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‘Manhood Will Not Be So Easily Shaven’: Desiring God Article Advocating for Beards Met With Humor, Criticism

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Photo by Srdjan Popovic (via Unsplash)

On Monday (August 22), Desiring God published an article titled “O Beard Where Art Thou,” wherein Greg Morse argued that growing a beard is a matter of theological significance. Morse is a staff writer for the John Piper founded media nonprofit and a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary, where Piper serves as chancellor. 

Morse Argues for the Theology of Beard Growing

Morse began his argument for beards by recounting a story from the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel in which Joab, the general of King David, prepared for battle against the Ammonites. 

The reason for the battle was the newly crowned King Hanun of the Ammonites having rejected David’s offer of a diplomatic relationship between the two nations. The manner in which Hanun rejected the offer was particularly offensive. He cut the clothes of David’s messengers in half, from top to bottom, also shaving off half their beards. 

In the Ancient Near East, shaving off half a man’s beard was not merely a hurtful prank. Rather, it was symbolic of an all out assault on his very manhood. To David, this was a direct challenge to his throne, an act of war. 

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“First, in Israelite culture, the beard served as a sign of mature masculinity. All Israelite men grew beards; God commanded it, ‘You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard’ (Leviticus 19:27),” Morse wrote. “Beards were a facial billboard for manhood, distinguishing men, at first glance, from boys and women.”

Reflecting on the legacy of beards from the time of David onward, Morse went on to say, “The connection between manhood and unmown cheeks today has flowed down through church history, like oil running down the beard of Aaron (Psalm 133:2).”

Morse then quoted Saint Augustine, Charles Spurgeon, and C.S. Lewis, citing their love of beards as evidence for his belief that beard-growing is and ought to be normative masculine behavior. (Notably, Lewis was known as a clean shaven man.)

Conceding that even “the shaved can be saved,” Morse offered condolences and reassurance to men who are unable to grow full beards. He also made it clear that some men who grow beards are “living in basements, addicted to video games and porn.” 

“But here we walk a fine line,” Morse nevertheless argued. “Does this then relegate the beard, that ancient landmark, to a matter of obsolete decoration, of mere preference?”

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Morse went on to argue that beards are a vital aspect of the God-given distinction between men and women, a distinction that today’s culture all too often seeks to muddle.