Hair: An Introduction

Copyright by Lois Gibson

The word 'hair' is mentioned 64 times in the Bible; 15 times in the New Testament and 49 in the Old Testament. (Ex. 25:4, 26:7, 35:6, 35:23, 35:26, 36:14, Le. 13:3, 13:4, 13:10, 13:20, 13:25, 13:26, 13:30, 13:31, 13:32, 13:36, 13:37, 13:40, 13:41, 14:8, 14:9 [twice], Nu. 6:5, 6:18, 6:19, 31:20, J'g. 16:22, 20:16, I Sa. 14:45, 19:13, 19:16, II Sa. 14:11, 14:26 [twice], I Ki. 1:52, Ezr. 9:3, Ne. 13:25, Job 4:15, Song of Solomon 4:1, 6:5, 7:5, Is. 3:24, 7:20, 50:6, Jer. 7:29, Eze. 5:1, 16:7, Da. 3:27, 7:9, M't. 3:4, 5:36, M'r. 1:6, Lu. 21:18, John 11:2, 12:3, Acts 27:34, I Cor. 11:14, 11:15 [twice], I Ti. 2:9, I Pet. 3:3, Re. 6:12, 9:8 [twice]) Twelve of these times it was added in the translation: Ex. 25:4, 26:7, 35:6. 35:23, 36:14, Nu. 6:19, 31:20, I Sa. 19:13, 19:16, II Sa. 14:26, Eze. 5:1. In your Bible, these will be noted by italics. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible notes that two others were not in the original: Ne. 13:25 and Is. 50:6. 1

Hair is mentioned 16 times in connection with the plague of leprosy. Eleven times it refers to camel or goat hair. Three times it is used in giving the instructions for a Nazarite vow. It refers once to measurement as 'hair breadth.' The remaining 33 times it is used in various ways.

Twelve words were translated 'hair.' Six of these words (miqsheh, nezer, kome, plegma, trichinos, dallah) were used one time, three (se'ar, marat, komao) were used twice, one (sa'arah) was used five times, one (thrix) was used ten times and one (se'ar) was used 23 times. Several meanings are employed as follows:

     1. Se'ar- "from 8175 in the sense of dishevelling; hair (as if tossed or bristling)."

     2. Thrix- "of uncert. der.; hair...Comp. 2864."

     3. Sa'arah- "fem. of 8181; hairness."

     4. Se'ar- "corresp. to 8181; hair."

     5. Komao- "from 2864; to wear tresses of hair."

     6. Marat- "a prim. root; to polish; by impl. to make bald (the head), to gall (the shoulder); also, to sharpen."

     7. Miqsheh- "from 7185 in the sense of knotting up round and hard; something turned (rounded), i.e. a curl (of tresses)."

     8. Nezer- "from 5144; prop. something set apart, i.e. (abstr.) dedication (of a priest or Nazarite); hence (concr.) unshorn locks; also (by impl.) a chaplet (espec. of royalty)."

     9. Kome- "appar. from the same as 2865; the hair of the head (locks, as ornamental, and thus differing from 2359, which prop. denotes merely the scalp)."

   10. Plegma- "from 4120; a plait (of hair)."

   11. Trichinos- "from 2359; hairy, i.e. made of hair (mohair)."

   12. Dallah- "from 1802; prop. something dangling, i.e. a loose thread or hair; fig. indigent." 2

Only two of these words make reference to any length: 'nezer,' used one time, refers to "unshorn locks," while 'marat,' used twice, means "make bald."


There are six Scriptures which refer directly or indirectly to 'hair' length.

1. Two indirect references (John 11:2 and 12:3) are to Mary's hair length as she dried the feet of Jesus with her hair (thrix). Though hair length is not directly mentioned, her hair had to have been fairly long in order to use it to dry his feet. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish this with very short hair. However, these Scriptures, along with two others in Luke, cannot be used to prove women always wore their hair long or never cut it. Nothing in the original Greek word means 'uncut,' nor is this suggested by the manner in which it is used in these verses. If this were to constitute long hair, then many who do not cut their hair would fall short of such a measuring standard.

2. Concerning hair (se'ar) in Ezekiel 16:7, Jerusalem is being compared to a woman from birth to maturity. It mentions her hair that is "grown" (no length given) and could possibly refer to pubescent hair or just the normal process of hair growing after birth.

3. Numbers 6:5, in giving the guidelines for the Nazarite vow, the hair (se'ar) is to be allowed to grow uncut. This vow could be taken by either a man or a woman. It was not a custom instituted by the people; it was established by God. The vow was usually a voluntary act and for a limited period of time. From what I have read, it appears there was no regulation on the length of the vow, but in later times a minimum period of 30 days was set by the people. Very few were lifelong Nazarites. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says that "according to the Mishna, the normal time for keeping a Nazarite vow was thirty days; but sometimes a double vow was taken, lasting sixty days. In fact, a vow was sometimes undertaken for a hundred days." 3 At the end of the vow, the person's hair was to be shaved off their head. Due to the variations in the length of time involved with individual vows, the person's hair would not have to grow to what we might conceive as 'long.' A considerable difference would probably be seen in lifelong Nazarites as compared to a normal Nazarite vow.

According to the Britannica Micropaedia Ready Reference, "human hair grows at the rate of about 0.5 inch (13 mm) per month." 4 Using this guideline, if one were to take the vow for 100 days, it could mean a growth of 1½-2 inches. This would not be seen as a marked difference between one who has taken the vow and one who had not. It also would not 'shame' 5 the man, as some would feel. And, if the normal time was indeed 30 days, it is doubtful any difference would be noted.

4. The other two references to hair length are found in I Corinthians 11:14, 15. Here they speak of "long hair" (komao) on a man or woman. The same word is used in both Scriptures and is only found twice in the Bible.

a. As we learned earlier, 'komao,' which is from 'kome,' means "to wear tresses of hair." 'Kome' is only used once in the Bible (I Corinthians 11:15- the second mention of 'hair') and means "the hair of the head (locks, as ornamental, and thus differing from 2359, which prop. denotes merely the scalp)." 6

b. The word 'tresses' is not in the Bible. The Oxford American Dictionary says that 'tress' means "1. a lock of hair. 2. tresses, the hair of the head." 'Lock' is defined as "1. a portion of hair that hangs together. 2. locks, the hair of the head." 7 The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language says 'lock' is " A tuft of hair; a tress; a ringlet; a tuft of wool, or the like; pl. the hair on one's head." 'Tuft' means "A bunch or clump of small, usu. soft and flexible things, as feathers, hair, and the like, fixed at the base and with the upper ends loose;..." 'Tress' means "...Archaic, a plait or braid of human hair of the head; usu. pl. long locks or curls of hair, esp. of a woman, not plaited or braided." 8

In the beginning of this dictionary, it states that "Definitions are listed with the preferred sense first and following senses according to common usage. Archaic definitions are listed last and labeled. If an archaic definition is necessary to the understanding of the contemporary use of a word, the archaic definition will be listed first and labeled. If a word does not have a clear preferred use, the order of definitions is arbitrary..." 9

'Tress' is derived from an Old French word, 'trece.' The Middle Latin words 'trecia' and 'tricia' mean a braid or a plait in English as compared to the Greek word 'tricha,' which means threefold. In other words, in the earlier usage of the word, 'tresses' were plaits or braids of hair, without defining length or if the hair was uncut. There is nothing in these meanings or the biblical meaning to indicate 'uncut' hair. I believe this also shoots down the theory that women are not to braid their hair.

c. Vine's says 'komao' "signifies 'to let the hair grow long, to wear long hair,' a glory to a woman, a dishonor to a man (as taught by nature), I Cor. 11:14,15." 'Kome' "is used only of 'human hair,' but not in the NT of the ornamental. The word is found in I Cor. 11:15, where the context shows that the 'covering' provided in the long 'hair' of the woman is as a veil, a sign of subjection to authority, as indicated in the headships spoken of in vv. 1-10." 10 This will be discussed in another section.


There are 15 Scriptures which refer to removing the 'hair,' mainly by shaving, but also by plucking, polling, or balding. All these Scriptures refer to removal of the hair, not just trimming or cutting.

     1. In Leviticus 13:29-37 (se'ar) it refers once to a man or woman having their head partly shaved to check for leprosy.

     2. In Leviticus 13:40, 41 (marat) the Levites are told that baldness is not leprosy.

     3. Leviticus 14:8,9 (se'ar) explains the cleansing process of those who were healed of leprosy. Part of the cleansing was to shave all their hair twice.

     4. Numbers 6:1-21 (se'ar) explains the Nazarite vow of a man or woman. During their vow, they were not to cut their hair. They were to shave their head at the end of the vow, thus completing their time of separation. This is specified in verses 18 and 19.

     5. Judges 16:22 (se'ar) says that Samson's hair grew again after Delilah had it shaven.

     6. II Samuel 14:26 (not in original text) says that Absalom polled (shaved) his hair once a year due to its weight.

     7. Ezra 9:3 (se'ar) tells that Ezra plucked the hair off his head and beard when he heard that Israel had intermarried with the other nations.

     8. Nehemiah 13:25 (not in original text) tells that Nehemiah plucked off the hair (make bald) of some men who had intermarried with the women of other nations.

     9. Isaiah 3:24 (miqsheh) speaks about the spiritual downfall of Judah's women. Since  they were haughty (proud, lofty) the Lord would give them baldness instead of well set hair, among other things.

   10. Isaiah 50:6 (not in original) refers to when the people would pluck the hairs from the cheeks of Jesus.

   11. Jeremiah 7:29 (nezer) sees Judah following other gods and Jerusalem is told to cut off  her hair. There will be more on this later.

   12. Ezekiel 5:1 (not in original) has Ezekiel shaving off the hair of his head and beard in response to Israel's sin. He was to divide it into three parts and use it when the days of siege were fulfilled.


The word 'hairs' is mentioned 15 times in the Bible. (Ge. 42:38, 44:29, 44:31, Le. 13:21, De. 32:25, Ps. 40:12, 69:4, Is. 46:4, Da. 4:33, Ho. 7:9, M't. 10:30, Lu. 7:38, 7:44, 12:7, Re. 1:14) Five times it appears in the New Testament and ten in the Old Testament. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible says six of these were not in the original text: Ge. 42:38, 44:29, 31, De. 32:25, Is. 46:4 and Ho. 7:9. 11

Eight times it is used to identify the color (gray or white) of hair. The other seven times it is used in various ways.

Four words were translated 'hairs;' two words (se'ar, se'ar) were used once, one (sa'arah) was used twice and one (thrix) was used five times. These same words were also translated 'hair' in other Scriptures. None of the original meanings indicate hair length.

The context in which it is used, there are three times that 'hairs' indicates length, with two of these not being a direct reference. None refer to removing or cutting the hair.

     1. The first is when Nebuchadnezzar became as a beast and his hairs (se'ar) were grown like eagles' hairs. (Da. 4:33)

     2. The latter two refer to when the woman washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with the hairs (thrix) of her head. See the previous remarks on this under 'hair.' (Lu. 7:38, 44)


The word 'hairy' is mentioned 5 times in the Bible, all in the Old Testament. (Ge. 25:25, 27:11, 27:23, II Kings 1:8, Ps. 68:21) It is used several ways.

Three words were translated 'hairy;' one (sa'iyr) being used twice, one (ba'al) being used once [two words were together translated 'hairy'] and the other (se'ar) three times. They were not used in connection to length or cutting of the hair in any form.

     1. Sa'iyr- "from 8175; shaggy; as noun, a he-goat; by anal. a faun."

     2. Ba'al- "from 1166; a master; hence a husband, or (fig.) owner (often used with another noun in modifications of this latter sense)." 12


The word 'lock' is used one time in the Bible in regard to hair and is in the Old Testament. (Eze. 8:3) It is not used in reference to length or cutting of hair. 'Tsiytsith' means "fem of 6731; a floral or wing-like projection, i.e. a fore-lock of hair, a tassel." 13


The word 'locks' is used 15 times in the Bible, all in the Old Testament. Ten times it is used in reference to hair. (Nu. 6:5, J'g. 16:13, 16:19, Song of Solomon 4:1, 4:3, 5:2, 5:11, 6:7, Isa. 47:2, Eze. 44:20)

Four words (pera', machlaphah, qevutstsah, tsammah) are translated 'locks' in these ten instances, with the first three being used twice and the rest being used four times.

     1. Pera'- "from 6544; the hair (as dishevelled)."

     2. Machlaphah- "from 2498; a ringlet of hair (as gliding over each other)."

     3. Qevutstsah- "fem. pass. part. of 6972 in its orig. sense; a forelock (as shorn)."

     4. Tsammah- "from an unused root mean. to fasten on; a veil." 14

Three times 'locks' is used in reference to the Nazarite vow, with two of these referring to Samson.

     1. The first with regard to Samson (J'g 16:13) does not refer to length or cutting of the hair (machlaphah).  The second (J'g 16:19) is when Delilah shaved the seven locks (machlaphah) of his hair, an act which was to be done at the end of a Nazarite vow. Samson was a lifelong Nazarite and should never have allowed his hair to be shaven.

     2. The other Scripture which refers to a Nazarite (Nu. 6:5) tells us that a razor was not to be used on the hair (pera') until the vow was over.

     3. When 'locks' (pera') is used in Ezekiel 44:20, it gives instruction to the priests that they were not to shave their head, nor allow their locks to grow long, but were to poll (shear) their hair.

     4. The other six times 'locks' is mentioned does not indicate length or cutting in the manner it is used; however, the original meaning of 'qevutstsah' means a forelock which is shorn. (Is. 47:2, Song of Solomon 4:1,3, 5:2,11, 6:7)



1 "The absence of a number at the end of a passage shows that the word in question is not there the rendering of any particular term in the original, having either been supplied by the translators for the purpose of greater clearness...or being the representative merely of some inflectional form...of a Hebrew or Greek term (which in that case is to be sought under the principle associated word of the same passage)." James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 4, 432.

2 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 30, 72, 77, 119, 120 Hebrew dictionary; 36, 43, 58, 72 Greek dictionary.

3 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 223.

4 Britannica Micropaedia Ready Reference, 1992 ed., s.v. "Hair," 622 Volume 5.

5 Daniel L. Segraves, Women's Hair:The Long and Short of It (Dupo: The Good Word, 1979), 39

6 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 43 Greek dictionary.

7 Eugene Ehrlich, Stuart Berg Flexner, Gorton Carruth, et. al., Oxford American Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 734, 388.

8 Dana F. Kellerman, Harry E. Clarke, Lucinda R. Summers, et. al., The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (Chicago: The English Language Institute of America, 1977), 560, 1062, 1052.

9 Ibid., xxi.

10 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 287.

11 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 432.

12 Ibid., 119, 2 Hebrew dictionary.

13 Ibid., 99 Hebrew dictionary.

14 Ibid., 97, 64, 103, 100 Hebrew dictionary.

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Hair: An Introduction     Hair in History    Regular Dictionary Definitions     Shorn and Shaven

Different Bible Versions     Modern Day Scribes & Pharisees   Labeling


August 23, 1997
Page added February 5, 1998
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