Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Is it a shame for a man to have long hair? Is hair given to a woman as her glory, but not to a man? Is it a sin for a woman to cut her hair? Should a woman wear a head covering? Should a man wear a head covering? Should a woman be allowed to teach or preach in the assembly, or is she suppose to teach only women, or is she just suppose to keep her mouth shut and never teach at all? Is a woman allowed to learn Torah or is she just permitted to learn scripture from her husband only? What about unmarried women? Is the husband the complete authority over the wife? Does she have no say in matters of the home and decisions of the family at all? Where do we go with all of this? Well, we go cautiously and carefully and we always take it back to the Torah! What did God say? We start out by understanding that the letters of the Apostle Paul are difficult to understand. Even Peter said this (II Peter 3:16). And last of all we remember these three words: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT.
I realize that this is a touchy subject for many, and a difference of doctrinal beliefs for Christian denominations as well as Jewish sects. More specifically, the treatment of women (single, married, divorced) has been a serious issue since the Garden of Eden.
As a woman who grew up in a traditional Christian denomination, I was blessed that this denomination placed very few restrictions on women. Women were allowed to cut their hair, they were not obligated to cover their heads, they could teach and preach to both men and women from the pulpit, and they could be pastor of congregations. The only restriction which was in force was that women could not participate in the business meetings of the church. They could voice their opinions before the meeting was officially called to order whereupon they had then to remain silent and let the men conduct the business meeting. However, this policy has since changed. (I would like to add here that I am no longer a part of this denomination as I am now a Sabbath keeper and attend assembly on Shabbat (Saturday).
After leaving this denomination I did experience some “womanly persecution” from well meaning Torah observant men (or wanna be Torah observant men) who found my place as a woman minster particularly bothersome. I seemed to be “teaching men” in ways that were not acceptable according to the Apostle Paul. I had never experienced this type of ridicule before. It set me out on a mission to discover, or rather uncover, what the Apostle Paul was really trying to say. I certainly wanted to be obedient to scripture. If I was not suppose to ever “teach” a man then I wanted to be obedient. My husband was certainly standing in my corner and had no problem with my teaching or preaching to anyone who was willing to listen; be they male or female. My father had never had a problem with it as I was growing up under his authority. I would like to share with you my journey and I pray that you give it your consideration and prayer.
First, let's address the head coverings of both the male and the female. Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 11:2-16.
We know that most Jewish males usually wear a yarmulke, or kippah, to cover their head. Most Jewish females wear a covering over their hair, especially while in synagogue. Where is this commanded in Torah? Where is the command that one must cover their head or hair; whether they be male or female? Guess what – there isn't one! Even the Jews know this. This is only a tradition; which for the male is supposed to show that they are under a higher power, and for the female that she is under her husband and she is not available. What if she doesn't have a husband? Well, those rules have changed throughout the centuries. Cultural changes work that way. At times, unmarried women did not have to wear anything over their hair, or wear a veil over their face, only married women wore a hair covering because it showed she was not available. The Rabbi's have had much midrash in the Talmud over this matter and it has changed dramatically throughout the centuries. During the middle ages when wigs were the “in thing”, Jewish women, according to the Talmud, could wear wigs as head coverings. I don't find that in the Torah either.
Actually, verse 4 states that, “every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonereth his head”. Wow – what does that do for Jewish men or those wanting to wear a kippah? I think we have missed something very important that Paul was addressing. I will come back to this scripture later in these teachings.
It's a funny thing – Jews want you to wear a skullcap to show respect toward God and most Christian churches will have a fit if a man does not take off his hat while in church; because they deem it disrespectful toward God. Which is it? Does God care? NO – these are all traditions and have changed throughout time.
I will specifically cover the verses in Corinthians about women and head coverings later in these teachings.
OK, so let's look at this verse from the Apostle Paul:
I Corinthians 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (KJV)
Really? I have to ask the difficult question here: how does nature teach me, or anyone else, that a man having long hair is a shame to him? I don't hear the animals, grass, fish, birds, trees, sun, moon, or any other thing in nature crying out that it is a shame for men to have long hair. Why does he say this here anyway? He was really discussing women and not the length of a man's hair. What does this have to do with the conversation? Furthermore, why leave us hanging? What defines long hair? Is long hair when it touches the top of the ear, when it goes below the ear, when it touches the top of the collar, when it goes down to the shoulders, when it gets mid back, when it goes to the hips, when it touches the floor? Or, as some interpret some of these scriptures – only if his hair is long enough to hang down like a veil in his face? To each his own interpretation with this! For my father (with my brother – back in the day) it was when his hair reached the top of his ears – off to the barber he went. However, when he became a teenager he liked wearing his hair below his ears. It was curly and very cute. I loved it. It was the “trendy thing”. Dad never liked it but it wasn't a big issue in the family. My Dad never wore LONG HAIR - hair that touched the top of his ears!
So, how does nature teach us that a man shouldn't have long hair? Is there a command in Torah that says a man shouldn't have long hair (however long is long). Is there a command that says to the men of Israel: “when your hair reaches “here” you must get it cut because it is a shame if you grow it beyond this point”? NO, in fact there is another command in Torah that actually tells men (and technically this applies to women also) that they are not to cut their hair AT ALL. It is called the nazarite vow. Samson was probably the most familiar of the nazarites. Scripture records that the Apostle Paul took a nazarite vow. WHAT? He states that it is shameful for men to have long hair and then he takes a nazarite vow which would have included not cutting his hair. The vow could be for a certain period of time, or for life, even from birth; like Samson. Just how long did Paul's hair get? I don't know. Hair grows differently between people. Mine grows very slow yet some grow hair quicker. Some men grow beards very slow while some have to shave twice a day if they don't want a beard. My husband, (when he was a teenager), had long, thick, black hair down to his mid back. I did not know him then but my hair would never have grown that long if I had not cut it in 20 years. What if "long hair" is a woman's glory and a woman can't grow long hair, like me? Does that mean I don't have any glory, because my hair is short and won't grow long? Then again, how long is long?
Absalom, the son of David, had hair that was so long that it got caught in tree limbs and led to his death. Was he sinning because he had long hair? Did he hear nature or the natural order of things screaming at him somehow about how wrong his long hair was? (2 Samuel 18:9). Scripture even tells us how often Absalom cut his hair. he only cut it once a year. The only reason that he cut it was because it got too heavy. Hum? Wonder how long it grew in just one year without being cut? (2 Samuel 14:26)
Jews had an ancient tradition of “polling” their hair. They only did it about once a year when it reached a certain length; which would be considered “long” by many standards.
What does nature (growth, natural order) really teach us about hair? Nature teaches us that heads grow hair (unless you are now bald and can't grow any), as do other areas of the body – whether you are male or female – both species grow hair on their bodies. Just like birds grow wings and feathers. This is what nature really teaches us. This is how the Creator made us. Our heads, and etc, grow hair.
So, what else could the Apostle Paul be saying here? If we take a look at the Greek, without any preconceived ideas, we actually find that the first word in the sentence of verse 14 has to do with comparing things, connecting things together (which in context of the conversation would be head coverings for men and women). The second Greek word (oude) means “neither, nor, not even, never”.
So, Paul is actually stating that the things he is discussing: that nature does not teach you either of these things. Nature does not teach you that it is a shame for men to have long hair, neither does it teach you that long hair is a woman's glory. Hair grows the same on men and women. God gave it to us as a covering for our heads, (and probably for warmth in other areas).
The verses would read better like this (I Corinthians 11:14-15):
Bringing this all together; nature itself neither teaches you that it is shameful for a man to have long hair, nor that hair is a woman's glory, since hair is given (by the Creator) as a covering for our heads. Actually, I was amazed to find that the ISV translates these verses almost like this. Go look it up.
The growth of hair in both male and female is a natural thing. Long hair is not shameful to a man nor is long hair the “glory” of a woman. Hair will grow long, in both, if not cut. There is no command in Torah where the length of hair is addressed as sinful. There is no commandment about not cutting your hair, or that you must cut your hair (except for the one regarding the rounding of the corners of your head and the corners of your beard - Lev. 19:27 – and exactly what this means is disputed but is believed to be associated with pagan rituals). The Apostle Paul is not free to make up new commandments of God. He did not start a new religion called Christianity. He was, and remained, an obedient Pharisee (by his own words). Whatever the Apostle Paul (Sha'ul) taught, he taught as Torah teaches. If we don't understand it is because we have twisted his words. If Adonai did not address these things then we need not worry about them. In fact, the Apostle Paul says these very words at the end of chapter 11:
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (KJV)
In today's English: if any man seem to be quarreling about these matters, we do not have such a custom (habit), neither does the assemblies of God.
Interpreting these verses correctly lines up with all that Paul is trying to say. The church at Corinth had problems. Jewish women of the first century covered their hair and Gentile women (Romans) didn't. Questions were arising in the congregation regarding which was correct.
Another problem with the writings of Paul, which I will oft repeat, is that we are listening to only one side of a phone conversation. What I mean is that Paul was addressing problems and concerns of which the congregation had written to him about. We don't have those letters with their questions and statements of concern. We only hear Paul's answers. Without the questions we find it easy to make assumptions about the answers.
I am on page 4. I will stop here and continue in part 2. I have much more to say about this chapter and some others within Paul's letters. I hope you will join me next time.