She Will Be Saved Through Childbearing
Earlier this week I was asked what the Apostle Paul meant when he told Timothy:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:15 ESV)
That verse comes at the conclusion of a paragraph where Paul has been saying that women are not to hold the authoritative teaching office in the church. He said:
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11–14 ESV)
I told the man who asked me the question that I would address it with a short blast when we encountered the reading this week in our RMM plan. It is important for us to be familiar with this verse and with what it teaches because it will sometimes be thrown at us in order to undermine the teaching about traditional gender complementarity. People will say, “How can you believe what Paul says in verse 12 about women not teaching when you obviously don’t believe what Paul says in verse 15 about women being saved by childbearing? Aren’t you just picking and choosing?” The implication being that no one actually believes that women are saved by childbearing, therefore, no one has to believe what Paul says about role differentiation either.
There are numerous problems with this line of argumentation. The first and most significant problem is the assumption that verse 15 means that women will be saved through childbearing in a soteriological kind of way. I am not aware of anyone who has ever taught that. The Greek word translated as “saved” in verse 15 has a wide semantic range, much like the English word “saved”. Even in English “saved” can mean “made a Christian” but it can also mean “rescued from danger”, “preserved from error”, “helped out of a jam”, “kept from corruption” to name just a few. I am not aware of any Bible teacher who thinks that Paul is saying that women become Christians by having babies. Rather there are 3 main interpretations of this passage.
1. Many Roman Catholics interpret it in an allegorical sense. Women (like men) will be saved because Mary “bore” Jesus. We are saved by the child born to the woman.
2. Among Protestants who tend to avoid allegorical interpretations, it is common to understand “save” in the fuller sense of the word which includes justification, sanctification and glorification and to focus in verse 15 on the sense of sanctification. Thus women are generally sanctified in the context of child rearing. Few who have had children would argue with that.
3. The most grammatically appealing option is to understand Paul as saying that women are “saved from deception” by properly valuing the domestic sphere. That seems to be the meaning that makes the best sense of the immediate context. Paul has just said that Eve was deceived, now he says that the daughters of Eve will be saved from deception by properly valuing the domestic sphere and continuing on in faith, love and holiness with self control.
As a Protestant, I am always suspicious of allegorical interpretations that seem at odds with their immediate context and therefore tend to favour more straight forward readings of the Biblical text. While I admit the possibility and practical reality of option 2, option 3 seems to be the most common sense reading of the text. Paul is saying that women – as indeed are men – are kept safe from deception when we embrace the roles that God gave us, not rebelling against creation and when we continue on in faith, love and self control.
Deception is often willful. We often succumb to it when there is an obligation we wish to be free from. Paul warns women to beware of that, and his warning remains valuable to us today.