1 Timothy 2:8-15 CSB
8 Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. 9 Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. 15 But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.
Today, we tackle verse 15! First I will walk through some of the options for how to understand the verse. Then we will talk about practical applications and life observations. I will put in bold a summary statement of each proposed interpretation.
Before we begin, I want to remind us that we always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. So anything we say about how to understand verse 15 has to fit with the rest of the Bible. The first interpretation would be the most literal – that women are saved (from sin) by bearing children. That is completely impossible because the entire Bible makes clear that no person is saved by their works. They are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 asserts both that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.” If one needs further proof, an event in the life of Jesus further eliminates that possibility. When a woman in the crowds around him yells out “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one who nursed you!” Jesus corrects her wrong thinking by answering, “He said, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” He is saying that even Mary who bore the Son of God is not blessed (primarily) by that childbearing, but rather, all are blessed by their response of faith and obedience to the word of God. (Luke 11:26-28)
A second popular interpretation has been an allegorical one: women, like men, are saved through Mary’s bearing of The Child (Christ). The odd thing about this interpretation is that there is no specific reference to Mary in the passage. Neither is there a reference to the fact that the Savior whom Mary bore brings salvation to all people, not just women. Furthermore, verse 15 specifies “she” suggesting that something more specific to women is being said.
A third possibility is to understand the words “saved through” to mean “preserved through” rather than “saved by.” Thus Paul might be saying that faithful, holy women will be protected and kept safe and alive through the harrowing process of childbirth, which resulted in the death of many mothers in ancient times. This seems implausible since we believe that the Bible is truth, and we know that many godly women did die and still do in childbirth. Thus this interpretation is shaky at best if we are to take the Bible seriously.
A fourth possible interpretation is to understand the word “saved” not as equivalent to “born again” but as referring to “sanctification” or “working out salvation” (Phillipians 2:12). With this interpretation, Paul might be directing women to work out their salvation in the context of this special role dedicated to women: that of child bearing and nurture, rather than the lead role in teaching and ruling the Church. This interpretation ties in with the entire passage, prohibiting women from teaching and exercising overall authority in the Church, a role which Eve grasped at when she was deceived in the Garden, and fell into sin. After the Fall, Adam names her Eve, because “she was the mother of all the living.” Adam was the father of all the living, so by naming her Eve (a derivative of the verb “to live”) he must be highlighting the special role mothers have in bearing children. Paul Carter is someone who holds this view and he wrote a post on the Gospel Coalition website about this topic.
Another interpretation that is also supported biblically is to pick up on the reference to the Fall of Humanity in verse 14, and to remember that God pronounced a curse of painful childbirth to Eve because of her sin (Genesis 3:16). Paul has just reminded his readers of that sad history, and perhaps he is countering with hope in verse 15 of our passage. The pain of childbirth perpetually reminds all women of the curse that resulted from Eve’s sin. Paul has just warned us women against sinning as Eve did by grasping at the leadership role of the man, and at equality with God, another painful reminder. But this interpretation proposes that Paul then assures women that there is hope of salvation from the curse, provided that we exhibit saving faith in obedience to God’s word. John Piper refers to an older saint from the 19th century – Henry Alford writing in 1863 – who held this view in a post on his website Desiring God. If you are really interested in this topic, there are other articles online which you might find helpful.
What do I think? How do I interpret this difficult passage? I think it’s possible that Paul was encouraging women that there is hope of salvation despite the pain of childbirth which was the result of Eve’s deception. Because Paul has just referred to the regrettable events of the Fall, and their ruinous consequences, a word of hope and lifting of the curse might make sense here.
However, I also see merit in the perspective that women are to embrace their God-given role instead of grasping at the man’s role. Part of that alternate direction is their special and unique role in child bearing and rearing. The weakness of this view is that the passage doesn’t mention child rearing, only child bearing. However, in the blog post I linked to above, the author, Paul Carter, points out Paul’s reference in Titus 2:3, which instructs older women to teach younger women to love their children and be “workers at home.” We have written before on whether or not the Scriptures limit women to work in their homes, but I believe that would be an oversimplified interpretation of that passage. I believe home is a worthy workplace for women, but not the only appropriate workplace for them. Let’s set that aside for now and discuss how childrearing is a highly esteemed role in the Bible.
In two passages where Paul gives guidelines for different roles or behavior for men and women, he mentions child bearing. 1 Timothy 2:15 is one passage and the other is 1 Corinthians 11, which I already discussed. And furthermore, in, Titus 2:3-5 we see women nurturing their children. In our modern society many women want to have careers outside the home, which is not a bad or unbiblical aspiration. However, along with that goal many women also feel that if they have a college degree, that degree is wasted if “all” they are going to do is raise children. I want to encourage us to see the bearing and raising of children the way the Bible sees it – as an honor, as a critical ministry, and as a privilege. I think Paul mentions child bearing in these passages because he sees it as the high honor it is rather than an inconvenient interruption to more meaningful work. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses his reference to child bearing as a way to curb male pride over their headship roles in marriage and the church, and to remind them that they all had their birth through a woman. When Adam named Eve in recognition of her life-bearing role, it seems to me that he spoke of it with awe and appreciation (Genesis 3:20). Childbearing is an honor, not a burden, however painful it became as a result of the fall and the curses. God speaks of Himself giving birth to us in Deuteronomy 32:18, and implies that we should love, remember and esteem Him because he birthed us.
However, it is not simply labor and delivery which is an honor. Nurturing children is also esteemed in the Scriptures. Again, nurturing children is compared to God’s nurture of us. Hosea 11:1-4 reads:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 Israel called to the Egyptians
even as Israel was leaving them.
They kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the hand,
but they never knew that I healed them.
4 I led them with human cords,
with ropes of love.
To them I was like one
who eases the yoke from their jaws;
I bent down to give them food.
Some might say God is not comparing himself to a mother in Hosea, but to a father. My goal here is not to distinguish between fathers and mothers. My point is to say that nurturing, teaching, and providing for children is work which reflects God’s character, and yet, we esteem it so little. It is nothing new to devalue ministry to children. Even in Jesus’ time, his disciples thought He was too important to focus on children (See Mark 10:13-14). Jesus replies, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Elsewhere he says, “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Perhaps Jesus is commending the trust and receptivity of children, but most certainly He is advocating for attentive ministry to children.
This is not simply about being mothers, but also about being women in the Church. I have observed how in the church, there are not long lines forming to sign up for teaching children’s Sunday School. Being a nanny is not a highly esteemed long term career path. But let’s consider that there are few more impactful things to do than nurturing children. To love a child and carefully instruct them can mark that child for life. Godly women – married or single – can do this. Think back to your early school days. It is quite possible that you can remember a face, name or even a piece of advice given lovingly by a teacher or mentor. The ministry of teaching and leading the Church is an esteemed ministry in Scripture. That is true. However, the ministry of bearing and nurturing children is also an esteemed ministry in Scripture. We ought to esteem it more highly, rather than thinking that the really good ministry to do is the one limited to men.
My husband and I just spent a week with our children and grandchildren. Our family vacations consist of staying together in a house with recreation on site, and where we cook and eat together. The quality of our relationships becomes apparent during the week, as different ones pitch in to serve others, and conversations take place. We get to see how our children as adults are using their skills and energy in their communities, and shouldering adult responsibilities, which can be quite heavy at times. I find deep satisfaction in seeing the beauty of their personalities and strengths, but also the fruit of my child rearing years. I am glad I invested time and energy into my children when they were home.
Let me encourage those of you who may be feeling like your education is being wasted in some capacity. Our educations are not wasted if we set a high priority on bearing and nurturing children for some period of our adult life. Nor is theological education wasted if we focus our wisdom on women, youth and children. It takes great wisdom to translate faithfully an adult catechism into words that a child can understand, without compromising truth. Let us all remember that our Lord is the author and director or our lives, and if we are following His leading we will find fulfillment and peace even if the road is hard. In future weeks I hope to write about some women at our church who have taken their intellects and educations and focused them primarily on women, youth and children. They have become specialists in communicating spiritual truth to women, children and youth. Many whom they have taught arise and call them “blessed!” My prayer is that this will be the case for other women too, who are pouring out their lives in service to others.