“Christian Women (part 3 of 3)”
"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. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."
1 Timothy 2:11-15
In our final article in this short series on Christian women, we tackle the last section of this difficult verse. What does Paul mean in verse 15 when he says, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing"? Remember that Paul is addressing proper behavior in the Ephesian assembly. Men must learn to pray in purity and holiness (1 Tim. 2:8) and women must dress and behave modestly (1 Tim. 2:9-12).
The Importance of Modesty (1 Timothy 2:9-12)
First, women should not draw undo attention to themselves with their dress. Evidently, some women in Ephesus treated the assembly like a fashion show. These vulgar, extravagent displays of wealth (and/or promiscuity) were out of step with the gospel of humility and holiness. Rather, Paul says, Christian women should be known for their "good works." These "good works" include, but are not limited to, leading a dignified, temperate lifestyle (1 Tim. 2:11), raising children, showing hospitality, and caring for the needy (1 Tim. 5:10). This is part of the "adorning" of inner beauty which is incorruptible and precious in God's sight, exemplified in a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Pet. 3:3-4).
The other side of immodesty is a tendency toward insubordination (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Women should take up their place, alongside the men, as disciples, which, in Jewish society, was a radical notion (see Lk. 10:38-42). But Christian women are to "learn quietly with all submissiveness," not necessarily silently but with a quiet and respectful demeanor. This attitude extends beyond the assembly into everyday life (1 Tim. 5:13). A Christian woman's role within a congregation is as a learner (v.11) not a teacher (v.12). However, this is not a complete prohibition against women teaching as Paul himself instructed the church in Crete that "older women" should "train the younger women" (Titus 2:3-4). Rather, Paul forbids women to "exercise authority over a man."
Perhaps Paul writes so forcefully here because some women in Ephesus were disrupting the church by advancing the errors and speculations of false teachers (1 Tim. 5:13-15). He then goes on to support his argument by referencing the creation account in Genesis chapters 2-3.
Male Leadership Defended (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
The order of creation (v.13) should suggest male headship in the church (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-12). Paul then emphasizes how Eve was "deceived" by Satan (Gen. 3:13). The deception that Eve experienced in the Garden was not unlike that of some women in Ephesus (1 Tim. 4:1; 5:15; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3). "Adam," Paul says, "was not deceived" by the serpent. Rather, Adam sinned with his eyes wide open, that is, he sinned knowingly. Adam's was boldfaced rebellion and God held him to account (Gen. 3:17-19).
Together, Adam and Eve, the representatives of the human race, plunged the world into ruin. How did this happen? Instead of following the order ordained by God in creation, Adam followed Eve leading to the downfall of both. Back to 1 Timothy, Paul's goal in writing the letter was to restore order to the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 1:3). That order includes respecting the appropriate roles of men and women within the church. The woman's role in the church is not primarily one of leadership, hence his reference to Genesis 3.
Salvation through Childbearing (1 Timothy 3:15)
Paul softens the blow of verses 13-14 with the comforting, but admittedly difficult, words of verse 15. Though woman was deceived and fell into sin, "yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." Notice the shift in pronouns from "she" (singular) to "they" (plural). Because of this ambiguity, there are different ways to read Paul's words. Our job, of course, is to determine the correct context and find out what he meant (2 Tim. 2:15).
If "she" is Eve, the representative woman, and "they" are the Christian women at Ephesus, then "saved through childbearing" means that a woman's salvation comes not through the activity of ruling in the church but through faithfulness to her proper role, which is exemplified in motherhood. Christian women are to be known for their "good works" (v.10) which include marriage, child-rearing and keeping a good home (1 Tim. 5:11, 14; cf. Prov. 31). Paul could not be saying that having children and being a good mom serves as a basis for salvation, for not all women have children and salvation is not merited, so he qualifies his words: "if they (Christian women) continue in faith..." then they will be saved.
Although this interpretation is a possibility and has a lot going for it, I believe there is another more likely one.
If "she" is a Christian woman and "they" are her children, then "saved through childbearing" means not saved from sin (eternal salvation) but saved from the pain associated with bearing and raising children in this world broken by sin. This would tie back into the curse pronounced to Eve in Genesis 3. In Eden, the natural order was turned on its head: instead of man leading woman and ruling over the beasts of the field together (Gen. 2:28), the beast (the serpent) led the woman, who led the man, which resulted in creation being "subjected to futility" (Rom. 8:20).
Sin fractured God's creation and had severe effects on humanity. Particularly, women would suffer increased "pain in childbearing" (Gen. 3:16). "Pain" is prolonged toil and misery. This pain does not merely refer to the physical pain women suffer in childbearing but also includes the emotional suffering of childrearing (the Greek word found here could include both), raising children in a sin-sick world. Part of Eve's suffering the curse of sin was to know Cain killed Abel out of hatred and jealousy (Gen. 4:8). Whereas Adam's 'work' of raising crops was cursed with prolonged "pain" (Gen. 3:17), Eve's 'work' of raising children was also cursed with prolonged "pain" (Gen. 3:17). (This is not to say that women do not have secular jobs [see Lydia, Acts 16] and men have no part in raising children [see Eph. 6:4]).
The Gospel of Christ
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Gal. 4:4). It was through Eve, "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3:20), that God raised up her promised "offspring" and defeated evil through the cross and resurrection of Christ. In Jesus, God's promise to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled. Now that Jesus has come, mothers are "saved" (delivered or rescued) not only from sin but also from the "pain" of raising children, "if" those children "continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." Christian women can rediscover the joy of motherhood in a world where the curse of sin is being rolled back by the gospel. Mothers of Christian children everywhere echo the truth of John's words: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth" (3 Jn 1:4).