Paul commanded Corinthian men to have short hair and uncovered heads while praying but failed to mention, this “issue of importance” today, in any other Epistle. Is it a doctrine?
The recent issue of a Punjabi language Christian Newspaper ‘Masihi Sansar’ the editor placed a box item about objections raised by various people about wearing a turban and keeping of long hair by people who have come to the Lord from the Sikh faith. Having faced this problem frequently, I thought it prudent to analyze the issue in light of what the Word of God specifies. I have, on occasion, discussed this with various Bible scholars and there is evident clarity in most cases except an odd dissent. This issue did effect me personally for a while and I had to face acute discouragement, even to the extent of stopping all contact ‘unknown believers’. But His Word is categorically clear on this and every other issue of life.
The whole issue originates from the Epistle of Apostle Paul to the Corinthian Church and the accepted purpose of the same was “To identify problems in the Corinthian Church, to offer solutions, and to teach the believers how to live for Christ in a corrupt society” (Life Application Study Bible). The very fact that this forms part of the Holy Bible today, its applicability can’t be denied to the present day church. Paul writes “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. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” He further goes on to say “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:3-5; 14-15).
Why did Apostle Paul consider it necessary to lay down such an edict for the Corinthians? Before coming to Corinth Paul had been in Athens and had addressed the meeting at Areopagus, attended by the philosophers and intellectuals of the city. After this meeting “some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter…. However, some men joined him and believed” (Acts 17: 32-34). From this most civilized city of Rome Paul came to Corinth, a port city, from a centre of science, culture and literature to a place of gaiety and effeminate luxury, with the temple of Venus gazing down on the residents from its high pedestal. Athens worshipped the goddess of wisdom while Corinth derived its culture from the goddess of pleasure and licentiousness. One of the Greek words for fornicate was ‘korinthiazomai’ derived from the name of the city.owever some men joined and believed”H Towards the south of the city where the temple of Aphrodite (Venus) was located on a hill, lived more than 1,000 prostitutes, of both sexes, dedicated to the goddess. The women had short hair while men had long hair to look effeminate.
What were the feelings of the Apostle at Corinth and what and how he wanted to achieve among these ‘lovers of pleasure than lovers of God’? No wonder he writes to them later, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3), for he must have been anxious to establish a church here, after not so successful a mission in Athens. And how to create interest in the “crucified and risen Christ” among such people would be the main concern then and later, lest they backslide into their earlier life styles. Some of those from the temple of Venus would have also undoubtedly joined the faith and Paul would be concerned about their effect on others.
God Created-Having seen the background, we can now study the theological issues involved in the debate. The first and foremost is the prerogative of God in creation. “God created mankind in His image…. God saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:27 & 31). After having completed this “good creation” God rested on the seventh day, for He nothing needed any addition or changes to itself. God did ‘see all that He had made’ and this all would naturally include man also. There is nowhere else in the Bible mentioned that God made man with short hair or no hair and this has been part of the free will given to man to choose for himself. The Jewish Temple practices included specific instructions from God that the High Priest will wear a turban and the culture was that he would have facial hair. Rather his headgear was an essential part of his attire and to go in the presence of God without that would invite sure death.
God selected– The Lord is emphatic to say “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). We in our sinful minds are neither equipped nor trained to identify the Lord and Savior and only the Holy Spirit reveals Him to us and leads us to His throne of grace in fulfillment of the Lord’s Words. John the Baptist confirms the same “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27). If a man cannot receive anything except through the blessings of the Sovereign Lord, how can he ever receive the Lord Jesus? Our Lord confirms the same again “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). The same message is conveyed in the Old Testament also “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
From these Scriptures it is clearly evident that no one can draw near to God except by Divine choosing and this is clearly evident in many born Christians straying from the ‘way of truth’ that is in Christ Jesus. Thus anyone who has put on the Lord Jesus Christ has been able to do so by His blessings and not due to any effort of his own. The Lord does not demand anything from His followers and the command is simple “Follow Me”. In this the tax collector was also chosen and so was fishermen and others then and He “remains the same and does not change” nor do His ways change. The Lord did not set any preconditions then nor does He do it now. The “All Knowing God” was well aware then about Indians who used to wear turbans then and did not exclude them from being led into the faith, otherwise He could have stopped Apostle Thomas from coming here like Paul was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia” (Acts 16:6).
The circumcision debate– In the first century immediately after the Lord’s ascension, when the Word was preached to the Gentiles, the Jewish believers had started laying down preconditions on the Greeks and others to first get circumcised and only then join the Church. God the Holy Spirit put an end to this issue with the baptizing of Cornelius, a Centurion of the Italian Regiment, in Caesarea. Peter did raise the issue “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation” with Cornelius but confirmed that he had come with the ‘sanction of God’. And “While Peter was still speaking these words (the Good News of the Gospel), the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the Word” and then Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:1, 28, 44 & 48). The issue was strongly debated in a meeting where “the Apostles and elders came together to consider this matter” and “it pleased the Apostles and elders, with the whole church” to end the debate with no need of circumcision for people joining the church from other faiths.
The letter written by them was specific “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on than these necessary things”. The issue was not only pertaining to body change but to follow the Law, from which Lord Jesus has set all believers free and while preaching to the Samaritan woman He specified that place or community or any other thing gives no advantage for “God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”. And the Spirit does not differentiate between people for all “who received Him (Lord Jesus), to them he gave the right to become children of God”. Then Paul goes further to illustrate as to who are the dissenters “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh” (Galatians 6:12), for in this church there was a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers.
Apostle Paul considered the issue of putting on of unnecessary restrictions on followers so important that he mentioned this in various Epistles laying special emphasis on spiritual state as compared to the physical. To the Romans he preached “Do not be confirmed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Being ‘born again’ is an issue that was amply clarified by our Lord to Nicodemus “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” and he further goes on to say “For God did not send His Son in to the world to condemn the world, but that world through Him might be saved” (John 3:6 & 17). Being born again is an act of the Spirit for spiritual act of being in the presence of God and does not relate to physical appearance.
Paul writes a clear illustration of the case about physical appearance in the same epistle “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedom. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price, do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). Nothing could be clearer than this.
Apostle Paul finally sums up the issue in his epistle to the Galatians and then in Philippians 3:3: “For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.” It is strange that the issue of covering of head and long hair of men or short hair of women, considered so important by us today, was not considered as such by Paul since he never mentioned this in any other epistle to the other churches. Like circumcision, keeping of hair long or short is of no relevance in worship of God since it is about ‘circumcising or controlling the heart’ and not the physical appearance.
Confirmation by two witnesses- Apostle Paul repeats what is directed in the Law in Deuteronomy 19:15 that “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). The direction about covering of head or long or short hair for men and women is mentioned only once while the fact of remaining in the ‘same state as one is called’ is mentioned repeatedly. If it was such an important doctrine, why did he not include this command to other churches set up by him? Obviously this was a command to the Corinthians of that time that their physical appearance may not make them look like the ‘prostitutes’ of the temple of Aphrodite, thus diluting their witnessing to others.
What did Paul actually say? That what he is talking about is a spiritual issue rather than a physical one cannot be doubted. He defines the headship and states “God is the head of Jesus, Jesus is the head of man and man is the head of the woman”. A woman not covering her head (husband) in her talk with God cannot communicate since her focus is not right. In the same way a man who covers his head (Jesus) cannot connect with God since without Christ we are nothing. In both cases the effort would become personal without dependence on Jesus, the Savior, making the work of redemption redundant altogether. Thus a woman must look unto Jesus by overlooking her husband and so should the man.
Apostle Paul was well aware of the dependence of women on men and until and unless they shifted their spiritual focus to Lord Jesus, they would never be free. If the contents of this epistle are not related to the culture of that time and today all women Pastors will be considered violators of the Word of God and all women with short hair will have to be kept out of the church.
Our Lord set all free from the restrictions imposed by the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were obsessed with keeping form over function and they were ready to crucify Jesus for not observing form. The real point is submission to God in humility and surrendering our efforts while becoming totally dependent on Jesus. And for this covering of the head or not does not matter for there is no guarantee that those who observe this practice have really submitted themselves to Him.
Apostle Paul further clarifies that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1Timothy 2:5-6). This only Mediator, also created everything and called all saying “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Neither did He lay a condition during this call nor while choosing us. I am sure that as God, our Lord Jesus was well aware that there will be people from India who will answer this call of His some 2000 years later while wearing a turban and keeping long hair. He did not make a mistake while creating man with hair, nor while choosing/ calling them to Himself, without preconditions. Personally I am too ignorant to question Him about His decisions, but those who do, are definitely above Him and need to assess their need of Him and the salvation provided by Him.
An old adage says, a person sitting in darkness sees everyone outside very clearly to see their faults while the same person sitting in the same room with the lights on is seen by others clearly. We are supposed to reflect His glory to others, not curb but build up. It is the issue of where we are in light or darkness.
Raising of such issues casts aspersions on the creation, selection and redemption process of God but is an attempt to take self above God and in the process disobeying the Great Commission itself For He said “make disciples of all the nations”. And our Lord is “I AM” the God of present era, and He knows everything from eternity to eternity.
Better to submit to Him and be all embracing!!