Jehovah's Witnesses and beards

by Dave_T 14 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Dave_T

    When I was a JW, I don't remember having read in the Watchtower literature a rule explicitely forbidding to be bearded. The pictures depicting "faithful witnesses" of the past (Abraham, Job,, Moses, the apostles, etc.) always show bearded men. But the modern witnesses are always pictured beardless. While I don't remember having read a rule against beards, I remember the elders really annoyed me about mine. Was it just a local rule made up by the congregation's elders or is it more than that? If it's more widespread, how do they explain the sudden modern unlawfulness of the beard?

  • Legolas

    I was told it was because of 'the hippie' movement!

  • fullofdoubtnow

    It seemed to vary from congrgation to congregation in my circuit. In one hall, there was an elder and an ms with beards, but in my old kh if anyone turned up to a meeting with one they received counsel, and woe betide any brother who tried to give a talk unshaven.

  • blondie

    Actually, up until 1968, Jesus, Adam, Israelites were depicted without beards.


    w68 5/1 pp. 286-288 Questions from Readers ***

    When Jesus Christ was a man on earth, did he wear a beard?—K.A., U.S.A.

    Biblical evidence is the most reliable testimony to be found on this question, and a recent careful review of what it says indicates that Jesus did indeed have a beard.

    Jesus, born a Jew, "came to be under law" and he fulfilled the Law. (Gal. 4:4; Matt. 5:17) This was in order that he might pave the way for the abolishing of the Law and for release of the Jews from the curse of the Law, the condemnation of death that it brought against them. (Eph. 2:15; Gal. 3:13) Like all other Jews, Jesus was under obligation to keep the whole law. One of the commandments of the Law was: "You must not cut your side locks short around, and you must not destroy the extremity of your beard." (Lev. 19:27) God doubtless gave Israel this law because among some pagans it was the practice to cut the beard in a certain fashion in worship of their gods. (Jer. 9:26; 25:23) Nevertheless, that law did not mean that a beard was not to be well kept, for in the Near East a well-groomed beard was considered a symbol of dignity and respectability.—2 Sam. 19:24.

    During extreme grief, shame or humiliation, one might pluck hairs from his beard or leave the beard or the mustache untended. (Ezra 9:3) In several prophetic statements, the shaving off of the beard was used figuratively to illustrate great mourning because of calamity. (Isa. 7:20; 15:2; Jer. 48:37; Ezek. 5:1) Significantly, a prophecy concerning Jesus’ suffering states: "My back I gave to the strikers, and my cheeks to those plucking off the hair." (Isa. 50:6) Hanun the king of Ammon grossly insulted the ambassadors kindly sent by David by cutting off half of their beards. Because of their great humiliation, David told these men to dwell in Jericho until their beards grew abundantly. This act of Hanun was, of course, aimed at David as an insult, and provoked war.—2 Sam. 10:1-8; 1 Chron. 19:1-7.

    Also, it was generally customary for men to wear beards, even before the law covenant was made. While the Hebrews did not make monuments with figures of themselves, many monuments and inscriptions have been found in Egypt and Mesopotamia and other Near-Eastern lands in which Assyrians, Babylonians and Canaanites are pictured with beards, and some representations dated as far back as the third millennium B.C.E. show beards of varying styles. Among the above-named peoples eunuchs were the only ones depicted as beardless. Often boys were made eunuchs so that later they could be used to care for the king’s harem. (Matt. 19:12) This making eunuchs of men was not a practice in Israel, however, because the Law excluded eunuchs from the congregation of Israel. (Deut. 23:1) At the time Jesus was on earth, the Roman custom was beardlessness. Therefore, if Jesus had been beardless he might have been challenged as either a eunuch or a Roman.

    Men of ancient Semitic groups, as we have seen in our consideration of ancient monuments, wore beards, even prior to the time of the Mosaic law. Since a beard grows naturally on most men, it is reasonable to conclude that their forefathers also wore beards. Consequently, it seems evident that Noah, Enoch, Seth and Seth’s father Adam were likewise bearded men.

    It is appropriate, however, to give consideration to arguments advanced to the effect that Jesus was beardless. This idea has been largely based on theories built up by certain archaeologists with regard to the so-called "Chalice of Antioch." This is a large silver beaker or cup within a silver framework shell of vines and figures of men. On one side of the cup is a boy, with five men facing him, and on the other side a young but more mature man, beardless, with five others facing him. All appear to be seated. The cup, supposedly found by some natives in Antioch of Syria, was acclaimed as being of the second half of the first century C.E., and therefore the earliest pictorial representation of Christ.

    However, an analysis of the facts now makes it evident that the figures on the cup have been identified according to the imagination of the individuals interpreting them. The boy is considered to be Jesus at the age of twelve and the other central figure is said to be Jesus, possibly after his resurrection, or, again, it may be John the Baptist. The other ten figures have been interpreted variously to be ten of the apostles; or the apostles and evangelists; or, on one side the four evangelists with James the son of Zebedee, and on the other side Peter, Saul, James, Jude and Andrew.

    There are serious objections made by many archaeologists to these identifications. Really it has been guesswork, and it is impossible to say what is represented by the figures. Some even doubt the authenticity of the cup, believing that it may be a forgery. Most, however, acknowledge it as an authentic discovery but give it a much later date, from the fourth to the sixth century. So it is very doubtful that the cup is an early representation of Christ, if, indeed, it was intended to portray Christ at all.—See The Biblical Archaeologist, December 1941 and February 1942.

    Bearing directly on the question is the fact that the early Christian writers, Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and others, clearly indicate that no satisfactory record of the physical likeness of Jesus and the apostles existed in their time. Augustine, writing about 400 C.E. (De Trinitate, VIII, 4), said that each man had his own idea of Christ’s appearance, and the concepts were infinite.

    Evidence from the Roman catacombs has been adduced to bear on the subject. In catacombs thought by some to date from the second century C.E., but by others as no earlier than the third century, pictures have been found. The unusually extensive catacomb called the Catacomb of Priscilla contains wall pictures, one of which is thought to portray the resurrection of Lazarus. It is almost obliterated and is very difficult to make out, but in the center there is a figure that has been taken to be Christ, depicted as a young beardless man. But in the catacombs apocryphal and false religious ideas are also plentifully represented. For example, in the Catacomb of Priscilla, and of about the same date, is a scene of the apocryphal Story of Susanna. A ceiling painting dated a little later contains a Madonna with child, with a star above her head. In the Crypts of Lucina a ceiling painting dated as the middle of the second century includes a little winged person, known as Erotes or Amoretti, which, on pagan tombs, represented departed souls. Therefore, it has become evident to us that the catacomb representations of Jesus are seriously questionable as to authenticity.

    It is true that, beginning with the fourth century, the majority of pictures show Christ and his apostles with beards, having emaciated, sad, weak and effeminate "monastic" countenances, usually with a pagan nimbus or halo. These are surely no true representations of the man Jesus Christ, of whom Pontius Pilate said: "Look! The man!" or of him who overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, and drove their cattle out, neither of the apostles, who vigorously preached God’s Word until it spread over all the Roman Empire. (John 19:1, 5; 2:14-17) No, these were strong, active and happy men, servants of the happy God Jehovah. (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:14, 15; Acts 20:35) The dreary religious pictures are products of the apostasy, which by the fourth century was in full bloom, pagan Emperor Constantine making a fusion of apostate Christianity with pagan religion the State religion.

    Nevertheless, as already shown, it is apparent that Jesus did wear a beard, and so artistic representations of him in future Watch Tower publications will harmonize with the Scriptural evidence to that effect.

    Doubtless the early Christians followed the custom of the time and locality in which they lived, with regard to the wearing of a beard. The Roman custom was beardlessness. Romans converted to Christianity would very likely continue in the Roman custom, while converts from the Jewish community would continue in the Jewish custom of wearing a beard.

    Today Christian ministers, like the early Christians, are concerned with neatness and cleanness, but they strive to dress inconspicuously, so that their appearance does not in any way detract from the dignity or the effectiveness of the message they bear. (2 Cor. 6:3, 4) In recent years in many lands a beard or long hair on a man attracts immediate notice and may, in the minds of the majority, classify such a person undesirably with extremists or as rebels against society. God’s ministers want to avoid making any impression that would take attention away from their ministry or hinder anyone from listening to the truth. They know that people are watching true Christians very critically and that to a great extent they judge the entire congregation and the good news by the minister’s appearance as a representative of the congregation.

    In paradise restored on earth it would not be out of order if men returned to wearing beards, in perfect fashion, like Adam in Eden.

  • sir82

    The last written reference you'll find is in an early 70's Watchtower and/or Awake. As Legolas alluded to, beards were associated with "rebellious elements of society" (small s) and so were not for "true Christians".

    Interestingly, in Europe, it is somewhat common to find brothers with beards, in some northern European countries even some elders have beards. The US prohibition seems to be rooted in the conservative, puritanical ethos in this country.

  • kid-A

    Many of Rutherfords old books depicted all the male biblical characters, including Jesus, as beardless. Some suggest this was Rutherfords attempts

    to purge all vestiges of "Russell" , who had a beard as long as Santa Claus, from the organization.

  • blondie

    Notice the 1954 WTS explanation of no beards on Jesus and others:


    w54 8/15 p. 511 Questions from Readers ***


    traditional picture of Jesus shows him with long hair and beard, but the Watch Tower publications illustrate him as beardless and with short hair. Which is correct?—M. H., United States.

    The later Watch Tower publications show Jesus as beardless and with short hair because he is shown that way in representations of him that are older than the traditional effeminate-looking picture. In an ancient beaker or cup found at Antioch, Syria, which purports to represent Jesus and his disciples at the Memorial supper, Jesus is engraved thereon as a beardless young man while some of his disciples are pictured with beards. For a photograph of this see Harper’s Bible Dictionary, page 22, in the midst of the article "Antioch, the Chalice of." (M. S. and J. L. Miller, 1952) The scholarly book by Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past, tells of second-century Christian paintings found in the Catacomb of Priscilla, in the room Cappella Greca, and states:

    "The painting of the Resurrection of Lazarus is now almost effaced but it is still possible to recognize that on one side is depicted a small building containing a mummy and on the other, the sister of Lazarus standing with arms upraised. In the middle Christ is shown, facing toward the tomb and with the right hand uplifted in a gesture of speech. He is represented in the Roman type, and is dressed in tunic and pallium, the left hand holding the garment. He is youthful and beardless, with short hair and large eyes. . . . The picture is of great interest since it is the oldest representation of Jesus that is preserved anywhere."—Page 371.

    Further on this book tells of the painting of the Healing of the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) found in the house church in the excavated ancient settlement of Dura in the Syrian desert, and states: "The almost destroyed painting of Christ in the Catacomb of Priscilla at Rome probably belongs, as we have seen, to the middle of the second century. The painting at Dura is dated even more definitely in the first part of the third century. In both pictures Christ is shown as a young and beardless man with short hair and wearing the ordinary costume of the day. These and similar portrayals are the earliest type of Christ as far as is now known in early Christian art. Later in the third century Christ appears still as youthful but with long, curly hair, and from the fourth century on the more familiar bearded type appears."—Pages 408, 409.

    As recently as October 7, 1949, the new east window of Stepney Parish Church, the mother church of East London, England, was unveiled by the Earl of Athlone. The photograph of this church window, as published in "The Illustrated London News," October 1, 1949, shows a cross with a young man nailed to it, beardless and with short hair, to represent "Christ crucified, but triumphant."

    Since the Bible does not describe Jesus’ facial appearance or indicate he had a beard of length, we follow the oldest archaeological evidence rather than the later traditional view that makes Jesus appear effeminate and sallow and sanctimonious. Some use Isaiah 50:6 as proof that Jesus had a beard: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." This may have been literally fulfilled in a typical way upon Isaiah, foreshadowing the shameful insults and reproaches to be heaped upon the servant class, the primary one of whom is Christ Jesus. Each one of the servant class suffers reproaches, but not necessarily all of the ones here specified. The record shows Jesus was whipped, slapped and spat on, but no mention is made of beard-plucking. If it had happened why would it not have been named along with the other abuses and insults? (Matt. 27:26; Mark 14:65, NW) In fact, the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 50:6 does not mention the cheeks’ being plucked of hair, but as being slapped instead: "I gave my back to scourges, and my cheeks to blows; and I turned not away my face from the shame of spitting." The record in the Gospels states all this did literally happen to Jesus.

  • Dave_T

    Thanks for the research, Blondie. Legolas was right. I never thought that they annoyed me that much just because they didn't want me to look like a hippie!

  • Dave_T

    What about women not allowed to wear pants at the kingdom hall or on field service: was it a local rule or a "canonical" Watchtower rule?

  • moomanchu

    For the first approximately 10 years during his leadership of the Bible Students, Rutherford would laud and praise CTR and even stated that he was leading the movement personally while being "beyond the vail"( from the heavens after his death). So for a time the Judge actually promoted remembering CTR to retain followers. Rutherford did this because as a smart business man he knew if he had not lauded CTR at the very beginning, the society might lose even more followers after CTR died.

    As time past JFR came into his own as the new WT president.He established himself without question as the new book writer and spiritual leader and president. However like first century christians who would say they were followers of different brothers like Apollos or Paul, there were brothers at Bethel who still looked to CTR as their leader and held him in very high esteem.

    It was at this time that the Judge switched gears, it was time to get the brothers to forget CTR . As a result he began a slow and careful plan to get CTR out of the consciousness of the Bible Students.

    He was well aware that many male members of the Bible students emulated CTR by growing long beards. The Judge thus ruled that beards were "out" in the Bethel families. He cut off the beards of Jesus, and Adam in WTS illustrations. All of the sudden, naturally recurring male facial hair was "un-Theocratic." Brothers were even told they couldn’t grow a mustache unless they wanted to lose there "privileges." It wasn't until the 70's that the mustache rule was relaxed because at that time facial hair was very popular.

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