One of the numerous perplexing statements of Paul in the Bible is his claim that women will be “saved in childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15). Many Christians ignore this verse altogether or consider it a declaration influenced by the culture of Paul’s day (along with the directives preceding it concerning women and public authoritative ministry). However, Paul does not support his position with examples from first century culture; instead he draws from the timeless example of Man’s creation.
Although Paul’s focus is on Eve in verses 13 and 14, the “she” mentioned in verse 15 is directed back to the “woman” of verses 9 through 12 – toward Christian women in general (thus the “they” following the “she”). In this we see that Paul understands Eve as a type of federal head as Adam was. This is not to say women are not represented by Adam; obviously they are. Women are born with a sin nature inherited from Adam just as men are. They are in need of the salvation offered by the last Adam (Jesus Christ) just as men are. The first Adam was the federal head, which is to say, the covenant head of the entire human race. Nevertheless, Eve stands as a head of the female of the species. The timing of her creation, the manner in which she was created, the purpose of her creation (as a helpmeet suitable for Adam), and the circumstances surrounding her sin all play a part in the position of women in the structure of the Family and Church. Again, these principles are drawn from creation history and have nothing to do with the culture of Paul’s day. Thus, looking back at verses 13 and 14 we see the prohibition against public authoritative ministry for women is based upon the fact she was created as a helpmeet for man and that she was first to fall into sin1 Obviously none of this minimizes the responsibility of Adam. Moreover, it’s not as if Paul is saying women are inferior to men. He is simply presenting the reasons for the roles of men and women within the Church.
Ephesians 5:22-33 provides additional insight into the role of women within the kingdom of God. (Since we are drawing upon Ephesians merely in support of our examination of 1 Timothy 2:15, we will not engage the passage fully.) In Ephesians we see that the woman is a “type” within the marriage relationship, the Church being the anti-type. As with the Church, the wife is to submit to her husband in all things. She does not lead nor teach her husband but submits to his leading and teaching, just as the Church submits to the leadership and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. This not to say women are commanded to submit to men in general. In other words, men do not have a divine right to exercise authority over women outside of the Family. Ephesians five is dealing with the marriage relationship only. Our passage in 1 Timothy 2 is dealing with the situation within the Church. And the whole counsel of Scripture tells us that within the function of the State, women are not required to be subordinate to men2).
Furthermore, the submission to male leadership in the Church is not exclusive to women. Church leadership is entrusted to men who are called to offices of leadership, not to men in general. All members of the Church, male or female, are commanded to submit to God ordained authority within the Church (Heb. 13:17). This means Mr. Smith does not have authority over Mrs. Jones simply because he is a man and she is a woman. Unless Smith is an elder in the church, his authority is limited to his own household and he has nothing whatsoever to say concerning Mrs. Jones (outside of the responsibility every Christian has toward his brethren in Christ – even in this case if Smith has something to say to or about Mrs. Jones he must direct his comments to her covenant head, Mr. Jones).
Now then, are we to understand “saved” in this passage as pertaining to something other than salvation as we normally comprehend it? Well, I suppose that depends upon our understanding of salvation. Many Christians limit the meaning of salvation (or being saved), to the new birth and the resulting “fire insurance.” However, this view of salvation is not really what the Bible teaches. The Puritans described salvation as conversion and holy living. The point is, salvation is life transforming and is far more than a ticket to heaven. The Greek terms translated as saved, salvation etc. throughout the New Testament are in the family of words related to the Greek word sozo ( sozw with the word in our passage being swqhsetai, the third person singular, future tense of sozw).3 Hence, a woman healed from a flow of blood is saved (Matt: 9:22), a sinful woman is forgiven and declared saved by her faith (Luke 7:50), the created realm undergoes salvation due to the work of Christ (John 3:16-17, Rom. 8:18-22) and the sick are saved through the prayers of the Church elders (James 5:14-15). Salvation in the New Testament is an all encompassing transformation. It includes the idea of snatching one away from a threat (of Hell), but involves the makeover of the whole man or woman and is not limited to the avoidance of Hell. Thus we see the character of Zaccheus undergo a dramatic change when salvation comes to his house (Luke 19:1-10); Paul himself experiences a complete transformation and (progressively), becomes a new creature due to his salvific encounter with the Lord Jesus (Acts 26:12-23, Phil. 3:12-16, 1 Tim. 1:13); indeed Paul declares that anyone who is embraced by Christ’s saving grace shall be transformed into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The making of a new creation involves all aspects of life and living. In addition, salvation is a process, an action that takes place in an individual and shows evidence of it’s activity. The new birth immediately makes us citizens of the Kingdom of God; salvation is the progressive conquest of our life for the kingdom. To paraphrase, salvation (the realized rule of Jesus Christ), is like leaven progressively worked through the whole lump of dough (Luke 13:20-21). Salvation is the process of sanctification. Salvation is the new birth. Salvation is the new birth and the process of sanctification.
Exactly what does Paul mean by childbearing? Is he narrowly focused on the act of giving birth or does he have more in mind here? The Greek word translated as childbearing is teknogonias (teknogonias) and carries the singular meaning of giving birth to children.4 Nevertheless, the term may be understood here to include the rearing of children as well5 so long as it takes place in the company of additional evidences of salvation (faith, love, holiness and self control). That being the case, we may say that teknogonias includes the activities of teaching, training and punishment of children (Prv. 6:20, 23:25-28). And when she ignores those responsibilities a woman pays a price in shameful children (Prv. 10:1, 15:20, 29:15) Truly childbearing is part of the dominion mandate as it relates to women. Children raised in a godly fashion will not only be a joy to their mother (and father), but will be instrumental in furthering the reach of the kingdom of God as their childhood training dictates the character of their own outworking of the dominion mandate.
(We also need to note that the word translated as “in” – Greek dia, [dia], means “through” or “by the way of.” So we can accurately say that a woman is saved through or by the way of childbearing if it takes place in the company of other salvific activity.)
Paul’s point then is that a woman will not find salvation in exercising public authoritative ministry but in doing those things she is commanded to do. I don’t want to belabor the point (I’ve run into far too many Christians who do not understand this), but salvation is the new birth and the process of sanctification and is made manifest through obedience. Or to put it another way, obedience is both proof of salvation and the action of salvation in one’s life. This is why Paul says women will be “saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness and self control.” In other words, childbearing is recognized as part of salvation’s process when in the company of additional salvation evidence. So, when Mrs. Jones surrenders her life to Christ and is made a new creation, she will no longer desire the life of lawlessness but will desire (in her inner most being), to do the works of righteousness (Rom. Chapter 6 and 7). In short, salvation (the re-creation of a man or woman) produces good works (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). In the case of a woman who is married, part of the action of salvation on her life is giving birth to children and rearing them in the faith; salvation should produce the good work of childbearing. Childbearing is a key way in which a woman demonstrates the fact she is a new creation.
This is not a popular message in today’s culture. Both outside and within the Church women are encouraged to pursue a career and make childbearing of secondary importance. However, our passage makes it clear, the primary role of a married woman is that of mother. The married woman must make the bearing and rearing of children (as God so blesses), her primary work.
What about the married woman who claims to be a Christian yet considers childbearing of little or no importance? Is she truly a Christian? Well, what are we to think of the man who claims salvation and yet refuses to shoulder the responsibility of headship in his home? Is he truly a Christian? In either case, a failure to obey the command of God does not necessarily indicate the offender is unregenerate. It may mean Mr. and Mrs. Jones have not been taught the whole counsel of God. Most likely that’s exactly what it means. Nevertheless, this doesn’t absolve the Joneses from their responsibility to obey the Lord. Theirs is the task of study and meditation. If they find the church they attend does not teach biblical models of womanhood and manhood, they need to find a church that does.
The task of taking the Gospel into all the world begins with our obedience to the Word of God. As we learn to walk in the ways of the Lord, our lives will become testimonies of Christ’s lordship. Thus God will be glorified and His kingdom manifest throughout the earth.
1. Robert Andrews suggests that had Adam not eaten the fruit and simply corrected his wife and taught her the law of God, the fall would not have taken place. Perhaps. Yet this seems to overlook the fact that the fall was what set in motion God’s eternal plan for mankind (Eph. 3:11). See: Robert Andrews,The Family: God’s Weapon for Victory, (Rice Washington: Sentinel Press: 1995, 2002), 38.
2. For instance, Miriam was part of the civil leadership of Israel (Micha 6:4) and Deborah was a civic leader in Israel (not part of the ecclesiastical structure), as well (Judges 4:4-ff). Esther also exercised civil authority on behalf of her people.
3. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffery W. Bromiley, 9 vols. (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1974), 7:965-ff., and Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Wilmington: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), 395.
4. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffery W. Bromiley, 9 vols. (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1974), 9:649.
5. Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Wilmington: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), 399. See also, William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), II:111