|Vol. 12 No. 11 November 2010||
Are Pictures Showing Jesus
with Long Hair Appropriate?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Dear Sir, Last Sunday in our Bible class on 1 Cor.11:14, one of our elders made a statement that it made no difference whether we showed pictures of Christ with long hair on the screen in our worship service. When I made the comment that Paul said it was a shame (vile) for a man to wear long hair, thus I didn’t think showing an effeminate person with long flowing hair brought glory to our Lord. He stated I was being contentious as per verse 16. I stated I thought verse 16 was talking about people who would argue for longhaired men and shaved headed women in Corinth. …Does depicting our Lord in this light show reverence, glory and honor? …I thought it brought dishonor to Christ to picture him in an effeminate manner, with long flowing hair… ~ Bud Crismon, Altus, OK
The context of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 pertains to the role-relationship between men and women, and especially between the husband and his wife. The two illustrations in this passage that reinforce this principle are the veil that completed concealed one’s identity and the differences typically or habitually between the way men and women wore their hair in Corinth (and many other places [but not universally] from the first century through the present). Regarding the authority issue in first century Corinth, men wearing either a veil or hair characteristic of women would have demonstrated disregard for God’s principle of men and husbands possessing authority over women and wives. Conversely in first century Corinth, women either without veils in public or sporting hair styles characteristic of men would have demonstrated disregard for God’s principle of women and wives being in subjection to men and their husbands.
Remember the two illustrations in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 are veils and women’s hairstyles (translated as “long hair”). It just so happens that the western world, for instance, does not habitually practice the use of veils, concealing the identity, on women. In fact, a woman wearing a veil of this sort in western society would not convey the biblical principle of the authority of men or husbands over women or their wives, and neither would the practice of veiling women demonstrate in western society the subjection of women and wives to men and their husbands. Then, the veil in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 was relative to a custom or a habitual practice, and it is not obligatory for women today to wear a veil as long as they otherwise embrace the biblical principle of subjection to men and their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-33). If the veil of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 was a matter of first century custom in Corinth, which custom does not have to be duplicated today in cultures that do not habitually practice it, would it not also be the case that there may be differences between male and female hairstyles of first century Corinth and male and female hairstyles today in current, especially western cultures?
In any case, though, the male and female hairstyles ought to demonstrate a distinction between men and women, which distinction provides for the application of the biblical principle of men having authority over women and their wives, and women and wives demonstrating subjection to men and their husbands. This is further substantiated by the fact that: (1) the Greek word translated “long hair” is not the usual Greek word for “hair,” but means “hairdo” or “the ornamenting of the hair in such a way as to distinguish the woman from the man” (Brown) and (2) the New Testament does not specify the length (i.e., in inches) of “long.” Without specification, the word “long” is relative; therefore, it is not the length of the hair per the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 under consideration, but the exercise of the biblical principle of the authority of men or husbands over women or their wives, as well as the subjection of women or wives to men or their husbands.
In the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 respecting first century Corinth, and most of the balance of the first century world, including Palestine, it would have been shameful, disgraceful or an indignity for a man to have worn long hair – under normal circumstances. Nazarites (such as Samson from the Old Testament and John the Baptist from the New Testament, Judges 13:3-5; Luke 1:15) wore long hair to distinguish themselves from other men, who ordinarily wore cropped hair; men who had made certain Jewish, religious vows (Acts 21:23-24) likewise wore long hair to distinguish themselves from other men, too.
First Corinthians 11:16 observes that in the first century Bible world there was no universal custom or habitual practice of women wearing veils, though the veil was the custom in Corinth. One could have argued that since Christian women in Judaea did not practice veils on women, neither would they have to wear veils in Corinth. However, a woman not wearing a veil in Corinth would have been noted as not under authority to men or her husband, and she may even have been mistaken for a prostitute, since prostitutes in Corinth spurned the local custom by not wearing veils. “Even when Christians have liberty in the practice of their faith they are not to shock propriety” (Gowers and Wight). “…we must not defy existing social usages in such a way as to bring reproach on the church” (People’s New Testament). The quarrelsome Christian who unnecessarily offends local, cultural sensitivities by the willful disregard of benign customs, in the setting where he is a visitor, cannot validate his cantankerous and confrontational disposition by referring to the cultural norms elsewhere where the Lord’s church meets.
However, attention to the 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 passage does not fully address the appropriateness of pictorial depictions of Jesus Christ with long hair. We must look elsewhere as well. Since Jesus was not a Nazarite, He would not have worn long hair or hair characteristic of women. (Jesus was, though, a Nazarene, which means He was from Nazareth, but He was not a Nazarite.) First century women in the Bible lands gave themselves to ornamentation, including the arrangement of their hair, sometimes interwoven with precious items (1 Peter 3:3). “In Old Testament times the hair was an important feature; it was seldom cut” (Gowers and Wight).
It has been the nearly universal custom among civilized nations throughout history for men to crop their hair and for women to grow their hair longer than men’s hairstyles. This practice coincides with the biblical principle of distinguishing between males and females, as well as distinguishing between their respective roles in the home and in the church, which includes in those venues the subjection of women to men. Consequently, Jesus Christ would have worn cropped hair, distinguishable from the longer hair and female hairstyles of women in the first century. If one wants to be historically and biblically accurate respecting references or pictorial depictions of Jesus Christ’s hair length and style, note that His hair would have been shorter than the longer hairstyles of women. “The apostle Paul (see On the Road to Damascus) actually saw Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1). Paul, a trustworthy man who wrote a large part of the New Testament, knew exactly what the Lord looked like. In 1 Corinthians 11:14, Paul wrote, ‘if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him.’ It is quite unthinkable that Paul would have made such a statement if Jesus Christ had long hair. How could anything about the Lord be called disgraceful?” (Blank).
It may not be a doctrinal matter or a salvation issue as to whether we use the common but erroneous pictorial depictions of Jesus Christ. It may be simply a matter of judgment, which ought not to become the source of serious disagreement. My personal preference, though, is to use more correct pictures of our Lord when possible, though that is often a difficult pursuit when relying on the available pool of artwork.
Blank, Wayne. “What Did Jesus Look Like?” Daily Bible Study. 25 November 2010. <https://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/looklike.htm>
Brown, T. Pierce. “Head Covering.” Gospel Gazette Online. <https://www.gospelgazette.com/gazette/2004/jan/page9.htm>.
Gowers, Ralph and Fred Wight. The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P., 1987.
Johnson, Barton Warren. “1 Corinthians 11:16.” The People’s New Testament. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2008.