about their appearance, especially around others because said behavior falls into a cultic and legalistic ritual if taken too far. There is always a time and place for everything. Once a loving opinion or suggestion has been given, it is best not to continue to press the matter because that comes close to trying to force the person’s hand (we can’t force people to change). That is not the business or duty of others in the church. Some people go through different phases in life and need time to outgrow or move on from specific ones just as they would any other (1 Corinthians 13:4 says love is patient and kind). When it comes to questionable choices that aren’t necessarily sinful (absent impure motives which those outside may or may not have any way of knowing), it is always best to tread lightly.

The very best a church can do with those needing time to grow out of a particular phase is to encourage them to further spiritual growth, progress, and production. Spiritual growth is always the first solution to making the best choices, applications, and adjustments. As the believer further aligns their thoughts, words, and actions to God’s will through dedicated spiritual growth, any and all other changes (internal and external) will eventually be forthcoming. These things will naturally unravel with time, assuming the Holy Spirit is involved. But blunt pressuring infringes on the person’s free will (even if it doesn’t take it away). The Holy Spirit’s voice is still and small because He does not want to violate our free will choices by scaring us into doing the right things. The church has a voice and a right to use it, but how they do it matters!