A Theology of the Beard…?
To beard, or not to beard? This has become a popular question. And it would seem that many men are choosing to let their beards grow. You might notice the style experts reporting on the dominance of beards in popular culture over the clean-shaven perfectly smooth face. Not too long ago a campaign for Gillette starred three cultural icons sporting facial hair – yes, remaining facial hair in a razor commercial. Why? Because the beard is a phenomenon. And the beard phenomenon is not only growing in popular culture but also in Christian culture.
One might argue that the recent popularity of beards in Christian circles is a demonstrative protest against the decline of gender differences in our society. Maybe the growth of beards in Christian circles is cultural or contextual mimesis of hipster trends. Perhaps the popularity of the beard is simply an appreciation for it as a masculine ornament. At least one thing is clear, beards are continuing to grow in Christian circles. Perhaps you’ve seen the website Bearded Gospel Men? In case you missed it, Leadership Journal recently ran an article titled The Beards of Ministry in which they proclaim, “the beard is back in a big way. Along with celebrities, bike messengers, and your local barista, pastors are no exception to the glories of facial hair. The ministry beard has a long and glorious history among preachers, theologians, and everyday men of the cloth.” (Don’t miss their graphic)
The beard does have a long and rich history. For the Ancient Israelites in the Old Testament a full rounded beard was an ornament signifying manhood, a source of pride. The Hebrew men carefully maintained their beards. For the more affluent men beard care was ceremonial. While we don’t find too much in the Bible concerning beards, there are a few descriptive passages to read while twirling your chin hair;
- For the Israelites in the Old Testament the beard was never to be shaved, only trimmed (Lev. 19:27; 21:5). The only time a beard was to be shaved was in the circumstance of an infectious disease (Lev. 14:9).
- As a sign of lament, men in mourning would often shave or even pull out their beards (Ezra 9:3; Is. 15:2; Jer. 41:5, 48:37).
- The prophet Ezekiel was instructed by God to shave his beard as a sign of desecration and shame, pointing to the coming destruction on Jerusalem (Ezek. 5:1).
- Since the beard was a symbol of masculinity in ancient culture it was a grave insult to damage someone’s beard. Once on a mission, David’s men suffered grave humiliation when their beards were half shaved by the Ammonites. They didn’t return to Jerusalem until their beards had grown back (2 Sam. 10:4-5).
- Isaiah depicts the pulling out of a man’s beard as emasculative and shameful (Is. 7:20, 50:6).
There is not much in the Bible concerning beards. Even so, theologians and preachers have taken up the subject of beards. Augustine once argued that “there are some details of the body which are there for simply aesthetic reasons, and for no practical purpose—for instance… the beard on [a man’s] face [which is] clearly for a masculine ornament.” Similarly, Charles Spurgeon contended that growing a beard is “a habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.” So, what are we supposed to do with all of this? I am not sure. This post was written for fun and theological novelty. Clearly, God does not command all men everywhere to grow their beards, nor are beards the quintessential mark of masculinity. But maybe the thought of a beard will grow on you…
 The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 80.
 Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 24.
 C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Lecture 8.