Hair length and style have long been a topic of discussion and debate among Christians. In recent decades, questions around hair – how long it should be, if men and women should differ in hairstyles, and if our hair matters to God – have become particularly contentious in some Christian circles.
So what guidance does the Bible provide on hair length? Below we’ll walk through the key biblical passages on this topic.
Old Testament Instructions
The most explicit biblical instructions around hair come from the Old Testament Law. Under the Mosaic Law given to the Israelites, God provided direction on appropriate hair length and styles:
- Priests had strict hair length requirements. Priests could not shave their heads or trim the edges of their beards (Leviticus 21:5). These regulations set priests apart from the rest of the Israelites.
- Nazirites took a vow of uncut hair. Those who chose to become Nazirites – people set apart for special service to God – could not cut their hair for the duration of their vow (Numbers 6:5). This was an external sign of their consecration to the Lord.
- Cutting hair symbolized grief and humiliation. When people experienced great tragedy or wanted to repent from sin, they would shave their heads as an act of mourning, grief, or humility (Isaiah 15:2, Jeremiah 7:29).
While these laws were specifically intended for the ancient Israelites, they reveal some important biblical principles. God cares about the deeper meanings represented by our physical practices – like the link between uncut hair and spiritual devotion. Our outward appearances should align with our inward commitment to serving God.
New Testament Teachings
When we move to the New Testament, the strict legal requirements around hair length are removed. Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and Paul taught that Christians are not bound by the old Law (Romans 6:14). This means the specific hair length instructions for priests and Nazirites no longer apply. However, the New Testament still gives us some relevant principles on hair:
- Elaborate hairstyles can represent vanity. Peter instructs women not to put emphasis on external appearance through fancy jewelry, clothes, or hairstyles (1 Peter 3:3). Outward appearance should not be our focus.
- Men with long hair went against cultural gender norms. In 1 Corinthians 11:14, Paul notes that long hair on men would be considered shameful in that culture. Christians should aim to live orderly and avoid offending cultural sensibilities when possible.
- Women could show devotion through modest hairstyles. Also in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul encourages women to cover their heads and wear long hair as a display of modesty and commitment to God. Even if not universally mandated, this can be a way for women to focus on inward devotion rather than outward appearance.
While we are not bound to exact lengths and styles, biblical principles suggest our hair should align with a spirit of modesty, humility, and devotion to God. The heart behind our hair matters more than legalistic rules.
- Old Testament laws mandated specific hair lengths and styles in some cases, but these instructions applied specifically to ancient Israel.
- God cares about the spiritual meaning represented by hair length and styles. Our outward appearance should reflect our inward devotion.
- New Testament teachings focus less on mandated hair lengths and more on the motives behind hairstyle choices.
- Principles like avoiding vanity and offending cultural norms should guide hair length choices more than legalistic rules.
- Hair can represent our commitment to God when chosen with modesty, humility, and devotion in mind.
The Bible does not universally mandate exact hair lengths for all people and cultures. While principles and meanings matter, outward appearance alone does not determine our standing before God. As you make decisions about your hair, focus on the heart motivations behind your choice. Seek to glorify God in ways consistent with the culture and context where God has placed you.
Men’s Hair Length in the Bible
Let’s take a deeper look at what the Bible teaches about men’s hair. As we’ve seen, men’s hair length in biblical times often carried symbolic meaning:
Old Testament Examples
- Samson’s uncut hair represented his Nazirite devotion. As a lifelong Nazirite, Samson could never cut his hair. His long hair was a constant reminder of his dedication to God’s service (Judges 13:5). However, when Delilah cut Samson’s hair, it showed his loyalty had weakened as he broke his vows.
- Absalom’s lengthy royal locks symbolized vanity. When Absalom led a coup against his father King David, the Bible notes he was praised for his handsome appearance and lengthy royal hair (2 Samuel 14:25-26). But his focus on outward beauty represented deeper character flaws.
- Ezekiel instructed priests to avoid shaving. God gave Ezekiel a vision for restoring the holiness of the priests. This included instructions for them to avoid shaving their heads or trimming their beards (Ezekiel 44:20). Long unkept hair and beards set priests apart for service.
New Testament Teachings
- Jesus likely maintained short hair according to cultural norms. As an observant Jew committed to God’s law, Jesus probably kept relatively short hair except during his time of ministry when he took a Nazirite vow.
- Paul instructs men to keep their hair short. In the New Testament, Paul responds to a situation in Corinth where men were wearing their hair long. Paul teaches them this went against cultural standards of masculinity and they should maintain short hair (1 Corinthians 11:14).
- Peter focuses on inner devotion over outward appearance. While not directly referencing men’s hair, Peter teaches that a man’s focus should be on cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit rather than emphasizing external appearance (1 Peter 3:3-4).
While styles and norms vary across cultures, these examples show the biblical emphasis is on avoiding vanity and cultivating devotion to God over superficial appearance. Men’s hair length should align with principles of commitment to God and identification with Christ over against cultural displays of status or femininity.
Women’s Hair Length in the Bible
Let’s look closer at biblical perspectives on women’s hair. Key passages provide wisdom but not strict universal mandates. Two main principles emerge – avoiding extravagance and emphasizing modesty.
The most direct instructions related to women’s hair come from Paul’s teachings on appropriate appearance when gathering for worship.
- Avoid elaborate hairstyles and expensive jewelry. In his letters to both Timothy and the Corinthians, Paul instructs women to avoid over-the-top hairstyles and accessories (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3). The focus should be on good works and godly character rather than appearance.
- Reject immodest cultural norms. In Corinth, some new converts were continuing cultural practices of unveiled women with short haircuts. Paul emphasizes rejecting immodest norms and wearing long hair as a covering (1 Corinthians 11:6,11:15).
- Maintain a spirit of modesty and submission. While Paul doesn’t mandate exact lengths, he encourages women to use their hair and head coverings to show submission to leadership and modesty in their demeanor (1 Corinthians 11:3-10).
Paul’s instructions imply God desires women avoid extravagant or ostentatious hairstyles in favor of modesty. Motives matter more than precise hair measurements. A modest spirit should inform choices more than specific legal requirements.
Old Testament Examples
- Hannah wore her hair up in a simple style as she prayed. As Hannah earnestly sought the Lord in the temple, she wore her hair pulled back in a modest style befitting deep devotion (1 Samuel 1:10).
- Esther followed cultural beauty customs with modesty. Esther followed the extensive Persian beauty rituals of perfumes and cosmetics to find favor with the king. But she maintained inner devotion through this process (Esther 2:12-13).
- Mary beautifully poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. In a beautiful act of worship, Mary let down her hair to use it to wipe Jesus’ feet alongside expensive perfume (John 12:3). Though seemingly extravagant, this reflected her deep devotion.
The heart motivation matters most. Women can follow cultural beauty norms or express extravagance through hairstyles while maintaining modesty, humility, and devotion if that is their intent.
Historical Perspectives on Hair Length
Looking at how Christian thinkers have viewed hair through history gives helpful perspective. While not Scripture, we can learn from patterns of thought in church tradition. Two key themes emerge – avoidance of rejection versus adaptation to reach cultures.
Avoiding Rejection from Society
Many early church leaders taught that Christians should avoid hairstyles that openly rejected cultural norms. This was seen as necessary to avoid ridicule and effectively reach communities for Christ.
- Clement of Alexandria: This early church father taught that Christians should not shave their heads in imitation of philosophers. They should adopt socially acceptable hair length and styling.
- John Chrysostom: This 4th-century preacher also exhorted Christians to avoid shaving or other socially strange hairstyles that would lead society to reject them and their message.
- Thomas Aquinas: In medieval Europe, this scholar argued clerics should have suitable tonsure hairstyles to match cultural standards for religious devotion.
Each situation called for wisdom in adaptation versus rejection of social norms in hair practices. The motivation remained active participation in culture for gospel impact.
Adapting to Reach Cultures
As new cultures were reached with the gospel, missionaries have adapted hair length and styling to fit local customs. This practice continues today across cultures globally.
- Jesuit Missionaries in Asia: Catholic missionaries to China and India in the 16th-18th centuries often adopted local hairstyles, clothing and customs alongside spreading the gospel.
- Adoniram Judson in Burma: America’s first foreign missionary took on typical Burmese dress and long hair to gain trust and traction for evangelism in the early 1800s.
- ** Hudson Taylor in China**: Taylor also advocated adapting fully to Chinese culture in the 19th century, including hairstyle, to remove cultural barriers for church growth.
- Varying Practice on the Mission Field Today: Modern missionaries continue to wrestle with when to maintain their own cultural styles versus adapting to local customs as needed to make the gospel accessible.
The historic principle remains – hair length should serve evangelistic purposes within each culture rather than bind to one standard. Adaptation for the sake of the gospel has been practiced widely.
Applying Principles in Current Contexts
In applying biblical principles to hair practices today, we do not find universal rules but factors to prayerfully weigh:
- Avoid explicit rejection of cultural norms when possible to maintain a Christian witness. But also avoid extreme conformity to questionable cultural values.
- Consider your community and context with grace and wisdom. The expectations and perceptions of hair vary across cultures, countries, churches, and more. Reject a simplistic one-size-fits-all approach.
- Motives matter most. Biblical principles on modesty, avoidance of vanity, and devotion to God should shape decisions more than specific length requirements. Focus on cultivating inner devotion to Christ above all.
- See hair as an opportunity for worship, just as Mary beautifully used perfume along with her hair to honor Jesus. Make choices aim to glorify God and serve others.
- Adapt as needed for evangelistic purposes while staying true to biblical values. Be willing to adapt stylistic preferences to win a hearing for the gospel across diverse groups.
- Major on the majors. Compared to weighty topics like theology and morality, detailed hair instructions do not make up the core of biblical ethics. Keep requirements in perspective.
The Bible does not give universal rulings on hair length today. Prayerfully consider cultural factors and biblical values like modesty and devotion as you make wise, context-sensitive decisions for the glory of God.
We’ve explored a range of biblical perspectives on hair length for both men and women. Certain teachings can seem in tension – like honoring cultural norms but also rejecting conformity to questionable values. Resolving those tensions requires wisdom, grace, and reasoned application of principles. The Bible does not hand us detailed lists of mandated length requirements. Biblical hair instructions serve larger purposes of displaying our devotion, avoiding vanity, showing modesty and humility, and reaching cultures with the gospel message. As we prayerfully apply these principles in our current time and culture, we gain insights for Godly choices about hair length and style today. The heart behind our hair matters most. Focus on cultivating inner devotion to Christ through your outward practices. In all things aim to glorify God, proclaim the saving message of Jesus, and serve those around you.