Why I Wear a Beard
Why I Wear a Beard
Though I’ve already published my booklet The Beard here on the website, I’ve decided to offer another voice on the subject. What follows is my attempt at supplying the important and interesting parts of a booklet that was monumental in convincing me that I should, indeed, never shave my beard again.
Like me, the author is from the Anabaptist tradition; unlike me, the author probably wouldn’t consider Torah observance as something “obligatory” for Gentiles (see my Color-Coded Torah). We both agree, however, that people of faith need to consider modesty from a Bible perspective. This topic certainly is under that category.
Here are the “spark notes” from William R. McGrath’s booklet Why I Wear a Beard.
Seven Reasons to Wear a Beard
McGrath outlines and elaborates the following seven reasons he has a beard and why he thinks others should have one, too.
- Created Nature
- Sex Distinction
- Separation from the world
- Jesus: our perfect example
- Early-church conviction
- Early Anabaptist conviction
- Effective witness for Jesus
Select quotes from McGrath
- “Roman Catholic priests have for centuries have required to shave, being threatened with excommunication …and to be shorn by force if necessary (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 363). This no doubt is a carry-over of the Babylonian system of making eunuchs of priests of the ‘mother goddess.’ It is thus clear that, besides being pagan in origin, the whole history of shaving has been closely associated with idolatrous heathen worship.” (Why I Wear a Beard, p. 8)
- “If you as a Christian man would hate to be effeminate, why then do you so easily accept the fashion of looking effeminate by shaving off your beard?” (Why I Wear a Beard, p. 12; he cites 1 These 5:22)
- “There is abundant proof that the early Christians wore beards, the Anabaptists wore beards, Christ wore a beard, the Old Testament men of faith wore beards—shall we not be ashamed not to follow in the footsteps of these heroes of the faith?Shall we abhor the beard which marks us with constant make of separation, in order to follow the fashions and styles of the world?” (Why I Wear a Beard, p. 13; he cites 1 Cor 6:16-17; Lev 19:27; 21:5; Rom 12:2)
- “I am persuaded that the beard is one of the best marks of nonconformity a Christian man can wear. Those who dislike the beard have no reason to give except that they fear it would make them look odd in the eyes of the world. How do we look to God?” (Why I Wear a Beard, p. 14)
- “Let us not be ashamed to follow a bearded Christ, and ourselves as Christian men humbly wear the beard as our Example did.” (Why I Wear a Beard, p. 15)
- “The most effective Christian witness was the Lord Jesus Christ, who wore a beard. There were no more powerful and effective preachers than Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Jonah and the other prophets, and John the Baptist, and the Apostles—all of whom wore the beard.” (Why I Wear a Beard, p. 21)
- Apostolic Regulations (ca. 200 AD): “For to thee, a faithful man of God, it is not permitted to nourish the hair of thy head and to comb and smooth it, which is a wantonness of lust; neither shalt thou arrange and adorn it, nor adjust it so that it may be beautiful. And thou shalt not destroy (or shave) the hairs of thy beard, nor alter the natural appearance of thy face and change it to other than God created it, because thou desires to please men. But if thou do these things, thy soul shall be deprived of life, and thou shalt be rejected before the Lord God.”
- Clement of Alexandria (ca. 190 AD): “Men are also infected with the disease of vanity…But for those who are men to shave and smooth themselves; how ignoble! how woman! For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of womanhood, with hairy chest,—a sign this of strength and rule. This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve, and is the token of the superior nature…It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness. But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the word), if it is to attract en, is the act of an effeminate person, if to attract woman is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society. ‘But the very hairs of your head are all numbered,’ says the Lord those on the chin, too, are numbered…For it is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man’s natural and noble ornament. ‘A youth with his first beard, man’s natural and noble ornament.’ By and by he is anointed (at baptism), delighting in the beard ‘on which descended the prophetic ‘ointment’ with which Aaron was honored.”
It should be noted that his remarks concerning being “driven as far as possible from society” is concerning the ekklesia, or the society of believers, not popular society.
- Tertullian (160-220 AD): “Are there then, some things that to men are not permissible, if we are god-fearing, and have a due regard for gravity? There are indeed…My own sex recognizes some tricks of beauty which are peculiarly ours, for example, to cut the beard too sharply, to pluck it out in places; to shave round about the corners; to arrange the hair and conceal greatness by dyes…But all these tricks are rejected by (Christians) as being frivolous and hostile to modesty, as soon as the knowledge of God has destroyed the wish to please.”
- Lactantius (240-320 AD): “The nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, to the distinction of sex, and to the beauty of manliness and strength; so that it appears that the system of the whole (body) would not have been in agreement if anything had been made otherwise than it is.”
- Mennonite Encyclopedia: “According to Goebel, letting the beard grow was a distinguishing sign of all Anabaptists…One of the rules passed at minister’s conference of the Swiss Brethren held in Strasbourg in 1568 (confirmed at Steinselz in 1752 and at Essingen in 1755) forbade the trimming of the hair oro beard according to the worldly fashions…”
- Alsatian Anabaptists, 1752: “Improper clothing (the wearing of square ties and shoes with high heels), as well as the new fashions of smoking or snuffing tobacco, removing the beard with the razor and the like is forbidden and shall, if it is not stopped, be punished with excommunication.”
Sadly, many of the Anabaptist tradition today have adopted the worldly fashion of clean-shavenness. In some I've spoken with, the mere reference to the command in Leviticus will bring the oft-spoken "reminder" that "In Christ, we're free from the law." These men are sorely confused. It isn't a matter of law keeping. It's a matter of having Christ as an example, of remembering we're created in a certain way, of remembering what our Anabaptist forbearers held to, of remembering that being separate from the world is crucial for our witness!
If you're not convinced from the history, at least look at the Scriptures and see what God has said. Test McGrath's convictions; test my convictions; test the early-churches convictions. Test early Anabaptists' convictions. But know this: to abandon the beard is to abandon a natural and mystical witness of creation and the Kingdom of God.