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.

Jared Wilson (from Gospel Coalition “colonizes” and “conquers” post) apologizes

I wrote about (rather, against) the use of “colonizing” language to describe the sex act here and here, reacting to a recent Gospel Coalition post.

Just now Jared Wilson, author of the original post, has issued an apology. He’s even taken down the original offending post. Read his apology here.

Sex as colonization? A reply to my comment, and my reply back

I linked yesterday morning to a Gospel Coalition piece that has gathered a lot of attention on the Internet recently. I wrote my reply to the piece here.

Yesterday Jared Wilson, author of the original post, wrote this reply as a follow up to the first post and its many critics. I asked Jared for clarification of a few things in the comments here, and he posted a reply, if anyone wants to see it. Just click here, then search for “Abram” in the comments (as of the time of writing this I’m the seventh comment down).

UPDATE: Here’s my reply to Jared’s reply, printed in full below (left as a comment at his site). The Douglas Wilson article he mentions (to which I respond below) is here.

Jared, thanks very much for your reply.

I read and re-read and re-read again Doug Wilson’s follow up piece. I get a little bit more where he’s coming from.

However, “colonizes” still gets me. He spent one sentence in his post explaining that particular choice of words, in which he quoted Song of Solomon 4:12 (“A garden locked is my sister, my bride”) as an example of Scripture having to do with “colonizes” (if I’m reading him right).

But reading through the following verses in Song of Solomon… “SHE” (ESV) replies, “Blow upon my garden… let my beloved come to his garden.” (“come to” ESV=Hebrew “come into” for intercourse) Then “HE” says, “I came [in]to my garden, my sister, my bride.”

That’s it. Just “came into.” The Hebrew word there is the common way of referring to intercourse (lit., “he went into her”=English “he had sex with her”). Wilson quotes the “locked garden” verse as implying, “My garden is locked… therefore come colonize me.” But that’s neither what she says nor what he does after that verse in response to her locked garden.

“Colonizes” is *really* exegetically difficult to pull out of that passage both based on Hebrew word meaning *and* the full context of the passage in which it occurs (which, as you’ve rightly pointed out, context is a key determiner of meaning). All this holds true, too, by the way, of his explanation of his use of the verb “conquer,” based on Song 4:4. It’s not in there and it’s not what the passage seems to mean.

So if “colonizes” cannot come from the place Wilson mentions, does he find it elsewhere in Scripture to be an appropriate description of the male-female sex act? It not, that’s a continuing concern to me….

Sex as colonization?

This morning I followed a friend’s Facebook link to a Gospel Coalition blog post. Here is the post I read. It’s hard to summarize, but the basic topic is the “good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.” That part sounds not so bad, but the blog post quotes a guy named Douglas Wilson who says:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.

You can go to the post to read the quote in a bit of a fuller context, but I was still amazed to read this at a site that is usually as exegetically careful as the Gospel Coalition. Once you’ve read the initial blog post, I’ve reproduced the comment I left at that site here:

This, of course, is the most difficult part of the initial quote:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

A key concept of discourse analysis (Steve Runge talks about this with reference to the Greek New Testament) is that “choice implies meaning.” So instead of the Biblical Hebrew “goes into,” Wilson chose “penetrates.” Instead of “establishes/builds,” he chose “colonizes,” etc. It’s his prerogative as an author to choose those words, whether one likes them or not.

The problem is, each of those words has meanings associated with them, whether we want them to or not. This is true whether or not a word *should* mean a certain thing. (I’m thinking of Jared’s comment, “It is difficult to understand, I’m sure, when they are defined with violence in mind. In this isolated passage Wilson has ruled that out.”)

I don’t agree that Wilson has sufficiently ruled that out (that last paragraph when he speaks against “devours” is too short to do that, but maybe the rest of Wilson’s work does?). But even if he has ruled out violence, his *choice* to use especially *colonizes* is confusing. As the immense and growing field of post-colonial literature attests, colonization has left untold trauma in its wake. And, yes, colonization was all too often violent. Rape often occurred as part of colonization, so that choice of word (remember, choice implies meaning) in this context (speaking about rape–even if against it) was particularly surprising and probably did not help the author’s case at all.

Also, Wilson’s saying “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party” is just bizarre. Besides seeming like an unwarranted barb against egalitarians, what seems to be implied (with that sentence contextualizing the next two) is that there is no way (“cannot”) for *both* parties (“egalitarian”) to be *pleasured* (“pleasuring party”) all the time, since one is busy “penetrat[ing]” (with pleasure) and the other (merely) “receives” and “surrenders” (implied: even if she doesn’t receive pleasure from it?). You can see how it’s not a far leap in the reader’s mind from there to rape imagery, whether Wilson means this or not. I’m certainly not accusing him of anything. But it was, at best, a bad choice of words.

Is it egalitarianism that he is speaking against? Or is it against the idea of man and woman both having pleasure in sex? In other words, would Wilson approve of a “complementarian pleasuring party where the man penetrates and the woman receives, both receive pleasure, and if one does not, per I Cor 7:4-5, both stop out of mutual love for each other?” I’d assume he would, based on these comments above.

But “surrenders” in this context, especially when used unidirectionally and paired with “colonizes”–IF Wilson means to apply them specifically to the sex act, which it seems he does–is an unfortunate choice of words. If/when there is any “surrendering” in sex, it goes both ways, as the apostle Paul points out. (I know Paul is talking about *not* having sex, but his larger principle from I Cor 7:4 surely applies to having sex, too.) Neither has authority over his/her own body, but yields it to the other. “Colonizes” and “surrenders” are pretty difficult to square with this.

UPDATE: A reply and my reply to the reply here.

Junia is Not Alone: Review of Scot McKnight

In Junia is Not Alone, Scot McKnight asks, “Why are we so obsessed with studying the ‘subordination’ of women to men but not a woman like Deborah, who subordinated men and enemies?” And, “Why is there so much silence in the church about the women in the Bible?”

Noting how few of his students (i.e., none) had heard of Junia and other women in the Bible, he dedicates his short ebook to “ending the church’s deafening silence on women in the Bible.”

Junia “appears innocently enough” in just one verse of the New Testament, Romans 16:7, “alongside her husband, Andronicus.” (See my Junia post here.) McNight goes on to say that Junia “had no idea she would someday be the subject of endless discussions,” although unfortunately his own discussion of her ends pretty quickly.

On the bright side, McKnight does what often goes undone in conversations about the apostle Junia–he explains what the term “apostle” means in Romans 16:7. He writes,

So, we conclude that there was a first-century relative of the apostle Paul named Junia; she entered into Christ before Paul did; and this Junia was an apostle. Which means (because this is what apostles did) she was in essence a Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman who preached the gospel and taught the church.

Nice. Unfortunately, however, readers who are looking for anything else about Junia will be disappointed. Of course there is only the one Bible verse that mentions her, and no other first century documents where she is known to appear (although someone please correct me if I am wrong?). But there is a long history of interpretation and textual criticism around “Junia” and Romans 16:7, which I would have liked to see McKnight delve into a bit more. As it is he merely favorably summarizes the conclusions of Eldon J. Epp (the text does read “Junia,” not a male “Junias”; she was an actual apostle).

In addition to Junia, McKnight mentions other women in the Bible–Priscilla, Mary, Phoebe, Deborah, Miriam. Although his listing these women and briefly discussing their ministry is helpful, he says very little about each (Miriam: led Israel in song). Perhaps this is due to the nature of a deliberately short ebook, but I was left wanting more.

McKnight helpfully traces the history of the Greek New Testament editions, and how “Junia” became “Junias.” But his conclusion feels dramatic:

The editors of Greek New Testaments killed Junia. They killed her by silencing her into non-existence.

All I could think about after reading that line was Dan in Real Life, where one of Steve Carell’s teenage daughters (whose romantic relationship he is trying to end) storms off and says, “YOU!  ARE A MURDERER… OF LOVE!”  McKnight again: “They murdered that innocent woman by erasing her from the footnotes” (my italics). A bit much.

But I’ll give McKnight that even Bible translations can be “political” and motivated by other external factors. He says it better here: “Who says New Testament texts and translations are not political?” Some editors/translators think that a woman couldn’t hold the office of apostle, so they essentially tamper with the text… if he’s right that that has been a common motivation for reading “Junias” and not “Junia,” then I agree; it’s poor form. Actual textual evidence for “Junias” would be a good reason to read “Junias” in the text, but there is not much. All the same, the charge of murder seems harsh.

In the end McKnight asks about Junia, “Do you hear her voice?” But ultimately the God who calls, gifts, and equips women and men alike for ministry is the one whose voice we ought to be listening for. McKnight knows this, and I get his point, but I think his appeal could have been strengthened by calling the Church to hear and heed Junia’s example and to let her significant ministry as an “outstanding apostle” inspire us. Junia didn’t write anything (at least that we have today), so what “voice” are we to listen for, and how? It almost sounds like she is supposed to speak to me from the grave or via some warp in the space-time continuum.

I’d wager that’s not what McKnight is getting at, however. I think he simply wants the “silence” about women in the Church to end. Although the preponderance of Biblical heroes are male (for cultural but not theological reasons, in my opinion), there are some pretty significant ministry roles that women play in both testaments.

And my criticisms notwithstanding, I’m with McKnight–those women’s stories need to be told more often and more fully as preachers and teachers expound the whole Bible to their congregations. Where there is silence about how God has used and continues to use women to spread his Gospel, the silence should end. I just wish McKnight himself –as someone fully qualified to do so–had made more noise about Junia and the other women who join her in the pages of Scripture.