Have you ever wondered if Jesus had a beard? You may already have an idea of what Jesus looked like based on a movie, picture, or crucifix. Though Jesus is portrayed with a beard doesn’t mean he had one. Researchers and archeologists haven’t discovered any pictures or sculptures of Jesus that date back to the time of his birth and resurrection.
The earliest pictures of Jesus date from 200-300 years after his birth. The oldest is a painting from 235 C.E. which shows Jesus with a beard. Archeologists discovered it in Syria on a wall in the Dura-Europos church, one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. Another ancient picture of Jesus, as a beardless young man, was found in the Roman Catacombs. By 400 C.E., most artists were depicting Jesus with a beard.
According to a Lumen Learning course on Early Jewish and Christian art:
“Initially, Jesus was represented indirectly by pictogram symbols such as the ichthys, the peacock, the Lamb of God, or an anchor. … A variety of different types of appearance were used, including the thin, long-faced figure with long, centrally parted hair that was later to become the norm. But in the earliest images as many show a stocky and short-haired beardless man in a short tunic, who can only be identified by his context.”
Why Do Some Images of Jesus Depict Him with a Beard and Some without a Beard?
Every picture or sculpture is an artist’s representation based on their perception and culture. Many artists represented their culture and societal norms in their art. Some pictures of Jesus also show him as a young man when he would not have been old enough to grow a beard. Other artists painted Jesus with a beard because there are many references to beards in Scripture.
Why Have Most Artists Portrayed Jesus with a Beard?
Jesus was faithful to follow the Law given to Moses. He explained to his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
In Leviticus, God gave his people specific instructions that proscribed how priests and individual men in the community were to take care of their beards and hair. Even today, these passages influence Orthodox Jewish men in how they wear their hair and trim their beards.
“Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies.” (Leviticus 21:5)
“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27)
Jewish men who were faithful to follow the Law wore distinctive beards. Having a beard with uncut corners set Jesus and other Jewish men apart from other people who lived in Judea and Samaria. The beard was an outward sign of each man’s obedience to the Law and consecration to God. In contrast, Romans often shaved their facial hair. The Roman style to shave off beards may have influenced the artists who depicted Jesus in the catacombs of Rome.
Beards in the Bible: What Were Jewish Customs?
Jewish Men Took Care of Their Beards Except in Unusual Circumstances.
Jewish men took care of their beards by trimming them and putting oil on them. Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains, “It was a part of a Jew’s daily toilet to anoint his beard with oil and perfume”
“It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” (Psalms 133:2)
Neglecting one’s beard was unusual. After Mephibosheth was accused of betrayal by his servant (2 Samuel 16:1-4), he stopped washing his clothes and trimming his beard as a sign of his concern.
“And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety.” (2 Samuel 19:24)
Individuals who had taken a Nazirite pledge (Numbers 6) did not use a razor on any part of their head. Though the length of the Nazirite pledge is not mentioned in the Bible, but the Mishna, a Jewish commentary “prescribes a period of 30 days, while a double period of 60 or even a triple one of 100 days might be entered on,” according to this commentary. When the time of the pledge ended, the person shaved their head and dedicated the hair to God in a peace offering.
Removing a beard was embarrassing.
There are several stories in Scripture that illustrate how removing a beard or part of the beard was considered shameful.
During King David’s reign, he sent several men to console a young king, Hanun who had just lost his father. However, Hanun’s commanders convinced him that they were spies for David, so they shaved off half of the men’s beards and cut off their garments at the buttocks to embarrass them. This was such a significant insult that the men were instructed to stay at Jericho until their beards grew. (See: 2 Samuel 10:3-5)
Shaving off a beard could be evidence of having had a skin disease.
Much of the Law dealt with living in a community. Since many diseases are infectious, some laws were designed by God to stop sickness and disease. One law (Leviticus 14:8-9) commanded that men who had been healed from a skin disease were to shave off their hair to prove to the priest and the people in the camp that they were disease-free.
Pulling or shaving off a beard could be a sign of being a captive or in mourning.
The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote about removing a beard and shaving the head as a sign of mourning or becoming a captive. Jesus may have cut off his beard as a sign of mourning, but there is no mention of it in the Bible.
- Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 7:20 that God would bring judgment on his people through the King of Assyria and as a result, their beards would be cut off.
- Jeremiah writes about shaven beards as a sign of mourning in Jeremiah 48:36-37.
- Isaiah proclaimed Judah’s enemies would have their beards would be cut off as a sign of God’s judgment in Isaiah 15:2.
- When Ezra heard about the spiritual unfaithfulness in Israel he pulled hair from his beard to show his shock and horror (Ezra 9:3).
- Isaiah 50:6 describes how a captive or prisoner was abused by having their beard pulled and their back beat.
Jesus Likely Had a Beard Most of His Adult Life.
As a faithful, law-abiding Jewish man, Jesus would have had a beard except in unusual circumstances. Jesus might have neglected his beard as a sign of mourning or during his fast in the wilderness before the temptation (Matthew 4:1 and Luke 4), but the Gospel writers did not mention it.
Jesus would have carefully taken care of his beard by putting oil on it, and he would have refrained from clipping the corners. A beard with uncut corners signified to everyone that Jesus was Jewish. It was an outward sign of his obedience to God’s Law.
BibleStudyTools.com, “Beard.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.
BibleStudyTools.com, “Nazirite.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
CNN.com, “From Science and Computers, a New Face of Jesus.” Jeordan Legon, 2002.
History.com, “What Did Jesus Look Like?” Sarah Pruitt, 2019.
Oldest.org, “7 Oldest Paintings of Jesus in the World.”
Penny Noyes, M.Ed. is the author of Embracing Change - Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible and two books about Hezekiah. You can follow Penny on her blog and on Instagram @pennynoyes.
Photo Credit: WikimediaCommons/Juan Antonio Vera Calvo (Public Domain)