Monk shaving, history, and the Bible


Should the shaved appearance of some practicing Catholics cause concern?  Is this a Christian practice or did it come from somewhere else.

Wikipedia’s “Tonsure” article states:

Tonsure is the traditional practice of Christian churches of cutting or shaving the hair from the scalp (while leaving some parts uncut) of clerics, monastics, and, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, all baptized members. Tonsure, usually qualified by the name of the religion concerned, is now sometimes used more generally for such cutting or shaving for monks, devotees, or mystics of other religions as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem, e.g., by Buddhist novices and monks, and some Hindu streams…

The origin of the tonsure remains unclear, but it certainly was not widely known in antiquity. There were three forms of tonsure known in the 7th and 8th centuries…

It is true that for centuries, various monks have shaved the center of their heads to make themselves bald.  But I would like to help make its origins clearer.

First, it seems to have existed for a long time as something like it has been prohibited by sacred scripture for thousands of years:

1 “Speak to the priests…5 ‘They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh. (Leviticus 21:1,5)

15 “But the priests, the Levites…20 “They shall neither shave their heads, nor let their hair grow long, but they shall keep their hair well trimmed. (Ezekiel 44:15,20)

Despite what the Bible teaches, various ones who claim some version of ‘Christianity’ (those who prefer tradition over the Bible) persist in this type of practice today. Bald shavings were practices of some pagan priests who were involved in sun-god worship in ancient times.  This may be why God prohibited it.

Irrespective of claims to the contrary, the type of shavings commonly seen were not an original practice of the apostles or those in the early church. Furthermore, even the late 4th/early 5th century Roman Catholic saint and doctor Jerome condemned some versions of it:

Tonsure A sacred rite instituted by the Church by which a baptized and confirmed Christian is received into the clerical order by the shearing of his hair and the investment with the surplice…St. Jerome (in Ezech., xliv) disapproves of clerics shaving their heads. Indeed, among the Greeks and Romans such a custom was a badge of slavery. On this very account, the shaving of the head was adopted by the monks. Towards the end of the fifth, or beginning of the sixth, century, the custom passed over to the secular clergy. As a sacred rite, the tonsure was originally joined to the first ordination received, as in the Greek Church it still is to the order of lector. In the Latin Church it began as a separate ceremony about the end of the seventh century, when parents offered their young sons to the service of God…In Britain, the Saxon opponents of the Celtic tonsure called it the tonsure of Simon Magus. (Fanning, William. “Tonsure.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 10 Apr. 2013 <>)

The tonsure originated prior to the time of the apostles. Notice the following references:

The tonsure of the priests and monks is an exact imitation of that of the priests of Isis; (Higgins G. Anacalypsis an Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis: Or an Inquiry Into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions, Volume 2. Longman, 1836. Digitized March, 29, 2010, p. 78).

Isis…Her worship advanced over nearly the entire Roman world…The tonsure (shaving of hair from the head) of her priests prefigured that of Christian monks. (Dunstan WE. Ancient Rome. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011, p. 465)

the infant Brahmin…in India…In the second or third year, after his birth, the ceremony of tonsure must be performed; this was an old practice of the priests of Mithra, who, in their tonsures, imitated the solar disk. (Maurice T. Indian antiquities: or, Dissertations, relative to the ancient geographic divisions, the pure system of primeval theology … of Hindostan: compared, throughout, with the religion, laws, government, and literature of Persia, Egypt, and Greece, the whole intended as introductory to the …, Volume 7. T. Maurice, 1806. Digitized August 24, 2007, pp. 339-340)

Mithraism had its monks and nuns, as Tertullian admits, with the tonsure in honour of the disc of the Sun. To be shorn of hair is, doubtless, a sign of asceticism ; but it is the form of the tonsure (Khwaja K. The Sources of Christianity. The Basheer Muslim Library, 1924. Original from Oxford University Digitized 21 Dec 2007, p. 100)

Those monks and others who practice the tonsure are following a pagan religious practice that the Bible opposes. This should not be for those that claim to follow the Jesus of the Bible–and He did not have a tonsure either. While the Bible does tell of a shaving of the head related to a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:18), which the Apostle Paul did once do (Acts 18:18), this was not a permanent situation for display like the practices of ancient pagan priests as various Catholic monks. And the hair shaving came AFTER a period of separation and hair growth (Numbers 6:5)–which is another difference from the tonsure.

The tonsure is in conflict with Leviticus 21:5 and Ezekiel 44:20, and while some may suggest that those prohibitions were done away, Jesus and His apostles did not teach that Christians should attempt to look like pagan priests. And those that do so, give those, such as Muslims, reasons to question and dismiss the whole idea of Christianty.

What most of the world (including Wikipedia) believes represents original Christianity is a compromise with paganism and does not represent the practices of Jesus or His original apostles.  The tonsure should be a sign to everyone that sees it that those who practice it are not being faithful to the Bible or the practices of the early apostles.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Did the Early Christian Church Practice Monasticism? Does God expect or endorse living in a monastery or nunnery?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. December 25th was celebrated as his birthday. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?
Were the Early Duties of Elders/Pastors Mainly Sacramental? What was there Dress? Were the duties of the clergy primarily pastoral or sacramental? Did the clergy dress with special liturgical vestments? Can “bishops” be disqualified as ministers of Christ based on their head coverings?
Was Celibacy Required for Early Bishops or Presbyters? Some religions suggest this, but what does the Bible teach? What was the practice of the early church?
Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings Are traditions on equal par with scripture? Many believe that is what Peter, John, and Paul taught. But did they?
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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