The Lesson from “Nature”
“Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.” 1 Corinthians 11:14-15.
Albert Barnes comments:
“The word nature (phusis) denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have, and which is expressed in any prevailing or universal custom. That which is universal we say is according to nature. It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among men. Thus we may say that nature demands that the sexes should wear different kinds of dress; that nature demands that the female should be modest and retiring; that nature demands that the toils of the chase, of the field, of war—the duties of office, of government, and of professional life, should be discharged by men. Such are in general the customs the world over; and if any reason is asked for numerous habits that exist in society, no better answer can be given than that nature as arranged by God, has demanded it. The word in this place…refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right; a sense which is expressed extensively in all nations, showing what that sense is. No reason can be given, in the nature of things, why the woman should wear long hair and the man not; but the custom prevails extensively everywhere, and nature, in all nations, has prompted to the same course. ‘Use is second nature;’ but the usage in this case is not arbitrary, but is founded in an anterior universal sense of what is proper and right.”
The word “nature” (phusis) is used in Ephesians 2:3: “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” “Children of wrath” means people who deserve the wrath of God. When we indulged the desires of the flesh and of the mind we were children of wrath by nature. This cannot mean that we were born that way, for Paul in Romans 7:9 clearly teaches that we are alive apart from the Law when we are children. Thus by nature means that which is natural in our world, that which is so common as be universal.
It is used this way by Paul in 1 Cor 11:14. The way that “nature” teaches is by, as Barnes expresses it, “a deep internal sense of what is proper and right.”
Paul is strengthening his case that women should wear a covering when praying or prophesying by appealing to nature. This is an argument in addition to the other arguments he has given. Since nature teaches a woman to have long hair and that it is against nature for a man to have long hair, it is consistent with nature (one’s deep sense of what is appropriate) to insist that the woman wear a covering when praying or prophesying and that the man does not.
Paul does not introduce this to teach that a woman should have long hair and a man should have short hair. He did not need to teach this. Nature taught that and all accepted the teaching. There is no indication that the women in the Corinthian church were shaving their heads! They were not going against “nature”. (Those who today teach that it is proper for a woman to cut her hair short or shave her head, and that a man can have long hair, are going against that which nature teaches. Obviously, it is also against what God teaches, for the natural custom is based on that which we understand deep down is right or wrong.)
Long hair is a glory to her
Paul does not explain why long hair is a glory to a woman except in his words, “For her hair is given to her for a covering.” Some have taken this to mean that long hair was given to woman as a beautiful decoration. But I do not think the context implies that. It appears to me that long hair is given to indicate the same thing that the artificial covering is to show. When she wears long hair she shows her proper place—that she is in subjection to man. (Which shows, incidentally, why short hair and shaven heads among women are being pushed. Many women do not want to be subject to man.)
It is a glory to a woman to fulfill her position in God’s scheme of things. Thus when she shows her subjection to man by letting her hair grow long, her hair is a glory to her. When a man shows himself to be womanly by wearing long hair, it is a shame to him. He is failing to show his proper place in God’s scheme.
Commentators note the exception of those who took the Nazirite vow. They were required by God not to cut their hair during the time of the vow. This marked them out as “special” during this period. This exception does not set aside the teaching of nature.