A feminist theologian has claimed Jesus may have had both male and female physical features and it is "simply a best guess" that he was male.

Dr Susannah Cornwall, a researcher at Manchester University's Lincoln Theological Institute, made the claims in her paper, Intersex and Ontology, A Response to the Church, Women Bishops and Provision.

In her paper she writes: "It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness."

Cornwall's comments were in response to the ongoing debate about whether women bishops should be allowed in the Church of England.

She argues that the male hierarchy within the church may be disrupted by "intersex conditions" - a physical "mismatch" between genitalia and other physical characteristics. There are an estimated one in 2,500 people who are born with the condition. Jesus could have been one, she says.

"There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some 'hidden' female physical features," Cornwall claims.

"He might have had ovarian as well as testicular tissue in his body."

Cornwall argues that because Jesus, as far as is believed, never married, had children or engaged in sexual intercourse, his maleness is less certain.

"We cannot know for sure that Jesus was male since we do not have a body to examine and analyse. It can only be that Jesus' masculine gender role, rather than his male sex, is having to bear the weight of all this authority."