“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #130
“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11: 13-16).
So we now come to what I believe is the nub of Paul’s argument. He has grounded his argument in the way the world was created—so I do not think we can legitimately evade his requirement by appeal to Greco/Roman customs. What Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians is something that “nature itself” also teaches. That doctrine is that women should have a covering on their heads when they pray in public, and that men should not. This is natural theology, and it is reinforced by special revelation.
My reading of this is that a woman’s long hair is given her “for a covering” (v. 15). I do not take it as her long hair is given her “for an illustration of how an additional covering is necessary.” So the lesson is brought to us by nature, and the provision for Paul’s requirement is given to us by nature as well.
But what nature teaches here is nevertheless relevant to man-made coverings. If a man has short hair, and prays in church with a baseball cap on, he is violating the intent of this passage—even though he has short hair. But if a woman has long hair, and wears an additional covering (a veil, covering, or hat), she is accentuating the import of the passage.
Those who do not see this passage as requiring man-made coverings may not therefore dismiss what the passage is actually requiring. Women who do not wear an artificial covering must make a point of making sure that their hair—given them for a covering—actually serves as one. It is not possible to argue that because long hair is given for a covering, this means that long hair is not necessary.
And this leads to the final question. What does “long” mean here? How long before it is a shame to a man? How long before it is a glory to a woman? There are two aspects to this answer. Note that the Bible does not give us quantitative measurements—“over twelve inches,” say. This means that long and short should be defined from the context of the passage, and there are two aspects we should think about. First, the long and short are used as a comparison between men and women. A woman’s hair should be long relative to the man’s, and in particular, relative to her husband’s. When I was a boy, my father had short hair (crew cut) and my mother had long hair (shoulder length). When our kids were little, I had short hair (shoulder length) and Nancy had long hair (down to her waist). This rule of thumb is obviously not completely elastic—say if a man had hair four and a half feet long, we should notice the problem even if his wife had hair six inches longer than that.
The second aspect of this is that hair is given “for a covering.” A man should not have enough hair to wear it that way, and a woman should. This would prevent the opposite “technical solution” of a man with a buzz cut and a woman with hair that is one inch long. Hair is given to the woman for a glory and a covering—and should be received as such.
One last thing, which should be obvious, but I will say it anyway. We are not talking about the exceptional situations—women who lose their hair during chemo, for example.