In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes about women, prayer, and head coverings. As he often does, rather than simply laying down a law, he appeals to logic and well known facts. For example,

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
— 1 Corinthians 11:14, KJV.

The problem is that this particular well known fact is not as universal as Paul appears to imagine. In some cultures, it is not considered shameful for a man to have long hair.

  • One could say that this means that Paul is wrong. He’s building up a chain of logical reasoning from what he appears to imagine is a universal fact, but actually isn’t. This could be understood to invalidate the entire passage.
  • One could say that this means that Paul’s logic, and therefore the resultant rules, applies only where the facts on which it’s built are correct. In that case, though, what rules apply where Paul’s facts don’t apply? Can other rules be derived by applying the same logic to different underlying facts?
    • However, when Paul says that nature itself teaches us, he really does seem to think that this is a universal rule. And he’s wrong about that. To what extent is this a problem?
  • One could say that when Paul writes that nature itself teaches us, that this is a normative statement. He could be saying that it is universally wrong for men to have long hair, and that cultures in which it is acceptable are also simply wrong.

Does the Roman Catholic church take one of these positions, or another which I’ve not thought of?

  • Sarah Ruden's Paul Amongst the People is really good here. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 21:44
  • Why are you using the King James Version for a Catholicism-related question? If I were you, I would use a more contemporary version of the Bible, like the NRSV, a KJV descendant, and one that is approved by the Catholic Church.
    – Double U
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 21:45
  • 1
    Does it matter, @DoubleU? The KJV was just the first that came to hand, but I really don't think this is a verse on which translations will greatly differ.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 23:21
  • A contemporary version may be easier to understand than an archaic version. However, even a contemporary version may be annotated, as it is a translation of the original.
    – Double U
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 23:44
  • NAB, a contemporary Catholic Bible with an American flavour, says, "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him." Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 0:12

2 Answers 2


The consensus seems to be that St. Paul was giving a specific norm for a specific cultural context.

The phrase translated “nature itself” here is ἡ φύσις αὐτὴ. It is true that in a philosophical context (in Aristotle, for example), the word φύσις means “nature” in the sense of “that which dictates what kinds of actions a given being is capable of (and, for personal creatures, also what it is permitted or obliged to do).”

However, in the common parlance of the time, it can simply mean “origin,” “birth,” “constitution” or even “appearance.”

It would be a mistake, therefore, to think that St. Paul is arguing in terms of natural law, as we usually understand that term. (For this view, see, for example, the notes on this passage in the Ignatius Catholic Catholic Study Bible, New Testament.)

  • Good answer, I've got to get a copy of that Bible for myself, its awesome that its 2/3rds footnotes!
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 17:02

The Popes in recent years have spoken out strongly against Cultural relativism and the St. Paul (or one of his pals) says Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever, so it would probably be fair to toss the idea that something like wearing veils constituted moral behavior between 50 AD and 1960 AD and is now in the realm of the amoral.

So, its the principle behind the wearing of veils in Corinth 2000 years ago might be the same. Apparently it was a pretty happening place back in the day and the most concrete Pharisaical advice St. Paul could give was wear a veil do you don't look like a harlot. I tell my daughter the same thing, not in those terms. But "dress modestly" is good advice for young girls in any era.

So, that is a sensible explanation for St. Pauls seemingly out of touch feelings. Its not at all what you're asking about though, but what's good for a goose is probably good for a gander and maybe the principle is the same in this case. Maybe the male prostitues had the long flowing hair back then.

You can read the foot notes from the New American Bible here and the Reverend Know It All's take on women covering their heads from which I gleaned most of my opinions here

Furthermore, if you read Father Simon's article, he points out that there's other parts of Corinthians that Paul eve says are just his opinion and even furthermore the very next sentence is some sort of incomprehensible fragment about customs.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .