Among Paul’s instructions to Timothy we discover what appears to be a curious assertion. Perhaps we’ve heard an explanation satisfying our curiosity quelling any further inquiry. Yet those explanations might melt away upon closer inspection.
So what did Paul write? “But she will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” 1 Timothy 2:15.
This almost sounds like Paul claimed the act of giving birth saves women. However, students of God’s word rightfully reject this possibility. For starters it would violate the gospel. And as we shall see, the Greek syntax in this sentence does not support such an interpretation. Furthermore, it would not make sense because Timothy was ministering to women who were already saved.
What was Paul trying to convey? One explanation interprets salvation as referring to her safety through giving birth. This would seem to provide a tidy solution. Accordingly the NET renders this phrase as, “But she will be delivered through childbearing.”
Yet, some glaring problems exist. History and experience reveal godly women can die during childbirth. Furthermore, “but” places this statement in contradistinction to some earlier idea. Yet, nothing stands in clear contrast to being kept safe while giving birth. Hence, this does not seem to be what Paul intended to communicate.
Another proposal involves understanding Mary’s giving birth to the Messiah as reversing Eve’s role in being deceived by sin with the result that salvation is available for all women. Sounds intriguing. However, Paul pointed to childbearing, not a birth nor a child. Neither Mary nor Jesus are in view. Childbearing is. In addition, scripture never ties salvation to the incarnation.
Before considering a third possibility we might first need to reflect upon how Paul and the other New Testament authors wrote about salvation. Our minds rightfully gravitate to the gospel’s primary proclamation. Christ was crucified for us. God raised him on the third day. We must rely upon him in order to possess a living hope. These thoughts about salvation revolve around what makes it possible for us to enter Christ. This was not however their only proclamation about salvation.
Some scriptures describe reconciliation and salvation as being contingent upon remaining faithful. Significantly, these texts exhibit a similar conditional structure to 1 Timothy 2:15.
The gospel … by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you. 1 Corinthians 15:2
Now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him— if indeed you remain in the faith, established and firm, without shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. Colossians 1:22,23
Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:10,11
The primary structure of 1 Timothy 2:15 fits well into the company of these conditional salvation messages. “She will be saved … if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”
It would appear therefore that the real crux of any difficulty we might have with this verse resides in the phrase “through childbearing.” Let’s take a closer look at this phrase. We also need to consider the wider perspective of context.
The next article in this series is here