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A Theological Conundrum from the Pastorals: "Braided Hair" or "Elaborate Hairstyles"? (Monday with Mounce 198)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Mondays_mounceI just came back from a great week at Southern seminary in Louisville. It is the first time in many years I have taught the Pastorals from the Greek, so it was good to get back into the text.

(By the way, the students were great. Thanks guys for such an encouraging week.)

Lots of theological conundrums in the Pastorals. One of my favorites is about "braided hair." I actually blogged on this a while back, but my focus was on the translation of μὴ ἐν πλέγμασιν, “not with braided hair.” I talked about how the issue is not the braided hair but the cultural practice of embedding gold and pearls into their hair as enforcing a social pecking order and class system that was woefully inappropriate for the church as a community of loving brothers and sisters. This is why the NIV (2011) shifted from "braided hair" to "elaborate hairstyles"; the more "literal" translation misinforms.

A hint of this interpretation, however, can also be picked up in the use of the two conjunctions, καί and ἤ. The NIV (1984) translated, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or (καί) gold or (ἤ) pearls or (ἤ) expensive clothes.” In the NIV (2011), this was partially fixed in terms of the "braided hair." It now says, "or with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls."

But note the difference in conjunctions. Why switch from καί to ἤ? As a friend of mine said, "The angel is in the details." If this were merely a list of prohibited objects, I would expect only to read ἤ. But when conjunctions switch (much like tenses switch), you should pay close attention to the details.

The change in conjunctions signals an important grouping. There are two things being prohibited, not four.

  1. Elaborate hairstyles (that were braided) and filled with (καί) gold or (ἤ) pearls. I think of Marie Antoinette.
  2. "Or" (ἤ) expensive clothes.

A subtle change to be sure, but one that has women cheering around the world who like to braid their hair.



William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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