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Where did the “Long Hair” view come from?

When & Where did the Long Hair view come from?

The view that a “head covering” refers to a woman’s long hair is a very popular belief held by many Christians today. We decided to embark on a search to find out where this view originated and how recent it really is.

A. Philip Brown II (PhD, Bob Jones University) is one of the more prominent and articulate defenders of the “long hair” view. He says:

On the whole, modern interpreters deviated little from identifying the covering Paul requires as a veil or material headdress until the mid-twentieth century. Although the view that the covering Paul required or forbade was itself long hair had been held popularly by various groups throughout the 20th century, Abel Isaakson was the first to offer the scholarly community an extended argument for this position in print. 1) A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 12

So Dr. Brown identifies the starting point of this view (which he holds himself) as the 20th century. He indicates that Abel Isaakson writing in 1965 was the first to make a scholarly defense of this doctrine. However, he footnotes that in 1947, the Roman Catholic priest Stefan Lösch “made a similar argument…however, it received little attention.” 2) A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 12, footnote #49

Brown also highlights two historical sources: John Chrysotom (349-407AD) and Epiphanius (315-403AD). He argues that they understood the covering forbidden by men in 1 Cor 11:4 as long hair. Now Brown rightly points out that Chrysotom believed it forbade both, that “men must not wear long hair and must not cover their heads when praying or prophesying” 3) A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 5 and that he “preached that God had given women long hair as a covering in order to teach them to wear a material covering at all times.” 4) A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 7 So this is not the “long hair” view. Likewise even though Epiphanius substitutes the word “covering” for “long hair” in the 1 Cor 11 passages that deal with men 5) A. Philip Brown II – Chrysostom & Epiphanius: Long Hair Prohibited as Covering in 1 Cor. 11:4, 7 (Evangelical Theological Society, 2011) Pages 9-10 has numerous references , he substitutes the word “authority” for “veil” when quoting 1 Corintians 11:10. He says, “The woman ought to have a veil on her head because of the angels.” 6) Epiphanius – The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis [translated by Frank Williams]: Book I sects 1-46 (Koninklijke Brill, 2009) Page 196 So once again, by saying a woman needs to wear a “veil,” he’s distinguishing himself from the belief that a woman’s long hair is the only covering that is necessary.

Now even though the mid-twentith century is as far back as Brown traces this view, It was advocated a little earlier than that.

Frédéric Louis Godet writing in 1886 mentions that the “long hair” view was taught by another theologian. He said:

“It has been objected, not without a touch of irony, that for the very reason that nature has endowed woman with such a covering, she does not need to add a second and artificial one (Holsten).” 7) Frédéric Louis Godet – Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Volume 2 (T&T Clark, 1893) Page 129

He references Karl Christian Johann Holsten (1825-1897) as an advocate of this view. Holsten was a German liberal theologian who subscribed to the Tübingen school of thought. They were naturalistic in their view of Christianity and believed Paul and Peter taught two different forms of Christianity. This type of thought was advocated at the University of Tübingen in the late 19th century. It may be that the “long hair” view was also promoted in their theology program since Stefan Lösch also attended this university from 1900-1904. As previously mentioned, he was an early defender of the “long hair” view.

So it seems that the origin of the belief 8) It is entirely possible that someone may unearth an earlier reference. We can’t dogmatically say this is the beginning, but that it is as far back as we could trace it. that a woman’s long hair is the only covering she needs, was in 1880 by the German theologian, Karl Holsten. However, this view did not receive a wider acceptance by Christians until after Abel Isaakson’s defense in 1965. Though there are good biblical reasons for rejecting the “long hair” view, we also believe that the newness of the doctrine should also give Christians another reason for hesitating to embrace it. Did all of Christendom for 1900 years completely misunderstand Paul’s words by seeing a material covering in view? We doubt it. Though we believe the Bible is the final authority on all matters of life and doctrine, separating ourselves from what the church has unanimously believed throughout the ages should not be done lightly. To quote a popular saying, “if it’s new, it’s probably not true.”

References

1.
 A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 12
2.
 A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 12, footnote #49
3.
 A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 5
4.
 A. Philip Brown II – A Survey of the History of the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Aldersgate Forum, 2011) Page 7
5.
 A. Philip Brown II – Chrysostom & Epiphanius: Long Hair Prohibited as Covering in 1 Cor. 11:4, 7 (Evangelical Theological Society, 2011) Pages 9-10 has numerous references
6.
 Epiphanius – The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis [translated by Frank Williams]: Book I sects 1-46 (Koninklijke Brill, 2009) Page 196
7.
 Frédéric Louis Godet – Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Volume 2 (T&T Clark, 1893) Page 129
8.
 It is entirely possible that someone may unearth an earlier reference. We can’t dogmatically say this is the beginning, but that it is as far back as we could trace it.

Jeremy Gardiner

Jeremy is the founder of the Head Covering Movement and the author of Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and is a member of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is a husband to Amanda and father to four young children. Jeremy is also the founder and operator of Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books.

Latest posts by Jeremy Gardiner (see all)

  • I’m glad to see that you posted material from somebody who doesn’t agree with your stated position and not for the sole purpose of pointing out how wrong he is every few sentences – that’s a sign of open-mindedness, so I think it bodes well.

    In ‘Chrysostom & Epiphanius: Long Hair Prohibited as Covering in 1 Cor. 11:4, 7’ Brown does conclude that: ” However, several significant contextual reasons support the conclusion that Paul intends the Corinthians to identify the implicit object of ἔχων (‘having’) as κόμην (‘long hair’) and not a material covering.” In the description of Chrysosotom’s preaching, he was speaking entirely for the need for men to not have long hair covering their heads – very little is said about or to the women. Epiphanius taught that the passage referred to having long, uncut hair again mostly to the men and not the women. He does have a point that even after 250 years, these guys still weren’t exactly sure what that verse meant. He were are removed by 2,000 years and we can’t claim to be completely certain that one understanding is more correct than the other.

    “Though we believe the Bible is the final authority on all matters of life and doctrine, separating ourselves from what the church has unanimously believed throughout the ages should not be done lightly.”

    Can we know for certain that each and every church over the last 2,000 years agreed completely on absolutely everything? I sincerely doubt it. While the majority might have agreed somewhat, not all of them would have been identical. If modern churches are any indication, then it would be a good bet to make that at least one church disagreed, and therefore there would be no unanimous agreement. In which case, we would ask: Is the majority correct? That’s not always true either. It’s just as easy for many people to be wrong about one thing as it is for a few people to be wrong about one thing – it’s just more difficult to dissuade the many because they have so many more people that agree with each other that they are right.

    “if it’s new, it’s probably not true.”

    Does this apply to the Complementarianism formed in the 1970s? Does this apply to any hymn younger than 250 years old? Does this apply to any church denomination formed in the last 100 years? If God can’t do something new, then that would mean he’s not all-powerful.

    • Jamie, Complementarianism did not start in the 1970s. All of the people we quote on this site in our quote images are complementarians. Some distinctives of complementarianism are the belief that only men can be pastors and that wives are to submit to their husbands. You’ll find this to be the dominate view throughout church history.

      • According to ‘Complementarianism for Dummies’ by Mary Kassian: “Though the concept of male-female complementarity is present from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different… I was at the meeting, 25 years ago, where the word “complementarian” was chosen. So I think I have a good grasp on the word’s definition.” She says that Complementarian teachings were created as a response to Biblical Feminism. Had there been no call for equality for men and women, then they would not have had any reason to create complementarianism or the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. That’s why prior to the 1960’s feminism movement, there’s pretty much no teachings on complementarianism. Much of what was taught went without saying because it came from the church fathers living in a patriarchal society where equality between men and women was not only impossible, it was laughable.

        • Ah, I understand. I thought you were saying prior to 1970 all Christians were egalitarian. Instead you are saying they were “patriarchal”. I suspect that’s a term of recent origins too (when used as a Christian theological term). I’m not sure if there is an official definition for it. I tend to look at “patriarchal” and “complementarianism” as one in the same. I just did a brief search and I noticed this statement on the Gospel Coalition, “Is complementarianism another word for patriarchy? Egalitarians and many complementarians agree: It is indeed.” http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/debatable-is-complementarianism-another-word-for-patriarchy

          While the term “complementarian” may be new, the distinctives of the teaching (in contrast to egalitarianism) are not. As mentioned, you will find the teaching of male eldership & headship affirmed throughout the ages. And as Mary mentioned the word reflects the “historic” idea of what was already taught. So it’s a new term, not a new teaching.

          • http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/whats-wrong-with-patriarchy/

            Patriarchy has a long history of imperfection and bad connotations – so much so that a new word was created to explain the concept without the bad connotations. But if they are in fact, the same, then it is only a matter of time before the bad connotations associated with patriarchy mar complementarianism’s clean reputation. I, for one, would realize that the system itself is flawed and try to make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones; But If they are not the same, then where does the difference lie?

            Using the dictionary definition, patriarchy ‘implies the institutions of male domination and entails female subordination’. There is no equality in patriarchy because it creates a hierarchy where masculine is superior to the feminine. Complementarianism is often summed up as: “different but equal.” While the result is the same – men in charge, the reason differs. But as we have seen, the result of patriarchy is connected to many bad connotations, it’s quite possible that even with a different reason, the result of complementarianism will be the same.

            Now I have heard people say “If they had done their patriarchy / complementarianism / etc. correctly, then it would have resulted in abuse / divorce / etc. – real patriarchy / complementarianism / etc. is absolutely perfectly wonderful only if it is done right.” But the problem still remains that churches often find it easier to hide abuse and punish divorce than to hold abusers accountable or to blame women for failure than figure out the root cause of the problem: human nature. If there were no people in patriarchy / complementarianism / etc. then there would be nobody to get it wrong. But somewhere, somehow, teachers teach complementarianism / patriarchy / etc. in such a way that it does lead to problems that result in this bad connotation. So based on it’s history, I don’t think it has that great of a future ahead of it – even when it is taught correctly, human nature will always find away to cause problems somewhere.

          • The problem is, Jamie, that fallen human nature takes absolutely everything and causes problems somewhere. Even egalitarianism, though I would argue that, while there are good emphases and motives involved, it is not good in totality for other reasons.

            So, yes, teaching patriarchy/complementarianism can result in horrible sin, just like the teaching of God’s incredible grace in Jesus can result in horrible sin, or the application of any rules can result in horrible oppression. But that doesn’t make any of these things lack worth.

            I think you’ll be surprised by the future of patriarchy. I believe it’ll be around as long as God is. :)

          • Treating each other as equals creates far fewer problems than treating each other as unequal or inferior. I remember meeting an elderly man who ate only microwaveable frozen dinners for several years because his whole life his wife had prepared him meals and she died before he did. That same week I also met an elderly woman who had no idea how to handle finances responsibly for several years because that was her husband’s job and he died before she did. Of the two, the elderly woman was worse off because she didn’t have any idea what to do about money. Both cases show that if you force people to stick to one role, their spouse is often unprepared to pick up the slack without them. Same thing could happen with egalitarians that are creatures of habit. I just think that it’s better to share absolutely everything equally, so that the elderly man knows how to cook a meal and the elderly woman doesn’t run up debt spending her retirement money unwisely.

            The problem is when you worship the system of doing things the way they have always been done. Tradition for the sake of tradition tends to loose meaning. How many thousands of men and women must be harmed by patriarchy / complementarianism before people realize that the one approach doesn’t work for everyone?

            God is the only individual that can be the perfect patriarch – and he basically allowed his only begotten son to be beaten almost to death and then hung on a cross until death. All men are under them, and according to your teachings, all women are under the men and also God and Christ. The only reason why that works is because all men answer to God right then and there (presumably in Heaven where there is no giving in marriage, which sort of makes the practice of patriarchy / complementarianism difficult) for how well or poorly they treat the women that are below them. At this very moment, no such structure exists. Sure, God would know if men treated women poorly, but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to treat women poorly.

            Paul often wrote not to confirm the status quo, but to turn everything upside down. First and last, greatest and least, leader and servant. He could have very easily written: ‘Women are to wear head coverings of cloth while they prophesy and pray in the prescence of men and in submission to men. Men are not to have long hair. Communion is important, get it right.’ But he chose to say so much more in such a way that we still don’t know what he meant. Why didn’t he write it plain and simple? Was he saying one thing to mean something else?

            Think of this illustration: from a corn kernel, you could not describe a corn stalk or an ear of corn. From an acorn, you could not describe an oak tree. Likewise, from our ‘seed’ of what we know of the Bible, we cannot describe or know what Heaven will be like. And from our ‘seed’ of complementarianism / patriarchy, we cannot describe or know what will be the normal in Heaven.

          • Jamie, I think we’re wandering a bit from the original point of this post. Let me just say two things:

            1. Patriarchy is actually about family rather than individuals. My take is that the extreme individualism of Western society has stretched much of patriarchy out of shape.
            2. I don’t think that abuses of a system mean we should abscond to a non-biblical system.

            If you want to keep discussing this, you can contact me through my website. I’m just conscious that we are not actually discussing the topic of the post, which is what these comment sections are for.

            I’ll leave the last word here to you.

          • Because of our individualism, it would be very odd for a 50 year old guy have to go to his 70 year old father to get permission for a business arrangement on behalf of his 30 year old son, it’s just not done normally. I don’t think traditional patriarchy would work here.

          • Hi Jeremy,
            Surprisingly, Tim Keller said at a recent women’s conference that patriarchy always results in women being seen as inferior to men, even if when the adherents to it don’t want it to. That doesn’t change TGC’s statement, but does indicate a distancing from patriachy by Keller.

            I think he’s wrong, myself.

  • Dale Jodoin

    I reiterate..Why did Paul use a word (κόμην) that can connote style. How long is long? Beatles, circa 1964….Their hair was considered long. It was short by today’s standard.
    A larger question is “Should a wife with just long hair be put out of fellowship”?

    • I’ve visited dozens of churches from different denominations in three or four states over years – none of them were into head covering. To put out of fellowship women that didn’t head cover, would basically force all churches to close their doors for lack of financial support because in all of those churches there was a clear majority of women attending. Most women in those churches were either younger with individualistic hair styles (anything and everything) or elderly women that realized that long hair was annoying so they kept it short and permed.

    • Hi Dale,
      I’m not in a position to make a call on your last question, but here are my 2c anyway.

      Considering the total confusion and teaching that directly opposes 1 Cor 11:2-16 in our churches, I think it wise that church leaders approach this whole area as a gradual culture change rather than putting in place a severe edict from on high. Even in Paul’s writing, he doesn’t suggest that women with short hair or women who don’t wear a headcovering should be put out of fellowship. Instead he initially approaches the whole issue of headcovering as something he wants the Corinthian Church to understand (v3). Today, If a woman takes a position of persistent rebellion (as opposed to honest conviction), then perhaps church discipline would be appropriate, but if women believe based on their own understanding of the Bible that long hair is the only covering they need, church discipline seems out of place.

      Then, of course, there is the whole Christian response on the part of a woman that would submit to a tradition even if she didn’t personally agree with it. This is an unbelievable thing to do in our society, but Christians, both men and women, are called to keep the peace. It would be little hardship.

  • Philip Brown

    Thanks for this article. A couple points: 1) It appears that you misunderstood Epiphanius’s citation of 1 Cor. 11:10. In context, he is listing the views of the Valentinians. He notes that they, that is, the Valentinians quote 1 Cor. 11:10 as “For this reason a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.” Irenaeus cites them as saying the same thing a couple hundred years earlier. This statement from the Panarion, therefore, cannot be used to determine Epiphanius’ view of the subject. 2) Thank you for noting Godet’s reference to Holsten. I missed that. However, I question whether what you’re calling the “long hair” view can be credibly attributed to Holsten based upon this statement alone. I don’t have access to his works in German, so I’m unable to pursue this further. I’d love to hear if further discoveries regarding his or earlier views are found.

    Blessings,
    A. Philip Brown II

    • Thanks for the reply Philip. I’ll be sure to re-look at the Epiphanius quote when time permits.

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