Recently I was asked to examine a blog concerning the Greek word komaō (have long hair) and whether or not this verb indicates “uncut hair.” This blog “The Meaning of ‘Komao’ or ‘Have Long Hair’” is full of errors in its attempt to disprove that komaō refers to long, uncut hair. This blog presents itself as a scholarly effort to examine the meaning of the Greek verb komaō, but falls short on many counts.
A. The article begins with appealing to Strong’s definition of komaō and states, “Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, which is the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date Greek dictionary available, and is cross-referenced to the leading lexical works: Brown-Driver-Briggs, Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker, Thayer’s, and more.”
First of all, Strong did not indicate anything in his definition that would imply that komaō does not refer to uncut hair. Secondly the statement that Strong’s dictionary is “the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date Greek dictionary available” is preposterous! Strong’s dictionary was first published in 1890 just BEFORE the discovery of the Koine Greek language! Since the time of Strong’s dictionary and Thayer’s lexicon there have been several discoveries concerning the Biblical Greek language (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) that have shed more light on the Greek language spoken by Jesus and the early church. Third, Brown-Driver-Briggs is a Hebrew lexicon which has nothing to do with the meaning of komaō. Fourth, Strong’s is not “cross-referenced to the leading lexical works” such as Thayer and Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker. These books were not even in print when Strong’s dictionary was first published! The only thing that is “cross-referenced” is the system of numbering the Greek words Strong’s established.
As good of a Greek dictionary as it is, Strong’s is by no means “the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date Greek dictionary available.” A statement like this exposes the author’s ignorance of the Koine Greek language and knowledge of Greek lexicons. Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker (BAGD) is considered the most respected Greek lexicon in academia today, but there are many other highly respected Greek lexicons besides BAGD. The author goes on to say that the UPCI bases its doctrine on uncut hair on the “preferred definition of ‘let the hair grow’ found in Thayer and Smith. Actually the idea of “uncut hair” is much deeper than simply quoting Thayer or Smith. The author is probably equally ignorant of Louw-Nida’s Greek-English lexicon (1988) that defines komaō as:
“to wear long hair as part of one’s attire – ‘to have long hair, to appear with long hair, to wear long hair.’ ‘if a woman wears long hair, it is a pride for her’ 1 Cor 11:15. In a number of languages it may be necessary to translate κομάω as ‘to let one’s hair grow long’ or ‘not to cut one’s hair.’”
Here we have the scholarly testimony of two highly respect linguist (who were not members of the UPCI) that it might be necessary to translate komaō as “not to cut one’s hair.” The author goes on to state that komaō indicates a measurement of length which NO lexicon supports. Given the fact that we are talking about hair, something that grows naturally, by nature some women’s hair would measure longer than others even if it is never cut! So the word doesn’t describe a measurement (ex. 3ft) but a condition of “letting the hair grow” i.e. not cutting it. So, the author’s blog starts on a false premise, disregards the academia of modern lexicon, and chooses to appeal to an outdated source (which doesn’t negate that komaō means “uncut hair”).
B. In the next section of the blog, the author (choosing to ignore the standard Greek lexicons) appeals to other “Greek language experts.” By “Greek language experts,” the blogger refers to certain professors of Classical Greek. This is another fallacy of the blogger’s research. Classical Greek is not Koine Greek, and certain terms or idioms that may have been used in Classical Greek do not necessarily appear in the Koine Greek of the New Testament. This would be like comparing the Elizabethan English of the 1611 King James Bible to modern English, of which there are many differences. The blogger did not offer any footnotes/endnotes of exactly where these Professors made the statements quoted. At times the “scholars” are so vaguely referred to that it is impossible to even know who the “expert” is. Also the context of what these supposed experts commented on is not germane to the discussion of 1 Corinthians 11:4f. The question stated is “Is there anything in the meaning of komao that would define “long” hair as “uncut” hair?” However the comments that follow deal with whether komaō means “never cut.” Hair that has “never” been cut is indeed “uncut hair,” but so also is hair that is allowed to grow between specific times of cutting (as was the custom among the Greeks). In an attempt to examine the blogger’s “Greek language experts,” to best of my ability, I attempted to contact the same said experts.
1. The blogger’s first “expert” is “the Assistant Greek Professor at the University of North Carolina.” So, I posed the following question to Janet Downie, Assistant Professor, Department of Classics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: “In Classical Greek, is it possible to understand the participle komoōntes as referring to "uncut hair?" Her response was: “The participle komaontes/komoontes (κομάω from the noun κόμη ‘hair’) does mean ‘having abundant hair,’ ‘with a full head of hair’ — so that implies uncut. Homeric warriors and later Greeks seem to have worn their hair long.”
2. The next “expert” is said to be “a graduate student, who worked with NT material and studied Koine.” The blogger does not indicate that the “graduate student” has a degree in Koine Greek which is interesting because later in the article they dismiss the comments of Daniel Seagraves because he does not have a degree in Greek (more on this later). However, the “grad student” did state that keiro (cut – which is the word used by Paul in 1 Cor. 11) was the antithesis to komaō! The only way for this to be true is if komaō refers to not keiro i.e. uncut. An “antithesis” is the opposite of something. So for komaō to be the antithesis to keiro, komaō would have to refer to uncut hair. They go on to say that komaō “does not carry an implication of specific length” which negates the blogger’s position that komaō refers to a measurement.
3. I proposed the following question to the blogger’s third language expert: “So, my question is - is it possible that akersekomes and komaō are used synonymously in Classical Greek? Is it possible that the context of Classical Greek indicates that komaō indicated long hair that was not (yet) cut?” Dr. David Leitao, Professor of Classics, San Francisco University responded with: “Yes, in some contexts, akersokomes and kom(o/a)on (the participle form of komao) could be synonyms. It's not quite true that boys left their hair to grow uncut until adulthood. That was the custom in some areas and at some times, but far from universal. (I talk more about all this in my article ‘Adolescent Hair-cutting Rites’ (https://faculty.sfsu.edu/~dleitao/content/publications-14)). The word akersokomes was probably used mostly commonly of Apollo, a special case. And there's the case of the Achaeans in the Iliad (and the Spartans of later years), who were described as komoontes (‘wearing the hair long, i.e. uncut’). Hope this helps.”
4. The next language expert listed is “Professor Griffith.” I sent the following question to Professor Mark Griffith, Professor of Classics, Berkley University: “In Classical Greek, is it possible to understand the participle komoōntes as referring to "uncut hair?" Professor Griffith answered: “Yes, that would be a natural meaning for that word. Translators of the Iliad, for example, often render the formula KARA KOMOÔNTES ACHAIOI as ‘the long-haired Achaeans’ There are various theories as to why this epithet was applied to the Bronze Age or Archaic ‘Achaeans’. As you probably know, in some societies young men did not cut their hair until reaching a certain age, as part of an adolescent rite of passage. But of course not all the Achaeans in Homer's poem are adolescents, by any means. In the Classical period in Athens (5th C. BCE or so), the style of growing one's hair long and luxurious (KOMOÔ or in Attic Greek KOMAÔ) was regarded as rather an aristocratic (and/or Spartan) habit.
5. “The Greek Professor from Ohio State University” is quoted as the fifth expert. Ohio State University doesn’t actually have a Greek Department or “Greek Professors.” They have a Department of Classics, and Professors (plural) who teach Classic Greek literature. I posed the question to Professor Anthony Kaldellis one of the Professors in this department: “In Classical Greek, is it possible to understand the participle komoōntes as referring to "uncut hair?" Professor Kaldellis’ answer was: “If it’s from komaô, sure, but more like letting the hair grow long rather than not cutting it, same thing in the end.” In other words “letting the hair grow long” is the “same thing in the end” as “uncut hair,” which is what we affirm.
6. The sixth language expert is listed as “Dr. Edmonds.” This reference is so vague that I have been unable to even attempt to contact this professor. However, notice in the comments that Dr. Edmonds is reported as saying “…there is no reason to believe that it would necessarily signify hair that had never been cut…” Again, “never been cut” is not the issue with komaō as we’ve already seen from the testimony of other Classical Greek professors komoōntes (participle form) referred to the uncut condition of the Achaean’s hair; not that they had “never” cut their hair, but for that period of time that their hair was “uncut” they were komoōntes i.e. “long (uncut) haired” Achaeans.
7. Prof Ross Kilpatrick, Queen’s University is the next language expert cited. Unfortunately he passed away in 2012, however nothing in the statement given negates that komaō or komoōntes (in Classical Greek) referred to “uncut hair.”
8. I am assuming the eighth language expert is Dr. Richard Hunter, Cambridge University. I have emailed Dr. Hunter asking him the same question as the rest of the blogger’s “experts,” but haven’t to date received a reply. However, nothing in Dr. Hunter’s comments in the blogger’s article indicate that komaō does not refer to uncut hair.
9. The final language expert cited is referred to as “a lady studying for a doctorate degree in Latin literature” How is this woman an expert on the Greek word komaō? You might as well as ask a person who is studying for a doctorate degree in German what the meaning of a Spanish word is.
Again, no references were cited to check these sources. I will make all my email communications available to anyone who asks of them. The idiocy of the blogger’s research is climaxed by the statement, “The general consensus among Greek professors is that the meaning of komao is NOT that of having TOTALLY UNCUT hair, also, that the meaning of komao indicated a measurement of length.” The blogger referenced NINE “language experts,” one of whom specifically stated that komaō DOES NOT refer to a measurement of length then has the audacity to say that the “general consensus among Greek professors” is such and such!! Nine references represent the “general consensus” of Greek professors? Come on! This is pathetic research! And I was able to contact either the exact same “language experts” or professors from the colleges/universities cited and received testimony that komaō in Classical Greek DOES refer to “uncut hair.”
C. The remaining sections of the bloggers article are superfluous for several reasons:
1. The blogger deals with Greek customs and the references to “long haired Greeks” in Classical Greek literature as if this has some sort of bearing on New Testament teaching, which it doesn’t. Paul was not teaching Christians to observe some Greek custom. Paul’s teaching was based upon “nature” that it is a shame for man to have long hair and a shame for a woman to be shorn or shave because her long (uncut) hair is given to her as a covering. In the Old Testament, it was common for men to cut or shave their hair (Genesis 41:14; Ezra 9:3; Job 1:20; Ezekiel 5:1). It was a rare occurrence for a man to have long hair (examples Sampson – “seven braids” & Absalom – shaved head once a year). In contrast women had long hair [Song 4:1; 6:5 (goat hair in the East is long and fine); Isaiah 3:24 (“well set hair” i.e. braided/plaited hair); John 12:3 (still under the Old Law, apparently her hair was long enough to wipe Jesus’ feet)] and cutting or shaving their hair was considered a disgrace (Numbers 5:18; Deuteronomy 21:12). The Jewish Encyclopedia confirms this, “A woman’s hair was never cut except as a sign of deep mourning or of degradation” (vol. 6, p. 158).
2. The section is built upon the false premise that komaō refers to hair that has “never” been cut, which is not even the issue. Yes, the Greek men cut their hair at adulthood and/or at mourning but before or in between this time they did not and thus during this time they had komaō i.e. long (uncut) hair, as has been confirmed by the same Greek professors cited by the blogger. In 1 Corinthians 11:6 Paul declared that it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, which is in contrast to a woman having long hair (1 Corinthians 11:15). So, what custom Greek men held in c. 1600 B.C. has no relevance to Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians.
3. The blogger builds a case on Classical Greek words, and what may or may not have been a valid word (ex. akersekomes vs komaō which Dr. Leitao says were used synonymously) in the time of the writing of the New Testament. Just because a word was used in Classical Greek (c. 760 - 710 B.C.) doesn’t mean that the word was still in use some 750 to 800 years later during the time of the writing of the New Testament. The writing styles and even characters of a language change over a period of time. Words become archaic and unused. For example, just over 400 years ago the original 1611 King James Bible used several alphabetic characters differently than are used today (2015). Also there are many archaic words that are no longer in use (ex. thou, saith, doeth, etc.) So, it is a fallacy to build a case on what a word means in the Koine Greek language of the Bible compared to the Classical Greek language.
D. The blogger also makes an invalid argument concerning Paul’s vow in Corinth and goes into the details of the Nazarite vow. The fallacy in all this is that Paul DID NOT take a Nazarite vow in Corinth, which could ONLY be fulfilled in the presence of the Priest by offering the hair as a burnt sacrifice in Jerusalem (Numbers 6:18). Bible commentators such as A.T. Robertson; Jamieson, Faussett, Brown; Marvin Vincent; Henry Alford agree that this was not the Nazarite vow that Paul had taken. Even if this was the Nazarite vow, it appears that Paul’s vow lasted about 30 days, hardly enough time for his hair to grow “long.” Plus all the comments about men taking the Nazarite vow are taken out of context. A man’s hair, on average, grows ½ inch per month. The usual Nazarite vow was only for 30-60 days. That would mean the hair would only grow a couple of inches before the head was shaved, a far cry from those who misrepresent the Nazarite vow as being long flowing hair on men. Taking into consideration Jews in the East have wavy/curly hair, not straight, hair; it is doubtful even Absalom who shaved his head once a year had long, flowing hair.
E. The blogger concludes by charging the UPCI with choosing a definition that fits their belief rather than fitting their belief to the definition, which is a ludicrous charge because the blogger inadvertently admits that there is a definition of komaō that matches the belief system of the UPCI! Therefore one could just as easily conclude that the UPCI teaching IS based upon the definition! Lastly, the blogger makes a statement against Daniel Seagraves (I’m assuming the blogger is an ex-UPCI member who has read Dr. Seagraves’ book on hair) that they noticed that Dr. Seagraves “has no degree in Greek.” This is probably the most ridiculous statement in the article. Most colleges, universities, seminaries DO NOT offer a degree specifically “in Greek.” My Greek professor does not have a “degree in Greek,” he has a Masters of Divinity (in which you must study both Hebrew and Greek grammar, exegete, and translation to earn). Even Dan Wallace (author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) has a PhD in New Testament Studies, not Greek. Again, most Greek professors don’t have a “degree in Greek,” but this does not mean that they have not studied the Greek language in order to earn their degree.
The issue of men and women’s hair is not an issue of custom as is concluded by the blogger. Paul specifically taught that short hair on men and long (uncut) hair on women is a distinction taught by nature.