The Abomination of a Close Shave?

The Abomination of a Close Shave? April 24, 2018

In the New Testament scriptures, the Apostle Paul speaks out against a trend that he sees as being “unnatural” and an “abomination” and warns that Christians need to be on their guard against this dangerous practice.

What is it?

[It’s not what you think].

See, in Paul’s day being a man meant keeping your hair short and your beard long. Why? Because women had long hair and smooth faces. So, to Paul – and many others in his day – if a man had long hair and shaved his beard off, he was accused of “going against nature.”

The Greek word Paul uses to describe this trend is “malakoi” and the best translation of the word into English is “effeminate”.

In the first century, “malakoi” was most often used to reference men who shaved daily and had no beards. These men were often ridiculed and accused of wanting to look like women with clean-shaven faces.

This term was used as an epithet against men who are not masculine enough, as in, “You punch like a girl.”

Plato, for example, in his “Republic”, wrote famously that “too much music made a man soft [malakoi], and feeble; unfit for battle.”

Aristotle also warned about the dangers of men becoming too soft [malakoi] by over-indulging in pleasures rather than balancing out their lives with acts of physical and mental discipline.

Even Josephus, the first century Jewish historian [and contemporary of Jesus and Paul] used the term “malakos” to describe men who were weak and soft through lack of courage in battle.

So, the word “malakoi” refers to being “soft”, rather than masculine, and it occurs four times, in three verses in the New Testament. [Jesus uses the word to refer to soft clothing, for example, in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25].

Now, here’s the problem: “Malakoi” is translated in most English Bibles today as “homosexual”.


Do you think that a man who shaves his beard and has long hair and enjoys music is a homosexual?

Hopefully not.

Paul and others in the first century didn’t either. How do we know that? Because the word is never used to refer to someone who is homosexual. It is always used to describe a heterosexual male whose behavior is more feminine, or “soft.”

This is what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 6:9. In fact, if you go to the actual Greek language, this verse does not refer to homosexuals, even though most English Bibles use the phrase “men who have sex men” rather than “effeminate.”

In the Greek the text actually reads:

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind..” – 1 Cor. 6:9

But the definition of “effeminate” is not the same today as it was in the first century, is it?

Back then it was “unnatural” for a man to shave his face and grow a mullet. Today, mullets still aren’t so popular, but we wouldn’t say that a person who sported one was “unrighteous” and unwelcome in the Kingdom of God. [Again, I would hope not].

The term “effeminate” is based on a cultural bias, not an absolute rule.

If you want to make it an absolute statement, then we must adopt Paul’s first century ideals about what makes a man “effeminate” and that means that all men are forbidden to shave their beards or wear their hair below their ears to be considered godly. It also means that women can’t wear pants, or cut their hair short [and who wants to be in charge of defining “short” for the rest of the Christian world?], etc.

So, do we all want to adopt Paul’s ideas about cultural norms? Are we willing to live by this rule?

“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” [1 Cor. 11:14-15]

We have to decide if we honestly believe that a man with a clean-shaven face is an abomination or not. We have to decide if guys with long hair aren’t welcome in the Kingdom of God, or if perhaps in this case, the Apostle Paul might have only been speaking to the Christians in first century Corinth about what it meant in their day to conform to cultural norms.

What do you think?

Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

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Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is also the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

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  • A J MacDonald Jr

    The standard reference work is: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Univ. of Chicago Press); also known as the Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich (or BAG). According to the BAG, the word arsenokoites means: “a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite” (p. 109). According to the BAG, the word malakos means: “men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually” (p. 488).

  • Delwin D Fandrich

    “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” [1 Cor. 11:14-15]
    I have long wondered just what Paul is supposed to have meant by, “Does not even nature itself teach you ….” What nature? When I read this the mental image that forms in my mind is that of the lion.

  • Stewart Felker

    Pretty poor interpretation. For one, *malakoi* is plural, even though you keep using singularly. Have you ever read any actual scholarship on the issue?

  • Tom Stephens

    Actually, it’s not a poor translation of the word. Many others say the same. and are great ones. Bottom line for me, as a gay Christian is this: The same blood that covers you covers me. Being gay is not a choice so can’t be a sin. Sexual sin, gay or straight is the same: Adultery, rape, pedophilia, incest, bestiality, orgies, prostitution/pornography & whoring around. Jesus said, “In EVERYTHING, treat others like you want to be treated. This is the essence of the Law and Prophets.” Matt 7:12 and in John 15 he gives us a new command: “Love one another.” Matt 19 even JESUS gives pretty good evidence that gays are born this way. What three types of Eunuchs do you know about?

  • Tom Stephens

    you know, you can’t always take the word of “scholars”. They often have their own prejudices with which they interpret things. They will be judged most strictly for corrupting the word of God to be hateful toward people God never would hate. has great scholarly teaching that doesn’t abuse an entire community of people who have no choice in who they’re attracted to. Do you have a choice in being attracted to who you are attracted to?

  • Tom Stephens

    Thanks, Keith! I go to and our pastor has some good teaching on the subject on our page. I’m in Cypress! Hope to meet you one day. “Here, there or in the air”, as they say. My FB page is I think you’ve messaged me before. God bless and guide you.

  • David S

    As always, the author misses the point: Homosexuality is declared the sin of all sins because it is an EASY ONE not to commit: All you gotta do is be straight!

    What easy piety! Simply refrain from doing that which you have ABSOLUTELY NO DESIRE TO DO! It’s like a Jewish man who doesn’t like the taste of pork patting himself on the back, and declaring himself to be the most holy Jew there is, because he doesn’t eat pork! Refraining from a sin that one does not want to commit in the first place is the easiest thing in the world.

    THAT is why fornication is no big deal for right-wing “Christians”. Neither is adultery. Or cruelty. Or judgmentalism. Because those sins are HARD to avoid. But it’s EASY for a straight man, even a devil-worshiping incarnation of evil itself, to avoid the sin of homosexuality: They don’t want to do it in the first place! So, it gets elevated to the position of “most important sin of all”.

  • Frank Blasi

    Having travelled around Italy and visiting places such as Pompeii, there are many ancient busts of emperors, politicians, nobles and other ancient Roman men who are clean shaven. I have read on one occasion that the Romans discouraged the growth of beards because an enemy can grab the beard, and with it, pull the face forward whilst at the same time stab him in the stomach. For this reason, I think it was forbidden for any Roman soldier engaged in battle to wear a beard.

  • Stewart Felker

    I said actual scholarship, not “I am gay and Christian and would prefer to live without cognitive dissonance.”

    At the very minimum I expect people who purport to comment on complex matters of ancient Greek lexicography to know the difference between a singular noun and a plural noun.

  • BrotherRog

    This notion would seem to defy common sense. The apostle Paul took great pains to try to make following Jesus as accessible as possible to the Gentile people. Many of the Gentiles in The Roman empire shaved their faces. Paul would not introduce a stumbling block that was unnecessary.

    There are other, better reasons to suggest that Paul was not opposed to same-sex relations in the context of mutually exclusive, committed relationships among consent adults who were equals.

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like Christianity“

  • Stewart Felker

    Scholarship doesn’t purport to say “these people have the correct answer.” Scholars disagree with each other all the time. Academia is a dialogue between people who are experts on the topics — here, experts in ancient languages, texts, and their sociohistorical contexts. Anything that *doesn’t* show proficiency with ancient languages, texts, and their sociohistorical contexts (like this current blog post or like your links) is immediately suspicious.

  • Tom Stephens

    i guess I just expect Christians to be more loving and less dickish

  • Tom Stephens

    You know, the bible says that all believers make up the entire body of Christ. Don’t be God’s dick. Hate and bigotry is wrong. Hurting others is wrong. Fighting equal rights is wrong and hateful and anti-Christ. Matt 7:12. Woe to you, teachers of the law. Pharisees & hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

  • Stewart Felker

    What does that have to do with anything?

    The dispute over the translation of a word has little to do with whether people are “dickish” or not. Even if the particular word in question here does suggest homoeroticism in particular — which it almost certainly does — there’s nothing to say that this means people have to be a dick to them.

  • Stewart Felker

    That’s great and all, but has all but nothing to do with what I actually said. (Plus I’m not a Christian, so I’m not part of the body of Christ.)

  • Paul was Jewish, not Roman/Pagan in his sensibilities concerning what was culturally acceptable for male/females.

  • Alicia Simpson

    The fact that Romans preferred to be clean shaven was probably reason enough for Judaens to do the opposite.

  • Alicia Simpson

    That would not apply to homosexuals, it is HARD for them to avoid enjoying sexual play with other males.

  • Kathy Evenson

    Over the years I’ve developed a personal theory about Paul’s Epistles. It is that they are not Holy Writ but just what Paul says they are – letters. I think Paul, loving and serving the LORD as he did, would be horrified to learn his letters are given the same authority as the Gospels, the Torah, and the Old Testament prophets. They are magnificent historic documents and tremendously valuable. Paul would probably like it that the modern day Christians treasure his letters but would be quick to tell us that his words should not stand equal to Jesus”s teachings, miracles, and parables.

    Whenever I see an article making a pitch for a change in perceptions, practices, or attitudes that cites Paul exclusively as its Scriptural authority, I steer clear of engaging in discussion or even considering a “like” or “dislike” indicator. To me the Epistles – all of them – are educational and informative but not more authoritative than any other collection of letters from a local Bishop. So, rather than go into Paul’s admonitions about homosexuality in his Epistle to the Romans which our author has conveniently ignored, I will simply say that this post is an interesting intellectual exercise and bow out.

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    No, it’s against same sex conduct. Why would it be anything having to do with shaving and/or not shaving since Paul is also one who showed in in the ‘book of Acts at chapter 15 which touched on the whole matter of the Jews pushing the Law on the new followers of Jesus from among the Nations/Gentiles who didn’t have beards as a custom/law among themselves necessarily? What are the 4 things specifically mentioned for Christians to ‘abstain’ from? Was one of the 4 things not ‘sexual immorality’? What is same sex conduct considered according ot the mosaic Law?

  • Stewart Felker

    Hey Keith, the interpretation of Greek is an important part of your post. Can you translate this short Greek phrase?

  • It’s the first line of the Didache: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death,”

    and the line goes on to say: “διαφορὰ δὲ πολλὴ μεταξὺ τῶν δύο ὁδῶν” … “and there is a great difference between the two Ways”.

  • Stewart Felker

    Thanks, but I was asking the author of the post. I know there are plenty of people who can actually read Greek. But I’m always wondering if the people who purport to comment on complex matters of Greek philology/lexicography actually know Greek or are just pretending. I suspect Keith and others are pretenders.

  • Kind of an obvious passage for a “test”.

  • Stewart Felker

    Not for someone who seems like they don’t even know the difference between a singular and plural noun, haha.

  • RobertM

    But then Paul says in Romans and Titus to obey authorities and to be peaceable?

  • Andrew John

    I always hated shaving from the day I first started when I had to steal/borrow/take a disposable razor from my father’s stash. It was natural for me to let the toughest part of my beard, the chin, grow out. So, I’ve had a goatee most of my life. My father was a World War II vet and shaved religiously (bad pun). He also was balding but continued to get his hair cut every five weeks without fail. I never subscribed to my father’s regimen to his dismay. As I grew and evolved spiritually, I notice that a lot of saints I admired were full bearded. I was involved with some itinerant Franciscans and had a spiritual director there and many of them were full bearded with short hair. As I started to develop and deepen certain devotionals under the tutelage of my spiritual director, I also started to practice in a more disciplined way a more mindful self denial. It seemed a little vain to me to shave my face as soon as a whisker sprouted as my father did. So, by denying myself of a vanity of staring at myself in the mirror trying to remove them, I let them grow. My father became ill and was in his late sixties when I occasioned to visit him in the hospital. While visiting with him he turned to me and said “I never realized my whiskers were gray until I was admitted to this hospital without my electric razor”. This struck me tremendously because part of my spiritual work was developing a more honest self awareness of my self both internally and externally/physically. It boggled my mind that my father in his late sixties had no idea his whiskers were gray. For the next several years until his death at 92, we always made sure that no matter what facility he was in, he had his electric razor with him. He was always proud of himself after he shaved. Dad was periodically on my back about my hair and beard which seemed so irrelevant to me given challenges in our family.

  • mrmrr

    Josephus was born after Jesus died. Minor point, to be sure. But let’s be accurate.

    To the main point, this section is part of Paul’s teaching of radical celibacy. If you don’t subscribe to radical celibacy, you can’t use these verses against anyone else.

  • Nica

    “effeminates” — Happy now?

  • Waldo Rochow

    What gets me is that people read 1 Cor 6:9-10, but ignore 1 Cor 6:11. This is not Paul discussing the condemnation of humanity, but rather the grace of God.

  • Widuran

    Same sex sexual relations is an abomination and it is unnatural. God is very clear through the Bible. So we have a choice. We believe God or we argue with him and try and come up with deception tactics to say sin is not a sin.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    I’ve read that it was Alexander the Great who first instituted the rule that his soldiers must be clean shaven so as to not let the enemy grab them by the beard. After Alexander, the habit of shaving spread throughout the Mediterranean. Before shaving was introduced it was not rare for men to pluck out their beard hairs with a sort of tweezers made from seashells (plucking out mustache hairs this way was very common), but shaving it all off with a sharp blade was seen as more manly and was easier for those whose faces were naturally hairier so it soon became much more popular.

    By the time of Christ it was almost mandatory for any adult Roman citizen to be clean shaven whenever he did business in a forum or attended any formal event. City folk might shave almost every day, but rural men would almost never shave except when visiting a city. Most Roman men would shave only once or twice a month. Roman soldiers on the front lines field would similarly neglect shaving, but would always be clean shaven in military parades.

    It is however worth noting that some Greeks strongly resisted the Macedonian custom of shaving. The most notable of these were philosophers, especially but not only the Stoics. Before Paul was born, several Stoics had already made arguments very similar to Paul’s about how shaving was against nature. Wearing a full beard was often a strong counter-cultural statement made by men who wanted to be viewed as serious intellectuals. Beards were so strongly associated with philosophy that the Romans had a common saying “Barba non facit philosophum” (a beard does not make a philosopher) to remind people that this outward sign should not by itself be taken as proof of intellect.

    Well after the time of Paul, Mohammad also argued that shaving one’s beard was a crime against nature, but that it was simply good hygiene to shave one’s mustache and public hair and pluck the hairs from one’s armpits.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Arsenokoites means “male-bedder.” There is no record of anyone using the word before Paul, but a similar term meaning “(adult) man-bedder” was used occasionally for grown men who had sex with other grown men (as opposed to the then more culturally accepted practice of older men having sex with young teen boys.) Paul probably chose to use the root Arsen instead of Andros because the Septuagint used both of the roots of Arsenokoites (not as a compund word, but separated by a few other terms) in the verse in Leviticus that bans male on male penetrative sex. (Nothing anywhere in the bible bans any lesbian sex.)

    In the middle ages we have records of the term Arsenokoites being used to describe men who have anal sex with their own wives instead of only having intercourse for the purpose of reproduction. The term was used for those having anal sex with other men too, but sex of the receptive partner does not seem to have been relevant as the roots of the word would imply. Word meanings do evolve though, as those sources are much too late to give us a good idea of what Paul meant.

    “Malakos” definitely does not mean the passive homosexual partner. (The common term for that was kínaidos.) Plato even went so far as to say that it is better to have sex with other men than with women because the love for women makes men much more soft than love for men does. Gay sex was presented as a cure for being too malakos.