I received this paper written by a church officer in a NAPARC congregation. He does not want this paper construed as binding church teaching, so he has chosen this platform and to write under a pseudonym. From his last paragraph, which expresses his heart on the matter:
“Many ‘overwise’ Reformed brethren take it upon themselves as well to dictate their consciences in every particular and scruple unto the rest of Christ’s flock. I would not have this paper or these thoughts concerning a beard to be used in such a manner, which, in part, is why it is under a pseudonym. The foregoing reflections are merely offered as a possible aid to one who may be working through this issue such as I have.”
May this paper be a blessing to those who read it as they consider how to have their appearance appropriately reflect the way God has made them.
To Beard or Not to Beard:
That is the Question
Our culture has been changing rapidly, particular in the area of sexual identification. Sexual identity and gender are determined by biology. I also am referring to identifying men and women, or distinguishing one from the other. It is increasingly difficult. This introduces the immediate question as to whether or not they should be identifiably different. Not something invasive or hidden as a DNA test, but by a simple glance; a prima facie reliable judgment. We should be able to tell the difference without a doctor’s examination, or in a state of undress. I conclude they not only are different, biologically based, but should immediately appear different. Is that baby a boy or girl?; often hard to tell. That child a boy or a girl?; again, often hard to tell. Is that a man or a woman?; should be rather apparent. I propose that hair is an intrinsic differentiating feature between men and women. Scripture speaks to this issue. Clothing, an extrinsic feature, is also addressed and draws a line between the two. I will focus on the hair, as initial and primary. I conclude that men ought to have short hair, and ought to have beards. The beard, in Scripture, appears to be even more primary than hair length.
In what follows, we will consider first men and women, hair and nature. Second, I will bring forth Old Testament law on beards and general equity. Third, the Old Testament law and cross dressing. A fourth plank will be a discussion of the prohibition against effeminacy. Finally, fifth, the shame of a shaved face for a man. From these considerations, I conclude that for me I ought to have a beard.
I. Men and women, hair and nature.
The first aspect to bring before us is the relation of men and women to hair and nature.
I suppose, given the present state of confusion in broad evangelicalism on this issue, it is incumbent upon me to state the obvious. In the beginning, and to this day, God created male and female, two biologically distinct creatures. God has already decided which one you are, and you can’t change it. Furthermore, He fashioned them with different features. They don’t look the same; hence, Adam’s reaction when he saw Eve. This difference is also in their hair; both as to the length of it and location on the face. A key text is this consideration is 1 Cor 11:14: “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” There are two general ways this section is taken, one referring to the nature of creation, and the other as cultural, i.e. the nature of things as they exist in that society.
Some view that v. 14 speaks of the nature of creation, namely, the entire section is more than cultural or bound to that culture. Obviously, if it is natural, it will have an impact on the cultural aspects. I am going to bypass a full discussion of this section in relation to the head coverings and subjection. While I mentioned broad evangelicalism, this is mainly for my own use, and also in the context of those who believe, based on this portion of Scripture, that women ought to wear head coverings in worship. There is also a general consensus that women ought not to have a hair cut like a man’s. Paul’s use of phusis is clear and telling here. Romans 1:26 and 2:14 serve as cogent examples that the apostle is talking about, not how things are in the current culture of Corinth, but in creation, the nature of things.
Charles Hodge comments on 1 Cor 11:14:
“Nature gives the man short hair and the woman long hair; and therefore nature itself teaches that long hair is a disgrace to the one and an ornament to the other; for it is disgraceful in a man to be like a woman, and in a woman to be like a man.”
We will see how this ties into the sin of effeminacy.
I, furthermore, think it is very telling that nature is more than what might physically happen. Men may physically grow long hair. Men may physically make themselves appear like women. Nature is more than mere physical movements of atoms. There is a moral sentiment in the constitution of man, however it is defaced by the fall. In looking at various cultures over time, you will generally find that men cut their hair and do not style it as women do. I would argue that just because you can find some in which men look just like women in this regard hardly serves to knock a general pattern on its head; only to demonstrate certain aspects of the first chapter of Romans. Just as nature teaches that the woman is to be subject to the man (to the contrary of those that try to reread egalitarian theology back into the first two chapters of Genesis), it also teaches about the hair. Just as women consider it a shame to be shaven (providentially regarding disease is a different matter; even in this case the clear preference is to keep the hair), so it is for a man to have long hair like a woman. One may attempt to refute this by subjecting it to shadowland quantification of just what hair length is the line of demarcation. The same may be done regarding clothing choice, as we will take a look at that in a moment. Because someone cannot state with objective, numerical, certainty precisely at what line a man’s clothing looks like a woman’s, they wrongly conclude that the Bible does not prohibit cross-dressing. But it does. Likewise, simply because I cannot state exactly how many inches constitute long hair, one cannot conclude there is no such thing as long hair. But there is, and there is also short hair. Perhaps this simply goes to demonstrate that it’s not safe territory to play in the border lands. A man should, reasonably, attempt to look like a man. Paul does not define long hair either, but having that covering is a shame for the man and glory for the woman.
You may wonder what this has to do with a beard? Some of that will become more apparent once we tie together the other five points. But, the discussion under this point has linked two ideas: nature and hair. And regarding nature, God has differentiated men and women regarding hair. As to nature, men can grow beards, while women, normally, cannot. This is a distinguishing natural feature; a mark that God has placed on a man to show that he is not a woman. It is not natural to shave the face of a man, any more natural than it is to shave the head of the woman.
There are many, if not most, who argue that 1 Cor 11 is speaking of ‘the nature of things as they exist’ in the Corinthian culture, that Paul is not making a natural, creation argument, but a cultural one. I suggest that even if one takes the argument that it is cultural only, as the ‘nature of things’, it does not lessen the current argument, since we have transgenderism, etc., rampant. Generally, they all agree that Paul states an ‘ought’, a moral obligation (v. 10), based on the state of that culture, and that given the male female distinctions as recognized, in order to avoid looking effeminate, she ought to where a covering. I think it is apparent, if one takes the head covering as cultural and thus, culturally dictated, there has never been a time in history such as ours where the distinction between the sexes is so blurred. In fact, I think it is easier to make my case this way. Since we live in a culture where, even more so than the Corinthian culture, we need clearer lines between men and women, men ought to have short hair and beards. I think it is passing strange than many who hold that the head covering is not limited to the Corinthian culture, but is rooted in the natural difference between men and women, hold that what Paul says about long hair for men to be merely cultural. However, if hair length is merely cultural, so is the head covering.
Archeological evidence demonstrates, contrary to the myth of modern pictures, that ancient Israelite men had short hair.
While it is debatable whether the above depicts Hebrews in Egypt or not, note the short hair and beards.
Very short hair and beards of Hebrews.
It was the custom of the ancient church for men to have beards. And beyond just custom, it had a place in ecclesiastical rules. As stated in the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions:
“Men may not destroy the hair of their beards and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the Law says, “You will not deface your beards.” For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men.” (compiled c.390, E) 7.392. (1)
This echoes, among others, third century Cyprian: “The beard must not be plucked. ‘You will not deface the figure of your beard’. (Leviticus 19:27)”. Or, earlier, Clement of Alexandria:
“The man, who would be beautiful, must adorn that which is the most beautiful thing in man, his mind, which every day he ought to exhibit in greater comeliness; and should pluck out not hairs, but lusts…For it is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man’s natural and noble ornament”.
II. Old Testament law on beards and general equity.
The second consideration regards the Old Testament law on beards and general equity. Various texts regarding cleansing assume the presence of the beard. Two of the civil or case laws have regulations as well. Lev 19:27, “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” And for the priests in Lev 21:5, “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.” Psalm 133, concerning the oil running down the beard, which it must do for every high priest, presupposes that a beard must be there. Regarding the assumption of a beard, I believe there is an argument here from nature and general equity.
As to the assumption of a beard in Lev 19:27 and Lev 21:5, it was the nature of the case, because the nature of the man, that the Israelite would have a beard. This is similar to other civil laws such as “Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark” (Deut 19:14). This is not worded in a ‘if a man build a new house, then he shall have a battlement upon it’ (a parapet). The customary fact is that the man would have neighbors and there would be landmarks (boundaries and borders are part of our natural constitution). In the same fashion a man would have a beard, thus this is a law regarding it. There was an ANE custom of polygamy. The civil law regulating it, however, does not assume it as the habitual state of things or the nature of the case with all men. Thus Ex 21:10 begins with a strong emphasis on ‘if’. The natural occurrence of the beard upon an Israelite male appears far stronger than a mere acceptance of custom, as the wording assumes a beard in the general constitution of the nature of things. Also, the high priest must have a beard for certain texts to be true. This would not be the case if, choosing to go with a different custom, say that of some Egyptian periods, he chose not to have a beard. The same goes for our Lord Jesus Christ.
I will not go into a full discussion of the Westminster Confession’s view of general equity and Old Testament judicials (civil or case law). General equity is the moral law and rule that lies within the particular form of law that may change, or in the case of Old Testament Israel, be abrogated. There is a general, moral substance that remains as binding. I stand more in the tradition of Rutherford and Gillespie when it comes to a high view of general equity. To take these Old Testament laws and reduce them regarding wearing a beard to mere cultural preference, with no relation to the moral law of God, as written in the fabric of our constitution, and then conclude that this has nothing to do with men today, is to deny general equity pertaining to a man’s facial hair. I find it interesting that most conservative Reformed folk look at the OT prohibitions against body markings, and have a general sense that tattoos are forbidden (an application of general equity). I think the general equity is even clearer regarding beards.
III. Cross dressing prohibited.
We come now to the prohibition regarding cross dressing, that a man cannot dress like a woman, nor a woman like a man. Deut 22:5, “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.” Fairly strong words. Again, it appears that most Christians see a general equity in this and strongly encourage men to wear clothing that gives the appearance of a man. I understand the cultural variation. It does not give warrant, however, to say one may clothe themselves any way they please. Whatever the garb, there must be clear differentiation between the sexes (as biologically determined).
Poole comments on Deut 22:5:
“Now this is forbidden, partly for decency sake, that men might not confound, nor seem to confound, those sexes which God hath distinguished, that all appearance of evil might be avoided, such change of garments carrying a manifest umbrage or sign of softness and effeminacy in the man, of arrogance and impudency in the woman, of lightness and petulancy in both; and partly to cut off all suspicions and occasions of evil, which this practice opens a wide door unto.”
In looking back at the 1 Cor 11:14, men not looking like women applies to hair, it seems a most logical inference, this includes hair on the face. That in appearance, both dress and hair, men are to appear distinct as men.
IV. The sin of effeminacy.
The fourth main point I would add to the discussion is the sin of effeminacy. This is, of course, at the root of the first three topics above, but also goes to every aspect of the man’s being; the way he talks, the way he walks, thinks, all his mannerisms. Everything in him and about him is to breathe man. This sin of effeminacy is clearly stated in 1 Cor 6:9, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind”. As an abomination to the Lord, those who are habituated in this sin evidence themselves no child of God; again some very strong language. Sodomites, and those who love them, work very hard to say that effeminate, the malakoi, is merely a prohibition against temple male prostitution, and related aspects. No, the translation is a good one, these are soft men, girly men, effeminate. The following prohibiton “abusers of themselves with mankind” rules out male temple prostitution and any form of homosexuality. Effeminate men are those who act and look like women. Absolom’s distinguishing feature was his long hair; we know what happened to him.
Men are to act and look like men. As noted, a beard is part of being a man. We are in a culture filled with girly men. We are even in a culture in which men have parts of their anatomy removed to look like women; they are still men, however depraved and defaced. Part of being a man is his face, with its hair.
One has probably already, if not before, wondered about the vow of the Nazarite, Num 6:1ff. This particularly causes one to scratch his head when comparing to 1 Cor 11. It may appear, if one takes 1 Cor 11 as rooted in nature and not merely culture, that there is a conflict. Part of the Nazarite vow was not to cut the hair. A woman could also take the vow of a Nazarite, and at the end of the vow would shave her head. Paul speaks of long hair and a shaved head in 1 Cor 11; the former as a shame to a man, the latter as a shame to a woman. Well, in short, a Nazarite, as described in Num 6, has a sign of authority on his head, the consecration (term from which Nazarite derives) of God is upon his head (Num 6:7). He humiliates, humbles, himself and denies all the world, including himself as a man. Likewise the woman in shaving her head at the end.
If long hair were the norm, or common, in ancient Israel, or short or shaved hair for a woman, then the sign of long hair upon the head wouldn’t be much of a sign. One thing that would set the male Nazarite apart from women was his beard.
It was the custom through the Reformation for all to have beards. This practice appears to have been discontinued for two reasons. The first has to do with a desire not to appear as Mohammedans. The second appears to be the influence from the French court, through the British. Gentlemen started more and more to look like women. Granted, there was still a great deal of differentiation between the two (although Charles 1st looked very much the dandy), quite unlike today. As much as I love Rutherford and Gillespie, be honest with yourself. The first time you saw their portraits didn’t you think ‘girly man’? Don’t assume, now that the culture has changed and the issue has become more pressing, or even raised, that they wouldn’t agree with me and change.
V. Shaved shame.
There are a number of Scriptures which speak of a beard shaved off. Granted, by themselves, they may only entail that if a man has a beard it is a shame to have it shaved off involuntarily. Although it was a sign of great mourning when the Moabite male voluntarily shaved it off (Isa 15:2). Note in Jer 48:37 and 41:4-5 it is tied to things forbidden, such as cutting; remember to shave off the beard was forbidden for an Israelite. So, even if permissible for mourning (not all things contra naturum are in themselves sinful, but to do so habitually is) it goes against the grain of nature.
Calvin’s, comments on Jer 48:37 are very telling. While he took somewhat of a cultural view of 1 Cor 11 regarding hair length, note what he says about a beard:
“It is indeed certain that it was formerly the practice for men, as though it was innate in human nature, in great calamities to spread ashes on the head and to put on sackloth. But he has added other excesses which are not very congenial to nature, for it is not agreeable to humanity to pull off the beard, to make bald the head, or to tear the hands and the face with the nails. These things show excesses, suitable neither to men nor to women, — not to women on the ground of modesty, nor to men on the ground of manliness and strength of mind.”
It was a great shame for David’s men to have their beards shaved off involuntarily (2 Sam 10:4); rather than shaving off the other half, which wasn’t considered an option, they went away until they grew back.
The custom of the ancient Greeks was to be bearded, that is, until the time of Alexander the Great, who was an infamous homosexual. His choice of appearance is no mystery.
The one counter example that may be brought up is Joseph shaving, adopting the custom of Egypt (at least at some periods and locations). It is well known that the reason the Egyptians shaved everything had to do with a pagan world view; hair was dirty and evil, not like the god-like upper class. Without going into great detail, not everything Joseph did was exemplary. Also, being somewhat forced to shave, the burden is on his masters. Note though, how tempting it would be for the Hebrews to shave in order to be less offensive, but they didn’t.
In conclusion, I realize I swim upstream here. As to the general culture, C. S. Lewis noted in The Screwtape Letters:
“We have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females—and there is more in that than you might suppose.”
I know that I am against the tide also in relation to the more conservative, Reformed culture. This is the case regarding the form of worship I practice. And then even among those who hold to the same form of worship as I, I have been in the minority regarding my views of dating and courtship; a view which I have held for almost four decades, solidly rooted in Scripture. I am used to being a rather lone voice. But ‘what saith the Lord?’
I recognize Christian liberty in this area. Each must act according to conscience. My conscience bears testimony to my soul regarding the above arguments. The apostle tells us what is not of faith is sin, and one ought not go against conscience. I conclude that for me I ought to have a beard.
That being said, I do not judge my brother, who, according to his views, has no beard. I place a strong distinction between the common faith delivered, as then contained in our symbolics of doctrine, such as the Westminster Standard, and my personal views of everything. While I am to have every thought captive, and seek to grow in all areas of thought and practice to see that they are, that is different than the corporate, public conscience and doctrine of the church. There are those church societies, which, in denying the idea of Christian liberty, seek to regulate every aspect of the lives of those under their care. This is abuse of the authority Christ has given them and they are invasive in their oversight. Many ‘overwise’ Reformed brethren take it upon themselves as well to dictate their consciences in every particular and scruple unto the rest of Christ’s flock. I would not have this paper or these thoughts concerning a beard to be used in such a manner, which, in part, is why it is under a pseudonym. The foregoing reflections are merely offered as a possible aid to one who may be working through this issue such as I have. Let all things be done to the glory of God and for the edification of Christ’s church, in love, with gentleness and patience. May God be pleased to tear down and bring to nought any false statement or inference in these considerations of a beard if there be such. May He be pleased to help us bringing into captivity every thought to obedience to Christ.
5 thoughts on “To Beard or Not to Beard?”
Very good article! Thank you for posting. If someone is looking for more material on the subject, here’s a research paper I wrote on the topic: http://www.nordicpreacher.com/beardology/
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Great work. A more detailed account of this same argument can be found in Michael Bunker’s, “The Beard”.
I also conclude on a similar basis that women ought to wear a dress or skirt and not pants, particularly while in public. There is no clearer way for a woman to appear obviously as a woman than to dress so, while wearing a veil.
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Thank you for the very good discussion. I confess I opened the article thinking it was a gag, but to my surprise it was serious exegesis. As a newly bearded man, I did find it affirming. I suspect the current sinful trend of gender blurring will pass in time. After all most women I know like being a woman, like the social privileges of dressing up, wearing garish colors, messing around with their hair, etc. I don’t know of any men or boys who do (of course I stay away from places where ‘those’ people hang out. I do pray that God is not judging/punishing us by doing a Romans 1 on our society. But I will do my best to encourage the men I know to wear beards just in case.
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Great points on the topic!I might have missed it if it was mentioned and I overlooked it, sorry if so, but what if the option arises to take on a job that demands shaving the beard for say a respirator for example? If anyone wants to help or add to this it would be much appreciated.
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