There is a pervasive idea that some issues just do not matter. I want to focus on one of “those issues” right now. The topic I want to focus on is that of the beard and why men should be ashamed for not having one. Yes, I believe this is a Bible doctrine. There are 15 verses with the word “beard,” and four verses with the word “beards.” Second, we live in a time of androgyny; further, we live in a day where “Christians” chop up the Bible into “major” and “minor” categories—making it their duty to decide what is “essential” and “nonessential” with little respect to God’s opinion.
Among the 15 or so verses that have the word “beard” or “beards,” there are a few that are too general, or that pertain little, to the actual commandment to be bearded (for example, 1 Sam 17:35 speaks of a Lion’s beard). The many other verses used in this study deal with these following concepts: the Commandment; God and Creation; Separation and Morality; Authority and Liberty versus Mourning and Bondage. We also will look at historic accounts of the beard.
Having a beard is well pleasing to the Lord. Not having a beard is a shame. I am no better than any other man. But I do pray that this study will be a blessing.
One man has said, “Wearing a beard for the reason of conscience has never been very popular. Many wear it as a passing fad and soon shave it off when it becomes fashionable again for men to have faces like women.” Indeed, there are societal fads and trends that come and go like many ensnaring and damnable doctrines; but God’s word stands. And if a man has no conviction for his appearance and what is truly pleasing to God, then he may find himself like Lot the compromiser, who pitched his tent toward Sodom (Gen13:12) and called the Sodomites “brethren” (Gen 19:7).
Skeptics of the importance and seriousness of this doctrine are now scratching their heads (and not stroking their beards), wondering, “Are you serious? This seems like a stretch,” or, “Don’t you think you’re being a bit pharisaical, majoring on the minors like this?” But before anyone totally rejects the beard, let us look at the two commandments given in Scripture. The Bible reads, “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard” (Lev 19:27) and, “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh” (Lev 21:5). In the 1828 Miriam Webster Dictionary “Mar” means “To injure by cutting off a part, or by wounding and making defective…” and, “To injure; to hurt; to impair the strength or purity of…” and, “To injure; to diminish; to interrupt…” and even “To injure; to deform; to disfigure.” The idea the Lord sets forth is that we should not be cutting off large portions of our beard, which would be to impair the strength or purity of our beard; which would be to diminish its overall length, volume, and quality. In Leviticus 21:5, the commandment is the same: do not even shave your beard. The Bible, as we will see, makes no distinction between a beard and a face. I set forth the very idea the Bible does: when a man “cuts off” his beard, he is injuring, wounding, deforming, and disfiguring his very face. This is because we—as men—are created in the image and likeness of our God. He wants us to be bearded.
God and Creation
The following verse is a prophesy of Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa 50:6). In this verse, we are given detail about what happened, as Christ was being buffeted and smitten. It says he gave his back to the smiters (when we was scourged) and also his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. The Son of Man had a beard just as it is assumed other men did. This is important because the Bible says men are created in the image of God. If men are created in the image of God, and our Lord has a beard, then so men ought to have a beard. Because of this very fact, it becomes a matter of identifying oneself with the God who created him. It is also a matter of separation and “gender identity,” which is a growing issue in today’s society when men are looking more and more like women.
Separation and Morality
The Bible says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:26,27). The Bible says, “…in the image of God created he HIM.” God created HIM—males—in his image. Then, the Bible says, “…male and female created he THEM.” THEM is a separation. Woman (womb-man) is after the form of man, who is formed in the image of God. This is why God is the head of man and man is the head of the woman (1 Cor 11). We saw that the Bible commands us to be bearded just as our Creator Jesus is. We saw that Jesus had a beard; and we just saw that God created men in his image—with the capacity to grow a beard. We have just now seen how the Beard distinguishes the man from the woman. Therefore, the Beard is a matter of being Christ like, separated, and obedient.
For the sake of establishing the importance of separation of the sexes and morality, let us consider Deuteronomy 22:5, which reads, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” People get offended by this, saying that by virtue of salvation they are free to dress as they please so long as it is “modest” (by their standard of course). These milk-toasts claim the “garments” spoken of in this verse are under garments. But that is adding to God’s word, for it says nothing of the sort. It says garments, which means a man should not wear anything designated for a woman. That means dresses, skirts, bras, woman’s underwear, and so forth. Men cover their nakedness with breaches (britches, trousers, pants) and women cover their nakedness with skirts or dresses and a modest top. Now, because it is not my intent to go into every detail about this topic, I will move on to the next topic of discussion: “authority and liberty.” I feel I have adequately proven from the Scriptures why and how the Beard is required for moral purposes.
Authority and Liberty
Beardlessness represents bondage, shame, sin, weakness, and distress. This is why I say having a beard is a matter of “authority and liberty. Note that the absence of a beard was symbolic of servitude. The following verses will bear this out. First, I want to look at a seeming passing reference that can teach us about beard care.
2 Sa 19:24 And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.
While this verse does not relate to shaving the beard, the Bible teaches that Mephibosheth did not do that which was customary (dress his feet, trim his beard, or wash his clothes) either as a show of mourning or perhaps in his haste to greet his dear friend, David. Either way, note that he is not beardless, he just had not “trimmed” his beard. There seems to be nothing wrong with trimming one’s beard; men would—as some still do—comb and oil their beards. Today, there are “beard oils” and mustache waxes. This was the custom of the day, and it is stated that Mephibosheth neglected to do this. Now, we pass on to the real focus of this segment, the difference between “authority and liberty v. servitude and bondage” as it relates to “beardedness and beardlessness.”
2 Sa 20:9 And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him.
This was a customary way to greet a fellow. In the TSK Cross References (E-Sword X), the following is noted: “Thevenot says, that among the Turks it is a great affront to take one by the beard, unless it be to kiss him, in which case they often do it. D’Arvieux, describing an assembly of Arab emirs at an entertainment, says, ‘After the usual civilities, caresses, kissings of the beard, and of the hand, which every one gave and received according to his rank and dignity, they sat down upon mats.’ The doing this by the Arab emirs corresponds with the conduct of Joab, and illustrates this horrid assassination.” Apparently, Joab desired to slay Amasa the traitor—who was loyal to Absalom before Joab slew him. This is traitorous because Joab had fiend a friendly greeting by taking Amasa’s beard to kiss it only to kill him.
Ezr 9:3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.
In this instance, Ezra is “astonied” (astonished, shocked). He rent his garment and mantle, and the Bible says, “…plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard.” This was to show grief and mourning. In times of persecution and trouble, it seems men may have done as Ezra had. It was a sign of distress.
Isa 7:20 In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.
Here, an allusion is made to the invaders, who God will use to punish the sinful, backslidden nation of Israel. He likens them [foreign nation(s)] unto a razor he will use to shave “the head, and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard.” In this case, the nation will be brought to desolation and captivity. Beardlessness was illustrative of captivity. The LORD repeatedly uses this symbology
Isa 15:2 He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.
In the next verse (v. 3), the Bible says, “In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.” Again the connection is made that, when men shave their beards it is a sign of mourning; when men shave their beards, it is a sign and a shame; when this occurs in Scripture, it is always closely associated with bondage, weeping, sorrow, mourning, etc. “Baldness” in the Bible can also be considered beardlessness: “on all their heads shall be baldness; and every beard cut off.”
Jer 48:37 For every head shall be bald, and every beard clipped: upon all the hands shall be cuttings, and upon the loins sackcloth.
In the Bible, sackcloth was indicative of sorrow, and it is no surprise to find that the head is made bald and the beard clipped also in this context.
Eze 5:1 And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair.
Just as in Isaiah 7 and 15, the beard is shorn in shame as a sign of the judgment to come. In every case, the prophet represents the nation of Israel; the hair, the people; the razor, the invaders; and the shearing or cutting of the hair represents the actual judgment. This was the cause of grief for the prophets who had to testify on behalf of God. It was an absolute sign of sorrow and shame, a great way for God to illustrate the nation’s sin and the consequences thereof.
2 Sa 10:4,5 Wherefore Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away. When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.
1 Ch 19:5 Then there went certain, and told David how the men were served. And he sent to meet them: for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.
In this story, told in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, we learn of servants of David who were sent to comfort Hanan, king of the Ammonites, whose father Nahash had died. The servants are treated terribly and are shamed when their nakedness is exposed and half their beards are cut off. Note what David says to these servants of his: “When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because they were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.” These poor servants were so ashamed they were instructed to tarry until their beards returned. Today, men have no problem shaving their faces to look “young” like a child. Oh, how we have things backwards!
Jer 41:5 That there came certain from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even fourscore men, having their beards shaven, and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD.
Again, notice how not only are their clothes rent but their beards are also shaven. These men were mourning.
Remember the verse concerning the prophecy of Christ: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa 50:6). The Bible says he gave his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. In this moment, when Christ’s body was being beaten, and his face spat in, the Bible says, “I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” That distinction is key to understanding that it was considered shameful for a man to have his beard pulled, let alone ripped out of his head. To a man prior to, and during, the time of Christ, it was a great sign of disrespect and contempt to pull on a man’s beard. Here, the Lord’s accusers are showing hatred and disrespect by tugging out his beard, spitting in his face, and beating him. They laid on him the worse charge (blasphemy) and put the Savior to great shame (ripping out the beard).
1 Sa 17:35 And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.
Once again, a man catches another man by the beard (an act of contempt) in order to slay him. Before, we saw it was done deceitfully. Here, the intention is obvious. Our Lord suffered the same way.
1 Sa 21:13 And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
Achish’s reaction is, “Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?” Achish was appauled at what he saw: a man letting spit run down into his beard. Such defilement was obviously an indication of mental illness in those times.
Gen 41:14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.
Before appearing before Pharaoh, Joseph shaved himself. In Egypt, facial hair was a taboo, but Pharaohs and religious leaders would wear mock goatees in public to identify with “deity.” Otherwise, everyone, especially the slaves, was clean-shaven. This is why Joseph shaved himself.
Lev 13:29, 30 If a man or woman have a plague upon the head or the beard; Then the priest shall see the plague: and, behold, if it be in sight deeper than the skin; and there be in it a yellow thin hair; then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a dry scall, even a leprosy upon the head or beard.
Lev 14:9 But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.
According to these verses, a beard had to be shaven for the plague of leprosy. Still, hearkening back to the section on “Authority and Liberty,” the Bible student should be well aware that the plague of leprosy represented sin. Therefore, even in this passage where we are given a seeming exception, the rule still stands. If leprosy is an illustration of sin, then when a man had leprosy (“in sin”), he was totally shaven. When a man was in bondage to this dangerous plague, he was clean-shaven. Let it be therefore understood that in these verses, we have the same understanding established before: a beard was shaven as a sign of bondage, captivity; in distress, mourning; and SIN is symbolically identified by baldness in the Bible.
Unless otherwise noted, the following historic accounts are taken from the booklet Why I Wear A Beard by William R. McGrath, which was published by Amish Mennonite Publications. Let it be known by the reader that I am not Amish Mennonite, and neither do I believe much of their doctrine. Nonetheless, the booklet was good resource for historical information, namely the following quotes:
Tertullian (160-220 AD) – “Are there then, some things that to men are also not permissible, if we are god-fearing, and have a due regard for gravity? There are indeed…My own sex recognizes some tricks of beauty which are peculiarly ours, for example, to cut the beard too sharply, to pluck it out in places; to shave round about the corners; to arrange the hair and conceal greyness by dyes…But all these tricks are rejected by (Christians) as being frivolous and hostile to modesty, as soon as the knowledge of God has destroyed the wish to please.” Tertullian of the Partus church, from which our church—The Historic Anabaptist Church of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin—descends, said that Christians rejected shaving as frivolous and hostile to genuine modesty. How then do we find ourselves being so immodest as to shave and make ourselves appear as women? as boys? How far have we fallen!
In 1752, Alsatian Anabaptists adopted the following standard: “Improper clothing (the wearing of square ties and shoes with high heels), as well as the new fashions of smoking or snuffing tobacco, removing the beard with the razor and the like is forbidden and shall, if it is not stopped, be punished with excommunication.” McGrath notes a similar rule in 1779. But, to think that today in the 21st Century we would shrink back in fear of having such a standard in our Anabaptist churches for fear of other Baptists labeling us “Pharisees” and “Legalists”! This is not pharisaic—this is Bible Christianity. Jesus Christ wore a beard, as did the Apostles and every man worth any attention. Such a standard for our churches would stiff arm sodomy and worldliness from entering the midst of the body. It is a matter of morality and gender separation. It can and will protect the body.
Moreover, non-conformist groups, known by Catholic and Protestant persecutors as Anabaptists, wore beards. These people were known by many names like the Petrobrusians (1120 AD), Albigenses (1040 AD), and Waldenses (1170 AD), to name a few. McGrath notes, “It was a common feature of these so-called ‘heretics’ to wear a beard, so that the Catholics commonly called heretics: Bartmanner, which means men with beards.” The Anabaptists (Christians) stood in stark contrasts to their persecutors (Roman Catholics, or Pagans) who shaved.
I pray you can see now why it is important to have a beard. Men were created in the image of God, who has a beard. The beard is a matter of separation, identity, and morality; it could be said the beard at least pictures vitality and prosperity, whereas the absence of one in the Bible means shame, mourning, and bondage.
Now, the conclusion is that God is pleased when men look how God intended them to. Indeed there are men who don beards but who are wicked; there are men who shave and who are considered to be godly. But for the men who now understand the significance of the beard, I want to warn: be careful not to betray the beard’s meaning by living wickedly. Look in the mirror and see a face God created; look in the mirror and fear the God that created you, made you a leader, made you a church member, made you an elder, made you to be simply nothing more or less than a man after his own image.