Question:

One thing I wonder at is that with as adamant as I Corinthians 11 appears to read, Paul actually chose not to cut his hair while at Corinth, but only after he had left. This means Paul was on some do-not-cut-hair vow while at Corinth. So we shouldn't see a conflict between Paul's words of generality and specific circumstances in which one might have slightly longer than normal hair (since we don't know how long Paul's hair got).

What I wonder is: are Paul's statements concerning hair in I Corinthians 11 similar to his statements concerning circumcision elsewhere? If we were to read Galatians by itself, we might well come to the conclusion that any person who circumcises for any reason is in the wrong. However, with other circumstances Paul had Timothy circumcised specifically in regards to His work in the Kingdom. So I would caution ever taking a single passage and making it a rule, especially when, as noted in the article, it is only intended to deal with undefined generalisms, and the specific application to the Corinthians is ambiguous.

Answer:

It is curious at first (especially if I picture a Samson-looking Paul leaving Corinth). But the apparent contrast between Paul's words to Corinth and Paul's hair at Corinth seems to go away when we consider how frequently Jewish men of the time cut their hair -- as contrasted with how long a standard Nazarite vow lasted -- one month (unless additional times were added):

References:

From Jewish Encyclopedia.com:

  • "The duration of Nazariteship was voluntary, and ranged from one hour to a lifetime. In the former case, however, it really lasted for thirty days, which was also the period when no definite time was set (ib. i. 3; Sifre, Deut. 357). "
  • Nazarite vows were taken also outside of Palestine (Naz. v. 4; iii. 6).
  • Josephus referring to the thirty days demanded, as above, in the passage already quoted—"B. J." ii. 15, § 1."

This is also addressed in Joachim Jeremias' book "Jerusalem in the time of Jesus," if I remember correctly.

How long does a man's hair grow in a month?

  • "The American Academy of Dermatology says that hair grows about 1/2 inch per month on average."

So rather than picturing a long-haired Paul leaving Corinth, and then writing back to Corinth that it is shameful for a man to have long hair; Paul may have let his hair grow for 30 days, which means it was half an inch longer than before, and then had his head shorn in Cenchrea.

Scott Smelser

Response:

I agree. My point simply was that a lack of evidence on the issue should make us pause. And the fact that hair cutting and Corinth are thus juxtaposed should make us be all the more careful.

Answer:

It is always dangerous to draw conclusions from a lack of information. The typical Nazarite vow lasts for a period of time (Numbers 6:4) and then ends with the shaving of the head (Numbers 6:18). The hair that grew during the vow was then burnt as a part of the sacrifice to God. As Scott points out, traditionally a typical vow lasted for a month. "Now she dwelt then at Jerusalem, in order to perform a vow which she had made to God; for it is usual with those that had been either afflicted with a distemper, or with any other distresses, to make vows; and for thirty days before they are to offer their sacrifices, to abstain from wine, and to shave the hair of their head" [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.15.1].

We also know that Paul was in Corinth for 18 months during this time (Acts 18:11) and cut his hair in Cenchrea (Acts 18:18), so the vow would have been less than 18 months. Actually, there is a question of whether this hair cut signaled the end of Paul's vow or the beginning of one. The wording in Acts 18:18 isn't clear. However, there is nothing in Acts 18 to indicate that Paul did not cut his hair for the whole time he was in Corinth. At best, we can guess that he stopped at some point and cut his hair in Cenchrea or that he started a vow at Cenchrea and ended sometime later.

There are questions as to whether the vow was truly a Nazarite vow. People assume it was because the shaving of the head is mentioned, but a different word for the cutting of the hair is used in Acts 18:18 (keiro - shorn) than the word used for the cutting at the completion of a vow in Acts 21:24 (xurao - shaved). And the law required that the completion of the vow be done at the temple (Numbers 6:13) and Paul wasn't there. Besides, those under the Nazarite vow could not consume anything made of grapes, but Paul would partake of the Lord's Supper each first day of the week and it is specifically mentioned taking the Lord's Supper in Troas in Acts 20:7ff. Thus, if it was a Nazarite vow, Paul would not be under one for more than a week.

However you end up viewing this, this would not be a case of Paul having long hair and does not show inconsistency on Paul's part.

In regards to circumcision, Paul did not say circumcision was wrong. He stated that requiring circumcision because the Old Law required it was wrong (Galatians 5:1-4). Circumcision itself no longer has meaning under the New Law. "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (Galatians 6:15).

It does not matter if God gave directions once or dozens of times, God's commands are to be obeyed. I can find many instances where God indicates that His directions must be followed. I know of no indication that God said that a single command is only a suggestion.

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