Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Saved Through Childbearing? (1 Timothy 2:15a)

Why did Paul issue the proscription in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 forbidding women to teach or exercise authority over men? Was he a misogynist? Did he think women are inferior to men or incapable of effective teaching? Did the particular cultural environment or unique situation in Ephesus dictate it?1 As we keep reading, the apostle himself explains. 

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:13-15, ESV).


Creation Order


The God-breathed explanation (“For”) is that “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” The stated reason is not a local and temporary social convention but is rooted in the unchangeable order of creation. Woman was created to complement man, not the reverse order (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:3, 8-9). Throughout scripture the significance of “firstborn” (preeminence, authority, responsibility) is repeatedly highlighted.2


Consequence of Sin


A secondary reason follows, “and Adam was not deceived [hapatáō], but the woman was deceived [exapatáō], and became a transgressor,” or “fell into transgression” (NASB, NKJV). While it was not necessary for another explanation to have been given, “Paul lets two witnesses speak”3 (note 5:19). 


The verb hapatáō, used passively here of Adam, means to “be deceived, cheated, misled,” whereas exapatáō, used passively of Eve, is an intensified form meaning to “be thoroughly deceived.”4 The first woman stands in a position of “having been” (gégonen, perfect tense of gínomai) “thoroughly deceived” into willful disobedience. Nevertheless, in spite of the transgression, good news is signaled by the contrasting dé (“Yet”) that follows.


Salvation Assured 


The pronominal reference to “she” (v. 15)5 has “the woman” (v. 14) as its nearest antecedent, contextually identified as “Eve” (v. 13), “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). The observation that “she will be saved through childbearing” has generated much confusion and disagreement among interpreters. Unfortunately, the definite article has been left out of the translation, which should read, “she shall be saved through the childbearing” (ERV, emp. added KLM).6


Having alluded to Genesis 3:1-6 (Eve’s deception and transgression), Paul continues with the promises made to the serpent and to Eve that ensued. To the serpent (the devil) Yahweh said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed [‘offspring’] and her Seed [‘offspring’]; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15, NKJV).7 To the woman (Eve) Yahweh said, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception [‘childbearing,’ ESV];8 In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for [‘to’ or ‘towards’] your husband, And he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16, NKJV).


The atypical reference to the woman’s seed or offspring, which is ordinarily accredited to the man (cf. Gen. 4:25-26; 5:3-32; 9:8-9; 12:7; etc.), appears to be a prophetic allusion to the Messiah, who was “born of woman” (Gal. 4:4) without a human father (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).9 Paul’s future tense verb sōthsetai (“she will be saved”), from sōzo,10 could have reference to being “preserved” (NASB) or “delivered” (NET),11 but this verbal is consistently applied in 1 Timothy to spiritual salvation (1:15; 2:4; 4:16), thus reemphasizing what has already been affirmed in 1:15-17 and 2:3-6. 


Setting aside various untenable interpretations, “the childbearing” could be a general allusion to the unique and exclusive destiny and function of the woman. This is not to say every woman must bear a child in order to be saved. Rather, the woman has a special place in God’s design, different from the man, inclusive of childbearing, and she is afforded salvation within the distinctive role more broadly described by Paul in vv. 9-12 (cp. Gen. 3:16).12 While the exact nature of the falsehoods plaguing the Ephesus church at the time is less than explicit, forbidding marriage was an issue (4:3a), and some of the women were being led astray (5:11-15), perhaps disparaging their conventional domestic duties. “It is not through active teaching and ruling activities that Christian women will be saved, but through faithfulness to their proper role, exemplified in motherhood.”13


In the wider context, there appears to be a deeper theological implication (cp. Gen. 3:15). Despite having been thoroughly deceived into transgression, Eve will be saved the same way Paul (1:12-16) and all other human beings (2:3-6) will be saved, “through the childbearing.” Woman was the channel Satan exploited in his attempt to destroy God’s human creation, while God utilized the same means to save humanity. Satan used woman to gain control through sin; God used woman, as the medium of the incarnation, to gain victory through Jesus (Luke 1:26-38; 11:27; Gal. 4:4).


Salvation Qualified


The abrupt transition to the third person plural redirects the focus from the first woman (vv. 13b-15a) back to the nearest conceptual antecedent, “the women” (vv. 9-10): “if they continue...” The conjunction eán (“if”) means the divine plan to save Eve and all others is conditioned upon remaining (abiding, continuing) “in [enfaith and love and holiness, with [metáself-control.” 


Paul seems to have a particular interest in connecting “faith and love,” as here, elsewhere in the letter (1:5, 14; 4:12; 6:11), and throughout his other writings.14 The concept of faith” is heavily emphasized in 1 Timothy (1:2, 4, 5, 14, 19; 2:7, 15; 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6, 12; 5:8, 12; 6:10, 11, 12, 21). Also highlighted in the letter is “love” (1:5, 14; 2:15; 4:12; 6:11), the noun agápē appearing in Paul’s writings (75 times) more than any other NT author. 

Another requisite is “holiness” (or “sanctification,” ASV), the only occurrence of the noun hagiasmós in this letter, employed elsewhere in Paul (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; 2 Thess. 2:13) and in the NT (Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:2) but not in secular writings. It refers to the process of making or becoming holy, i.e., “wholly set apart for God and separated by life and conduct from the unbelieving world …”15


Finally, reiterating the accompanying adornment of v. 9, “with self-control” [sōphrosú], variously rendered “self-restraint” (NASB), “sobriety” (ASV), “propriety” (NIV), “good sense” (CSB). Accordingly, the Christian woman ought to be sensitive to “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:3-5). She “cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit” (1 Cor. 7:34). 




The Bible has consistently clashed with the secular world’s entrenched standards, both past and present. The cultural pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, whereas the biblical model of male-female complementarity goes all the way back to creation and remains unchanged. According to God’s design men and women are different, though neither gender is superior to the other (Gal. 3:26-29). Both are equally valued and mutually dependent (1 Cor. 11:11; 12:18-25), and the Creator has assigned each a specific role (1 Cor. 11:3; 14:33-35). To exhibit the mind of Christ and to follow his example of humility and meekness is to utilize one’s particular situation, within prescribed scriptural boundaries, to the glory of God. 


--Kevin L. Moore



     1 Glenn Rogers alleges that the reason is “not because there was anything inherently wrong with women teaching men, but because of the unique situation (which we do not fully understand) here in Ephesus” (The Bible Culturally Speaking [By the Author: Mission and Ministry Resources, 2004]: 210). Others are more confident in their explanation, affirming that the unique situation in Ephesus involved cult prostitution (cf. Sharon H. Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus: A Study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in Light of the Religious and Cultural Milieu of the First Century [Lanham; NY; London: University Press of America, 1991]: 39-40), but there is no historical justification for this baseless assertion (see esp. S. M. Baugh, “Cult Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:3 [1999]: 443-60).

     2 Gen. 4:4; 27:1-4, 19, 29; 29:26; 43:33; 48:18; 49:3; Ex. 4:22; 13:2; 22:29; Num. 3:13; 8:17; Deut. 15:19; 21:17; 2 Chron. 21:3; Psa. 89:27; et al.

     3 R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles … to Timothy (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001): 567. Note also Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Cor. 13:1; Heb. 10:28.

     4 The same intensified form is used in 2 Cor. 11:3 when recalling the same incident, “But I fear lest somehow, as the serpent thoroughly deceived [exapatáōEve in his craftiness, your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity in Christ” (author’s own translation). Reference to “the serpent” is a metaphorical allusion to Satan (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; cf. Rev. 12:9; 20:2), and the episode recounted is the deception of Eve by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-15).

     5 Some English versions unnecessarily change and thus distort the reference to “women” (CEV, NASB, NIV, NLT). The pronominal “she” is inherent in the future passive indicative verb sōthsetai, which is singular (“she shall be saved”) not plural.

     6 Not “through the bearing of children” (NASB), “through having children” (GNT), or “by having children” (CEV).

     7 The serpent’s “seed” or “offspring” would be all who reject God’s will and thus become the devil’s progeny (John 8:44; Eph. 2:2-3; 1 John 3:10; cf. Matt. 12:30). Christ (the woman’s “seed” or “offspring”) was bruised (NRSV, “strike”) when he became the offering for sin (Isa. 53:5, 10). A wound to the heel is painful and debilitating but is not permanently fatal. Christ’s momentary suffering, inflicted by the serpent, was the means through which Christ struck the serpent’s head, destroying the devil’s power of sin and death (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). A wound to the head (especially to a serpent’s head) is terminal. See also Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:1-17; 20:2, 10; cf. Psa. 68:21; 91:13.

     8 The Hebrew noun herayon refers to “conception” or “pregnancy” but is always connected in scripture to “childbirth” (Gen. 3:16; Ruth 4:13; Hos. 9:11).

     9 The messianic “seed” promise began in Gen. 3:15, was carried throughout the OT (Gen. 22:18; 28:14; etc.), and was fulfilled in Christ (Gal. 3:16).

     10 The verbal sōzo occurs 108 times in the NT, with various nuances including “save,” “deliver,” “rescue,” “preserve,” “heal.”

     11 This is the sense of the word in 2 Tim. 4:18 (cf. also Acts 27:20, 31), but not Paul’s typical usage (note 2 Tim. 2:9).

     12 Ann L. Bowman comments, “women will enter into eschatological salvation, with its accompanying rewards, through faithfulness to their proper role, exemplified in motherhood and in godly living generally” (“Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” BSac 149.594 [April-June 1992]: 208).

     13 Douglas J. Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,” Trinity Journal 1 (1980): 71. See also Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Ascertaining Women’s God-ordained Roles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 7 (1997): 107-44.

     14 1 Cor. 13:2, 13; 2 Cor. 8:7; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 1:15; 3:17; 6:23; Col. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:3; 3:6; 5:8; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:22; 3:10; Tit. 2:2; 3:15; Philem. 5. Note also the negative linkage in 1 Tim. 6:10.

     15 Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians (Abilene: ACU Press, 1984): 83.


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