Does it bother when people use the wrong word? I don’t just mean people who write, “Hey, everyone, your [sic] invited to my house for the big game.” I’m talking about mix-ups like accept and except, rotation vs. revolution, or bandwidth vs. latency.
While it may have gotten better in recent years, most of the pictures of Jesus that I think of show him with long hair. From my studies, though, it seems more likely that this was probably not the case in first-century Galilee. Even after a number of years, I’m still working on picturing Jesus, his disciples, and others in first-century as dark-haired guys with short hair, rather than looking like a Scandinavian (or Tolkien elf royalty). When I try to imagine historically-accurate images, it sometimes ends up being more like what we might think of the Romans of that day, except with Middle Eastern complexions and coloring (and occasionally, like Judd Hirsch or Jeff Goldblum).
I’m not trying to be dogmatic, here, and it shouldn’t matter that much exactly what Jesus looked like. However, it occurs to me that maybe the reason that artists skewed this direction in the first place could be confusion between two terms that sound similar.
In the first case, Jesus was considered to be “from” the town of Nazareth. His parents moved around somewhat when Jesus was a child, of course. He was born in Bethlehem, and spent some time in Egypt. However, at least when He began His ministry, He was considered to be “from Nazareth”. Hence, He could accurately be referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth”, along with His many other legitimate titles. Said another way, Jesus was a “Nazarene“. This is similar to how people from New York City are considered “New Yorkers”, and people from Chicago are considered “Chicagoans”. (People from Fairbanks are considered, well…, very resistant to cold weather!)
In the second case, there is a term used of a certain promise that men or women could make, where they agreed to follow certain rules for a period of time (see Numbers 6:1-21). This included several requirements, including not cutting their hair. This was called becoming a Nazirite. The best-known person who was definitely a Nazirite was probably Samson, whose hair was legendary. He seems to have been under this vow his entire life. For his story, see Judges 13, and – if you think that’s interesting – keep reading the following chapters.
It is my belief – although I don’t think that the Bible says this in so many words – that Jesus, while being a Nazarene, was not under a Nazirite vow. One of my reasons for thinking this is Jesus’ participation in Jewish ceremonies (like the Passover, or the wedding at Cana) which involved wine. Nazirites weren’t even allowed to drink fresh grape juice, or even to eat raisins!
The point, though, isn’t about whether or not Jesus had long hair, drank wine, or was a Nazirite. Other than the similar-sounding names (at least, in English), both “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Samson the Nazirite” were set apart from birth (see Judges 13:5 and Luke 1:35). They weren’t just “regular” people (although God loves each of us, and has a purpose for each person). They were set apart for a very specific reason, and their lives showed it: Samson through his hairstyle, Jesus through the miracles that attested to His message, and both through their choices (although – other than his hair – you’ll find that Samson did not always make good choices elsewhere in life).
We are also called to be set apart (or, in more theological terms, “holy”), as special.
So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13-16 NLT
After choosing to follow Jesus, our lives should show that we aren’t living selfishly, anymore (just to entertain or coddle ourselves), but that we are living for a bigger purpose. We become part of a greater plan; a piece of a great mission.
We may or may not have long hair (and we may or may not eat raisins), but we should still strive to remember our calling. Our lives shouldn’t revolve around ourselves, but should always seek to discover and live out God’s calling. May you be blessed with that holy distinction, today!