The question we started to answer was this: “What do we do with 1 Timothy 2:15? How does it fit with Paul’s theology?”
1 Timothy 2:15 says:
15 But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty
To answer the question, we really need to answer 3 questions.
- What is Paul’s overall Theology?
- What exactly is Paul saying in 1 Timothy 2? How does verse 15 fit into the context?
- What exactly does 1 Timothy 2:15 mean?
In this article we are going to look at Paul’s theology.
What is Paul’s Theology
There are two parts to this because first of all, we are immediately drawn to the question of salvation. The verse appears to be talking about this when it talks about women being saved and it is Paul’s doctrine of salvation (soteriology) that we give most attention to.
Paul believes that:
God is Sovereign, the one who foreknows and predestines (Ephesians 1, Romans 8). He believes that he is a God of all surpassing love. He believes that God has clearly revealed himself to us both through General Revelation in creation and Special Revelation in Christ and Scripture. We are without excuse (Romans 1)
All have sinned in Adam. Adam is our federal head so that we sinned in him -he represented us. We confirm our rebellion in our own sinful thoughts, words and deeds. The penalty or wages of sin is death, this includes physical death, we are mortal and the eternal separation of Hell but it also means that we are spiritually dead in our sins in this life. Our situation is hopeless and helpless (Romans 5).
Christ, who is fully God and fully man, a descendent of David and God’s Son (Romans 1) is the one promised in Scripture to bring blessing and salvation. He died in our place on the Cross, bearing the punishment we deserve as a propitiation (Romans 3). He became sin so that we might become God’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are justified/declared right (Romans 4 & 5). Our identity is hid in Christ. We have died with him to old life and are raised with him to new life (Romans 6). We look forward in hope to the final resurrection when Christ comes again (1 Corinthians 15).
This means that our salvation is dependent not on ethnic identity, morality or religious ceremony. It is something that we receive by grace along through faith alone (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2).
But Paul’s theology does not only tell us about salvation, it also introduces us to other related matters, who is God and what is he like? What is this World like? What will the New Creation be like? It also, significantly, tells us about what it means to be human and about relationships between men and women.
Paul believes that men and women are equal in status before God. He believes that the Gospel removes demarcation (Galatians 3:28).
However, Paul also makes distinctions. He sees men in marriage as acting as the head. There is a leadership role. This has implications for marriage and for church life (Ephesians 5; Colossians 4).
In marriage wives are to submit to their husbands in the Lord. However, submission is mutual with husbands called to sacrificially love their wives. Marriage provides an image of Christ’s relationship to the Church (Ephesians 5).
This is reflected in the church. My personal view is that:
- Paul sees the local church acting as an extended household -the household of believers
- That this means that what happens in the extended household of believers should align with, support and not undermine what happens in our own homes.
- This means that elders are male but they form just one part of a leadership team that includes men and women. Further-more that the nature of leadership is servant hearted, that church life is not hierarchical and that the aim is for the whole body of believers to reach unity of mind. Elders exercise a teaching authority not an authority based on rank or charisma.
Now, identifying what Paul thought and said is only one step in the process. There is a further question about how we should apply Paul’s teaching to today and that will depend to a significant extent on your hermeneutic. Do you see Paul’s teaching as transcultural (applicable to today) or situation specific. I believe that it is transcultural (for additional reasoning, as well as the paper on male and female leadership, please see my e-book Wesley and the Slacve Trade, also available from our publications page). This is because I believe that Paul’s approach challenged both the culture of his time with its hierarchies and its subordination of women and slaves as inferior but it also challenges contemporary radical feminism with its gender war and confusion of role with identity.
I believe that Paul’s teaching on male and female relationships frames our approach to exclude both radical feminism and a misogynistic hierarchy that crushes women. Rather, just as in the family home, the aim of leadership is to create space for men and women to flourish and grow in their relationship with Christ and to use their gifts to God’s glory. Within this field of play, different churches will come to different conclusions about how exactly to work things out in practice.
This is the theological context in which Paul writes 1 Timothy 2:15.
In part 3 we will look at the verse in the context of the passage.
 See Male and Female Leadership on our publications page for more details.