Beards and Attire of Jehovah’s Witnesses

This site does not endorse the following Watchtower quotes. They are simply presented to show what the Watchtower has taught regarding the topic.

 It is not often you see one of Jehovah’s Witnesses sporting a beard, and quite rare in European countries for a bearded brother to hold a position of responsibility.

Watchtower guidance against beards is limited to vague statements, experiences regarding people that removed their beard on conversion, and a lack of bearded Witnesses in Watchtower publications. Rather than enforced by direct decree, it has been adhered to as a result of social identification pressure.

Patriarchal and Israelite days.

Watchtower uses part of the Mosaic Law in Leviticus 19:28 to argue that a tattoo is inappropriate for a Christian, but ignores the previous verse, which says it is wrong to shave a beard. Christians today are not under the Law of Moses so why follow one ruling and ignore another in the next sentence?

Leviticus 19:27,28 “‘You must not shave the hair on the side of your head or disfigure the edges of your beard. 28 “‘You must not make cuts in your flesh for a dead person, and you must not make tattoo markings on yourselves.

Watchtower acknowledges that beards were worn in OT times but tries to use this fact to promote its no beard stance of recent times:

“Suppose that you, as a man, lived in Israelite times, under the Law, and did not like a beard. Perhaps you liked the way Egyptians looked, clean shaven. What would you do? Would you exercise your personal right to shave? No, for you would not have such a right. You would have to wear a beard, because the Law commanded all males: “You must not cut your sidelocks short around, and you must not destroy the extremity of your beard.”” Watchtower 1973 Mar 1 p139-140

Jesus’ day

Between 1930 and 1968, Watchtower illustrations went as far as to present Jesus as clean-shaven and with short hair.

Light Book 2 (1930) page 161

and From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained (1958) p141

It wasn’t until 1968 that a Watchtower “Question from Readers“ stated that:

“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.”

[Watchtower 1968 May 12 p.286]

Russell and Rutherford’s days.


C.T. Russell

J.F. Rutherford

1923 Watchtower’s second leader, Rutherford, had a clean-shaven appearance which was a way to distance the religion from the previous leadership of Russell who was bearded.  

“Brother Balzereit asked Brother Rutherford for permission to buy a rotary press. Brother Rutherford saw the necessity and agreed, but on one condition. He had noticed that over the years Brother Balzereit had grown a beard very similar to the one that had been worn by Brother Russell. His example soon caught on, for there were others who also wanted to look like Brother Russell. This could give rise to a tendency toward creature worship, and Brother Rutherford wanted to prevent this. So during his next visit, within hearing of all the Bible House family, he told Brother Balzereit that he could buy the rotary press but only on the condition that he shave off his beard. Brother Balzereit sadly agreed and afterward went to the barber. During the next few days there were several cases of mistaken identity and some funny situations because of the “stranger” who was sometimes not recognized by his fellow workers.”

[1974 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses pp97-98]


President Knorr to today

Illustrations in Watchtower publications never show a beard on modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses. The following picture shows a typical Watchtower congregation of clean-shaven men in ties.

On the other hand, a worldly person is often represented in a negative light as wearing a beard. Many experiences are related in the publications of people shaving off facial hair upon conversion.

[Watchtower 1989 Sep 15 p32; Watchtower 1998 Jan 1 p4; Awake! 2007 Dec 7 p25]

1968 it was directed that beards would detract from the Watchtower message.

“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.” 

[Watchtower 1968 May 12 p288]

2001 A vague directive to shave.

“For men, a neat personal appearance may include being clean-shaven. In areas where moustaches are widely viewed as dignified, any who wear these should keep them neatly trimmed.” 

[Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education (2001) p133]

2009 Specific instructions for assignments at conventions and assemblies:

“Dress and Grooming – Those giving talks should wear suits. If your talk calls for an interview or a demonstration, please do not use any brother who wears a beard and make sure your participants are aware of the importance of good grooming and modest dress.”

[2009 Talk Outline]

2009 A brother wrote to the Branch requesting direction about beards since they are common on professional men and there is no direct guidance in Watchtower publications. The Society replied with a 3-page letter dated February 24th 2009 emphasising the matter of modesty and that a beard could cause stumbling.

“Therefore, it would not determine a person’s salvation if he chose to wear a beard, nor would it prevent him from getting baptised, sharing in field ministry, or enrolling in the Theocratic School.”

Regarding positions of responsibility, it indicates a beard is not acceptable, yet in a very vague way.

“… if a Christian man is “reaching out” for special privileges and yet desires to wear a beard, he might ask himself whether wearing even a neatly trimmed beard could become a matter of disturbance or controversy in the congregation. (1 Timothy 3:1) If most Christian males in a congregation or community have refrained from wearing beards for the Scriptural reasons outlined above, it is reasonable to expect that those taking the lead as ministerial servants or elders would be exemplary in this respect.”

Despite showing that beards were normal attire for Christians in the Bible, and acknowledging that beards are now a common and acceptable fashion in many parts of the world, the letter concludes with the passive aggressive suggestion that

“A brother who chooses to maintain a clean-shaven appearance for the sake of the good news manifests that same self-sacrificing spirit [of Timothy].”

The Watchtower also uses illustrations for subliminal influence. Whilst some illustrations of the “New System” include Bible characters with beards, the following examples show newly resurrected ones with beards, but as they learn God’s requirements, they are later clean shaven.

Good News From God (2012) p.13

The 1962 Watchtower raised the question, ‘Will men have beards “again” in the new system?’ – this question indicates that brothers were not bearded in the congregations at this time.

“Likewise it is possible to spend valuable time speculating on matters concerning the future. … Will there be factories and machines in use after Armageddon? Will men wear beards again? … These are typical questions to which Jehovah has not provided answers at this time. Do you think it wise for Christians to take time from more profitable Bible study to speculate on the answers?”

[Watchtower 1962 Jun 15 p.381]

2016 The Watchtower slightly softened its stance by indicating that beards may be acceptable in some cultures.

In some cultures, a neatly trimmed beard may be acceptable and respectable, and it may not detract at all from the Kingdom message. In fact, some appointed brothers have beards. Even so, some brothers might decide not to wear a beard. (1 Cor. 8:9, 13; 10:32) In other cultures or localities, beards are not the custom and are not considered acceptable for Christian ministers. In fact, having one may hinder a brother from bringing glory to God by his dress and grooming and his being irreprehensible. —Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Tim. 3:2, 7.

[Watchtower 2016 Sep p21]

We should ask in what cultures are beards unacceptable? This vagueness still leaves little room for beards, particularly where there are overseers who are strongly opinionated on the topic.

Dress and Grooming

Bethel Visitors

Visitors to Bethel are to abide by the same strict code as when attending meetings. As illustrated in the 2008 brochure Dress & Grooming for Visitors Touring Bethel, collared t-shirts are not considered appropriate for brothers visiting bethel. This is an excessive level of control, considering Bethel is predominantly an office and printing factory.

Dress & Grooming for Visitors Touring Bethel – 2008

Sisters face the same controlling attitude towards fashion, being expected to wear modest dresses or skirts to the Kingdom Hall, Bethel and preaching, but not trousers. This is counter-intuitive, since formal business slacks are common corporate attire, and more modest than a dress.

The “metrosexual” fashion of “extremely tight pants” came under attack by Governing Body member Anthony Morris during a comment to Rome Bethel on 20th Jan 2014 as a disgusting homosexually inspired fashion.

“Any individual who manifests the aforementioned extremes in dress and grooming or who displays gender-blurring characteristics should not be recommended for Bethel service or the School for Kingdom Evangelisers. Furthermore, if the body of elders agrees that a brother or sister is blatantly and deliberately ignoring repeated counsel, and his or her dress and grooming is disturbing to the congregation, the elders may determine that the person no longer qualifies to share in the ministry.” 

Circuit Overseer Meets With Elders and Ministerial Servants Program for September 2015 Through February 2016

The Watchtower 2016 June study edition shows elders counselling a brother in a business suit, because the cut of the legs is considered too tight.

A few months later the September 2016 Watchtower article “Does Your Style of Dress Glorify God?” ironically stated Jehovah’s Witnesses should feel grateful they are not be burdened with detailed regulations on clothing.

“How grateful we are that Jehovah does not burden us with detailed lists of regulations about our dress and grooming.” (p.21 par.18)

“The principles that we glean from God’s Word should move us to avoid wearing clothing that is tight-fitting, revealing, or sexually provocative. That would rule out wearing clothing that exposes or accentuates private parts of our anatomy.” p.18 par.5)

“Even as we check in and out of a hotel, as well as when we enjoy leisure time before and after convention sessions, we want to avoid an appearance that is overly casual or slovenly.” (p.19 par.8)

“In other cultures or localities, beards are not the custom and are not considered acceptable for Christian ministers.” (p.21 par.17)


From the UK 2017:

“I got baptized as a teenager and never really questioned what I was being taught. But, due to skin and nerve problems, shaving is difficult for me, so when I was 21 I grew a beard. And now, nearly 20 years later, I still have it.

At the regional convention, my wife and I were originally asked to help with cleaning for an area that the congregation was assigned. We agreed to help. Cleaning is something that has never been restricted for me, so I didn’t think it would be this time. But I was wrong. About a week before the convention, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to help clean after all. When I asked about it, I eventually found out after talking to several brothers, that there was a letter from the branch about it. I was told that the letter didn’t go to the congregations, but to the convention committee and I was told that it stated that no brother with a beard is allowed to help out in any department in any capacity before during or after the convention. I was specifically told that there is no medical exception to this.”

Mainstream Churches view of beards

Western Christianity

At various times in its history and depending on various circumstances, the Catholic Church in the West permitted or prohibited facial hair (“nourishing a beard”) for clergy. The phrase “nourishing a beard” was interpreted in different ways, either as imposing a clean-shaven face or only excluding a too-lengthy beard. The first pope to wear a beard was Pope Julius II, who in 1511–12 did so for a while as a sign of mourning for the loss of the city of Bologna. All his successors did so until the death in 1700 of Pope Innocent XII. Since then, no pope has worn a beard. Present Canon law is silent on the matter.

Although most Protestant Christians regard the beard as a matter of choice, some have taken the lead in fashion by openly encouraging its growth as “a habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial” (C. H. Spurgeon).


This excessive control that goes beyond, or even against, Biblical examples, brings to mind several Scriptures:

1 Cor 4:6-7 “Do not go beyond the things that are written,” so that you may not be puffed up with pride favouring one against the other. For who makes you different from another?” (NWT)

Luke 22:25-26 “They are obsessed with how others see them. But this is not your calling. You will lead by a different model. The greatest one among you will live as one called to serve others without honor. (Passion Translation)

Matt 23:4,23 “Be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer…. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? (Message Bible)

Col 2:20-23 “If you died together with Christ with respect to the elementary things of the world, why do you live as if still part of the world by further subjecting yourselves to the decrees: “Do not handle, nor taste, nor touch,” referring to things that all perish with their use, according to the commands and teachings of men? Although those things have an appearance of wisdom in a self-imposed form of worship and a false humility, a harsh treatment of the body, they are of no value in combating the satisfying of the flesh.” (NWT)

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