The Teaching of "Nature" (1 Cor. 11:14-15)

September 14, 2011

Among believers today, First Corinthians 11:2-16 is a heavily disputed passage. Because this passage comprises fifteen verses in a key NT epistle, it deserves careful and thorough handling. 

Determining the meaning of verses 14-15 and making appropriate application is one of the many challenging aspects of the passage: “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.” 

Aligning the parallel parts of these verses helps bring out the meaning: 

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.

Based on the structure of the passage (note the exact parallelism of the relevant parts of the middle statements), these verses are setting forth what nature itself is teaching us. The word for nature (φύσις) does not refer to culture, environment, or human tradition. It refers to what is intrinsically within man. 

By using a precisely formulated rhetorical question, Paul asserts that we are to answer the question that he poses affirmatively. It is important to note also that the tight structure of the passage, especially the exact parallelism, shows that nature itself is teaching us something about both the man and the woman; the passage is not teaching just about what is true for a woman. 

Examining the Greek text of these verses brings out even more forcefully the relevance of the structure of the passage. Whatever application one comes to based on this teaching must do justice to what the original text actually says.

Rajesh

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