What Does the Bible Say About Facial Hair?

Facial hair has long been a topic of debate among Christians. Some argue that men should grow beards as a sign of masculinity and obedience to God’s created order. Others believe facial hair should be avoided to maintain a clean-shaven appearance. So what does the Bible actually say about facial hair? In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine key biblical passages, historical context, and potential applications to discern God’s perspective on facial hair.

What Does the Bible Say About Facial Hair?

Old Testament Teachings

Several Old Testament passages make reference to beards and facial hair. In some cases, the presence of a beard is seen as a sign of maturity, wisdom, or authority. For example:

  • “There are seventy sevens decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble” (Daniel 9:24-25). The phrase “anoint the Most Holy Place” uses imagery of a beard wet with oil. This implies the maturity and authority of the “Anointed One.”
  • “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (Proverbs 20:29). Gray hair or a gray beard is seen as a “splendor” and sign of wisdom that comes with age.
  • “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him'” (Psalm 92:12-15). The palm tree and cedar metaphor imply strength and maturity like a full beard.

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At the same time, the Old Testament speaks negatively of unkempt beards:

  • “In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and ankle chains and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls” (Isaiah 3:18-23). Some translations use the phrase “their beards” instead of “their finery”, implying a dislike of unkept beards.
  • “They will wear sackcloth and terror will fill their hearts. Every head will be shaved and every beard cut off; they will assume the sorrow of those who mourn, and will have mourning on their heads” (Isaiah 15:2-3). Cutting off beards is seen as a sign of sorrow and mourning.

Based on these passages, the Old Testament perspective on beards seems to be one of nuance. Properly kept beards can represent maturity, honor, and wisdom. But unkept, scraggly beards imply poor hygiene and disregard for one’s appearance. The beard itself is morally neutral – it is the condition and presentation of the beard that matters.

Jesus and the New Testament

What light does the New Testament shed on perspectives of facial hair? There are a few key points we can highlight:

  • Jesus and his disciples almost certainly had beards. As Jews living in 1st century Judea, facial hair was the cultural norm. There is no record of Jesus requiring his disciples to be clean-shaven.
  • However, Jesus did teach the importance of hygiene and appropriate presentation. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount he instructed: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16). The phrase “disfigure their faces” implies a lack of proper grooming. Jesus condemned ignoring personal hygiene as a form of public virtue-signaling.
  • The New Testament is largely silent on direct commands about facial hair. The emphasis is spiritual transformation rather than external appearance. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
  • In his letters, Paul teaches that men should have short hair (1 Corinthians 11:14) but does not forbid beards. He also writes that women should not have shaved heads (1 Corinthians 11:5-6). So there appears to be a biblical precedent for distinctive hairstyles based on gender. But nothing prohibitory or prescriptive about male facial hair.

In summary, the New Testament neither requires nor forbids beards. The principles of cleanliness, hygiene, gender distinction in appearance, and focus on inner transformation rather than outward rules are emphasized.

Church History and Application

How then should these biblical principles inform perspectives on facial hair today? Looking at church history and tradition, we find a wide range of practices:

  • Many church fathers, monks, and medieval clergy grew full beards following cultural practices of their day. This included figures like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Martin Luther.
  • In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many evangelical and holiness preachers adhered to “clean-shaven” cultural standards. Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, R.A. Torrey, and Billy Sunday all chose to be clean-shaven.
  • Today practices run the gamut. Members of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches often wear full beards following historic traditions. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic clergy is predominantly clean-shaven. Evangelical pastors are divided, with men on both sides of the issue.

So Christian history does not conclusively settle the beard debate. Here are a few principles to consider in applying biblical standards:

  • Focus on inner holiness, not outward appearance. Avoid legalism or judgment on this issue. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
  • If you have facial hair, keep it neat and well-groomed. Avoid an unkept appearance that implies disorder.
  • Respect cultural standards of appropriate gender presentation. In some contexts, beards on men connote masculinity. In others, clean-shaven faces may convey similar gender distinction. Consider your cultural setting.
  • Develop convictions based on biblical values, not cultural trends. Some men feel pressured by changing cultural tides surrounding facial hair. Focus on pleasing God rather than people.
  • Remember freedom in non-essentials. The New Testament does not prescribe mandatory styles. Follow your conscience, and allow others freedom to do the same. “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters… Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master they stand or fall” (Romans 14:1,4).

The biblical perspective on facial hair suggests freedom within principles of order, cleanliness, and avoidance of vanity. Whatever position you take, act in faith with wisdom and charity.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Old Testament associates beards with maturity, wisdom, and authority when properly kept. Disheveled beards implied poor hygiene.
  • Jesus likely had a beard according to Jewish customs but taught the importance of appropriate grooming and hygiene.
  • The New Testament emphasizes inner transformation over outward appearance rules.
  • Christian history displays a range of practices, with church fathers and clergy often having beards while 19th century preachers were predominantly clean-shaven.
  • Focus on developing inner holiness. If you wear a beard, keep it neat and well-groomed. Respect cultural norms regarding gender and appearance. Avoid legalism.
  • The Bible does not mandate specific facial hair styles. Follow your conscience with wisdom and freedom.

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