Saved Through Childbearing?
In a recent sermon I found that I had to touch upon one what I consider of the trickiest passages in the Bible: 1 Timothy 2:15. Here is what this verse says: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Taken on its own, this is a remarkably sexist statement. But I’m convinced there is truth and freedom here if we are willing to go looking for it. Let me take a shot at explaining that passage or at least to show you how I went about trying to figure it out.
In this part of his letter to Timothy, Paul is writing about the local church and about how things are to be ordered there. He explains that the public gatherings of the church are to show some kind of order. He speaks of the way men and women are to worship and focuses specifically on the character of a godly woman and then on the conduct of a godly woman. A woman is to respectful and respectable, not showing off her wealth and not seeking to draw attention to herself. And she is to understand that the Lord has not called her to leadership within the church--this is a part of God's created order. Paul explains this by referring to the order in which God created man and women. "For Adam was formed first, then Eve." He goes on to show that humanity’s problems began when this order was reversed--"Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." It was when Eve usurped Adam's leadership (and when Adam abdicated leadership) that all of these problems began.
And now we get to that tricky statement, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." If we want to understand that statement, we need to look at two things: what it means that the woman will be saved and what it means that they will be saved by childbearing.
First, then, what does it mean that she will be saved?
We need to begin with that little word yet which starts the phrase. It's a word we could also translate as nevertheless. It's a contrasting word. On the one hand we've got the woman as the one who was deceived and who sought to dominate her husband. Paul has just spoken of the woman and her deception, her insubordination, her sin. Nevertheless. Contrast. Because of Jesus. Nevertheless, she will be saved through childbearing. Who is the she? She refers not just to Eve but to women in general. And even more, it refers to Christian women in general because just a few words later Paul writes, "If they continue in faith and love and holiness." Only a Christian woman can continue in faith. Only she can show this distinctly Christian character of love and holiness.
So we have, "Because of Jesus, she--the faithful Christian woman--will be saved through childbearing." Does this mean "She will be saved from her sin, saved from hell, only as she gives birth to babies?" Obviously that cannot be the case since that would be works salvation--she would be saving herself through her good deeds, something that would contradict what the Bible teaches very clearly. We need to look at a different meaning for saved. And this is where every commenter and every pastor seems to have a moment of humility. He scratches his head and eventually says, “This is what I think it means. But I could be wrong.”
Here is what I think it may mean; at the very least, it is a component of the full meaning. Paul is saying that the woman will be saved from the stigma or the responsibility of having caused the Fall. Yes, the woman sinned and led her husband into sin with her; but here she is released from the stigma of this sin. God could have decreed that she would remain a second-class citizen forever, that her sin would relegate her to a second rate kind of status as one who had destroyed and could not be redeemed. But he did not. She has been saved from this. God still has an important purpose for her.
Redemption here is a return to her roots, her purpose, a return to the natural order of things, the way God created her. She is saved from the stigma of what she has done. She can now be saved from the temptations of Satan as he seeks to draw her into the same sin that Eve fell into.
And how will women be saved from all of this? By bearing children. This bridges us to the second thing we need to look at: What does it mean that she will be saved by childbearing.
The woman is released from the shame or disgrace of her sin by bearing children, by raising up godly seed, godly children, children who hear of Jesus and all that he has done. After the fall into sin God could have decreed that this would be the end of the human race--he could have cut them off. Maybe he even could have come up with a way of circumventing women’s role in bearing children. But he did not do so. Instead he calls woman to lead the human race out of the state of sin and into a new godliness. There is good warrant to expand the word childbearing here so it points not just to the act of giving birth, but to all that Paul has just discussed a couple of verses earlier--godly womanhood. In the wider context of the passage Paul is referring to the whole of a woman's calling within the family, within the church, within the world. She is to embrace godly womanhood, to be who and what God has created her and called her to be. She is to fight against that tendency to usurp authority that is not hers. Paul has just talked about how a woman may not teach. When we hear that our natural reaction may be to think that she is not equal to a man in her worth or dignity. But immediately Paul fights back; he won’t allow that thought to stand. The woman has the same importance, the same dignity--but a very different role. In fact, she has the privilege of doing something that no man can do--bear children.
What Paul is referring to here in using the world childbearing is God's entire design for women and he is doing this by referring to the uniqueness, the essence, of womanhood--giving birth, being fruitful and multiplying, fulfilling her part in the Creation Mandate. Think of how we talk about the word government. We say "The government raised taxes." But what we mean is that a person within government put forward a motion which passed through various levels of bureaucracy, was voted on by the our representatives, and passed into law. Government summarizes all of this. And here the world childbirth can be seen in much the same light--a word that summarizes the essence of God's design for women. God's design for the human race, for the church, for the family, isn't complete without women being godly women.
So how is woman redeemed from the Fall? How does she escape the stigma of her role in that first sin? In the most straightforward sense, she does this by bearing children, by nurturing and training the next generation. But there is a greater sense in which she does this by joyfully embracing who God has made her to be--embracing the unique role, the unique function he has called her to. Women who trust in God and who find true joy and contentedness in their role are bringing glory to God--they are continuing in faith and love and holiness. Faith, love and holiness are gospel words. These address the kind of character that flows out of a heart that has been arrested and transformed by the gospel. And this is true whether you are married or single, a mother or not.
Not every woman will be a mother. There are some women that God calls to a life of singleness so they can serve the Lord free from the restrictions or limitations brought about by a marriage and by children. There are some women for whom God has not provided a husband, or married women for whom God has closed the womb, and he has done this for his own purposes. And they must be good purposes because God is good. This text speaks to these women too because it calls them just as much to embrace godly womanhood, biblical femininity. It calls them to embrace their God-ordained role in the church not as the ones who will lead the church but as the ones who are called to follow godly leaders.
This kind of conduct, this kind of character, is so beautiful, so honouring to God. It brings him such glory. It makes the gospel look so great. It makes the Saviour look great.
And that is my shot at explaining a really tricky verse…