The Long and Short of the Nazirite Oath

shutterstock_69023311The meaning of the Nazirite (Nazarite) oath has created varying opinions and theories. The stipulations of this vow are found in Numbers 6. There it’s explained that both Men and Women could be a Nazirite so long as they separated themselves from wine, dead bodies, haircuts, and products from the vine. At the end of the man’s oath, he would shave his head and offer an animal sacrifice. Afterward he would go back to his normal diet, life, and haircuts. The Bible does not mention anyone keeping the Nazirite oath fully. Also, nowhere does it mention that a woman ever kept any aspect of the Nazirite oath. The following is a listing of individuals who some teach to have been a Nazirite:

Possible Nazirites

Samson is the best known Nazarite. The Bible goes so far as saying that he was a Nazirite. Samson broke his Nazarite oath by both drinking wine and by touching dead bodies. It has been suggested that though he failed, Samson was still called a ‘Nazirite’ because the term ‘Nazirite’ simply means: “one sold out to God.”

Samuel is sometimes thought to have been a Nazirite. At a very young age, his mother dedicated him to the service of the Lord. This was done with the idea that he, like a Nazirite, was totally separated onto the Lord. His is one example where a man was sold out to God with his all. The Bible doesn’t say that Samuel ever kept any of the Nazirite stipulations, and King Agag is testimony that Samuel did go near dead bodies.

Absalom was a man known for having long hair. This has caused some to believe he may have been under the Nazirite oath. If he was, Absalom did so without being sold out to the things of God. The question then becomes, was Absalom’s long hair grown to be favorable to his God, or was it grown to get favors from his God? If it was for the latter, then his actions would have been more akin to “seed faith” (which the Bible proves to be false doctrine), than it is to the Nazirite oath.

John the Baptist is often thought to have been under the Nazirite oath. The way he dressed and the type food he ate is mentioned in Matthew 3:4. Jesus said that John came “neither eating nor drinking” (Matthew 11:18). This diet seems to indicate that John may have been under the Nazirite oath. This is probably why most illustrations of John have him with long scruffy hair and beard. The problem with this premise is that the Bible never actually says he was a Nazirite. Without biblical evidence, the idea that John was a Nazarite is just speculation.

Paul is sometimes thought to have been a Nazirite. In Acts 21, he is said to have gone to the Temple with four men to make himself clean and to make the necessary payment for their oaths (Acts 21:24). In Acts 21:27 it says 7 days later they finished their oath. That time frame is not long enough to allow hair to grow to a length that it is considered a ‘sign’ of a Nazarite oath. The actual purpose of Paul’s activities was to give an offering for a debt he owed.

Jesus is often claimed to have been a Nazirite. Most paintings have Him depicted with long hair. However, there is not one Bible passage that suggests He did. Some believe Jesus’ hair length is a ‘sign’ that He kept the Nazirite oath. What has to remember is that those likenesses of Jesus are not Polaroids, but are instead paintings and sculptures produced by artists that never saw Jesus’ actual appearance. The Bible provides evidence that Jesus did not keep the stipulations of the Nazirite oath. It says that He drank of the fruit of the vine (accused of being a wine bibber, Matthew 11:19), attended funerals (Lazarus, John 11:38), and touched and raised the dead (Jarius’ daughter, Luke 8:54). Any one of these would have disqualified Him from this oath…and yet Jesus is said to have been perfect without any flaw.

 Did Jesus have long hair?

In short, no, Jesus did not. The style for Jewish men during Jesus’ time was short hair. This held true unless they were either under a Nazirite oath or were trying to appear effeminate. Why then is Jesus painted with long hair? Firstly, some misunderstand that there is a difference between Jesus being a “Nazarene” and Him being a “Nazirite.” “Nazareth” was the town Jesus grew up in. It is also a name by which He was known (see Matthew 2:23). “Nazirite” was an oath an individual took for a particular purpose. They may “sound alike,” but that’s as far as their similarities go. Secondly, many paintings of Jesus and other men and women of the First Century Church are depicted as being blue-eyed and Caucasian descent. This is completely false. Jesus was of the tribe of Judea. He was an olive-skinned, brown-eyed, dark haired man. The depictions of Caucasian lineage were painted according to the prejudices found mostly in the European-influenced church system of later centuries. Lastly, many of these later paintings and sculptures show Jesus with effeminate features like long slender arms and hands. It was impossible for Him to have appeared like this. He worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s house. From this type work, He would have developed muscular arms and hands. One sign of Jesus’ physical strength is when He carried His cross half way to Golgotha after receiving a beating, which would have killed most men. The reason Jesus is depicted effeminately in these paintings is due to the artist’s perspective.

New Testament Nazirite

God placed the Nazirite oath and its stipulations in His Word. However, the acts of growing long uncut hair, not drinking or eating grape products, and not touching a dead body do not guarantee a man is truly separated unto God. Those who did take a Nazirite oath were called to radically walk in a manner that separated from this world and separated them solely unto God. Jesus calls men and women today to also walk a life of similar separation. Let’s now look at how a Nazirite’s rules are relevant in the New Testament Church.

Separation from a Dead Body

God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die. The day they did eat, they did not physically die, but instead died spiritually. This death is described in the Bible as being “Dead in trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2:21). Jesus came to give His people life. To receive this life they must first die to their flesh. This then allows them to live to spirit. Works of the flesh bring spiritual death. Paul agreed with this when He taught, “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Before a believer can walk as a New Creature in Christ, they must bury their “old man” and its fleshly lusts and desires (see Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9).

Separation from Wine and Products from the Vine

The Church is to not be consumed by the spirits of this world but are instead be filled with the New Wine of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Also, Jesus is the true vine, and His Church is the branches (John 15:1-8).

Uncut Hair

The question often asked is: “Does the Nazirite oath apply to the Church today?” Mostly this is asked when Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 on men’s and women’s hair is questioned. Usually the conclusion is: “Jesus was a Nazirite, so long hair is okay on men.” Or you will hear, “God used hair as a sign for the Nazirite, so here it is again.” Both of these positions miss the bigger picture, which is the Nazirite oath was given to help bring a man or a woman to a state of purity whereby they could be used in a place that only a select few could tread – the work of the priesthood. Remember, after the Nazirite oath is completed, those who took it were deemed ‘clean enough’ to work alongside the priests offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle or the Temple (See Numbers 6:19-20). The same is true in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 11, for he shows men and women who’ve taken a lifetime oath of separation from sinful things of this world, using a sign on their head, which both men and angels can recognize, to show their submission to the authority of Jesus. This obedience thereby qualifies these same men and women to minister in the Kingdom of God as priests and prophets alongside their great High Priest – Jesus Christ. Maybe this is why the women’s uncut hair is sign for the angels to see, for when women live in such obedience, they are thus making themselves available to minister to the women of the Church (See 1 Corinthians 11:3-5, 1 Corinthians 11:10-14).

Conclusion

Being separate for separation sake is never God’s will. He has always called men and women to separate themselves so as to allow them opportunity to mature in Him. Today Jesus calls His Church to live a life of separation. Such separation does not require a commune or monastery. Instead, it is done through dying to the flesh and living in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Such a life of holiness thereby allows an opportunity for a man and woman to mature into Christlikeness.

 

Copyright © 2009 TK Burk. All Rights Reserved.
www.tkburk.com

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