Dreadlocks have become a popular hairstyle around the world. However, some Christians wonder if having dreadlocked hair is biblical. In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine what the Bible says about dreadlocks and provide key takeaways for Christians to consider.
Dreadlocks, also known as locs or rasta locks, are ropelike strands of hair formed by matting or braiding hair. Most people associate dreadlocks with the Rastafari religious movement that began in Jamaica in the 1930s. However, dreadlocks have been worn by various cultures around the world throughout history. Examples include Hindu yogis and ascetics, the Sadhu of India, the Dervishes of the Middle East, and the Maasai warriors of Kenya. Even ancient Christian ascetics may have worn dreadlocks.
In recent decades, dreadlocks have gained popularity in Western culture among people who have no connection to the Rastafari movement or any particular spiritual meaning. For many, locs are simply a fashionable hairstyle. However, some Christians have concerns about wearing dreadlocked hair. Does the Bible prohibit dreadlocks? Are dreadlocks inappropriate for Christians? Should we avoid this hairstyle for spiritual reasons?
To answer these questions biblically, we will look at what Scripture says about hair, holiness, cultural sensitivity, and wise judgment. My goal is to provide wisdom from God’s word for Christians who want to make thoughtful decisions about their personal grooming and appearance.
- The Bible does not specifically prohibit or command dreadlocks for believers. Principles of holiness, cultural sensitivity, and wise judgment should guide us.
- Old Testament laws prevented Israel from imitating pagan mourning rituals regarding hair. But these are not binding legalistic rules today.
- In the New Testament, the emphasis is on the inner person rather than outward appearance. However, we should still aim to glorify God in how we present ourselves.
- Christians should avoid styles intentionally associated with non-Christian philosophies contrary to biblical truth. But dreadlocks are not exclusively tied to non-Christian religions today.
- Decisions about hairstyles require thoughtful consideration of biblical values, cultural associations, church traditions, family relationships, professional factors, and more.
Old Testament Laws and Customs Regarding Hair
To understand biblical principles about hair and appearance, we will start by looking at some Old Testament laws and customs regarding hair.
In Leviticus 19:27, God instructed the Israelites, “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” (NKJV) This prohibition opposed common mourning customs among Israel’s pagan neighbors. Cutting or shaving hair was part of idol worship and mourning rituals for the dead (Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 16:6). God did not want His people following pagan religious practices.
Another instruction for priests says, “They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” (Leviticus 21:5 NKJV) Again, the focus is prohibiting pagan mourning rituals.
Some Christians have wondered if dreadlocks violate these laws. However, these verses do not establish binding legalistic rules about specific hair lengths or styles for all cultures across all time. Rather, they prohibited certain mourning rituals common among pagans in that era.
The Nazarite vow also included instructions about hair. Those taking the vow could not cut their hair for the duration of the vow (Numbers 6:5). At the completion of the vow, they shaved their heads and offered their hair as a sacrifice (Numbers 6:18). Samson and the prophet Samuel were Nazarites (Judges 13:5, 1 Samuel 1:11).
However, the Nazarite instructions were a special case, not regulations for all Israelites. Samson’s long hair in itself did not give him strength; his strength came from the Spirit of the Lord (Judges 14:6, 15:14). What matters most is our relationship with God, not whether we wear long or short hair.
New Testament Focus on the Inner Person Rather than Outward Appearance
What about the New Testament? Does it provide guidance about hair and dress?
Several passages emphasize that God looks at the heart, not outward appearance. For example:
- “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)
- “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12 ESV)
- “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24 ESV)
- “We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” (Colossians 1:16 MSG)
The emphasis is on the inner person rather than outward appearance. However, these verses do not mean we should completely disregard how we present ourselves on the outside. As we will see, other passages demonstrate that God cares about both our inner person and outward appearance.
Regarding men’s hair length, 1 Corinthians 11:14 says, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” (ESV) The cultural norm of that time was short hair on men. So Paul advised the Corinthians to abide by that standard rather than exercise their freedom in Christ in a way that detracted from spreading the Gospel. However, this passage does not prohibit men from having long hair in all places and eras. Hairstyle norms and associations differ across cultures and change over time.
For women, 1 Timothy 2:9-10 instructs “women to adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (ESV) Braided hairstyles were associated with extravagance and sexual impropriety in that culture. So, Paul calls Christian women to focus on godly, self-controlled behavior rather than flaunting wealth and beauty. The principle to apply is inner holiness, not legalistic rules about hair braiding.
1 Peter 3:3-4 likewise advises Christian women: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (ESV) Again, the emphasis is developing a Christlike character, not external appearance itself.
Applying Principles of Holiness, Cultural Sensitivity, and Wise Judgement
Synthesizing these passages, what principles should guide Christians making decisions about dreadlocks or other culturally significant styles?
First, our highest priority should be cultivating inner holiness through the Holy Spirit, not external compliance with manmade rules. At the same time, we glorify God not just inwardly but outwardly with our bodies, clothing, speech, and conduct (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 10:31).
Second, we should aim to be sensitive to cultural associations of different hairstyles, weighing whether certain styles may offend others or wrongly identify us with non-Christian groups or philosophies. Our freedom in external matters can be limited out of love for others (Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8:9-13).
Third, we must exercise biblically-informed wisdom and thoughtful judgment, rather than legalistic rules, considering various factors in our cultural context (Philippians 1:9-10, Colossians 1:9-10).
Therefore, the Bible does not institute universal laws against dreadlocks. But Christians should carefully consider cultural associations, avoiding styles directly tied to ideologies against biblical truth. For example, dreadlocks historically connected to Rastafarianism could cause confusion, since Rastafarians view Haile Selassie as divine and reject the divinity of Jesus.
However, dreadlocks today are not exclusively associated with Rastafarian beliefs. Many wear them simply as a hairstyle, not a religious statement. So, having dreadlocked hair does not automatically equate to endorsing non-Christian philosophies.
Navigating Decisions About Dreadlocks and Other Cultural Hairstyles
When approaching decisions about wearing dreadlocks or other culturally significant hairstyles, here are some factors to consider:
Your church community – Consider the traditions and cultural demographics of your local congregation and denomination. Avoid needlessly offending your brothers and sisters in Christ or detracting from unity within your specific church body. However, also be wary of legalistic extra-biblical rules that may reflect cultural biases more than biblical truth. Pray for wisdom to balance these considerations.
Your family upbringing – Honoring parents is important, so consider their opinions and guidance. However, parents should not impose unreasonable cultural expectations at the expense of their children’s freedom in Christ. As adults, we ultimately answer to the Lord.
Your vocation – Professional norms and employer dress codes may restrict some styles. We must submit to governing authorities unless they force us to directly disobey God (Hebrews 13:17, Acts 5:29). Pray for discernment about when and how to push back if policies impose unjust cultural bias.
Your community context – Seek to be innocent and above reproach. Avoid offense where possible, but also avoid accommodation that compromises biblical truth and righteous living. As much as possible, live at peace with others, but recognize that unbelievers may judge you by their own standards (Romans 12:14-18).
Your personal freedom – Christian liberty means we are not bound by rigid manmade regulations (Colossians 2:20-23). However, our freedom should serve others, not selfishness (Galatians 5:13-14). Seek God’s guidance for when to exercise liberty or restraint.
Your motivation and conscience – Consider your heart motives. Are you seeking attention and identity through a particular style? Or trying to avoid persecution for Christ by blending in? Let love and conviction guide you more than comfort or fear. Also nurture your conscience, keeping it biblically informed and sensitive to the Spirit.
There are no easy, universal answers. Each person and situation requires individually seeking the Lord and applying biblical values wisely.
The main principle is that our identity is in Christ, not external styles. Our highest goal is representing Jesus and the Gospel well in all areas of life, whether we have short hair, long hair, or dreadlocked hair. Daniel stood out in Babylon because of his godly character, not his Israelite hairstyle. May the Spirit develop in us “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV).
Conclusion and Key Takeaways
In summary, here are key takeaways from this overview of a biblical perspective on dreadlocks:
- The Bible does not institute universal binding laws about hair styles. Principles of holiness, cultural sensitivity, and wise judgment should guide us.
- Old Testament prohibitions opposed pagan mourning rituals but do not establish legalistic hair regulations for all cultures and eras.
- New Testament emphasis is on developing inner godly character more than external appearance. However, outward presentation still matters in glorifying God.
- Avoid hairstyles directly tied to ideologies clearly contrary to biblical truth. But many wear dreadlocks today without religious meaning.
- Consider cultural associations thoughtfully, but beware imposing manmade rules that go beyond Scriptural commands.
- Apply principles of holiness, cultural sensitivity, wise judgement, and personal freedom in your specific situation.
- Let love, conscience, godly motivation, and unity in Christ guide your choices more than personal comfort or outward pressure.
I hope this overview provides helpful guidance for Christians desiring to honor the Lord with how they present themselves outwardly while prioritizing pure devotion to Christ inwardly. Our witness for the Gospel is enriched when we grow in biblically-grounded wisdom by God’s grace. To God be the glory in all things!