Mothers Saved in Childbearing? Part 1

Reprinted (with permission) from Faith Pulpit, March/April, 2010.

The topic of a woman’s role in the church has been one of the most heated debates in contemporary Christianity. Moreover, a woman’s role in the home, as a wife and mother, is under attack in our culture. In this article, Mrs. Martha Hartog, adjunct faculty member at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa, addresses this issue with a thoughtful examination of the phrase, “she will be saved in childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15).

In I Timothy 2:8-15 Paul focused on a woman’s role in the church as well as her role as a mother. The passage closes with these words: “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (2:15).1 A brief look at its context and some grammatical matters should help us understand the meaning and importance of this verse.

Context

Broad context and historical setting

One of Paul’s purposes for writing this epistle relates to believers’ conduct “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15). Unfortunately, some had already departed from the apostolic truth (1:3; 6:20, 21). They promoted asceticism, which included abstinence from marriage, and thus by extension, from childbearing (4:3). Because they had persuaded some Christian women to abandon traditional female roles (5:14, 15), Paul charged them, “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house” (5:14a).

Immediate context First Timothy 2:15 concludes Paul’s instructions regarding public worship in the church (2:8-15). First, Paul addressed the issue of conduct in prayer (2:8-11). Men were to pray with a cleansed conscience and a proper attitude (2:8). Women were to reflect godliness by dressing modestly and adorning themselves with godly deeds (2:9, 10).

Next Paul directed his attention to a woman’s role in learning and teaching (2:11-15).2 A woman was to learn quietly with all submission, and she was not to exercise authority over a man―she was not to teach him (2:11, 12). Paul based his injunctions on two historical events: the order of Creation and the manner of the Fall (2:13, 14). “In typical rabbinic fashion, Paul was making an analogical application based on the Genesis text.”3 Paul then concluded his instructions with a promise and a condition (2:15).

Antecedent of “she will be saved”

Four possibilities exist: (1) Some perceive an allusion to Genesis 3:15 and think the antecedent is Eve, who “holds within her the means for the salvation of the world and of herself.”4 (2) She is a combination of Eve and Mary. “The woman (Eve) will be saved by the childbearing (of Christ by Mary).”5 (3) She represents the women in Ephesus. “Obviously Paul is not talking about Eve’s salvation but ‘the woman’ in Ephesus.”6 (4) She represents all Christian women who demonstrate faith, love, holiness, and self-control.7

The sense of “saved”

Writers have proposed several ideas: (1) physical safekeeping in childbirth; (2) protection from false teaching; or (3) spiritual salvation, meaning either deliverance from sin’s penalty (justification) or deliverance from sin’s influence (sanctification). Mounce contends that both the context and Paul’s use of the verb “confirm that v 15 is speaking about salvation from sin.”8 Bowman depicts salvation as a “trajectory that has justification as its beginning point and sanctification as the route of the trajectory. Both justification and sanctification will be consummated at a future time.”9

The force of the Greek article (τῆς) before “childbearing”

Some stress the particularizing function of the article and say that the childbearing refers to Jesus’ birth.10 Others believe that the article is generic, referring to childbearing in general.11

Antecedent of “they continue”

Commentators propose these possibilities: (1) The husband and wife.12 (2) The woman’s children.13 (3) The Christian women mentioned earlier (2:9, 10) who are not to leave the sphere of godliness in which they find themselves but must continue to display godly virtues.14

The shift from “she” to “they”

The analogy between Eve and the Ephesian women causes a shift from the singular to the plural. The reason for this shift becomes clear if the woman in verse 15 refers back to the woman in verses I I and 12. Childbearing then “stands in opposition to the sphere of public teaching which was closed to her.”15 Verses 13 and 14 reflect “a common rabbinic method of referring to the Old Testament, a method known as summary citation.”16 Having cited Genesis 2 and 3 to buttress his injunction concerning a woman’s teaching, Paul returned to women in worship (vv. 9, 10) and ended “on the same note with which he began.”17 Structuring 1 Timothy 2:9-15 as a chiasm (see below) clarifies the shift and helps us identify the women involved.

(Read Part 2.)

Notes

1 Mounce calls this verse “one of the strangest verses in the New Testament” (William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000], 143).

2 “The anarthrous γυνή, ‘woman,’ functions as a generic noun…appropriate in the statement of a general truth” (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 117, 118)

3 Ann Bowman, “Women in Ministry: An Exegetical Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15” [Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992): 193-213]: 204. Cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-12.

4 Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 183.

5 Thomas Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Louisville: John Knox, 1989), 101.

6 Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 37.

7 Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 48.

8 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 145.

9 Bowman, “Women in Ministry”: 208. “Reference to final eschatological redemption…cannot be ruled out…at I Tim. 2:15.” (“σῴζω” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).

10 Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles (Winona Lake: BMH, 1995), 115.

11 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 89.

12 Walter Lock, The Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1966), 33.

13 Gregory of Nysa, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament IX (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), 167.

14 “μένω” in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957).

15 D. Edmond Hiebert, First Timothy (Chicago: Moody, 1957), 62.

16 Bowman, “Women in Ministry”: 203, 204. Cf. Jesus’ approach in Matthew 19:3-5.

17 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 147. Paul used this rabbinic method in Ephesians 5:22-33. He admonished wives and husbands, based on his admonitions on Genesis 2, and then addressed the husbands and wives again.


Martha Hartog is an adjunct faculty member at Faith Baptist BIble College, teaching women’s ministries courses since 2001. She holds BA and MA degrees from Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary. Martha has served as a children’s worker, pastor’s wife, librarian and is actively involved in women’s ministries. Martha helped her husband, John II, start Maranatha Baptist Church in Grimes, Iowa. Her husband and her sons, John III and Paul, teach at Faith. Martha and John live in Ankeny and attend Faith Baptist Church in Cambridge, Iowa.

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Mike Durning's picture

Thanks for this great summary. I'll be looking forward to where you go from here.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Part 2 posts tomorrow.

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