Over 6 years of reading and teaching my way through the RMM Bible Reading plan I have grown used to answering certain questions at specific times in the year.
In late March I am frequently asked, “Why must we read Leviticus?”
In May I am asked, “Why is there so much hate in the Psalms of David?”
In August I am asked, “Why did God command Saul to exterminate an entire race of people?”
And in October I am almost always asked, “Why does Paul say that women will be saved through childbearing?”
That’s a good question.
The phrase comes from 1 Timothy 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:15 ESV).
That verse comes at the conclusion of a paragraph where Paul has been saying that women are not to hold the authoritative teaching office in the church. He says:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11–14 ESV)
The Greek word translated as “saved” in verse 15 has a wide semantic range, rather like the English word “saved.” Even in English, “saved” can mean “made a Christian” but it can also mean “rescued from danger,” “preserved from error,” “helped out of a jam,” or “kept from corruption” to name just a few. I am not aware of any Bible teacher who thinks Paul is saying that women become Christians by having babies.
There are 3 main interpretations of this passage.
1. Many Roman Catholics interpret it in an allegorical sense. Women (like men) will be saved because Mary “bore” Jesus. Thus we are all saved by the child born to the woman.
2. Among Protestants who tend to avoid allegorical interpretations, it is common to understand “save” in the fuller sense of the word which includes justification, sanctification and glorification and to focus in verse 15 on the sense of sanctification. Thus women are generally sanctified in the context of child rearing. Few who have had children would argue with that.
3. The most grammatically appealing option is to understand Paul as saying that women are “saved from deception” by properly valuing the domestic sphere. That seems to be the meaning that makes the best sense of the immediate context. Paul has just said that Eve was deceived, now he says that the daughters of Eve will be saved from deception by properly valuing the domestic sphere and continuing on in faith, love and holiness with self control.
As a Protestant, I’m always suspicious of allegorical interpretations that seem at odds with their immediate context and therefore, I tend to favour more straight forward readings of the Biblical text. While I admit the possibility and practical reality of option 2, option 3 seems to be the most common sense reading of the passage. Paul is saying that women are kept safe from deception when they embrace the roles that God gave them, when they properly value and esteem the domestic sphere and when they continue on in faith, love and self control.
Human beings in general are susceptible to error and deception when there is an obligation they wish to be free from. Paul warns women to beware of that, and his warning remains valuable to both men and women today.