Saved Through Childbearing?!?!

Last Sunday I preached on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 where Paul, among other things, addresses the role of women in the church.  Even though the sermon was longer than usual, I still could not find the time to unpack verses 13-15 on Sunday.  The point of the verses, I said, was that gender roles were grounded in creation, and if anyone wanted to know more they could ask me after the service.

Several people did and perhaps others wanted to ask, so I’ve decided to give my take on these verses in the context of the GBC blog.

Here are the verses (from the NIV 1984): “13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

These verses are notoriously difficult to interpret, and I readily admit they sound bad from a 21st century point of view.  One could read them (and many have read them) as Paul saying, “Women are too unreliable to do anything of value in the church, as they were deceived by a serpent in the Garden of Eden!  So they just need to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant, and if they do God will have mercy on them.”

If you heard the sermon, you know I don’t believe Paul could have meant anything like that.  Paul had a decidedly counter-cultural view of women.  In a world which viewed women as “deformities” and “incomplete men” (see Aristotle, Plato), Paul preached the inherent dignity of women and their equal value with men (see Galatians 3:28).

However, gender roles in the church and the home are grounded in creation, as verse 13 tells us Adam was formed first, then Eve.  Gender roles are based on gender differences, which exist for our good and to teach us about the nature of God (see my sermon for a fuller explanation).

But what about verses 14 and 15?  In these verses Paul expounds on what happened during the Fall of Man, which is recorded in Genesis 3.  Verse 14 can be read as a rebuke of Adam as much as it reads like a rebuke of Eve.  Yes, Paul says, the serpent deceived Eve in the garden, but she should never have been placed in that position.  Adam was standing right there next to her as it happened and did nothing.  Adam, who should have exercised the authority God gave him in the garden to defend God’s honor and protect his family from lies, remains silent while an animal over whom he had been given dominion dishonors God by calling into question His kindness, generosity, and love.  In Romans 5 we read that, as a result, God holds Adam, not Eve, responsible for the fall.

Paul’s point in verse 14 is that, just as in the garden long ago, things will go badly today in the family and in the church if men do not exercise their God-given “teaching authority” (again, see my sermon for a full explanation of this term).  Men and only men can have authority to govern, lead, and protect the people in these two institutions (and no others, by the way), and they must gladly take up their responsibility.

What about verse 15?  One woman in our church told me after the sermon that this was her least favorite verse in the Scriptures.  I think I can understand why.

First, what verse 15 doesn’t mean.  It can’t mean salvation is secured through physically having children – not all women can, and men would be in a tight spot.  One popular interpretation is that it refers to the birth of Jesus, and how women will be saved if they believe in him.  While that’s true theologically, exegetically it’s a highly unlikely reading of the verse.  It’s important to note that in the New Testament the word translated as “saved” doesn’t only refer heaven/hell issues, but can also mean “wholeness” or “well-being.”  I think it means just that in this context.

Verse 15 also can’t mean that women will persevere or continue in their salvation through bearing children, nor does it guarantee physical safety for women in childbirth.

My conclusion is that Paul means that in the natural course of events most women will be mothers, and a great deal of their time will be given to the raising of their children.  That was certainly true in the first century, where women had no opportunities to work outside the home.  It’s still true for a majority of the women in the world today, where many can have a career yet choose to work at home.

In a world which degraded women and taught they had less inherent value than men, Paul promoted their role in the family and the church, argued for its dignity and worth, and encouraged women to continue in it.  Therefore, Paul does not mandate that all women get married and have kids, but rather just that most will do it in the natural course of events and, if they do, they are doing a wonderful work which glorifies God.  Raise your children, Paul says, in faith, love, and holiness – these are good and proper things for you to do.  Paul might put it like this: “Women, let the men bear the responsibility God has given them in the home and the church (and, it’s worth noting again, nowhere else in human society), and you take on the responsibility God has given you.”

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