The Theological Reasons for and Against Women Bishops

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What are the key theological issues which divide those who would argue for the ordination of women as Bishops, from those who argue against it?

The eschatological imperative (Reason)
Many advocates of women bishops speak of the living God who reveals his ways to his people through the power of his spirit. If opponents believe that the Bible prohibits women bishops, advocates might argue that 'growth and development are ethical requirements beyond the explicit letter of the scriptural revelation'.[1] By employing this redemptive-movement hermeneutical reading of scripture, advocates understand the Church to be participating in the work of God to lessen the effects of the curse, which at our fall brought trouble into the relationship between women and men.

Those who prohibit women to the episcopate might argue that revelation finished with the Bible, which is sufficient. The Holy Spirit acts in accordance with scripture and key texts are often interpreted as silencing women and asserting male headship. The Anglican Church's decision to appoint women to the episcopate is thought to be a consequence of it giving in to the prevailing culture.

To counteract this, advocates of women bishops appeal to a St Paul who calls on Christians to comply with the institutions which govern them and live for Jesus within them. If our institutions have liberated women, advocates warn that by prohibiting women to the episcopate, we might inhibit the gospel. Galatians 3:28 becomes a key text for the freedom it describes for gender, political and racial groups in Christ. Eschatologically, this freedom will be more fully realised as we move towards the consummation.

Tradition (and more recent history)
Christians supporting women bishops consider how the Church had once used the Bible to justify slavery and believe, as a consequence, that scripture should be cited with caution. Christians should seek out what the whole of the Bible has to say on an issue. Novakovic draws attention to Paul's list of 'authoritative resurrection witnesses, [where] there is no mention of Mary Magdalene,' (1 Cor. 15:3-7). As a consequence, advocates are reluctant to depend on the Pauline epistles without a consideration of other biblical texts.

J. Baker, an Anglo-Catholic argues quite definitively that by the time of the pastoral epistles 'there is no ... endorsement for, the exercise of oversight ... by women: the opposite is the case,' [2]and he cites biblical references, including those where women seem to have been silenced.

Opponents of women bishops look to tradition and early church practice under Ignatius and Antioch 'where the bishop is the representative, and the image, of the divine Father' [3], where the image necessitates the male 'continuing the Lord's work as Bridegroom of his Church'[4]. Anglo-Catholics support the apostolic tradition of a male-only priesthood. Advocates of women in the episcopate will appeal to researchers like Madigan and Osiek who have uncovered evidence for female deacons, priests and bishops through the ages so that 'Whatever the arguments against women's ordination ... they can no longer be predicated on a naive reading of a defective historical record.'[5]

Interestingly, evangelicals are divided in their interpretation of scripture; some agree with the Anglo-Catholic interpretation of key passages, whilst some practice a hermeneutic which delivers a quite contrary exegesis of the same texts. The texts most frequently consulted are 1 Corinthians 11:2-12 and 14:34-38; Ephesians 5:21-33, 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and Galatians 3:28. Different interpretations of Genesis 1-3 can also shape interpretation.

Opponents of women bishops and I Tim 2 11-15
These verses are interpreted as a set of instructions that forbid women teaching or having authority over men, they are to be silent. Blum considers this 'a permanent principle.'[6] With the Church's appointment of women to the episcopate...
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