You open your Bible and read the words “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.” (Leviticus 19:27 KJV) As you rub your freshly shaven face, you wonder – is it a sin to have a beard according to the Bible?
This question has puzzled Christian men for centuries. In some traditions, beards are associated with holiness and wisdom. In others, clean-shaven faces represent propriety and order.
What does the Bible really say about beards? And how should you apply scriptural principles to your own grooming practices?
Let’s explore what the Old and New Testaments reveal about beards and appearance. Examining the cultural context and weighing various interpretive viewpoints can bring clarity to this debated issue.
- The Old Testament mandated beard growth in certain circumstances but did not establish an absolute command.
- Jesus and early Christians lived under Old Testament beard regulations but were not defined by external appearance.
- Paul taught that inward holiness is more important than outward appearance.
- Having a beard or being clean-shaven is a matter of personal choice, cultural appropriateness, and setting a Godly example.
- Focusing on spiritual growth and loving others is far more important than beard preferences.
Old Testament Instructions
Several Old Testament passages mention beards in the context of mourning, shame, or specialized rituals.
In the Law of Moses, God commanded,”You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27 NKJV) This was part of Old Testament ceremonial law to distinguish Israel from pagan nations who cut, shaved, and tattooed themselves in rituals for the dead. (Leviticus 21:1-5).
God also instructed priests not to shave during periods of mourning:
“They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” (Leviticus 21:5 NKJV)
Likewise, God commanded the prophet Ezekiel to demonstrate coming judgment by shaving his head and beard (Ezekiel 5:1).
These symbolic rituals set Israel apart as God’s people, but they were not universal commands against shaving.
In fact, shaving was permitted in some cases. God gave instructions for ritual cleansing which included shaving off all the hair (Leviticus 14:8-9). Nazirites who took special vows were prohibited from cutting their hair during the vow only (Numbers 6:5 NKJV).
So the Old Testament contains both prohibitions against cutting beards and requirements to shave in certain situations. Trimming hair and beards was permitted routinely outside of these symbolic rituals.
Did Jesus and His Disciples Have Beards?
Jesus Christ lived under the Old Testament law. We have no clear indication that He wore a beard.
The Bible focuses on Christ’s spiritual fulfillment of the law through His sinless life and atoning death, not His personal grooming habits. Nowhere do the Gospels emphasize His beard or hairstyle.
However, as an observant Jew, Jesus likely adhered to Mosaic guidelines. Historical records indicate most Jewish men in Palestine wore beards during biblical times.
The Lord’s disciples may have followed cultural norms too. Artistic depictions traditionally show Jesus and the Twelve with facial hair. But the Bible gives no firm historical evidence about their grooming preferences.
What mattered most was that Jesus epitomized God’s truth and righteousness (John 1:14). Outward appearance is insignificant compared to knowing Christ and His perfect love.
New Testament Liberty
The New Testament grants freedom from old covenant regulations, including beard rituals.
Paul taught that God’s people are sanctified inwardly by the Holy Spirit, not external rites.
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29 NKJV)
Outward displays like beards, tassels, and phylacteries were necessary temporarily to set Israel apart under the old covenant:
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17 NKJV)
Now believers are new creations in Christ, transformed from within by God’s love:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)
Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that external traits like circumcision or uncircumcision mean nothing compared to faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).
Principles for Applying Scripture
How should we interpret Old Testament beard passages today? Are they universal moral laws or limited cultural rituals?
Several principles can help us understand their contemporary relevance:
1. Distinguish between ceremonial law and moral law. Ceremonial laws like beard, clothing and diet regulations applied specifically to Israel under the old covenant. Moral laws such as the Ten Commandments reflect God’s universal standards for humanity.
2. Remember the purpose behind biblical laws. Beard regulations distinguished Israelites from Gentiles temporarily. The purpose was holiness, not promoting beards.
3. Note the silence of New Testament teachings. Nowhere does the New Testament command wearing beards. Its emphasis is spiritual regeneration, not external requirements.
4. Evaluate cultural context. In some cultures, beards symbolize wisdom and freedom. In others, smooth faces represent propriety and order. Biblical principles may be applied differently in different cultural contexts.
5. Focus on the heart, not appearances. According to Paul, the emphasis should be on inward renewal, not outward conformity. Outward displays are far less important than genuine love for God and others.
Applying Biblical Principles
With these interpretive principles in mind, how might we apply biblical teachings to beard choices today?
1. It is a matter of personal freedom, not law. The New Testament frees believers from old covenant dietary, calendar, and grooming regulations. Beard preferences are a matter of personal choice, an area of Christian liberty.
2. Cultural perceptions matter. In Western culture, beards often represent nonconformity, while clean-shaven faces portray professionalism. In other cultures, meanings differ. Consider what your beard says to your cultural context.
3. Set a godly example for others. As disciples of Jesus, we want to live wisely and consider how our grooming affects those around us. Your choices can lead others to Christ or erect unnecessary barriers.
4. Focus on inward holiness above all. Outward appearance is far less important than nurturing a heart of love for God and people. Setting an example of godliness and grace is what truly matters.
5. Major on the majors, not minors. Debating over beards diverts focus from weightier aspects of discipleship like prayer, biblical community, and sharing Christ’s love through good deeds and gospel witness.
prioritize inward transformation
The New Testament makes it clear that external behaviors are far less important than inward renewal by God’s spirit.
What defiles a person comes from within, not outside appearance (Matthew 15:11, 18-20). True worshipers are identified by changed hearts, not rituals and regulations (Romans 2:28-29).
As believers, God calls us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NKJV) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NKJV).
Proper priorities for Christians are spiritual fruits like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV).
If disputable matters like beards distract from loving God and others wholeheartedly, it’s best to focus elsewhere.
How to Discern God’s Will
How can you determine God’s will regarding your beard or any other uncertain issue?
Here are some biblical principles that can guide decisions:
- Pray for wisdom and discernment through the Holy Spirit (James 1:5).
- Study scripture and apply it in context, seeking trusted teachers if necessary (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Evaluate your motivations – are they pleasing to God or self-interest? (Proverbs 21:2)
- Consider godly counsel from mature believers who know you well (Proverbs 11:14).
- But remember counsel is advisory; you have personal responsibility for decisions. (Romans 14:12)
- Analyze the options – which most align with biblical principles and your conscience? (Philippians 4:8)
- Consider how choices may affect others – does it help or hinder your witness? (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
- If undecided, wait patiently on God who often directs through life circumstances (Psalm 27:14).
Above all, make choices in faith, seeking to glorify Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31).
With practice, you can mature in discernment and navigate debatable issues wisely. The key is an intimate walk with Jesus day by day.
The Bible does not establish an absolute prohibition or mandate regarding beards. Specific instructions applied only in particular cultural contexts.
Outward appearance is far less important than inward character and purity. As believers, we want to live by God’s principles with wisdom, discernment, and sound judgment.
When it comes to beards or other debatable choices, focus on setting an example of godliness, not arguing over disputable opinions. Seek unity in Christ rather than division over minors.
Most of all, keep growing in love, joy, and peace through the Spirit. Nurture your relationship with Jesus. Make His priorities your own.
Then whether you go bearded or clean-shaven, you will walk faithfully with your Lord and shine as a light in this world.