Saturday, February 13, 2010

Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:15

9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness. 11 Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self restraint. --1 Timothy 2:9-15, New American Standard Bible.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote what follows based on the wording of an older edition of the NASB, which appears above. I probably picked that translation because of its literal approach. As you'll figure out from my comments, I certainly don't think it's a superior translation of this passage.

I know, everyone wants to know the meaning and proper application of especially 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Maybe someday I'll talk about those verses here at "Frankly Speaking." For now, I'm content to deal with another not-so-easy part of this passage: verse 15.

Because he has spoken of Eve's transgression in the previous verse, in verse 15 Paul names the specific way by which women can gain salvation: they can do it through the bearing of children. What does that phrase and the rest of the verse mean? Of course, there's a lot more to be said than I'm going to say here. Feel free in the comments to add what you'd like. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to quickly sketch the three main interpretations and then ask you what you think.

1. Some interpreters say that Paul meant that Christian women, in giving birth to children, will be kept physically safe. Apparently, this is the view taken by the translators of the New American Standard Bible quoted above. The translation of the NT by James Moffatt clearly supports this view: women will get safely through childbirth. The problem here is that not all Christian mothers have been preserved in giving birth. Tragically, many thousands have lost their lives. A second point against this interpretation is that Paul consistently uses the word translated preserved in the NASB to speak not of mere physical safety but of personal salvation (see, for example, 1 Timothy 1:15 and Titus 3:5). Because of this, most other translations use the word saved instead of preserved. I agree. I think saved is the more-accurate word here.

2. A different view suggests that verse 15 is pointing back to the birth of Christ. According to this interpretation, Paul is saying that when Mary gave birth to the Messiah, the transgression which was introduced by Eve began to be reversed. Salvation entered the world in the person of Jesus. The wording in the margin of the Revised Standard Version reflects this view: woman will be saved by the birth of the child. But this view also has its problems. For one thing, the verse never specifically mentions Mary or Jesus. And, as many of the commentaries point out, if Paul had wanted to make such a statement, he would likely have been much more specific and would have chosen different words.

3. A third view, and one that I think has the most going for it, takes the word translated preserved or saved as a reference to final, personal salvation. It's no promise or guarantee of physical safety in childbirth. Instead, this view understands childbearing as a reference to what might be called "raising kids." That is to say, the phrase refers to all of a woman's duty, especially to her children. The rendering of the Twentieth Century New Testament expresses it well: women will find their salvation in motherhood. The salvation of women, says Paul, comes as a result of fulfilling their God-given role in bearing, nurturing, and teaching children, a major part of what Titus 2:5 speaks of as being workers at home. Of course, simply doing her duty will never save a woman. No Christian lady is going to be finally redeemed simply because she was a good mother. According to this interpretation, that's exactly why at the end of the verse Paul insists that women must continue in things like faith, love, holiness, and good judgment.

So what is this verse talking about? What do you think?


Dee Andrews said...

The problem I see with all of these applications (and the verses themselves) is that not all women have children, both married women and forever single women).

So, Frank, how then should/would we make application from these verses?


Keith Brenton said...

As I understand it, the word "women" is not even in the verse in the original Greek (and no, sorry, I am neither a Greek scholar nor do I play one on TV). It is "she," singular.

Which makes it possible that "she" refers to Eve in verse 13 through "the woman" in verse 14. The sense of the verse, then, is that Eve will be "restored" or "saved" through having children ... if they continue in faith. Not "women."

In the pericope of the whole chapter, it's implied that men were not praying acceptably when they prayed in anger or in an argumentative way. Possibly women were not dressing for it properly (dressing to gain attention to themselves, v.9) and/or teaching in an acceptable way because they had not learned what to teach yet; hadn't listened and received that instruction; were, perhaps, repeating the "meaningless talk" and "endless genealogies" some men had been teaching there in Ephesus (ch. 1). (And "godless myths" and "old wives' tales," ch. 4, v. 7?)

If Gnostic teaching was among them, it could certainly explain why Paul brings up Adam and Eve ... there were several "alternative" creation stories - many of which taught that Eve was created first by goddesses Pistis and/or Sophia - and was a much holier, more spiritual being than Adam. (Though they certainly don't agree fully with each other. See Hypostasis of the Archons and On The Origin of the World and The Apocryphon of John, for example.) All that nonsense calls into question the original creation story. Lots of Gnostic books were destroyed by Christians and others, so it's hard to get a fix on when these teachings originated.

I think it's possible Paul wasn't trying to describe a condition of salvation for women, but to set the record straight on some false teachings at Ephesus.

So I certainly wouldn't want to tie myself down to any of the three interpretations you've listed, when the key word "she" or "women" is in question.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi, Dee and Keith. Thank you for your comments.

Dee, you're right. Obviously not all women wind up having kids. I do think it's likely, though, that "the bearing of children" in verse 15 speaks of something that is characteristic of women, and that Paul uses the phrase here as a way of speaking about their traditional roles in society. That is to say, I take "the bearing of children" as a synecdoche, a typical part of the life of women used to refer to all of it.

Keith, I also wanted to stay away from a discussion of the Greek text (not that I'd be especially good at that either). As you've pointed out, even if neither "woman" or "women" appear in the original, if only "she" does, then we have a reference to someone. This effectively changes to the question from, Who are "women"?, to Who is "she"?

If the reference is to "Eve," it's hard for me to imagine that Paul means simply and only the Eve we know from the first chapters of the Bible. In this instance, I think that "Eve" must be representative in some way. In other words, I don't believe that Paul is concerned only for the destiny of the Eve of Genesis 3. "She" seems to be representative of what is possible for the Christian women who are hearing this text.

This would make sense according to the Genesis storyline. In Genesis 3-4, Eve the transgressor had not yet given birth to children. She had a life after her downfall to sin. What did that life include? Bearing children, which not only extended human life (a sort of salvation in itself) but was also an obedience to the early command "Be fruitful and multiply."

Paul, it seems to me, is saying that his female hearers can be redeemed by fulfilling their God-given roles (represented by "the bearing of children") in the Spirit of Christ (summarized as "faith and love and sanctity with self restraint").

Cyndi said...

I agree with your 3rd translation of this scripture because as a mother, nothing has brought me closer to the Lord Jesus and thus closer to my own salvation. You can read about this experience on my blog at :

Thanks for your post! I enjoyed reading.


Dominique said...

Here's a good video by John MacArthur on this topic:

Anonymous said...

In v14 Paul points out that women opened the door to sin for the whole human race. Remembering back in Gen 3, God declared a curse on the woman in child-bearing.

All this might make a woman think that she is somehow beyond hope, but this is not the case. Salvation by faith in Christ is available for all men and women.

So, perhaps a way to read v15 would be:

But women will be saved through (in the midst of)
the continuing existence of the curse on child-bearing, if they trust Christ.


Angela said...

I am quite convinced it is pointing to Jesus :) That whole Bible points to Jesus so when in doubt just assume that in some way it is pointing to Jesus. There is no way any sort of salvation at all can come from being a mother, I am a mother of four. And if this can 'save' the woman then what about the men? Well that's my 2c worth, have a lovely weekend.

Angela said...

After some further study I am wondering if perhaps I am wrong in what I said in my previous comment! This is such a difficult thing to understand isn't it? The reason I am doubting now is that Jesus was already born at the time of this writing so how could it be pointing to something that had already happened? It would just have been written that women would be saved through Jesus. Nope this didn't sit right with me, so after a bit more prayer and study I came up with this, what do you think?

I might include this in my book 'Being a Woman' as it's really intersting :)

‘Saved’ in the original Greek is Sozo, which is not referring to spiritual salvation – only Jesus offers that and nothing else. What it is talking about is to be safe. We will be delivered, protected and preserved from deception in childbearing.
‘Childbearing’ refers to the performance of maternal duties. Although most women will perform maternal duties by physically giving birth to a child, all women carry a burden to mother, whether or not they have given birth physically.
1 Timothy 2:15 tells us that if we get on with our God given role in life then we can escape deception. Having children and making a home is something that Paul also instructs us to do . It is in those times when we are getting busy with the wrong things that we are very often deceived. Although there are some women who don’t have children they should still focus on what God has called them to do. Mothering or parenting can take many forms. Mother Teresa was a fantastic example of a woman who was not deceived. She got busy with mothering all the sick in Calcutta. Perhaps you are not called to do what Mother Teresa was called to do but you are called to bear children in some capacity.