I remember hearing a story about a father’s conversation with his 16-year-old son, who wanted to borrow his dad’s car. The father said, “You can, under one condition. You gotta cut your hair.” The kid replied, “But, Dad, Jesus and the apostles all had long hair!” To which the father replied, “Yeah, and they walked everywhere they went.”
(Frank Zappa was once asked, “So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?” His reply, “You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?”)
Now it’s true that Jesus is almost always pictured with long hair. In fact, I do not believe I have ever seen a representation of him with any other than long flowing locks. But I think these representations are in error.
The busts of Romans who were prominent at that time – emperors and senators and such – all show men with fairly short haircuts, close-cropped and contoured to the shape of the head. The apostle Paul, with his Roman background and heritage, almost certainly followed suit.
But for Paul, the issue of hair length was not just cultural but theological. Here’s what he says in 1 Corinthians 11: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair it is her glory?” Appropriate hair length is a matter of the natural order that God created.
So the instinctive reaction many Americans had to the long shaggy male hair of the 60s, 70s and beyond may be connected to this innate awareness that issues other than mere style may be at work here.
And when we appreciate and admire the hairstyles of our wives after a trip to the hairdresser, and the way her hair frames the beauty of her face, maybe we are in touch with something beyond mere passing fancy. (Joan Crawford once said, “I think that the most important thing a woman can have – next to talent, of course – is her hairdresser.” Here is Dolly Parton’s corollary: “People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.” )
In fact, Paul is at pains in 1 Corinthians 11 to say that hair length is connected in some way to an appreciation of God’s created sequence of authority in relationships. “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3, NASB).
The last phrase is particularly striking, because it indicates that Christ has been in eternal submission to the authority of his Father. Although they are utterly equal in their divine being, the Son from eternity past submitted voluntarily to the will of his Father, a submission he brought with him into the incarnation. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
This makes clear that there is nothing demeaning about submission. All of us have a God-ordained authority over us, and there is something Christ-like about a willing submission to God’s order. So for instance, a wife is the full equal of her husband in worth, value, and significance, but not in authority. She is his full equal in worth, but has a different role to play in marriage. She is to willingly arrange herself under his authority just as Christ submitted to the authority over him, the heavenly Father, and just as her husband is to willingly submit to the authority over him, Jesus Christ.
Paul says this carries over into the church, where God has entrusted authority in the local church to elders who are to be of the male persuasion (1 Timothy 3:1-2). And he declares in 1 Corinthians 11 that one of the ways a woman demonstrates her willing submission to the authority of her husband and the authority of male leadership in the church is by wearing long hair. “Her hair is given to her as a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:15).
This is an indication that the covering Paul is talking about in this chapter is not a veil or something similar but long hair. “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered (i.e., by wearing her hair short) dishonors her head (i.e., her husband)” whereas “every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered (i.e., with long hair) dishonors his head (i.e., Christ).”
How long must a woman’s hair be to conform to this passage of Scripture? Well, it’s probably safe to say that it should be longer than her husband’s hair, and perhaps that is sufficient. We’re not given any measurements to use, so an informed conscience must be our guide.
Let’s cycle back to our opening question. Jesus’ head is God. The Scripture says, if I am interpreting it correctly, that any man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. Christ certainly prayed and he certainly prophesied and would never do it in such a way that his Father would be dishonored.
Thus, I think it is a reasonable conclusion that Jesus’ hair was cut Roman-style rather than Fabio-style.
Let the dialogue begin!
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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