Every person in the world has a drawer affectionately named “The Junk Drawer.” We have a few in our house. One is in the kitchen under the telephone. It is loaded with pens that don’t always work, batteries that may or may not be dead, superglue bottles that are glued…shut, and any other random thing that you don’t know where to put. It is a haphazard mess of useful things that don’t have a logical home. Junk, but good junk!
When coming to the end of 1 Timothy 2, it seems many want to treat verse fifteen like an item in a junk drawer. They don’t quite know what to do with it, but they are sure they need it and that it’s useful. So they tuck it away out of sight and slightly forget about it. Yet, they are right. They do need it, and it IS useful. I wonder sometimes if Paul knew all the controversy that would arise based on the diverse translations or applications of 1 Tim 2:15; this makes me think that for the sake of clarity, Paul would have been…well, clearer. However, I am reminded that God in His sovereignty and divine inspiration is the true author of the text, and He definitely DID know the obstacles women and men alike would face when approaching the end of 1 Timothy 2. With this knowledge, I find my motivation to study this verse, harder and deeper than before. Because, after all, if it’s important enough to have in Scripture, it’s important enough for me to know! Some of this is thick to wade through, but I believe all of it is crucial to understanding exactly why Paul chose this verse to conclude his statements about women in the church.
“Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
At first glance, this verse has struck many women in the wrong way. Did Paul really just say that I’ll be saved if I bear children? Is that why Michelle Duggar has so many kids? Flooding my head are visions of Gus Portokalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding saying to his daughter, Toula, in his thick Greek accent, “Get married; make babies! You look so…old!” Yet I believe what Scripture tells me, even if I don’t fully understand WHAT it is telling me. There are five basic questions one must muddle through in order to take this verse out of the “junk drawer” and apply it to our lives.
What is the context?
First Timothy 2:15 comes right at the end of Paul’s instruction on men and women’s roles in worship, specifically in praying that everyone around them would come to know Christ (1 Tim 2:3-7). First he addresses men (2:8), and then he addresses women (2:9-15). This is important to note, because we must not read into the text what is not there, or bring out what does not fit in the context of Paul’s writing. With that being said, I believe there are three textual questions we must answer in the pursuit of clarification.
What do “saved” and “continue” mean, and who are their subjects?
There are two main verbs in this sentence, and to fully understand ANY sentence, one must first understand the action that is happening in the sentence. . The second verb is menō and means simply “to remain or continue.” There is not much controversy at all concerning this particular verb, and I would say that most translations portray it well. Then there is the other verb in the verse, the first verb, that incendiary fellow “saved.” It comes from the Greek word sōzō, and means…well… “saved,” plain and simple. Yes, there are other variations of the definition, such as “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, rescue.” So then the question is raised: well, can’t the verse mean that the woman shall be preserved or rescued from natural dangers and afflictions and kept from harm through childbearing? Cause that would just clear up all the confusion! However, it wouldn’t for two main reasons.
First, Paul uses this word, sōzō, roughly 25 times in his letters, and while it can mean “to preserve or rescue” in the Gospels, especially in Matthew, Paul NEVER uses it to mean that, not once! In fact, in every instance that I could find, Paul is specifically talking about salvation found in Christ, the eternal salvation of my soul. So why would we come to the end of this passage and think that suddenly Paul is changing it up? That wouldn’t make sense.
Secondly, this verse comes right after the events in verse 14 where Eve is pointed out to be the transgressor. Paul uses this verse as a means of instilling hope for the outcome of women’s salvation. “Don’t worry; Eve may have transgressed, but the woman can be saved through childbearing. It’s going to be ok.” With these two points alone, we can attest to the fact that Paul IS speaking of eternal salvation that rescues me from eternity separated from God.
Since this is true, however, this brings about another question:
What does “childbearing” mean?
There is much dispute over the exact meaning of this word, childbearing. And I think it’s important to find out since apparently I, as a woman, am getting saved through it. Does it mean that I need to start having children? Is it an allusion to THE Childbirth (Jesus) like so many of our contemporary versions cross reference it to? Does it mean the physical act of bearing children or can it mean rearing children? Again, we must go back to the original Greek to understand Paul’s full meaning here. Childbearing comes from the Greek word teknogonia and means “bearing or having a child.” So let’s answer some of the questions laid out before us.
Does childbearing mean the physical act or can it mean rearing of children?
Bottomline? It does mean the physical act! There is actually a word for the rearing of children that Paul could have used here in this passage if that was what he wanted to portray. In fact, he uses that very word not two chapters later in 1 Timothy 5:10, “(she) is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children.” In vs. 15, Paul used this verbal noun to portray a verbal idea, the physical act of bearing a child.
Is this verse an allusion to THE Childbirth?
As poetic and creative as this interpretation may be, it is also highly unlikely. Remember, we don’t want to read into God’s Word something that is not clearly there. Some scholars look at the original Greek and see the article, tēs, before the noun and immediately want to put an English article, the, in its place. This must be done with caution. If not, then we legitimize the Mormon translation of John 1:1 because there is also an article before the word God in that verse, but the Word was definitely not “a God”; “The Word WAS God.” You see, the Greek article does not function in the same way as our English definite article; therefore, we cannot just drop an article in where we see fit. It just doesn’t work that way. Also, there is no mention of Mary in this passage, so to bring in a verse that so clearly means the physical birthing of a child and not mention the actual mother is highly unlikely.
To sum up then, Paul is saying that woman shall be saved eternally through the physical act of bearing children. Now, before you completely tune me out: I am a single woman who is childless and yet COMPLETELY eternally secure! So, keep reading!!
What does “through” mean?
Ah, the smallest words sometimes can be our biggest obstacles. This truth is clearly proven in 1 Tim 2:15 with the word dia, meaning “through.” Let’s have a little Greek lesson. Don’t fret; I’ll sum up. With any Greek preposition, which is what dia is, there are a number of connotations that have to be waded through to understand the meaning, and many times there are no clear signs; only contextual sense. With our preposition through, there are four main connotations, or ways to interpret this preposition, that need to be thought through: spatial, temporal, agency, and instrumental. Hold on, I’ll explain as we work through each.
Spatial – Probably the first to cross off the list. It means “of or pertaining to space,” and makes no sense when applying it to this verse. In English we would use spatial as: I drove my car through the tunnel. Applying this rule to our verse we would get: She shall be saved occurring in the same location of childbearing? I don’t think so.
Temporal – This is used by those who want this to be a comfortable verse, but it holds no bearing as far as truth or reality is concerned. It means “during,” and when applying this to our verse, this translation ensues: She shall be saved during childbearing. While that sounds like a nice promise, it is untrue. There have been plenty of godly women throughout history who have given birth and died in the process; sound like salvation to you? Me neither. If this is truly what this verse means, then the Scriptures lied and we need to throw it out. I do not believe God’s Word has lied; therefore, this can NOT be the accurate meaning of “through.”
Agency – I think this is what most people who have a problem with this verse think that it’s saying. Agency means that the object of the preposition is the agency or the proponent of getting the action of the verb done. In other words, the women’s salvation is brought about by the agent of childbearing. This could not be more wrong! Childbearing does not merit my salvation any more than good works. This goes against EVERYTHING Paul and the rest of Scripture teaches about why I can be saved, Acts 15:11, Romans 3:23, 24; 4:16; 5:15; 10:9, 10, Galatians 3:22, Ephesians 2:8,and 9, Colossians 1:13-14…basically the whole New Testament. Now that we’ve nipped THAT in the bud…let’s move on to the most probable way of determining what dia means.
Instrumental (Means) – This is the approach I believe Paul is taking. It is also translated “through” like Agency and, therefore, is a little harder to decipher. However, we must keep in mind that Greek is not English, and English is not Greek. Profound, I know! There are times when the English wording may not be able to fully express the message the Greek is trying to convey. I believe 1 Timothy 2:15 is such a case, and the true meaning of dia falls short in English. When applying dia in terms of Means, the “childbearing” becomes an instrument or a means by which the woman’s salvation is evidenced. Childbearing is not the CAUSE of her salvation, but a product as a result of her salvation, just like good works is not a merit for my salvation, but a product of it (John 15). This connotation makes the most sense logically, grammatically, and contextually.
What does it all mean conclusively?
This has been such an interesting passage for me to study. And I have to be honest; I vacillated several times in between arguments during the month I’ve taken to really pour over this one verse. The prideful feminist that lives in my heart (my original sinner, Sarah) wants to buck against the clear teachings of Scripture and say, “That’s not fair!” But, I want to get God’s heart in having this verse in His inspired Word to me. I want to understand what He is saying. So, I pray, and pray for clearer understanding.
It hit me two nights ago. I had been pouring and pouring over this verse, seeking counsel, reading commentaries, and studying the Greek words, so much so that it had consumed much of my thinking: “WHAT does it all mean conclusively? And how do I take it out of the proverbial junk drawer and apply it to my life?” Let me share what I have concluded.
Eve was deceived and became a sinner (vs. 14), but don’t worry. Woman shall be saved! And a result of that salvation will be childbearing – which is a picture of a woman accepting of her God-given role and function as a woman. Salvation shall be seen as having occurred when she continues in her faith – obeying God’s Word with love and holiness with propriety. These are all signs of a redeemed life, an outward display of something that happened inwardly because of Christ in her! Again…it’s all about Christ!
So what does that mean for me, a single woman? And what about the woman with no prospect of producing a child?
To her and me, I would say: Continuance in her role of being under man’s authority in the church will be her picture of a woman accepting of her God-given role and function as a woman. After all, that is the entire point of this whole passage, 9-15. Verse 15 is just a summation of what Paul is trying to express in verses 9-14: Women are not to have authority over men in the church because it distorts the picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and therefore, IT DISTORTS THE GOSPEL. It played its part in the original sin, and it continues to raise havoc on the church today. So to counteract that, women need to be silent in the church, accepting of the men’s authority. In doing so, they will show outwardly what Christ is doing inwardly and emulate the Bride of Christ.
May you and I, as women dedicated to bringing glory to God, humble ourselves and accept the calling God has for us for the sake of the Gospel!
Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics by Wallace
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition by Bauer and Danker
Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Schreiner and Köstenberger
A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments by Jamison, Fausset, and Brown
The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures by Walvoord and Zuck