Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Eikon.
The Ancient Paths
In his commentary on the King James rendering of 1 Corinthians 11:14 (“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”), the eighteenth-century Baptist autodidact John Gill observed that by the word “nature” (φύσις), the Apostle had in mind one of four things: “the law and light of nature, reason in man, common sense, or rather custom, which is second nature.” As to which of these possibilities was best, Gill opted for the last, namely, custom. In this, he was following the lead of the French preacher John Calvin, who had argued for a similar position when he stated that it was common for the Greeks and for Jewish men to keep their hair short, although, among other ancient peoples like the Celtic Gauls and the German tribes of Germania, men wore their hair long.
Although Calvin interpreted φύσις here as…