Head Covering: Bushnell View

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The Bushnell View on Head Coverings for Women

The Bushnell view is an informal label for the view that in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul does not command women to cover their heads, but discourages it. In this view, Paul allows women to cover if neccessary for their husband's sake, but forbids covering otherwise. The same conclusion is found by John Lightfoot and William Welty. The original and in depth view can be found in God's Word to Women by Katherine Bushnell, lessons 29-35.

The foundation of this view is not of interpretation, but translation. Because Koine Greek has no puncuation it does not always clearly show quotations, the ending of sentences, and questions. All of these are put in place by the translator.

Problems with Traditional Translation

When using the traditional translation, the Bushnell view postulates that several problems and contradictions arise.

Verse 4, "Dishonors his Head"

According to the Bushnell view, if a man dishonors his Head, Christ, by covering it, then woman, whose Head is Christ also, would dishonor her Head, Christ, by covering it. This implies women should uncover.

Verse 7, "Image of God"

According to the Bushnell view, if a man should uncover because he is in the image of God, then woman, who is in the image of God, should uncover also. This implies women should uncover.

Verse 10, "Because of the Angels"

There is no clear consensus on the interpretation of "because of the angels".

Verse 10, "Must have Authority"

Paul commands women to have authority on their head. What is the "authority?" By context, it can either be a head covering, or a lack of a head covering. According to the Bushnell view, by reasoning, a head covering is not a sign of authority; Paul forbids the men from covering because their covering a sign of sin, which makes slaves of its owners. Thus Paul must be ordering women to uncover as a sign of their authority.

Verses 11, 12, "Man and Woman United"

These verses say that man and woman are together. As pointed out by the Bushnell view, why would Paul include this in a passage where he treats men and women differently? The verses are an arguement that the same rule applies to women as to men, implying that women should unveil as well.

Verse 13, "Judge for Yourselves

Paul wrote the lengthy letter of 1 Corinthians mostly to teach and correct. The Corinthian church appears to have been divisive, arrogant (1 Corinthians 4:18), housing a sexually immoral man (5:1). According to the Bushnell view, this is not a group that Paul would have trusted to make their own conclusions concerning women ("judge for yourselves"). Moreover, he would not write this passage instructing them on covering if he later told them to decide for themselves.

Verse 14, Nature's Teaching

According to the Bushnell view, an honest attempt to answer Paul's question, "Does nature teach . . ." will yield an undeniable "No." It is not a shame for a man to have long hair; the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:5) certainly seems to deny this. If anything, nature teaches that everyone should have long hair, because, left on its own, anyone's hair will grow long.

Verse 16, "No such Custom"

Paul denies that neither he nor other churches have "such custom." What custom is he refering to? According to the Bushnell view, it must be the custom of covering, for no other custom is mentioned.

The Contemporary view

Interpreting the passage as cultural and temporary brings the problemm that much of Paul's evidence is not cultural, but theological. According to the Bushnell view, things such as a man and woman being bound together, the woman being created for man, and nature itself, are not temporary but eternal things. And so, if Paul uses eternal arguements, his conclusion logically would be eternal.

The Symbolism of Covering

Male Covering

Jewish tradition mandated that men cover their heads when praying to God as a reminder of their sin and shame. However, because "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ," Paul commands the believers to uncover their heads.

Female Covering

Culturally relative, for a Jewess to uncover her hair to those outside the family was seen as sexually promiscuous (similarly in modern Muslim communities). This was considered grounds for divorce. Also, women accused of adultery could be punished by having their heads shaved, a grave dishonor to her husband.

Another Translation

The American Standard Version translates similarly to other well known translations. The following compares this with Bushnell's translation and explains her reasons:

Translation Comparison

Note that Bushnell's words within brackets [ ] are intended as aided interpretation. If a reader were comfortable with her translation and interpretation, these thoughts would occur mentally while reading. They are not intended as insertions to the text; that is, if it were published within a complete translation of the Bible, they would be removed or used only in footnotes. Note also that the many minor differences between the texts are simply the result of different paths of translation. Ideally, a comparison would be made between the Revised Standard Version which Bushnell usually used herself and probably used to aid her in this translation.

Traditional Translation (ASV) Bushnell Translation
(3) But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. But I wish you to understand that of every [Christian] man Christ is the Head; but of a wife the husband is a head [also]; and God is Christ's Head.
(4) Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. Any [Christian] man praying or prophesying, having his head covered [as is required among the Jews, in sign of guilt and condemnation] dishonors his Head [Christ, who has atoned for all his sins].
(5) But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. But any wife praying or prophesying bareheaded dishonors her [other] head [her husband], for it would be one and the same thing as [having] her head shaved.
(6) For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. For [Jewish law provides that] if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn. Now if it would bring disgrace to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
(7) For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For a [Christian] man ought not to veil the head because he is the image and glory of God. But woman is [also] the glory of man.
(8) For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: For man is not originally from woman [as from a despised and inferior source], but woman is from man.
(9) for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man: Nor was the man created for the woman [to help her], but the woman for the man [to help him].
(10) for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. For this [additional] cause ought the woman to have authority over her head [to unveil it] because of her angels [who always behold God's face].
(11) Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. Nevertheless, in the Lord, [i.e. among believers,] the woman is not [to be legislated for] apart from the man, nor the man from the woman.
(12) For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God. For just as woman came out of man, so is man [born into the world] through woman and all Christians born of God. Judge of this matter among yourselves.
(13) Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled? It is proper for a woman [at least] to pray unto God unveiled.
(14) Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him? Nor is there anything in the nature of hair itself that teaches you that if a man wear it long it is a dishonor to him, while if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her, for her hair has been given her instead of a veil.
(15) But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
(16) But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. But if anyone thinks to be contentious [in defense of such a custom as either men or women veiling for worship], let him know that "we have no such custom, neither the Churches of God."

Verses 5, 6, Jewish Quotation

As noted above, in the Jewish tradition it was suitable punishment to shave the head of a women accused of adultery, as would an uncovered women would likely be if she were married to a non-Jew. It was unusual for Paul to agree with any Jewish tradition, let alone not directly connected with the Messiah. It also strange that Paul would say "If it is a shame . . ." after mentioning why it would so shameful.

To harmonize with Paul's arguments against veiling, Bushnell interprets that Paul is referring to Jewish tradition, not his own ruling. A different translation could be to insert quotation marks beginning with verse 5 and ending after the first sentence of verse 6. Thus in the latter part of verse 6 Paul is not being redundant, he is responding to the Jewish tradition.

Verse 10, "Her Angels"

According to the Bushnell view, the correct translation is "her" and not "the". Thus Paul is saying that angels are inferior to humans (1 Corinthians 6:3) and Jesus says, "in heaven their [children's] angels do always behold the face of My Father" and so Paul's argument is that if angels are not veiled before God, neither should women who are above the angels.

Verse 12, "Judge for Yourselves"

In the original Greek the text sentences are not clearly demarcated and verses didn't exist. Both of these features were added later by scribes and translators interpreting the text. Thus the phrase "judge for yourselves" could belong and apply to verse 12 or verse 13. Bushnell believes that Paul would not trust the Corinthians to judge such a hard issue as covering, but he would trust them to judge a simple one like verse 12, Bushnell moves it to verse 12. Thus there is no colon but simply a period, completing the thought.

Verse 13, "It Is Proper"

This is a difficult verse to translate. Because Koine Greek contained no marks ending a sentence, the question mark in traditional translations could also be a period or an exclamation mark. The first word of verse 13 is literally translated "it is". Where English reverses these words to form a question, Greek had no such method. Thus the only way to tell between a simple statement and question was context; if spoken, it could be known through inflection of voice, as in English. To harmonize with the rest of the passage, and because there is little sense in Paul asking about what he is teaching, Bushnell translates this as a statement: "It is proper for a woman to pray unto God unveiled."

Verses 14, 15, "Nor does even Nature"

For the reasons in verse 13 above, these verse may be translated "Not does even nature" instead of "Does not even nature." Also, because question marks did not exist, verse 14 and 15 can be joined into a single sentence. With this understanding both verses are in the negative and Paul was saying a woman's hair is not given as a covering.

New Interpretation

With the completely reversal of one of two main points of a half chapter comes new conclusions.

Women May Veil

According to Bushnell, Paul does allow women to veil, but only if it is shame for her to be shaven, which would only happen if her husband made her shave (perhaps by pressure of his family who are unhappy with her conversion from Judaism). However, Paul makes no allowances if she is not to be shaven. Veiling is the exception to rule.

Women should Unveil

According to Bushnell, for most women Paul insists that they unveil. This is then another great separation from traditional Judaism where many Christians are coming from, another emphasis that Jesus changes the lives of believers in a visible manner. It also treats men and women on the same scale. Women should unveil because she is in the image of God, because Christ is her head, because even the angels are uncovered before God, and because she should have a sign of authority. To non-Christians who say the Bible holds women back, this is another historical example that it actually made a great stride forward.

A Passage not Ignored

Many Christians fear reading and interpreting this passage for fear of confusion or a contradiction to their view that women need not veil. This interpretation invites readers to come marvel at and Jesus' great work again.



Rethinking the Veil - William Welty agrees with Bushnell; in pdf format.

Return to Head Coverings


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