SHORN AND SHAVEN
Copyright by Lois Gibson
Much of the argument over whether there is a biblical command against a woman cutting her hair revolves around the words 'shorn' and 'shaven' as found in I Corinthians 11:5,6:
First, please keep in mind that Paul was responding to a question asked by the Corinthian church about hair coverings during church services. They were not asking if it was wrong for a woman to cut her hair or a man to grow long hair. They weren't asking about the covering outside of the services. If one keeps these points in mind, it makes it much easier to follow Paul's response. With this in mind, let us study the words 'shorn' and 'shaven.'
The word 'shaven' is only used twice in the New Testament and the same Greek word (xurao) was used in both verses. (I Cor. 11:5, 11:6) This word was also translated 'shave' in Acts 21:24 in reference to the shaving of heads during a vow. The word is only found in these three Scriptures.
'Xurao' means "from a der. of the same as 3586 (mean. a razor); to shave or 'shear' the hair." 1 Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words also tells us that this word comes from another word meaning 'razor' and refers us to the word 'shear.' 2 The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament translates it 'to shave.' 3 In the three Scriptures where this word is used, it appears it held the same meaning: to shave the hair or to shear it. From these meanings it would be safe to say that the writer was referring to using a razor in removing all or almost all the hair from the head. (There should be no argument that all three Scriptures are referring to the head.)
In further study, it is only mentioned 25 times in the entire Bible. Fourteen times it is rendered 'shave' (Le. 13:33, 14:8, 14:9 [twice], 21:5, Nu. 6:9, [twice], 6:18, 8:7, De. 21:12, J'g. 16:19, Is. 7:20, Eze. 44:20, Acts 21:24), four times 'shaved' (Ge. 41:14, II Sa. 10:4, I Ch. 19:4, Job 1:20), and seven times 'shaven' (Le. 13:33, Nu. 6:19, J'g. 16:17, 16:22, Jer. 41:5, I Cor. 11:5, 11:6). It is only used the three times in the New Testament, which we have already covered. The other 22 times it was translated from four different words. The words are mainly used in regard to shaving all the hair on the body or the hair on just one part of the body. Some were previously discussed.
1. Twenty times 'galach' was used and it means "a prim. root; prop. to be bald, i.e. (caus.) to shave; fig. to lay waste."
2. One word used for 'shaved,' found in Job 1:20, 'gazaz' means "a prim root. [akin to 1648]; to cut off; spec. to shear a flock, or shave the hair; fig. to destroy an enemy."
3. In Numbers 8:7 two words ('abar, ta'ar) are rendered 'shave.' One means a knife or razor and the other means to cross over. 4
We have now established the original biblical meaning of 'shaven.' It appears that in order to support their teaching, proponents of this doctrine have resorted to using a regular dictionary when establishing the meaning of a biblical word. This poor research produces inaccurate and distorted meanings. Since this method has been used, we will touch on it in this chapter. However, it is extremely important to remember that this is NOT a normal or established way to do biblical research. I do not recommend it and you will find it quite difficult, if not impossible, to find any noted biblical scholar which would employ this method or support its use.
Proceeding then to a regular dictionary, we must look up the word 'shave' since 'shaven' is the past participle of this word. Here are some dictionary definitions:
1. "1. to scrape (growing hair) off the skin with a razor, to remove hair from the chin, ..." 5
2. "To remove hair or a beard by means of a razor.-v.t. To remove hair from, as from the chin, upper lip, or legs, by cutting close to the skin with a razor; to cut off, as hair, esp. the beard, close to the skin with a razor; to cut or trim closely, or reduce to a smooth or bare surface;..." 6
I found it interesting to note that the word 'shaven' is not discussed in detail, stating that, "There is no question about what it means to shave the head. About this there can be no debate. ...We mentioned earlier that no argument could be made with the meaning of "shave," thus we will focus our attention on the word that has caused considerable debate." 7
Upon further examination, when researching the original meaning of 'shaven,' one is also referred to 'shear.' This same word is elsewhere translated 'shear,' 'shearers,' and 'shearing.' If there is such a difference in the meaning between 'shaven' and 'shear,' the two words could never be used together in the definition of another word.
'Shorn' is used four times in the Bible, once in the Old Testament and the rest occurring in the New Testament. (Song of Solomon 4:2, Acts 18:18, I Cor. 11:6 [twice]) In the Old Testament (Song of Solomon 4:2) it compares teeth to a flock of sheep that are shorn. 'Qatsab' was the word used here and means "a prim. root; to clip or (gen.) chop." 8
Besides the two times it is used in I Corinthians 11:6, it is also found in Acts 18:18, referring to Paul having shorn his head, again in regard to a vow. The same Greek word, 'keiro,' is used in all three renderings.
This Greek word is only found one other time in the Bible and is translated 'shearer' in Acts 8:32. 'Keiro' means "a prim. verb; to shear." 9 Vine's says it was used of "shearing sheep" in Acts 8:32 and means "to have one's hair cut off, be shorn" 10 in the other three renderings. We are also referred to the word shave. Another definition is "to shear, as sheep, Ac. viii.32; mid., to have the head shorn, Ac. xviii. 18; I Cor. xi. 6." 11
Please note that it is related to shearing a sheep and we are referred to 'shave.' In comparing its usage to that in the book of Acts, it would appear that it means to cut closely, not just cut off any amount.
Four forms of the word 'shear' are found eleven times, only once in the New Testament. 'Shear' appears four times (Ge. 31:19, 38:13, De. 15:19, I Sa. 25:4), 'shearer' once (Acts 8:32), 'shearers' three times (I Sa. 25:7, 25:11, Is. 53:7), and 'shearing' three times (I Sa. 25:2, II Ki. 10:12, 10:14). It was translated from four different words. Besides the two translated 'shearing house,' the others refer to shearing sheep or the shearers who do it.
None of these Scriptures are used in reference to a person's hair.
1. 'Gazaz,' which was once translated 'shaved,' is used eight times.
2. 'Keiro' was used once, which we previously discussed.
3. Two times the word is used as a shearing house, with two words being used in the translation. ('Beyth 'Eqed,' 'ra'ah')
Acts 8:32 is the only New Testament use of 'shear,' actually 'shearer,' other than the word 'shorn.' It reads:
In review, 'shearer' is from the same word translated 'shorn.' It means to shear according to Strong's.
Let us compare this with the original Scripture in the Old Testament, found in Isaiah 53:7:
'Shearers' here is from 'gazaz.' It means "to cut off; spec. to shear a flock, or shave the hair..." 12 The word that is translated 'shearer' and 'shorn' now takes us to another word which means 'shear' or 'shave.' This word is used more than any other for the different forms of 'shear,' with the main reference to shearing sheep. It was the same word rendered 'shaved' in Job 1:20.
Comparing these, as well as others, leads me to believe the words were interchangeable at times. Though the meanings may have some difference, both 'shear' and 'shaven' basically meant to remove hair or wool. 'Shaven' means to use a razor, while 'shear' probably means to use shears or a similar instrument, possibly not cutting quite as close as a razor.
For regular dictionary definitions of 'shear:'
1. "1. to cut or trim with shears or another sharp device, to remove (a sheep's wool) in this way. 2. to strip bare, to deprive..." 13 (Note: The meaning of 'shears' is "a clipping or cutting instrument working like scissors but much larger and usually operated with both hands.") 14
2. "To cut off or remove by or as by cutting with a sharp instrument; to cut the wool, fleece, or hair from, as sheep; to strip or deprive, as by cutting...; to cut with a sharp instrument, usu. with some form of shears." 15 (Note: It is mentioned prior to this definition that the word is probably akin to a Greek word meaning to cut short.)
3. "1a (1): to cut off the hair from <with crown shorn>; also: to cut off or cut short (hair) by or as by the use of shears <~ed the baby curls away> (2) obs: TONSURE b: to cut, clip, or sever from something (as wool from sheep or superfluous nap from cloth) with or as if with shears <~ed 100 bales of wool> <a hidden rock ~ed the keel from the ship>; also: to cut something from <shorn sheep>..." 16 (Note: A tonsure is when the crown of the head is shaved.)
4. "1. To remove (fleece, hair, or the like) by cutting or clipping with a sharp instrument. 2. To remove the hair or fleece from. 3. To cut with or as if with shears. 4. To strip, divest, or deprive of..." 17
5. "1. to cut (something). 2. to remove by or as if by cutting or clipping with a sharp instrument: to shear wool from sheep. 3. to cut or clip the hair, fleece, wool, etc., from: to shear sheep. 4. to strip or deprive..." 18
6. "1. to cut with shears or scissors. 2. to remove (wool or fleece) by cutting or clipping: to shear wool from sheep. 3. to cut the wool or fleece from: The farmer sheared his sheep. 4. to cut close; cut off; cut..." 19
Please take note that though some meanings do refer to the word 'cut,' it is also likened to removing wool from sheep. Is there anyone who looks on that act as simply cutting or trimming a small portion of the fleece from the sheep? A person shearing sheep removes almost all of the fleece.
Regardless of this and other arguments, one must still make sure that any regular dictionary definition which is used to support a view is in balance with the biblical meaning of the original text. Through time, word definitions can change. No matter how many regular dictionaries are used, caution and care must be taken when applying these to a study of the Scripture.
After using three regular dictionaries and three biblical reference books, it is stated in Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It: "That, while "shorn" can mean "to cut close," it is certainly not limited to that meaning. Indeed, the preponderance of dictionary definitions are on the side of interpreting "shorn" as simply "to cut," without specifying how much! ...While a minority of the definitions could possibly apply to cutting closely, the majority testimony is that "shear" simply means "to cut."" 20
During my research, I found two of the three dictionaries mentioned in this book. I took note that the definitions used omitted some things. Webster's Third New International Dictionary states "1a (1): to cut off the hair from <with crown shorn>; also: to cut off or cut short (hair) by or as by the use of shears <~ed the baby curls away> (2) obs: TONSURE." 21 The author omitted the bracketed writing, which gives examples to help understand the word. From here, the author jumps over other definitions with regard to cutting: "b: to cut, clip, or sever from something (as wool from sheep or superfluous nap from cloth) with or as if with shears <~ed 100 bales of wool> <a hidden rock ~ed the keel from the ship>; also: to cut something from <shorn sheep>." 22 The World Book Dictionary also adds "to shear wool from sheep" after definition number two and "The farmer sheared his sheep." after number three. 23
Even though one cannot use a modern day dictionary to find the meaning of a biblical word, it was meaningful to me that references to shearing sheep were omitted from the definitions included in this book. All biblical uses of the word 'shear,' with the exception of 'shorn,' are in reference to shearing sheep. As shown earlier, one can have an erroneous interpretation of Scripture by relying on this method of study.
It is also important to note that in mentioning Vine's definition, the reference to shearing sheep as well as the notation to see the word 'shave' 24 are also omitted. I find this misleading, whether or not this was the author's intention. To be fair and thorough in presenting definitions, one must show not only the parts which support their belief, but also any which may appear contrary. When this is not done, and is discovered by someone else in their own investigation, it makes the author appear to be hiding possibly important information, whether or not it was the intention of the author. It takes from his or her credibility.
Yes, I will agree that the regular dictionary definition of 'shear' can have as one of its meanings "to cut" without indicating any length. But is this definition in agreement with the original biblical meaning of the word? There are many other modern meanings such as "to reap with a sickle" or "to break because of strain" but we cannot simply pick any of these meanings in regard to Scripture. If we are to incorporate this method, we must use it in the proper context with the original biblical meaning.
When a study is made relying on the biblical meaning and usage, I can only come to the conclusion that 'shear' meant to closely cut or shave. This could also be supported by the modern dictionary definitions previously examined, but I cannot, and would not, base my belief on a modern dictionary. This is why I do not normally incorporate this type of dictionary in my biblical studies and it was only done here due to their usage in the book in question. It is notable to me that the author begins his word study with these and then comments on biblical references.
1 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 50 Greek dictionary.
2 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 568.
3 George Ricker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 103 Lexicon dictionary.
4 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 27, 26, 85, 125 Hebrew dictionary.
5 Oxford American Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "shave," 624.
6 The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1977 ed., s.v. "shave," 887.
7 Daniel L. Segraves, Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It (Dupo: The Good Word, 1979), 6.
8 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 104 Hebrew dictionary.
9 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 41 Greek dictionary.
10 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 568.
11 George Riker Berry, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 81, Greek-English New Testament Lexicon.
12 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 26 Hebrew dictionary.
13 Oxford American Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "shear," 625.
14 Oxford American Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "shears," 625.
15 The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1977 ed., s.v. "shear," 887.
16 Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary Unabridged, 1981 ed., s.v. "shear," 2090.
17 Grolier International Dictionary, Edition ed., s.v. "shear," 1192.
18 Random House Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, Edition ed., s.v. "shear," 1312.
19 The World Book Dictionary, 1969 ed., s.v. "shear," 1899.
20 Daniel L. Segraves, Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It (Dupo: The Good Word, 1979), 8.
21 Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary Unabridged, 1981 ed., s.v. "shear," 2090.
23 The World Book Dictionary, 1969 ed., s.v. "shear," 1899.
24 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 568.
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August 23, 1997
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