Women Bishops and Sexism


I’ve been exploring this issue for a bit; the texts usually quoted are from the ‘Pastoral Epistles’ – I & II Timothy and Titus.  They do prove the basic point I believe, but it needs detailed examination.  Then I came across a text in Acts, easily overlooked because of the way it’s usually translated.  It’s pretty clear so makes a nice short cut about women bishops.  It’s Acts 20; 17,28.

And from Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church….

“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord….”

Elders’ of course translates ‘Presbyters’ which gradually changed into ‘priests’.  ‘Guardians’ translates ‘episkopoi’, or as we call them ‘bishops’.  Now ‘guardians’ is quite a good translation of a word which, in New Testament times hadn’t yet acquired its distinctively ecclesiastical meaning.  Literally from its Greek roots it means ‘overseers’ – ‘epi’ as in ‘epidermis’ plus ‘skopos’ as in ‘telescope/microscope/etc.’ and so ‘managers’ and similar. 

As used in Acts 20 it shows us that to Paul, ‘presbyters’ and ‘bishops’ are the same thing.  As I said, the Pastoral Epistles show the same thing but it’s harder to work out from them. 

Applying this to our modern situation, if the Church of England has ordained women as ‘priests’, then as far as the Bible is concerned, they have already ordained them as ‘bishops’, and they are entitled to do anything that any ‘presbyter/episkopos’ can do.    It might well be logical and biblical for Anglicans to go back and change their minds about ordaining women at all, but otherwise, if they are ‘priests’ they are ‘bishops’.  Simples!! 

The current argument is therefore not about some theological issue of obedience to God.  It’s just that long after the New Testament was written the concepts of ‘priest’ and ‘bishop’ somehow slipped apart so that the word ‘bishop’ came to be applied to a kind of ‘regional CEO’ figure of which the New Testament knows nothing.  The modern dispute is whether the church is willing to let women do that unbiblical role or not – no theological issue, just old-fashioned sexism!

There is a lot more to be said about ministry in general, of course; none of the Anglican grades of ‘priest’, up to and including ‘archbishop’ seem to be really in line with the biblical teaching.  I suspect a lot of trouble could have been avoided if, before arguing about women being priests, the Anglicans had first asked what kind of priests men are supposed to be, biblically speaking….


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