(1 Cor. 11:14) Does nature teach that long hair is wrong?

CLAIM: Paul claims that the length of a man’s hair is wrong according to nature. He writes, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him” (1 Cor. 11:14). However, the length of our hair is relative to culture—not nature. Why does Paul write this?

RESPONSE: There are two ways of understanding this passage:

OPTION #1: When Paul says “nature,” he is actually referring to culture

In Greek culture, it was common to refer to cultural custom as “natural.” In Greek culture, long hair was thought to be a sign of being effeminate. Pseudo-Phocylides writes, “If a child is a boy do not let locks grow on (his) head. Do not braid (his) crown nor the cross knots at the top of his head. Long hair is not fit for boys, but for voluptuous women.”[1] Philo believed that a man’s wearing long hair was often considered as a sign of effemination (Philo, Spec. Leg. 3.37). Craig Keener writes,

Sometimes writers meant by ‘nature’ pretty much what we mean by the term today: the created order. They could speak of nature as the force or order controlling and arranging natural existence in the cosmos. Nature is said to teach us the way things really are, often through our natural endowments or through the nature of the world around us.[2]

Epictetus can speak of hair as a mark of gender distinction: ‘Can anything be more useless than the hairs on a chin? Well, what then? Has not nature used even these in the most suitable way possible? Has she not by these means distinguished between the male and the female?’ (Epictetus Disc. 1.16.10.)[3]

Fee,[4] Johnson,[5] and Conzelmann[6] believe that this refers to cultural custom.

OPTION #2: When Paul says “nature,” he is actually referring to natural law

Natural law is the law that God has revealed to all people apart from the Bible (Rom. 2:14-15). In Romans 1:26, Paul uses the same Greek word phusis (pronounced foo-SIS) to describe moral implications for sexuality. Therefore, when Paul refers to “nature” here, he is really referring to natural law (Rom. 2:14-15). That is, by saying, “Does not even nature itself teach you…?” Paul is saying, “Does not even natural law teach this…?” The blending of our sexual identity rebels against the way we were created by God to be “male and female” (Gen. 1:27; c.f. Deut. 22:5).

[1] P. W. van der Horst, “Pseudo-Phocylides: A New Translation and Introduction,” in OTP 2:581.

[2] Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women, & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. 42-43.

[3] Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women, & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

[4] Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 526). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Johnson, A. F. (2004). 1 Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 199). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[6] Conzelmann, H. (1975). 1 Corinthians: a commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 191). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.