Katharine Bushnell (1856-1946): “God does not curse women because of Eve”

Two days after All Saints Day, I express my admiration now for a perhaps even lesser-known “saint” than Perpetua, Moses the Black, or John Huss.

Katharine Bushnell lived from 1856 to 1946. She was a doctor, a missionary, an advocate for those without other advocates, and a theologian.  Her commitment to the authority of Scripture was strong. About the Bible she said, “No other basis of procedure is available for us.” She learned Greek and Hebrew, and was particularly interested in applying her knowledge of biblical languages to understanding what the Bible had to say about gender. She spoke seven languages.

Author and theologian Mimi Haddad (where I first learned about Bushnell, via this PDF article) writes about her:

Bushnell grounds the ontological equality of men and women first in the early chapters of Genesis where, according to Bushnell, we learn that Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God, that Adam and Eve were both equally called to be frutiful and to exercise dominion in Eden, that Eve was not the source of sin, and that God does not curse women because of Eve.

Bushnell began a hospital of pediatrics in Shanghai, was part of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and helped found a homeless shelter for women in Chicago.

Psalm 68:11 says, “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.”

Bushnell joins Perpetua and countless others as part of a mighty throng of women who have proclaimed God’s word in ways that continue to inspire today.

14 thoughts on “Katharine Bushnell (1856-1946): “God does not curse women because of Eve”

  1. Her book God’s Word to Women, was so way ahead of its time. What a scholar and activist she was. Glad you included her Abram.

  2. She was a full-blown heretic, in my opinion. To begin with, she puts forward the view that the first Adam was a hermaphrodite, contradicting the account in Genesis 2. She doesn’t accept the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, and changes ‘I will greatly multiply’ in Genesis 3:16 to ‘a snare will..’. She says that Eve wasn’t expelled from the garden, and her fall was to follow her husband when he was expelled. She was spiritually alive, because she had supposedly repented (!), but he was dead. She was the first believer in Christ, because she believed in the Coming One (who was actually Cain -Genesis 4:1 (!!)). From Genesis 2:24 – a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife – she deduces that ‘God’s marriage law established female kinship, in the beginning’. I could go on.. One example from the New Testament – from 1 Corinthians 9:5, she says that Paul and his companions were leading about a woman with them (I don’t think it says that, only that they had the right to do so), and that this woman was ‘doubtless Priscilla’!!

    Andrew

    1. “She was a full-blown heretic, in my opinion. To begin with, she puts forward the view that the first Adam was a hermaphrodite, contradicting the account in Genesis 2.”

      This post was from quite a while ago—I don’t think I’ve read the passage(s) in Bushnell that you’re referring to.

      “She doesn’t accept the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, and changes ‘I will greatly multiply’ in Genesis 3:16 to ‘a snare will..’. ”

      I can’t speak to the textual issues here, but not accepting the Masoretic text of the OT does not make one a heretic. The Masoretes were still many hundreds of years off when the early church was deciding what constituted orthodoxy. Jesus didn’t even use the MT! Perhaps a proto-Masoretic text, but, again, this doesn’t warrant accusations of heresy.

      “One example from the New Testament – from 1 Corinthians 9:5, she says that Paul and his companions were leading about a woman with them (I don’t think it says that, only that they had the right to do so), and that this woman was ‘doubtless Priscilla’!!”

      Again—this doesn’t constitute heresy. No one knows what Paul meant, since the verse is vague. But Paul was ministry partners with Priscilla and Aquila, as I’m sure you know, so even if her “doubtless” is too strong, why rule this out?

      1. “I don’t think I’ve read the passage(s) in Bushnell that you’re referring to.”

        There’s a lot on this in her (only?) book God’s word to women. eg para 41. ‘We have already (par. 24, and Additional Notes thereon), commented on the possible original bisexual nature of the human being,—
        the androgynous, or hermaphrodite state, which persists, imperfectly, to the present time within the
        human family.’ From memory, she later goes beyond ‘possible’ to assume this to be the case, in one of her arguments.

        What about the other things I said, which you haven’t commented on? I agree that not all of them are heretical in themselves. The last comment on Priscilla was just to show how wild some of her claims are.

        She has 1 Corinthians 11:13b as ‘It is proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered’, placing ἐν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς κρίνατε·with v 12. That’s quite unreasonable.

        She has 1 Corinthians 11:14 as ‘Nor does nature teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him.’ Even if that is possible, which I doubt, to have οὐδὲ as ‘nor’ without a preceding negative, what then do you do with verse 15a – how does it follow on?

        She says that 1 Corinthians 11:6 is not Paul speaking.

        Likewise, she claims that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not Paul speaking. (I realise that this is now quite commonly held, but it is still heretical, so far as I can see.) Is there any basis for translating ἤ in verse 36 as ‘What!’ rather than ‘Or’. I can’t see it in the lexicons, although I haven’t looked into it in detail.

        Andrew

      2. I didn’t think Bushnell was so clear in saying she definitely accepted the view of Adam as hermaphrodite. But I have read those sections again this morning.

        I’ll have to respond later when I have more time to look at the verses you mention. This is usually a higher level of detail than I get in blog comments–I’m grateful for the engagement generally, though am curious what is prompting your responses to Bushnell?

      3. Let me see if I can respond–I’m simply not able to respond to everything you raise here (and in the previous comment), since it’s quite a bit, and I don’t have the time presently to dig deeply at this just now (though not for lack of interest or care). As I mentioned, the post is from more than a year ago, and I haven’t read Bushnell since then (except for a bit this morning). But I can respond at least this much:

        “She has 1 Corinthians 11:13b as ‘It is proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered’, placing ἐν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς κρίνατε·with v 12. That’s quite unreasonable.”

        Well, if there were no lowercase letters or punctuation in the original Greek manuscripts, it is simply that she is punctuating and understanding the sentence differently than, say, the NA28 (or whatever version of the Greek NT she would have had). I’m not sure this is wholly unreasonable–isn’t this part of the work of interpretation to look at these different options? I don’t see why a different versification should be ruled out–that was not in the original manuscripts, after all, so has always been the work of later interpreters.

        Maybe I don’t fully understand what you’re asking about 11:14-15, but why would οὐδὲ have to have another negative to mean nor? If she is reading the sentence as a declarative rather than an interrogative, that is a case of interpreting Paul as intending different punctuation than what others (even if many others) have added to the Greek text. You ask a good question about how those verses fit together–I’d have to spend time in further study to have a good answer.

        I’m quite sure Bushnell would think of herself as an interpreter of Scripture who, while seeking to be careful and faithful to it, is fallible like any of us, and so is prone to mis-reading. But I still think you are applying the “heretical” label too quickly.

        Also, unless I’m mis-reading her, where does she say 1C 11:6 is not Paul? She mentions interpreters who believe that, but elsewhere concludes, “But there remain the statements in verses 5 and 6, where Paul says that the woman who unveils dishonors her head” (my italics).

  3. ‘Also, unless I’m mis-reading her, where does she say 1C 11:6 is not Paul?’

    She writes, ‘243. (Verse 6) “For if the woman be not covered, let her be shorn.” Paul refers to the Oral Law of the Jews. .. Paul here cites this
    obstruction to commanding women to unveil, but he permits it (verse 10).’

    Well, sorry, you’re right I guess, it is Paul speaking, but he is not giving his own view, according to her (as I should have said, I see now). Different from the 14:34-35 idea, of an actual quotation. But it comes to much the same thing, that Paul doesn’t actually believe this, if I understand her correctly.

    Re: 11:13a, I have no problem changing versification in principle. My problem is with concluding verses 11-12 with ‘judge for yourselves’. What is there to judge? Whereas it is easy to see why he might ask them, rhetorically I guess, to judge about the woman’s head covering.

    To claim that Eve was in a non-fallen state at the time of Adam’s expulsion seems to me very far-fetched, and to directly contradict 1 Timothy 2:14b: ‘ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν.’ The perfect tense, plus the fact that this constitutes a reason for Paul, shows I think that this was not a momentary thing, quickly wiped out through the repentance Bushnell claims. It also shows I think that her transgression was to eat of the fruit, not to leave the garden.

    To say that Genesis 3:14-15 and 17-19 are judgements from God upon the serpent and Adam, whereas verse 16 is not a judgement from God, but a prediction about suffering the woman will undergo as a persecuted saint of God, seems very far-fetched and to show a lack of common sense and a certain bias, one might go so far as to say..

    To claim that God’s plan was a matriarchal descent seems to me to contradict the genealogies that show the line through the men from Adam.

    Some friends of mine wrote a book citing Bushnell, but I think secondhand, and I wanted to make them aware of her views, which I think they will be astounded by – hence my interest. Then I came across this: http://www.themillennialkingdom.org.uk/PerilsOfTheAge/NoteOnDrBushnellsWorks.htm I checked out the theosophist book by Kingsford and Maitland. It is explicitly satanic, and the similarities with Bushnell’s views are striking, although perhaps not exact enough to prove a direct connection.

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my points, and for your challenge to me to prove my point about heresy.

    Andrew

  4. I am indebted to Katharine Bushnell for her diligence in seeking the truth by studying scripture in its original languages and writing a book to tell us what she discovered. She advised her readers to “consult God more than books, and ask Him humbly to make thee understand what thou readest”, and to know “the Bible in its original tongues, in order the better to equip themselves to confute these fallacies”. This is how Paul learned the truth, not from man, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ Gal 1:12.

    Many of the verses Ms. Bushnell wrestled with have been identified as interpolations. It has been proven that 1 Cor 14: 34 & 35 was not in the original text, but added later by the early church to silence woman. Today 80% of scholars recognize that the Pastoral Epistles were not authored by Paul which is why there are so many contradictions with his writings. The hierarchal structure found in Christian churches aligns with these pseud epigraphic (false) writings which are the traditions of men, not God, which is why they violate Jesus’s command for equality among his followers, and that no one be called teacher or leader except him Matthew 23: 8 & 10.

    Ms. Bushnell recommends approaching Bible study “like a pagan” to overcome the false views we’ve been indoctrinated with. She certainly did so in her study of the Genesis creation account. She overturns many aspects of traditional interpretation, such as the woman being made from the man’s rib (the Hebrew tsela means side), and blaming the fall of mankind on the woman (the woman that in labor and pain would bring forth children in Gen 3:16 is Israel in Rev 12: 1 – 5 who gives birth to Christ who will rule all nations with a rod of iron, which is not a curse but a blessing), which undermine the value of women in society, in church, and in their homes.

    If we begin where Ms. Bushnell left off, build on what she accomplished, we will move closer to achieving a complete understanding of God’s will for mankind. If we live our lives in alignment with God’s will, just as Christ did, it will make our own salvation more certain.

    1. Thank you for your comments. Richard Hays has an interesting (and thorough) excursus in his Interpretation commentary on 1 Cor. 14:34-35. He lands where you do, that those verses are later additions. He also spells out the reasons folks suggest who want to preserve them as part of the letter (though he says these are not compelling). Either way, I wouldn’t want to say there are “contradictions” in Paul’s writings–I like better Hays’s phrase “internal tensions.” I acknowledge that for me to say Scripture doesn’t contradict itself is a theological commitment (and I own it freely).

      But to your point, the more I’ve studied Greek, Hebrew, and text criticism, the more I see the value in comparing different manuscripts and not just taking for granted a single, monolithic text. At the same time, how do we uphold the church’s canonization process and not all turn into modern-day Marcions with regard to what we accept as Scripture? Maybe calling those verses an interpolation doesn’t take one down that road at all, but it does come to mind.

      I’m definitely with Bushnell in not “blaming the fall of mankind on the woman.” Adam was there the whole time! 🙂

      The idea of reading the Bible “like a pagan” is an interesting one. Although reading the Bible as a believer makes it make a lot more sense to me, so I’m not sure how this would work. If she means, try to read it as if for the first time, I see great value in that.

      Also, I hope you’ll permit me to push back just a bit on your last line: “If we live our lives in alignment with God’s will, just as Christ did, it will make our own salvation more certain.”

      Totally agree with the value in living our lives in alignment with God’s will, but only God can make our salvation certain, yes?

      Thanks again for the comment!

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