[Gr., phyʹsis, nature, origin, birth; or, the regular order of law or nature; from phyʹo, to produce, to bring forth, to grow].
Translators generally render phyʹsis and phy·si·kosʹ (the adjective form) as “nature” and “natural,” respectively.
MEN AND ANIMALS
That there is a nature belonging to man different from that of wild beasts, and that even wild beasts are not all of the same nature, is shown by the statement at James 3:7: “For every species [Gr., phyʹsis, nature] of wild beast as well as bird and creeping thing and sea creature is to be tamed and has been tamed by humankind [phyʹsei tei an·thro·piʹnei, nature belonging to the man].” This difference in “nature, origin, birth” reveals the variety in God’s creation and is maintained due to the divine law that each produces according to its own kind.—Gen. 1:20-28; compare 1 Corinthians 15:39.
Also, there is a different nature belonging to those in heaven, spirit creatures of God. The apostle Peter speaks to his fellow Christians, spiritual brothers of Jesus Christ, of “the precious and very grand promises that through these you may become sharers in divine nature [phyʹse·os].” (2 Pet. 1:4) That this is heavenly life Peter shows in his first letter: “God . . . gave us a new birth [a·na·gen·neʹsas he·masʹ, having generated us again] to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . It is reserved in the heavens for you.” (1 Pet. 1:3, 4) “Divine nature,” therefore, requires a new genesis, a new birth, a change in nature through death and resurrection, as made plain by the apostle Paul at First Corinthians chapter 15. He explains that the Christian must die (vs. 36), and must be resurrected in a different body, a spiritual one (vss. 38, 44, 49), which requires a change (vs. 51).
Since “nature” has the basic thought of that which has an origin, is born, produced or grows, the term “nature” could not be properly applied to God, who has no beginning or birth, but, rather, applies to those whom he creates in the heavens or the earth, or who are born on earth through the process God has arranged.
Paul speaks of his fellow countrymen the Jews, calling them “Jews by nature,” that is, born of Jewish parents, of the children of Israel or Jacob.—Gal. 2:15.
In the illustration of the olive tree he calls the fleshly Jews the natural (ka·taʹ phyʹsin, “according to nature”) branches of the garden olive. He tells the Gentile Christians: “For if you were cut out of the olive tree that is wild by nature and were grafted contrary to nature into the garden olive tree, how much rather will these who are natural free be grafted into their own olive tree!” (Rom. 11:21-24) The wild olive tree is unfruitful or produces very inferior fruit, but it is common practice in Mediterranean countries to graft branches of cultivated olive trees into the wild olive tree to produce good fruit. However, if the wild olive branch is grafted into the cultivated tree, it produces only the poor fruit of the wild olive tree. Therefore Paul calls this latter grafting “contrary to nature.” It serves to emphasize the power of God as well as his undeserved kindness to Gentiles in bringing them in to replace “natural branches.” The Jews had been ‘cultivated’ by Jehovah for centuries, but the Gentiles had been “wild,” not having the true religion, not bringing forth fruitage to God. Not naturally, but only by God’s power could they be made to bring forth fine fruit. Only Jehovah, therefore, could accomplish this ‘grafting’ successfully.
Also, in his argument to the Galatians to prevent their enslavement to Judaistic teachings, Paul said: “When you did not know God, then it was that you slaved for those who by nature are not gods.” These false gods they had worshiped were by their very origin and production not truly gods; it was impossible for them to come into such a status. Not merely did they have no authority to be gods, but they did not have such qualities in their intrinsic nature or makeup.—Gal. 4:8.
Certain traits or qualities inhere in mankind from birth, actually having been placed in man from the beginning. The apostle Paul comments on the conscience, or at least a vestige of such, that still persists in fallen man, even though in many cases he has strayed from God and does not have his law. This explains why all nations have established many laws that are in harmony with righteousness and justice, and many individuals follow certain good principles. Paul says: “For whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”—Rom. 2:14, 15.
In discussing the matter of headship with the Corinthian congregation, Paul called attention to the rule that a woman should wear a head covering when praying or prophesying before the congregation, as a sign of subjection. In illustration, he says: “Does not 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? Because her hair is given her instead of a headdress.”—1 Cor. 11:14, 15.
Bible scholar Albert Barnes comments on Paul’s use of the word “nature” in this passage: “The word nature . . . denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have, and which is expressed in any prevailing or universal custom. . . . It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among men. . . . The word in this place, therefore, does not mean the constitution of the sexes, . . . nor simple use and custom, . . . but it refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right.” (Notes on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians , pp. 225, 226) Dr. A. T. Robertson likewise says: “Here it means native sense of propriety (cf. Rom. 2:14) in addition to mere custom, but one that rests on the objective difference in the constitution of things.”—Word Pictures in the New Testament (1931), p. 162.
Those Christians in Corinth were aware that it was the general practice for men to clip their hair to a moderate length. This was also common with Jewish men, the long uncut hair of Nazirites marking them, for the time of their Naziriteship, as under special obligation before God. (Num. 6:5) Absalom’s hair grew more luxuriantly than normal, and he may have let it grow somewhat long out of pride of beauty or affectation. However, he had his hair cut once a year.—2 Sam. 14:25, 26; see ABSALOM.
On the other hand, Jewish women usually wore their hair quite long. (Luke 7:38; John 11:2) And in the Greek city of Corinth, shaving a woman’s head, or clipping her hair very short, was a sign of her being a slave girl or of being in disgrace for having been caught in fornication or adultery.—1 Cor. 11:6.
That Paul, in using the word “nature” (phyʹsis) in the text under consideration, did not mean mere “custom” is shown in verse 16, where he says, with regard to the woman’s wearing a head covering: “However, if any man seems to dispute for some other custom [sy·neʹthei·an], we have no other, neither do the congregations of God.”
When Paul says “Does not nature itself teach you . . . ?” he is not personifying nature, as though it were a goddess. Rather, God has created, brought forth or produced natural things or nature. He has given man reasoning powers. By observing and reasoning on things as God has made them and set them in position man learns much as to what is proper. It is really God that teaches, and the man with his mind properly oriented by God’s Word can view things in their right perspective and relationship, thereby rightly discerning what is natural or unnatural. (Rom. 1:20) By this means the individual can have a trained conscience in this respect and can avoid a conscience that is defiled and that approves unnatural things.—Titus 1:15; 1 Cor. 8:7.
NATURAL USE OF BODIES
It is wrong for men and women to use their bodies in any way that is out of harmony with the functions for which God created them. What is unnatural in that sense is sinful. The Scriptures describe the uncleanness and condemnation coming upon those who practice these things: “That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural [phy·si·kenʹ] use of themselves into one contrary to nature; and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.” Such persons lower themselves to a beastlike level. (Rom. 1:26, 27; 2 Pet. 2:12) They go after wrong fleshly things because, like a beast, they lack reasonableness, having no spirituality.—Jude 7, 10.
Another Greek word often translated “natural” is geʹne·sis, also meaning “birth” or “origin.” James speaks of “a man looking at his natural face [literally, “the face of the birth of him”] in a mirror.” (Jas. 1:23) James also says that “the tongue is a fire”, and that it “sets the wheel of natural life [literally, “the wheel of the birth”] aflame.” (Jas. 3:5, 6) Evidently James here has reference to a wheel, such as that on a chariot, that would be set on fire by the hot, glowing axle, and therefore pictures the tongue as setting aflame the whole round of one’s life into which he came by birth.