Paul’s “Women Problem” and #churchtoo (part 4)

So now we are ready to look at 1 Timothy 2:15 itself. We should be familiar with the text by now:

15 But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.

What does the verse mean?  The meaning of the verse depends upon how we understand three key words, “saved,” “through” and “childbearing.”

Saved – we immediately lock onto this word and think of it in terms of salvation. However, I have seen at least one commentator suggest that it could refer to restoration.  Alternatively what if it is simply refer to physical safety?

Through – as Piper notes, there are places where “through” does not mean “by” but means “throughout” for example, Paul talks about those saved through fire in 1 Corinthians 3. Fire is not the means by which they are saved but a danger they pass through. They are saved because of the fire.[1]

Childbearing – some commentators have suggested that this refers to “the childbearing” as the definite article is present in Greek. If so, then the verse isn’t talking about childbearing in general but a specific birth.

This means that we have the following options for translating the verse.

  1. Our first response, that Paul is saying that women are saved by having children. The problem with this is that it simply does not fit with Paul’s theology of salvation. It replaces faith and grace with a specific act. Paul is very clear that there is “neither male nor female” in our relationship to Christ (Galatians 3:28). There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
  2. If she is saved through “The childbearing” then Paul is saying that salvation will come to women through Eve’s promised seed, through Jesus. This approach is tempting but doesn’t seem to have gained traction with mainstream commentators. Piper notes that the form of the word “childbearing” when used elsewhere refers to birth in general not a specific birth and it does seem like a cryptic way of talking.[2]
  3. Paul could mean that women are restored to their proper role in God’s creation. This does not mean that they are simply there to have babies.[3] Rather, it means that the creation mandate to humanity was to multiply and fill the earth. Women can be restored to their right position as partners with men in this great task. Again, this doesn’t seem to be an approach that has gained traction.
  4. Pregnancy and labour is a particularly uncertain and potentially dangerous and frightening time for any woman. This would have been particularly true in Paul’s day with the lack of modern medical care. Many women and children would have died during labour. The danger of childbearing goes back to the curse that results from the Fall of Adam and Eve, explicitly mentioned in verse 14. So, Paul may mean here something along the lines of “Women will be kept safe through childbearing.” Thy can go through this dangerous period with hope. Now, Paul would not be guaranteeing physical safety here, it would still be dangerous. The clue that he has a greater safety in mind is shown in the conditions added: “assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.”  This points to their spiritual life and witness, it is a call to faithfulness and growth in sanctification. We cannot guarantee physical safety through danger. However, we are often tempted to see danger and suffering as a sign of God’s personal displeasure with us. For some, these times of great anxiety may lead to questions about faith: “Does God love me” “What happens if I die in the midst of this?” Paul’s answer is to look away from your suffering, assurance is in what Christ has done for us -and the fruit of salvation will be evident.  This is the approach that people including Matthew Henry, John Wesley and, more recently, John Piper have taken.

I believe that the fourth option is the interpretation that fits best with the passage and the wider context of Paul’s theology. Not only does this give great hope to women facing the specific uncertainty of childbearing but it has a wider implication of eternal security to all believers who go through suffering.

What does it mean for us as believers to live in uncertain days? Well, we are to keep our faith in God, keep praying for those around us, keep sharing the Gospel, trusting God with the things that seem big to the wider world such as Brexit, North Korea, President Trump, Syria, Putin’s Russia etc and also with the things that are small in global terms but big to us including job news, your immigration case, illness or the precious moment when you bring a new life into the world.

 

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-are-women-saved-through-childbearing

[2] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-are-women-saved-through-childbearing

[3] See Marriage at Work on the Publications page for why this does not fit with a wider Biblical theology.

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