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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2 Responses to The Long and Short of the Nazirite Oath

  1. Thomas Cooke January 21, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

    I am in my 58th year of my Nazirite vow. I’ve abstained from eating or drinking any form of grapes for well over 45 years. About the only form i remember eating back then was fruit salad that had grapes in it or raisins. I Also stopped cutting my hair and beard or trimming the sides or edges (corners) of my beard for 25 years now and have been able to hear the Lord speak to me more clearly i believe because of the closeness my vow has allowed me. I Didn’t go looking for this benefit nor did i attempt to plan it in a form of testing God which is a sin but as a pure act of faith. I Was born a bastard child out of wedlock and feel that being the last generation that i must separate myself from my families generational sins and stand alone and be responsible only for my sins which have long been forgiven thru Christ’s gift of salvation many years ago. I Actually feel blessed when i see the dirty looks that people give me in public or hear the comments they make. My family lineage was Pagan Vikings that converted to Christianity and i believe in God’s promise to the Faithful that hang on to his every word to the very end. It has a special power and energy that the non believer can never know.

    • TK Burk
      TK Burk February 15, 2018 at 7:35 pm #

      I commend your dedication to keeping what you believe is a Nazarite oath. However, I do not see how your uncut hair and beard qualifies for this biblical vow. Here are my reasons for saying this:

      1. The New Covenant states long hair on a man is a cause of shame and disgrace. (see 1 Corinthians 11:14)

      2. The Nazarite Oath’s long hair and ordinances were used to communicate a time separation. We do this in the New Covenant by living a holy separated life. (see Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16)

      3. The sign on a man’s head today is obeying the head over him, which is Christ. And for a woman, it is her obeying her head, which is her husband. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-33)

      4. Other than on Samson, there is no mention of long hair giving its wearer special powers. But in Samson’s case, he failed the Lord through more than one sin long before Delilah had the Philistines to cut his hair. Therefore, it wasn’t his adherence to the Nazarite Oath that gave him is power, but rather it was God’s and His mercy that allowed him to be used. The haircut was just the last rebellious straw. No, my friend, “all power in Heaven and in earth” is in Jesus. We then receive that same power when we obey His gospel and receive His indwelling Spirit (Matthew 28:18; Romans 1:16; Acts 1:8).

      5. The Nazarite Oath was not intended to draw attention to oneself. Instead, it was used to communicate that an oath to the Lord was being kept. This is why those who took this oath did so only for a short period of time (weeks, months). Samson was the only Nazarite in the Bible that took the oath for life. You saying you “feel blessed when I see the dirty looks that people give me in public or hear the comments they make” demonstrates you’re not using a Nazarite’s uncut hair for its biblical purpose. The reason you get such negativity is because the culture and time in which you now live do not recognize your uncut hair and beard as a sign of being under a Nazarite Oath. This recognition was exclusively for the time when Old Testament Law was kept in Israel and Judah. Therefore, your uncut hair in the 21st Century is useless in communicating a Nazarite Oath.

      6. I noticed you did not mention being near the dead, which is one command that must also be kept. I do not know if you’ve been to a funeral in all those years or not, but, biblically, the New Testament talks both about being “dead” in trespasses and sins as well as in a coffin and tomb. Therefore, I’d guess staying clear of the dead is one part of the Nazarite Oath you’ve not kept.

      There is more I could mention, but, as they say, “ enough is as good as a feast.”

      I appreciate your reply, but if it were me, I’d go find a good barber and then go witness about Jesus and His gospel to those folks that gave you the dirty looks. After all, isn’t the Body of Christ called to be Ambassadors rather than Nazarites?

      —TKB

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