Question: "What does the Bible say about hair length? Do men have to have short hair, and do women have to have long hair?"
Answer: A passage that mentions hair length in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 11:3-15. The Corinthian church was in the middle of a controversy about the roles of men and women and the proper order of authority within the church. In the Corinthian society, women showed submission to their husbands by wearing a veil. It seems that some of the women in the church were discarding their veils, something that only pagan temple prostitutes or other rebellious women would do. For a woman to come to church without her veil would be dishonoring to her husband, as well as culturally confusing. By the same token, for a man to wear a veil or to somehow have his head covered during worship was not culturally acceptable in Corinth.
Paul appeals to biology to illustrate the appropriateness of following the cultural standards: women naturally have longer hair than men, and men are much more prone to baldness. That is, God created women with a “natural veil” and men with an “uncovered head.” If a woman spurns the mark of her submission (the veil), she may as well shave her head (verse 6). His point is that if the culture says a woman should not be bald (going without her natural covering), then why would she reject that same culture’s standard of wearing a veil (going without her cultural covering)?
For the man’s part, it is unnatural for him to have “long hair” (verse 14). His hair is naturally shorter (and thinner) than the woman’s. This corresponds to the Corinthian tradition of men not wearing a head covering during worship. Paul urges the church to conform to the generally held ideas of male and female appearance.
While hair length is not the main point of this passage of Scripture, we glean the following applications from it: 1) We should adhere to the culturally accepted indicators of gender. Men should look like men, and women should look like women. God is not interested in, nor does He accept, “unisex.” 2) We should not rebel against the culture just for the sake of rebelling, in the name of some sort of Christian “liberty.” It does matter how we present ourselves. 3) Women are to voluntarily place themselves under the authority of men in the church. 4) We should not reverse the God-ordained roles of men and women.
Our culture today does not use veils or head coverings to indicate submission to authority. The roles of men and women have not changed, but the way we symbolize those roles changes with the culture. Rather than establish legalistic standards of hair length, we must remember that the real issue is our heart condition, our individual response to the authority of God, His ordained order, and our choice to walk in submission to that authority. Men and women have different, God-ordained roles, and part of that difference is shown by their hair. A man's hair should look masculine. A woman's hair should look feminine.