By Adam Brown –
In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 we receive the fifth instruction to the church, that men are to teach and exercise authority in the church. The last verse in this passage is peculiar and difficult to understand:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
What does this mean? It seems antiquated and off-putting, doesn’t it? After all, didn’t the idea that women should bear children go out of style the day Beaver Cleaver made his final new appearance in living rooms on June 20, 1963?
Understanding this verse is not easy. For starters, we are told that “she” will be saved by childbearing, and then we are told that this is conditional. In order for “she” to be saved, “they” must continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Who is she? Who are they?
Context helps. Throughout 1 Timothy 2:13-14, “she” is Eve. Thus, it makes most sense to conclude that “she” is still Eve. Thus, in context with verse 14, the meaning is this:
The woman (Eve) was deceived and became a transgressor, yet she (Eve) will be saved through childbearing.
Now that Eve is a transgressor, she needs to be saved. Thus, verse 15 seems to be teaching that childbearing will, in some way, contribute to Eve’s salvation. How so?
Put simply, Eve’s salvation, like the salvation of any and all who are saved, is entirely dependent on substitutionary atonement by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. How will Jesus give Himself as a ransom for Eve – and the rest of us – if Eve doesn’t bear children? The birth of Seth is a crucial step toward Eve’s salvation. Thus, there is a necessary chain of childbirth from Eve to Mary, upon which the salvation of humanity is entirely dependent. Childbearing – itself a gender-specific contribution to humanity’s propagation and salvation – it would seem, is kind of important. And by “kind of,” I mean “massively.” Why is it then, that in our time and culture we so often sneer at childbearing as something second-rate? Shame on us.
But, is this all that it means? No, there’s more. Throughout 1 Timothy 2:13-15, Eve is the archetypal woman. What is true of Eve is true of all women. Eve was not created to lead Adam but to help Adam (1 Timothy 2:13; Genesis 2:18). Likewise, women are not permitted to exercise authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12). Rather, they are to help men. Eve was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:14). It was only possible for Eve to be deceived because she had not received the Word of God directly from God. She received it through her husband, who received it directly from God (Genesis 2:16-17). Thus, the pattern of instruction established by God before the Fall was that He would entrust His Word to Adam, who was then is to teach it to his wife. And, even though Adam failed in this charge, God never reversed the designed order. Likewise, therefore, women are not permitted to teach over men (1 Timothy 2:12). Rather, they are to learn quietly (1 Timothy 2:11).
And so we come to 1 Timothy 2:15. What’s true of Eve with regard to childbearing is, in some way, true for all women. In addition to the chain of mothers from Eve to Mary that is necessary for the salvation of any and all who are to be saved, so also the bearing of any child is necessary for salvation. A sinner must be born into this world if that sinner is to ever believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. There is no salvation without first physical birth.
Of course, childbearing is more than pregnancy and physical labour. A woman can bear children by adoption. A woman can also bear children by helping to raise up the children of others in the church. Thus, bearing children is the gender-specific role of women in raising them to know Christ and the Gospel of His salvation. We see evidence of this in Timothy’s own life:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5).
My brother in Christ, Josip, pointed this verse out to me tonight. Lois and Eunice made a gender specific contribution to the salvation of Timothy by bearing him in love. We see further evidence of this in 2 Timothy 3:14-15:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Timothy learned the Gospel from his mother and his grandmother. Together they exercised their call to childbearing and the fruit of their labour was not only their own salvation, but also that of their son, a man of faith. O that we would see that bearing children is not a second-rate calling!
Of course, we come dangerously close to preaching a works based Gospel here. The point is not that a woman earns her salvation by bearing children. The second half of 1 Timothy 2:15 makes that clear enough:
—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Salvation cannot be earned by bearing children. They – meaning women – must also continue in faith, which manifests itself in love, holiness, and self-control. It is faith that grabs hold of the grace that saves, not childbearing. And yet – yes, and yet – there is something wonderfully important about bearing children in God’s economy of salvation.
Would that we might have eyes to see how precious is God’s call on every form of motherhood! Mothers, as a son myself, I thank you for your unrivaled contribution. May God richly bless you for your sacrificial service done in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.