A library story can contribute toward illuminating the phrase, “But she will be saved through childbearing.” Clarity, however, might challenge our perceptions on salvation as well as our views on gender roles within worship. Or it might be 1 Timothy 2:15 will confirm what we already accept as true.
Our reaction will likely reveal more about us than it does Paul’s message. His message never changed.
Story, Texts & Agency
Entering a library a couple located the information desk. Walking to a librarian they inquired, “Where could we find the Dewey decimal 200 books?” The librarian instructed them to walk through the periodical section to the shelves.
Let’s consider the role of agency. Why were the religious books on those shelves? The library had purchased and placed them there. Thus the library was the ultimate agent. The fact that the couple walked through the periodicals did not make the books appear. However, their walking through that section did serve an intermediate agency function toward acquiring their goal. Without walking through the magazine aisle they would not have reached the 200’s.
Now consider Jesus’ statement, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man through the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31). Who was the ultimate agent responsible for those teachings regarding the Son of Man? God was the source. God was the ultimate agent.
God, however, was not the only agent. God’s message was delivered through (dia) the prophets. They served an intermediate agency role. While the prophets were not responsible for the content of the messages, they were necessary agents in order for the scriptures to teach about the Son of Man.
Greek grammarians, such as A.T. Robertson and Daniel B. Wallace, have noted that verbs in the passive voice followed by the Greek preposition dia (through) modifying a substantive in the genitive case convey intermediate agency, not ultimate agency. This is 1 Timothy 2:15’s phrase structure. The only other time Paul wrote “will be saved” followed by this grammatical construction occurs in 1 Corinthians 3:15.
In that context Paul revealed that teachers presenting low quality but not destructive messages to God’s people would be saved. The Judge will save them. God is the ultimate agent.
While they would be saved, they would first pass “through fire” burning up their teachings. To arrive at being saved would necessitate passing through fire. Fire will play an intermediate agency role.
What does all of this have to do with 1 Timothy 2:15? Paul asserted childbearing serves as an intermediate agent for receiving salvation. While it is not the source of salvation, it is the path through which women receive salvation.
Context of 1 Timothy 2:15
To aid in piecing all of this together, we need to consider how “but” in 2:15 fits into the larger context. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul was in the midst of instructing Timothy how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household (1 Timothy 3:14,15). Paul had asserted that wherever the church might congregate men ought to lift up unsoiled hands in prayer.
Then Paul turned to women’s comportment. While they were encouraged to learn within the assembly, they were not to be the teachers. Paul grounded this reasoning not upon cultural elements. Rather, he pointed to two historical events lying far beyond Jewish, Christian or Greco-Roman culture: God’s creation and Eve’s story.
At this point Paul inserted “but” to contrast the teaching role men were to have within worship services with the God–designated role for women resulting in their salvation. The Creator provided men with one role to fulfill but women with another. Childbearing epitomizes a woman’s role. This holds no implications regarding barrenness nor singleness. Rather it encapsulates the epitome of a woman’s distinctive role.
In general terms her path toward receiving salvation does not involve usurping the male worship leader role, but rather remaining in her distinctive role epitomized by childbearing. “But women will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Affirming gender roles exist within the assembly is often not a welcomed message nor is it the only impediment to embracing Paul’s message. Some will bristle at the need for faithfulness. We need to remember scripture presents two salvation messages: entering Christ and remaining in Christ. Thus we need to take seriously both “saved by grace” and “be prepared.” Furthermore, scripture does not equate works with all doing nor all faith with just believing.
While we must rely upon Christ crucified in order to enter salvation, God’s people must not rebel against Christ. To hear “Well done good and faithful servant” requires honoring the Messiah as Lord over our lifestyle.
Such Christian living is not salvation by works. Rather, faithful living depends upon Christ and entails fulfilling our purpose as God’s people.
The previous article in this series is here