One of the strangest verses in the Bible is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy:
But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:15)
If there was ever a verse that could be misused to promote patriarchy and dead works, it’s this one.
“Stay home, make babies, earn salvation!”
Sounds ridiculous, right? Yet it’s not far removed from what some of the Church Fathers actually taught.
Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, taught that women were put on earth to serve men and make babies:
I do not see in what sense the woman was made as a helper for the man if not for the sake of bearing children.
Martin Luther likewise taught that the chief purpose of women was to reproduce:
Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.
Raising children is a noble occupation, but the picture of a man ruling from his throne while his wife raises the kids alone, is contrary to God’s plan for partnership. It comes from Athens, not Eden.
The scriptures are full of exhortations for men to be proactive and engaged fathers (e.g., Pro. 4:1–4, Eph. 6:4, 1 Thess. 2:11). Men and women are both called to raise children.
And this idea that women can be saved by having babies?! That can’t be right. Can it?
Some translations try and wriggle out of it by translating the word saved as preserved. But the original word (sozo) is almost always translated as save or saved elsewhere in the Bible.
Are women really saved through childbearing?
The first thing to note about this strange verse is the word women. This word should be in italics as it has been added by translators. Paul never said it.
Other Bibles translate his words as “she will be saved through childbearing.” Who is she? It is the woman Paul has just been talking about, namely Eve.
For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve… but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:13–14)
Eve was deceived and became a sinner, but that wasn’t the end of her story. She was saved through childbearing, meaning her Offspring – the Seed of Eve otherwise known as Jesus – undid the damage.
Recall the promise God made to the serpent:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head… (Genesis 3:15)
Are women saved through childbearing? No, but women (and men) are saved because Eve bore a child. No baby, no Jesus.
Imagine if fallen Eve had refused to bear children. Imagine if she had been so racked with guilt and shame that she said, “I will not bring any children into the world.” That would have been a disaster! God’s redemptive purposes would never have come to pass.
Thank God Eve bore children or none of us would be here and none of us could be saved.
Which is a lovely way for Paul to close out what he has been saying. “Because Adam failed to train his wife, Eve fell into deception, and humanity was lost. But God redeemed their mess by giving us a Savior, born from the couple who fell.”
What a Great Redeemer is our God.
Continue in faith, love and holiness
Now that last bit:
– if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Some read this as though Paul was preaching conditional salvation. “As long as you maintain propriety or self-control, you’re saved. But have a bad day and you’re out.”
He’s saying, “Don’t be tossed and turned, but keep your eyes on Jesus. Continue trusting him and you won’t be seduced into dead works or religious superstition.”
Again, the context is the key. The immediate context is Eve; the larger context is Timothy’s church in Ephesus.
The Ephesians worshipped the many-breasted Artemis, the goddess of childbirth and midwifery. Artemis was just about the ugliest, most-repulsive idol you could imagine, yet the superstitious and fearful came from miles around to pray to her.
Now imagine you are an Ephesian believer facing a difficult birth. You live in a world without antibiotics, painkillers, and C-sections. You know people who have died during childbirth, and you worry that it could happen to you. What can you do?
For an Ephesian woman, the temptation would be to fall back on old habits and offer sacrifices to Artemis.
“Don’t do that,” said Paul. “There’s no salvation there. Fear not and continue to trust God. Just look at the mighty salvation he wrought through the childbearing Eve.”
What does this mean for us?
We may never be tempted to worship an idol with more udders than a herd of cows. For us, superstition and dead works take other forms.
When facing a trial, we might be tempted to pray a little more or give a little more or go to church a little more in the misguided belief that we can bribe God with our efforts.
“I’ll do something for you, if you do something for me.”
It’s very easy to think like this but when we do we are no longer continuing in faith, love and holiness. We’re walking after the flesh.
The word for propriety means sound mind. If you want a sound mind in times of trouble, don’t look to yourself for salvation, but fix your eyes on the Savior. Hasten to enter his rest and let nothing move you.
Paul is not saying women are saved by making babies. Nor is he saying a woman’s place is in the home or women must raise children alone.
He’s saying continue to trust the God who saves, and you will have grace for your trials.
Update: Paul’s book The Silent Queen has won a medal at the 2022 Illumination Book Awards!
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