Is It Wrong for a Man to Have Long Hair?
Throughout history, most men have worn their hair short. But is there a biblical reason for this? What does the Bible say about men having long hair?
Men, let’s ask a simple question: Does God care about the length of our hair? Some may cast this question aside, claiming that the God who created the universe is indifferent toward a man’s hair length.
But is He?
When we look into the Bible, we can find two clear statements on the matter, as well as other helpful examples. What do we discover when we put them all together?
What does the Bible have to say about men having long hair?
What Bible verse talks about a man having long hair?
The clearest Bible verse about men having long hair is found in 1 Corinthians 11:14, where the apostle Paul asked, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?”
What exactly was Paul saying?
1 Corinthians 11 explained
This book was a letter Paul sent to the Christians in Corinth. In it, he addressed a number of divisive issues festering in the congregation.
Chapter 11 specifically addresses head coverings and gender roles within the family, which indicates the Corinthians were confused about these subjects.
Seven times in Paul’s discussion of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-15, he uses a form of the word cover (“cover,” “covered,” “uncovered” and “covering”).
Some religious groups think the word refers to a cloth veil or shawl. Consequently, some groups teach that women must cover their heads with a veil or a hat when they pray or attend a church service.
Hair length helps distinguish the two sexes God created—and the different roles those sexes have within the family structure. But there is no evidence in the Bible that God ever required women to cover their heads with a veil or hat when praying or gathering for a holy convocation. And there’s no record of Jesus ever addressing the topic of veils on women.
So, it seems clear that “veils vs. no veils” is not the issue Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11. To learn more about this subject, read “Must Women Wear Hats or Head Coverings at Church?”
So, what was Paul’s intent? By reading his entire discourse, we see that he interprets exactly what he means by a covering.
Paul is talking about hair, as 1 Corinthians 11:15 shows: “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (emphasis added throughout). Here the word covering is clearly defined as hair.
In this section of Scripture, Paul uses four words in reference to hair:
- Covering (or covered)—long hair.
- Uncovered—short hair.
- Shorn—extremely short hair (in modern terms, a buzz cut).
- Shaved—hair cut off close to the skin (bald).
With this understanding in mind, we can read the chapter with greater clarity.
First, Paul introduces the discussion by showing that hair serves as a marker for the roles within the family structure that God created: “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” (verse 3). This shows us that, just as there is structure and authority in God’s family, there is structure and authority in the human family (see also verse 10).
Hair length helps distinguish the two sexes God created—and the different roles those sexes have within the family structure.
The different hair lengths are physical symbols of God’s spiritual intent for the human family structure.
Paul then addresses the issue of men wearing long hair: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head [wear long hair], since he is the image and glory of God” (verse 7).
The basic message is that a man who wears long hair is appropriating the identifying female marker in God’s family structure. Notice it says a man “ought not” to do this. The Greek word translated “not” in this verse is an absolute negative and is used in other strong New Testament commands (e.g., Matthew 4:7; 5:17; Romans 8:7.)
“Does not even nature itself teach . . .”
With that background in mind, we come back to Paul’s clear statement in verse 14: “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?”
In previous verses Paul sets the matter straight, giving God’s perspective on hair lengths. But here he points out that we don’t have to lean solely on God’s Word to understand this issue. Why?
Because it’s also obvious from “nature itself.”
To put it differently, even among nonbelievers, the sexes are commonly distinguished by hair length—men having short hair and women having long hair.
Greek and Roman culture dominated the world of Paul’s time. History is clear that in these societies it was common for men to wear their hair shorter than women. In fact, if you do a Google Images search for “first-century Roman busts,” you’ll find pictures of dozens of sculptures of men from that era, the majority of whom wore their hair short.
Interestingly, Greek and Roman male gods were frequently depicted with long, flowing hair as a sign of their “divinity” because it distinguished them from ordinary men (Thomas Mathews, The Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art, 1993, p. 126).
This is why, starting in the fourth century, artists began drawing and sculpting images of Jesus with long, flowing hair. The Clash of the Gods explains, “In letting his hair down Christ took on an aura of divinity that set him apart from the disciples and onlookers who are represented with him” (p. 127). The artists’ inspiration stemmed from the artistic renditions of the classical pagan gods like Zeus, Serapis and Apollo.
But historians understand that Jesus would have had short hair.
The December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics reported on the use of forensic anthropology to construct a computerized image of an average first-century Jewish man.
They labeled their digital 3D image “the real face of Jesus” because they recognized that Jesus looked like a typical first-century Jew.
The article cites the fact that “Judas Iscariot had to indicate to the soldiers [who] Jesus was because they could not tell him apart from his disciples” (p. 68). They concluded that His hair would have been “short with tight curls” (p. 70).
To learn more about Jesus’ appearance, read “What Did and Didn’t Jesus Look Like?”
Time magazine’s article “Now You Know: How Did Long Hair Become a Thing for Women?” points out, “In general, their [men’s] hair was expected to be shorter than the hair of women in their societies.” The article quotes from Kurt Stenn’s 2016 book Hair: A Human History: “[It is] almost universally culturally found that women have longer hair than men.”
The historical record answers what Paul meant by saying, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?”
Paul is reminding his readers that all they had to do is glance at the people around them to notice that there is at least one common factor that distinguishes the sexes: hair length. Men’s hair is shorter, and women’s hair is longer.
In fact, in today’s world, the exact same words could be written—men in most cultures tend to keep their hair shorter than women.
“If a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him”
Paul completes his thought by saying it is a dishonor—a “shame,” according to the King James Version—for a man to wear his hair long.
The Greek word translated “dishonor” is atimia. According to Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates, the word means “without honor,” “something improper” or even “vileness” (The Complete Word Study New Testament, p. 894). This word is usually used to describe practices contrary to God’s intent and design.
Putting all of this together, we can understand both the doctrinal and practical application of 1 Corinthians 11:2-15.
Paul’s inspired words reveal that God intended hair length to be a powerful symbol of His intent and purpose for distinguishing between the two sexes (male and female) and of His creation of the family structure.
By wearing their hair short, men:
- Clearly distinguish themselves from women.
- Recognize a symbol of the God-ordained structure for the family.
- Represent their submission to God.
Disregarding these symbols, as is sometimes seen among men today, goes against God’s clear instructions.
Is long hair on a man a sin?
For a Christian man to read and understand the plain statements of Paul but willfully choose to ignore them would be sin. One of the Bible’s definitions of sin is found in James 4:17: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
A man who strives to please God will take 1 Corinthians 11:7 and 14 seriously (Isaiah 66:2) and say to himself, “If God’s Word tells me I ‘ought not’ have long hair and that it’s unnatural and dishonorable, I will honor God by wearing my hair short.”
Men’s hair lengths in the Old Testament
The New Testament statements on hair lengths are very clear. But does this teaching fit into the greater context of the Bible? Is there any reason to believe that this was God’s intent long before Paul wrote on the topic?
Christian men and women should strive to practice this law today and not wear clothes, or hair styles, designed for the opposite gender.In the book of Genesis, we find that God made clear distinctions between men and women. He “created them male and female” (Genesis 5:2; see also Genesis 1:27). Despite modern ideas about sexual identity, God established the two genders to be distinct and binary.
Later, He gave Israel His laws, which further distinguished the genders beyond just their anatomy. “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 22:5).
Christian men and women should strive to practice this law today and not wear clothes, or hair styles, designed for the opposite gender.
What about Absalom’s long hair?
Other than Samson (who had long hair only because of a very specific and unique vow, Numbers 6:5 and Judges 13:5) the only Israelite man in the Bible that we’re told had long hair was King David’s son Absalom. The book of Samuel makes a point to note that Absalom cut his hair only once a year (2 Samuel 14:26). The fact that the author pointedly recorded the details of Absalom’s hair shows that his style was unusual—and perhaps a reflection of his rebellious character.
Sadly, Absalom’s rebellious spirit extended far beyond his hair length. He not only murdered his brother, but also attempted a coup d’état against his father, David. In his failed attempt to take his father’s throne, his long locks even played a major role in his death (2 Samuel 18:9-14).
From his hair length to his manner of living, there’s virtually no aspect of Absalom’s example that a Christian should desire to emulate.
How long is too long? How short is short enough?
The Bible’s teaching on hair for men is clear, but questions often come up about specifics. After all, none of the scriptures define what is considered either too long or appropriately short. God gives us the general principles and then leaves us to use wisdom to make right judgments.
Here are a few principles, put in the form of questions, that may aid you in determining what a godly decision in this area may look like:
- Does your hair length clearly distinguish you as a male?
God intended for hair lengths to unquestionably distinguish the two genders He created. If your hair is long enough that you could be confused for a woman, it’s probably too long.
- Is your hair length and style driven by celebrities and society or God’s Word?
The modern practice of long hair on men can be traced back to the 1960s, when long hair was worn as a part of the counterculture movement. Following the lead of popular musicians, many young men embraced long hair as a form of rebellion.
Though men today may not realize it, many of today’s popular hair trends were fueled by celebrities or the fashion industry. Should a Christian man compromise biblical principles to conform to society’s trendsetters?
- Do you desire to be above reproach or to test the limits of God’s standards?
When God gives a standard but doesn’t define the specifics on how to implement it, do we want to push its limits or place ourselves safely within those limits?
In this context, finding the extreme limits of the biblical standard would be growing our hair to a questionable length, where it might be too long.
On the other hand, staying above reproach is striving to be well within the biblical guidelines and away from the gray area. In other words, keep your hair trimmed to a length that nobody would describe as long.
- Are you setting a godly example for younger men?
When it comes to making decisions about biblical principles, it’s never just about ourselves. The Bible emphasizes the importance of example and influence (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3).
A Christian man’s life should be a living representation to others of God’s way in action, especially to younger men.
Christian men striving to live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” should practice the biblical teaching on hair lengths and keep their hair short.
To answer the question—yes, it is wrong for a Christian man to have long hair.
Topics Covered: Christian Living, Family, Bible Study