There has been much controversy regarding the length of a man's hair and what is considered "appropriate" within God's Church. Some feel that a man's hair should be cut rather short, not touching the ears. Others advocate propriety including hair somewhat over the ears, but not much. Still others feel that shoulder-length hair is acceptable as long as it is well kept. What does the Bible say about this? Is there a solid answer to the question of how long a man should let his hair grow?


There exists but one scriptural reference to the "proper" length of a man's hair. This is found in 1 Cor 11:14 which states, "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?" (New King James Version) The King James Version calls it a "shame" and other versions render it a "dishonor".


While "long" hair receives a "bad rating" in the scripture, just what constitutes "long" hair? "Long" is truly a relative term. A "long" period of time depends upon its context. A "long" test in school takes considerably less time than a "long" life for a human being. A "long" distance to a person running is a very short distance to one flying in a jet plane. And how long is "long" hair will vary with the average length of hair at a particular time and place. The average length of men's hair has varied from culture to culture, from generation to generation. In Western society two centuries ago, shoulder length hair on men was typical. (Note portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, etc.) A century later, a typical length for a man's hair was considerably shorter. (Note portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Steven Douglas, etc.) In times farther back, men often had hair past shoulder length.

Is hair "long" if it reaches the shoulder? If the average man's hair is shoulder length, probably not. If it is, then hair just over the ears would be considered "short" hair. So what constitutes "long" hair on a man? For the most part, society does. But there may be other considerations as well.


Since context plays an important part in such subjective areas, it could help to consider the times when Paul's statement was written. The International Standard Bible Encylopædia states in its article "Hair":

  1. Hair in Idol Worship: It is well known that among the surrounding heathen nations the hair of childhood or youth was often shaved and consecrated at idolatrous shrines (compare Herod. ii. 65 for Egypt). Frequently this custom marked an initiatory rite into the service of a divinity (e.g. that of Orotal (Bacchus) in Arabia, Herod. iii. 8). It was therefore an abomination of the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jew, which is referred to in Lev 19:27; Jer 9:26; 25:23; 49:32. The Syriac version of the latter passage renders, "Ye shall not let your hair grow long" (i.e. in order to cut it as a religious rite in honor of an idol). It is, however, probable that among the Jews, as now among many classes of Mohammedans, the periodical cropping of the hair, when it had become too cumbersome, was connected with some small festivity, when the weight of the hair was ascertained, and its weight in silver was given in charity to the poor. At least, the weighing of Absalom's hair (2 Sam 14:26) may be referred to some such custom, which is not unparalleled in other countries. The use of balances in connection with the shaving-off of the hair in Ezek 5:1 is certainly out of the common. See illustration, "Votive Offering," on p. 1302.

The tradition of Paul's time remained one of avoiding particularly long hair because of its relationship to pagan practices. It was also the predominant style of the time. Note statues and drawings of the Caesars of the time who led the style trends of the Western world (and Near East) at the time. Their hair was slightly over the ears, displaying the typical length of men's hair in Paul's time.


So what is "long" hair on a man today? Much depends upon the society or segment of society one is a part of or wishes to be a part of. And this can vary within various subsections of a given society. If one is in an area or profession or group which typically wears shoulder-length hair, it might be appropriate to do likewise. If one is in an area or profession or group which typically wears much shorter hair, then shoulder-length hair would probably be inappropriate. In many "Church of God" organizations in the past fifty years or so, a man's hair reaching the ears received frowns, disapproval, and worse. Within this segment of society, anything ear-length or longer was defined as "long" hair and therefore shameful and a disgrace. In more recent years, some groups have approved somewhat longer hair on men.


The old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans" tends to apply to this subject. If one is part of a group that frowns on ear-length hair, then to receive acceptance by that group, a man should keep his hair less than ear-length. If the group approves over-the-ear hair but not shoulder-length hair, then a man needs to comply with that for acceptance within the group.


So what constitutes "right" and "wrong" regarding hair length? At what point does "long" hair become "sinful" in God's eyes? Is anything about hair length "sinful"? Actually, there is nothing in the Bible which specifies a "godly" length of hair for a man. One is not necessarily "okay" with 3.9" of hair, but a "sinner" if one or more strands are 4.0" or longer. (One may plug in other values here with essentially the same result.) It is more a matter of attitude rather than actual length. Is a man wearing his hair decidedly shorter or longer than the "norm" out of protest or rebellion? If so, it is the attitude that becomes the sin, not the hair length. After all, is the length of a person's hair really that important? Not really. Is it a "burden" to keep one's hair above one's ears? Not really. Is it a "burden" to keep it just over the ears? Not really. Is it a "burden" to let it grow to shoulder length? Not necessarily, unless one's profession would make it dangerous (e.g., working around machinery in which it could get caught). Those who object to having to keep their hair "short" in order to gain acceptance within an organization might consider the bald person who has no hair to keep short!


Since the term "long" is so subjective and variable, the application of Paul's statement must be taken in the context of one's environment. In a situation where "long" means "over the ears" then one should keep his hair shorter than ear-length. In a situation where "long" falls somewhere between ear-length and shoulder-length, then one should keep his hair within that range. The "shame" aspect enters when a man rebels against the standards of the society within which he operates. God does equate rebellion with witchcraft (1 Sam 15:23) so the attitude behind the behavior plays the critical role. Therefore, a man wanting to be a part of a particular society or segment of society should submit to the criteria defining acceptable behavior and appearance within that society or segment of society. If anything involved with those criteria specifically violates any part of God's laws, then one should probably avoid becoming or remaining a part of that environment. If their dictates or guidelines do not directly conflict with any of God's laws, then compliance with those dictates or guidelines should not be a problem for a Christian man. It really all boils down to a matter of attitude. If that attitude is one of rebellion, he treads dangerous ground.


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