The Beard: A Biblical and Early Christian Perspective

One wouldn't think something as simple as a beard would be an issue for Christians at all, but for some (principally the Conservative Holiness Movement) the issue is a hot one. During the counter-culture of the 1960s, when hippies grew beards as part of their rebellion against parents, society, and all things traditional, the Holiness Movement wanted to make a clear distinction between itself and the prevailing culture of degeneracy. Beards, as they were indeed symbolic of that culture of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, were frowned upon and subsequently forbidden in many Holiness circles. The question before us today is, since the hippie movement died almost 43 years ago (a conservative estimate), is the prohibition on beards still necessary? More to the point, is it Biblical and in keeping with the witness of the early church? We should seek to answer these questions honestly, and not retreat behind a tradition that is no older than the 1960s. As I proceed I ask my fellow Holiness believers to read this keeping in mind that many of the greatest teachers of this movement wore beards, such as Martin Wells Knapp, and my goal is not to disrupt, but to bring reason to the issue, point to the historical fact of beards being common in the Holiness movement, being well founded on Scripture and the Church Fathers.

The Old Testament tells us that God commanded the Israelite men:

"You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard."- Lev. 19:27

This statement was given to distinguish Israelite men from the pagan men of that time and place by prohibiting the imitation of styles. Elsewhere God gives instructions on grooming the hair and beard(Ezekiel 44:20) and allows for it to be shaved only to prevent the spread of infection (Lev. 13:29-34). Notice there is no prohibition on growing beards simply because pagans grew beards. I know I need not remind my brothers and sisters that great men like Aaron (Psalm 133:2), Samson (Judges 16:17), David(I Samuel 21:13), Ezra (Ezra 9:3), and our Savior all had beards! The only direction given in scripture is that Israelites were to groom theirs differently. The universal principle underlying this statement is that we are not to imitate the fashions of this world in our grooming habits, but to remain distinguishable as the people of God. While the prohibition of beards certainly met this principle in the 1960s, it did so without regard to the future, since such worldly fashions change frequently. Beards are no longer a symbol of the counter-culture. Thus I suggest their prohibition has outlived its purpose and threatens to become a dogmatic tradition, akin to that of clerical celibacy in Roman Catholicism.Neither has a basis in scripture, and both are merely reactionary. I'm not suggesting men must wear beards, only that their prohibition is not scriptural nor culturally relevant any longer. One of the principles of the Christian life that the Holiness Movement guards well is that of gender distinct clothing. We are rightfully conscious of how we dress, and how our choice of clothing is either moral or immoral. And yet we seem to have lost the understanding that beards are very much a gender distinction. Our society, under the power of Cultural Marxism, is always seeking ways to make women appear more masculine, and men more feminine. This is in effect a Satanic assault on the created order of humanity! Maintaining a negative view of beards is implicitly assisting the current brand of cultural revolutionaries. It is also a Biblical fact that shaving a man's beard off was done to disgrace and humiliate him. 

"So Hanun took David's servants and shaved off half the beard of each, and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. When it was told to David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, "Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return." (II Samuel 10:4-5)

Isaiah prophesying the attack of the Assyrians notes in his description of the coming shame of Judah:

"He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon, to the high places to weep; over Nebo and over Medeba Moab wails. On every head is baldness; every beard is shorn." (Isaiah 15:2)

It seems clear from scripture that forbidding a man to grow a beard is an affront to the dignity of masculinity, and violates God's Word. I'm not suggesting one must grow a beard however. This is not a matter of salvation in any sense. It is to say that the outright prohibition is not Biblically sound and does not meet the criteria of gender distinction in our current culture.

Next we have to look at the position of the early church. What do the Apostolic Fathers teach on the matter? 

"How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor for the sake of fine effect...For God wished women to be smooth....But he has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest- a sign of strength and rule."- Clement of Alexandria

"This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man....It is a token of the superior nature- it is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood.- Clement of Alexandria

"In their manners, there was no discipline. In men, their beards were defaced."- Cyprian

"The beard must not be shaved!"- Cyprian

"The nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to distinguish the gender.."
                                                              - Lactantius

"Men may not destroy the hair of their beards and unnaturally change the form of a man....For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men."
             - Apostolic Constitutions

Though this is a very brief examination of the subject, it is very clear from both scripture and the witness of the early church, that forbidding a man to grow a beard is a gross error. And though the original prohibition in the Holiness Movement served to separate Christian from hippie, it has grown into a dogmatic tradition with no Biblical foundation. In fact, it now serves only to support the current culture in its blurring of the genders.


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