Women Anglican bishops – how to get the Christians up in arms!


Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (Episcopal Church USA)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

If you want to see the fighting fundies in action and the opposition in battle lines, take a visit to an Internet Christian forum and raise the issue of women in ministry. The sparks are likely to fly as the controversy rages.

I picked up this one on a Christian forum. It started with:

Hey Everyone,
What do you think of the new decision [July 2014] from the Anglican Church regarding female Bishops?
More info: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28300618[1]

How the BBC reported Anglican women bishops

This BBC news item reported that

The Church of England has voted to allow women to become bishops for the first time in its history.

Its ruling General Synod gave approval to legislation introducing the change by the required two-thirds majority.

A previous vote in 2012 was backed by the Houses of Bishops and Clergy but blocked by traditionalist lay members.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was “delighted” but some opponents said they were unconvinced by the concessions offered to them.

The crucial vote in the House of Laity went 152 in favour, 45 against, and there were five abstentions. In November 2012 the change was derailed by just six votes cast by the lay members.

In the house of Bishops, 37 were in favour, two against, and there was one abstention. The House of Clergy voted 162 in favour, 25 against and there were four abstentions….

It comes more than 20 years after women were first allowed to become priests. More than one-in-five of priests in the church are now female…. The first woman bishop could potentially be appointed by the end of the year.

Another lay member, Susie Leafe, director of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said she was “very disappointed” by the vote.

“There is still at least a quarter of the Church for whom this package does not provide for their theological convictions,” she said.

The motion had the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prime Minister David Cameron.[2]

Christian response to this radical news

How do you think Christians on a forum would respond to this information? There was mixed input. Here is a sample:

  • ‘1Tim 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach’.[3]
  • ‘I found an interesting article that talks about women presbyteries in the early church and when that position was officially eliminated in AD344. We see them mentioned in Paul’s writings. But this article mentions historical writings including Polycarp and others.
  • ‘Just to be clear, this isn’t the Anglican church worldwide. Anglican churches in my city (Sydney) are opposed to this.
    Regarding Anglicans in the UK, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me. This is the same church that in recent years allowed homosexual bishops. I actually thought women bishops were already allowed’.[5]
  • ‘A BISHOP must be a man of one wife. I didn’t know god changed his mind on lesbians and that type of marriage. my pastor and my demonation allows woman pastors but not bishops based on that verse’.[6]
  • ‘No big deal.
    The church has been dead for sometime’.
    Matthew 5:13 (NIV)
    “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses it’s saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”.[7]
  • This was about as crass as it got with this comment, ‘About bloody time’.[8]

My personal response: In support of women in ministry

Initially, I wrote,[9]

How does this relate to what happened on the Day of Pentecost and in the NT age?

16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they
shall prophesy (Acts 2:16-18 ESV).?

How about the possibility that Junia (or Junias) was a female apostle according to Rom 16:7 (NIV): ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was’?

I’m not as convinced as most that women are excluded from public ministry in the church. We’d be in a sad state on many a mission field if women were excluded from public ministry. But practicalities should not dictate theology. The Bible determines our stance on women or no-women in public ministry to a mixed gathering.

Then a woman wrote:

  • ‘If the Bible says that a woman should not be a pastor then being a Bishop is a slap in God’s face’.[10]

I replied:[11]

I find it too easy in the Western, traditional church to discard women in ministry and especially women bishops, based on verses such as 1 Tim 3:2 (ESV) . For an overview of some of the issues in 1 Timothy, I recommend a read of Gordon Fee’s article, ‘Reflections on church order in the pastoral epistles, with further reflection on the hermeneutics of ad hoc documents’ (Fee 1985). All is not as easy as it looks to modern readers to interpret these pastoral epistles and the false teachings being refuted.
In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (1&2 Timothy, Titus), Gordon Fee provides this exposition of 1 Tim 3:2, ‘the husband of but one wife’ as a qualification for overseers/bishops. He wrote:

The husband of but one wife is one of the truly difficult phrases in the PE [Pastoral Epistles] (cf. 3:12; 5:9, of the ‘true’ widows, and Titus 1:6). There are at least four options: First, it could be requiring that the overseer be married. Support is found in the fact that the false teachers are forbidding marriage and that Paul urges marriage for the wayward widows (5:14; cf. 2:15). But against this is that it emphasizes must and wife, while the text emphasizes one, that Paul, and most likely Timothy, were not married, and that it stands in contradiction to 1 Corinthians 7:25-38. Besides, it was a cultural presupposition that most people would be married.

Second, it could be that it prohibits polygamy. This correctly emphasizes the one wife aspect; but polygamy was such a rare feature of pagan society that such a prohibition would function as a near irrelevancy. Moreover, it would not seem to fit the identical phrase used of the widows in 5:9.

Third, it could be prohibiting second marriages. Such an interpretation is supported by many of the data: It would fit the widows especially, and all kinds of inscriptional evidence praises women (especially, although sometimes men) who were ‘married only once’ and remained ‘faithful’ to that marriage after their partner died. This view would then prohibit second marriages after the death of a spouse, but it would also obviously – perhaps especially – prohibit divorce and remarriage. Some scholars (e.g., Hanson) would make it refer only to the latter.

Fourth, it could be that it requires marital fidelity to this one wife (cf. NEB: ‘faithful to his one wife’). In this view the overseer is required to live an exemplary married life (marriage is assumed), faithful to his one wife in a culture in which marital infidelity was common, and at time assumed. It would, of course, also rule out polygamy and divorce and remarriage, but it would not necessarily rule out the remarriage of a widower (although that would still not be the Pauline ideal; cf. 1 Cor. 7:8-9, 39-40). Although there is much to be said for either understanding of the third option, the concern that the church’s leaders live exemplary married lives seems to fit the context best – given the apparently low view of marriage and family held by the false teachers (4:3; cf. 3:4-5) (Fee 1988:80-81).

Because of these difficulties in exegesis and exposition of 1 Tim 3:2, I will not be too rigid to adhere to a view that excludes women from the ministry as an overseer/bishop. All is not as clear as it seems.

  • In addition, there is the very difficult verse to interpret associated with the role of women: ‘Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control’ (1 Tim 2:15 ESV). For an explanation of this verse, see my article: Must Women Never Teach Men in the Church?


I’m convinced the weight of biblical evidence favours women in ministry. See my articles:

Works consulted

Fee, G D 1985. Reflections on church order in the pastoral epistles, with further reflection on the hermeneutics of ad hoc documents. Journal of the evangelical theological society, 28(2), June, 141-151. Available at: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/28/28-2/28-2-pp141-151_JETS.pdf (Accessed 27 July 2014).

Fee, G D 1988. New international biblical commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. W W Gasque (ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.


[1] Doulos Iesou#1, Christian Forums.net, ‘Church of England allows female bishops’, available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/church-of-england-allows-female-bishops.54712/ (Accessed 27 July 2014).

[2] BBC News UK, ‘Church of England General Synod backs women bishops’, 14 July 2014, available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28300618 (Accessed 27 July 2014).

[3] Reba#1, Christianforums.net, op cit.

[4] Ibid., Deborah13#5.

[5] Ibid., Eora#6.

[6] Ibid., jasonc#9.

[7] Ibid., allenwynne#10.

[8] Ibid., Claudya#8.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#7.

[10] Ibid., Kathi#16.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#20.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 November 2015.