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It is written:
1 Corinthians 11:1-16-Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 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. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 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.
Several men that I have worked with over the years have told me that they were snuffed while visiting churches of Christ because they had “long” hair. Some were openly mocked: others were gossiped about: and still others were told that it is a direct sin for a man to have “long” hair. They all were told this because of what the Apostle Paul wrote in his first Epistle to the church of God at Corinth:
1 Corinthians 11:14-Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?
What does Paul mean when he writes these words?
We will investigate this text by asking some questions about what is written here to help us better understand.
The Apostle wrote this letter to the church of God at Corinth. Having some background information about this city will help us as we investigate the matter.
“The very name Corinth was synonymous with debauchery; and there was one source of evil in the city which was known all over the civilized world. Above the isthmus towered the hill of the Acropolis, and on it stood the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. To that temple, there were attached 1,000 priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and in the evenings they came down from the Acropolis and plied their trade on the streets of Corinth. Eventually, it became the subject of a Greek proverb: ‘It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.’” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters To The Corinthians, 3 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press)
Let’s take a careful look.
Question One: Are there any clues from this passage that suggest Paul is talking specifically about a local problem at Corinth?
Throughout the passage here in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses phraseology that tells us that he is addressing primarily a cultural problem that existed specifically in the church of Christ at Corinth in the first century. He is not laying down universal situations for all cultures of all times!
Everett Ferguson has noted:
“Notice how Paul’s reasons for the head covering for women and its absence for men are loaded with the language of culture. (1) Honor or shame (disgrace) for the man—“ any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head” (1 Corinthians 11: 4-5). (2) Shame (disgrace) to the woman—“ It is one and the same thing as having her head shaved…. If it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil” (1 Corinthians 11: 5-6). (3) What is accepted as a sign of authority—“ For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head” (1 Corinthians 11: 10). (Angels are perhaps invoked as witnesses to the order of creation.) (4) What is regarded by human beings as natural (that is, what is customarily done)—“ Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (1 Corinthians 11: 13-15). (5) The practice of the churches—“ We have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11: 16).” (Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church: Biblical and Historical Perspectives, 390-399 (Kindle Edition): Abilene, TX: Desert Willow Publishing)
We see the same thing when we look at the very word translated “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14. We might be tempted to think that this is talking about “nature” in the sense of “the way God created things and intended them to be.” However, that overlooks the fact that the Greek word used here and translated as “nature” often had reference to local custom!
“The idea might be arguable from Rhet. ad Herenn. 3.3.4; Cic. Offic. 3.6.30. Sen. Dial. 5.27.3 might have been helpful, except he does not use the term “natura.” (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, 8043-8045 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic)
Several historians and commentators have noted this usage of the word:
“It is most unlikely that in this context Paul regarded “nature” as that which is intuitively understood by all human beings, nor did he see it as a description of something that belongs to the very essence of how men and women are created (e.g., as in Stoicism). So the custom of Paul’s day, and of most generations, is that a man with long hair brings dishonor on himself.” (Paul D. Gardner, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 496 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan)
“Nature” sounds like an appeal to the way God created things, but Paul the Jew would have known of the Nazirites whom God blessed precisely because they did not cut their hair (of whom Samson was the most famous example; Judg. 13: 5). In the Greek world, the Spartan men were known for their shoulder-length hair. But it was true, then as now, that most cultures maintained a relative difference in hair length between men and women. So “nature” is probably best understood here as that which is “almost instinctive because of long habit,” a “long-established custom.” 15”. (Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 7), 181 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)
“Nature,” which Paul said teaches that long hair on a man is dishonorable, is phusis (FOO-sis). It means “nature” and “the natural order,” but it also can be used to describe a mode of feeling or acting that is almost instinctive because of long habit. In that sense, phusis means “long-established custom.”” (John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love, 84 (Kindle Edition): New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc)
When we consider that the words of this passage point specifically to local customs (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:16), then we must remember to take care not to bind the specific commands here upon anyone and everyone that exists and lives outside that culture.
Question Two: Are there any clues from this passage that what Paul says here is based on the paganism that was so prevalent in Corinth?
Throughout chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with issues specially regarding the Christians who were actively worshiping God and then going and worshiping the pagan gods and participating in the pagan religions that were so prevalent in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 8:10-For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?
Specifically, the discussion that Paul goes into within this context regarding “hair” and “veils” had specific reference to the pagan temples and “sacred prostitution” that were so prevalent in Corinth.
We remember that throughout the Old Testament, we read of how paganism and sex were often conjoined together.
Leviticus 19:29-Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.
Deuteronomy 23:18-You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog to the house of the LORD your God for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.
1 Kings 14:24-And there were also perverted persons in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.
1 Kings 15:12-And he banished the perverted persons from the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.
1 Kings 22:46-And the rest of the perverted persons, who remained in the days of his father Asa, he banished from the land.
2 Kings 23:7-Then he tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the wooden image.
Hosea 4:9-13-And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, And reward them for their deeds. 10 For they shall eat, but not have enough; They shall commit harlotry, but not increase; Because they have ceased obeying the LORD. 11 “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. 12 My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God. 13 They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops, And burn incense on the hills, Under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, Because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, And your brides commit adultery.
Indeed, the very word that is used to describe these “temple prostitutes”is “dog,” and had specific reference to the sexual activities of dogs:
“Many scholars—basing themselves on the parallelism in this verse—conjecture that the word translated “pay of a dog” referred to “a homosexual prostitute who performs in the stance of a dog” (Tigay).” (Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Deuteronomy: God, Blessings, and Curses, 532 (Kindle Edition): Washington, D.C.: Regnery Faith)
Pagans believed that the sexual act gained the power and blessing of the gods within the world of man.
“What kind of wickedness are we talking about? We’re familiar with the line, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In the case of the Canaanites, the Canaanites’ moral apples didn’t fall far from the tree of their pantheon of immoral gods and goddesses. So if the Canaanite deities engaged in incest, then it’s not surprising that incest wasn’t treated as a serious moral wrong among the Canaanite people. As we’ve seen, adultery (temple sex), bestiality, homosexual acts (also temple sex), and child sacrifice were also permitted (cf. Lev. 18: 20–30). Humans are “imaging” beings, designed to reflect the likeness and glory of their Creator. If we worship the creaturely rather than the Creator, we’ll come to resemble or image the idols of our own devising and that in which we place our security. 3 The sexual acts of the gods and goddesses were imitated by the Canaanites as a kind of magical act: the more sex on the Canaanite high places, the more this would stimulate the fertility god Baal to have sex with his consort, Anath, which meant more semen (rain) produced to water the earth.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, 159 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books)
We see the same ideas being present at Corinth.
Question Three: How does the length of hair suggest that Paul is talking about Christians and temple prostitution in 1 Corinthians 11?
Answer: Because of Paul’s discussion regarding Adam and Eve, and also because the length of hair the temple prostitutes had in Corinth advertised the sexual services they were willing to perform.
Paul begins this discussion with a detailed description of how Adam and Eve were made by God. They were made to complement each other, and woman was the “glory”of man. The idea of woman being man’s “glory” is that she is the best part of him (just as mankind in the beginning was God’s best part of Creation).
“God’s order is based on the fact that man was created first (1 Tim. 2: 13), and that the woman was created for the man. Again, priority does not imply inferiority; for Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 11: 11–12 that there is partnership as well as headship in God’s creation. The man and the woman are spiritually one in the Lord (Gal. 3: 28), and one cannot do without the other. Furthermore, the woman may have come from the man at the beginning, but today, it is the man who is born of the woman. Man and woman belong to each other and need each other.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Wise (1 Corinthians): Discern the Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom, 126-127 (Kindle Edition): Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook)
In 1 Corinthians11, Paul makes it clear that God’s intention in the Creation was for man and woman (male and female) to complement each other. Consider that this is true from a physical point of view (looking at sexual reproduction), and from the spiritual point of view (notice carefully in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women are identified as prophesying and praying in the public assembly of the church as well as the men).
It would help us to remember that in the ancient world of Paul’s day, there was a growing belief among many religious groups that men are inferior to women-and this was exemplified by many of the temple prostitutes in Corinth!
“The history that had been ascribed to Asia by Paul’s day provided its inhabitants with various models for women taking on traditional masculine roles, models which would not appeal to conservative Romans if anyone ever acted on them. Such figures could be found in the Amazons, the mother-goddess, and the Ephesian Artemis. Greek writers had long been intrigued by traditions of the warlike Amazons in Asia,[ 97] and most ancient writers seem to have assumed that they actually existed.[ 98] These women warriors may have been modeled to some degree on the huntress Artemis, with whose Ephesian temple they are linked in Greek tradition.[ 99] They were seen as “manly” in their pursuits,[ 100] and were able to serve as a role model for philosophically minded women in Cynic exhortation.[ 101] Mother-goddess worship was also easily associated with the Roman province of Asia and its environs. It was widely known that Cybele, the “Great Mother”[ 102] who induced frenzy and castration among her priests,[ 103] was of Phrygian origin.[ 104] Mother-goddess cults apparently had a long history in the area around Ephesus.[ 105] Because castration was a severe form of gender role reversal, Romans would be especially disturbed by this cult. The cult of Artemis was of paramount importance in Ephesus,[ 106] although Acts 19: 27 rightly reports the claim that both Asia[ 107] and the world[ 108] worshiped the Ephesian Artemis; her devotees had carried her cult with them elsewhere.[ 109] Her temple[ 110] was so impressive that it is listed first among the seven wonders of the ancient world.[ 111] Unlike the virgin huntress of Greek mythology, this Artemis is widely agreed to have been a fertility figure of some sort.[ 112] In the syncretism that had become typical of the hellenistic-Roman age, the Greek Artemis was identified with the original Great Mother and other female deities.[ 113] Women were often praised in the inscriptions of the eastern provinces, although some of the titles may have been merely honorary.[ 114] Inscriptions especially from Ephesus indicate that many women were honored as priestesses.[ 115] Since there were also women of religious prestige in Rome, the Vestal Virgins, we need not suppose that this feature of Asian culture would have threatened Roman values.” (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, 3970-3991 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic)
There was even a growing religious movement in the Roman Empire known as the “New Women.” This group encouraged women to cast aside their veils and imitate the prostitutes at the temple in Corinth!
“There is firm evidence that Corinthian women were connected to the cult of Demeter which we know operated in Roman Corinth in Paul’s day in the temple on the slopes of the Acrocorinth overlooking the city.59 Curse inscriptions written by women have been discovered there…It can be concluded, therefore, that those wives who undertook religious functions would have covered their heads with the marriage veil, given that all respectable married women would wear their veil outside the home, as Roman law and custom prescribed. scribed. This raises the possibility that those who sent messengers to spy out the activities of Christian gatherings could have reported to the men elected to officially supervise women’s dress codes in Corinth that some Christian married women were inappropriately attired while engaging in a religious activity…Their deliberate removing of their veils while praying and prophesying would have sent a signal that they were identifying themselves in this religious gathering with the new women who behaved loosely at banquets which were often held in private homes.” (Winter Bruce, Roman Wives; Roman Widows-The Appearance Of New Women And The Pauline Communities, 1063-1098 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
In the ancient world, the way a person treated his hair was often very symbolic.
“The literature and art of the Bible lands reveals a wide range of hairstyles. The style and length of a person’s hair were not simply matters of individual taste or local custom. Frequently, the way a person chose to wear his or her hair—including the shaving of hair—was closely tied to a religious rite, social grouping, or particular lifestyle. Thus, depending upon the specific culture and period of time, the appearance of an individual’s hair in public sometimes also carried a message with it.” (Yamauchi, Edwin M., and Marvin R. Wilson, Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity: Hair (Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity), 91-95 (Kindle Edition): Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC)
In Corinth, the removal of veils and the length of one’s hair was often an indicator of the sexual services a temple prostitute was willing to perform.
“If hair styles are in view (men wearing long hair and/or women letting their hair down rather than putting it up), it may suggest that homosexual influences were penetrating the church, since long hair was associated with homosexuality in the Roman world.32…While the shame was probably based on association with nakedness, the humiliation of having a woman’s hair shaved off may also have to do with the suggestion that she has forfeited her very identity as a woman (which is marked by the possession of her hair) similar to the way in which a married woman’s failure to cover her head in public could be understood as suggesting that she had forsaken her identity as a married woman. In the case of the lesbian the move indicated a desire to abandon a female identity for that of a man.73” (Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The First Letter To The Corinthians, 512-521 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; WILLIAM B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY)
Question Four: What does the rest of the Bible teach about the length of hair?
Answer: Throughout the Old Testament, “long” hair was considered normal and praiseworthy among many Jewish people.
Consider the Nazirite vow:
Numbers 6:5-All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
Judges 16:13-Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me what you may be bound with.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head into the web of the loom”—
Absalom is a man that was looked up to by many of the Hebrews for a time:
2 Samuel 14:26-And when he cut the hair of his head—at the end of every year he cut it because it was heavy on him—when he cut it, he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels according to the king’s standard.
The Shulammite sings of her beloved with these words:
Song Of Solomon 5:11-His head is like the finest gold; His locks are wavy, And black as a raven.
“On the other hand, the Hebrew people, like their Babylonian neighbors (Herod. i.195), affected long and well-cared-for, bushy curls of hair as emblems of manly beauty. Proofs thereof are not infrequent in the Scriptures and elsewhere. Samson’s (Jud 16:13, 19) and Absalom’s (2Sa 14:26) long luxuriant hair is specially mentioned, and the Shulammite sings of the locks of her beloved which are “bushy (the Revised Version, margin “curling”), and black as a raven” (So 5:11). Josephus (Ant., VIII, vii, 3 (185)) reports that Solomon’s body-guard was distinguished by youthful beauty and “luxuriant heads of hair.” In the history of Samson we read of “the seven locks of his head” (Jud 16:19). It is likely that the expression signifies the plaits of hair which are even now often worn by the young Bedouin warrior of the desert….In New Testament times, especially in the Diaspora, the Jews frequently adopted the fashion of the Romans in cropping the hair closely (1Co 11:14); still the fear of being tainted by the idolatrous practice of the heathen, which is specially forbidden in Le 21:5, was so great that the side locks remained untouched and were permitted to grow ad libitum. This is still the custom among the Jews of Eastern Europe and the Orient.” (H. L. E. Luering, ‘Hair,’ in James Orr, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 75342-75371 (Kindle Edition); OSNOVA)
These passages remind us yet again that the “nature”of 1 Corinthians 11:14 is not referring to “nature” as the way that God decreed things: for God does not command people to do what is sinful (1 John 1:5)!
It is also worth noting here that-while many men in the first century wore hair that was down to their shoulders-we do not know for certain if that would have applied to Jesus. Some men wore their hair to their shoulders at this time, others didn’t. What we must remember is that the length of hair in 1 Corinthians 11 was dealing primarily with the issue of gender identity. A man was not to wear his hair in such a way that he would be considered a woman, and vise versa.
Question Five: How does all of this apply to us today?
Answer: By reminding us to love our neighbor as ourself, and to be subject to local custom if not doing so hinders the Gospel.
When we study the Word of God, we MUST be careful to consider the context of the statements found within. Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:14 were unique to a particular city: Corinth, during a particular time: the time of the Roman Empire. It would not be right, therefore, to make his instructions here a series of universal mandates, binding them on on all Christians throughout all ages and from every country.
Now, with that being said, Paul wanted to encourage the Christians to remember that they needed to submit to local customs.
If a Christian woman in Corinth laid aside her veil, people would often consider her a prostitute. So the Christian women were to wear their veils!
If a Christian man at Corinth had “long” hair that flowed down his back, it would often be that unbelievers would consider him to be a temple prostitute. So, the Christian men at Corinth were not to have “long” hair!
We see here a few principles.
First, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 11, we need to ask ourselves if our practices and honoring or rejecting of local customs brings honor to God. If it is a local custom that is dishonoring to God, then should I be doing it? The local custom at Corinth was such that a man with hair flowing down his back would cause him to be perceived as a homosexual prostitute to pagan gods and goddesses: so, such hair styles were to be rejected.
1 Corinthians 10:31-Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
If I wear clothes or grow my hair to such a length that people would think that I am portraying something that dishonors God, should I be doing it?
A few months ago, I purchased a shirt at Walmart. It was of a television character from a movie that I have not seen. I just liked the shirt. A Christian sister told me that the movie was very sexually explicit and vulgar, so I stopped wearing that shirt. It was more important that I try and bring glory to God than to wear a shirt that was dishonoring to Him.
Do our actions honor or dishonor God?
Second, customs are to be honored if defying them would hinder the Message of Jesus.
If I lived in Corinth in the first century, and saw a woman walking around without a veil, I would likely think that she was a temple prostitute. But that is not case today!
In the same way today, if I lived in Corinth in the first century and saw a man walking around with exceptionally long hair, I would likely think that he was a temple prostitute. But that is not the case today!
Years ago, Foy E. Wallace Junior pointed out that if it ever became commonplace in America for a woman to be identified with prostitution by carrying a red purse in public, then he would encourage Christian women not to wear a red purse in public. This would be a proper application of this principle.
Third, customs are to be rejected if honoring such would dishonor God or in some way harms a person made in God’s image. Jesus rejected customs that dishonored God and mankind (see Mark 7:1-7; Luke 8:1-3). If a certain custom dishonors or brings harm to my fellow man, such must be rejected.
1 Corinthians 16:14-Let all that you do be done with love.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.