Dear Dr. Luginbill, I've had a question about the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:15 for quite some time and have never gotten a solid answer. The concordances I've turned to have given me broad answers and general speculations. Can you please tell me what Paul meant when he said that "...women will be saved through childbearing..."? Any insight, please? Thank you
I'm happy to give you my interpretation of this passage. Let me say at the outset that beyond all question this passage is not saying that childbearing has anything to do with personal salvation: salvation, eternal life, is promised to all who believe in and faithfully follow our Lord, the only way of salvation (Jn.14:6; cf. Gal.3:26-29). The same Paul who wrote the passage you ask about also encourages believers to stay single, if possible, an eventuality which would rule out the possibility of legitimate parenthood altogether (1Cor.7:1; 7:7; 7:8; 7:29-38). Having children does not save a person, nor does failing to have children prevent a person from being saved.
Paul's comments at the end of 1st Timothy chapter two are addressed to women in general, but the example of Eve used in verses 13-14 is of critical importance to understanding verse 15 (which does not occur in a vacuum, but only makes sense in the context). Four things in the Greek text which are not clear from most English translations:
1) the verb "saved" is third singular, not plural (translate: "she", not "they");
2) the word "childbearing" is preceded by the Greek definite article, i.e., the word "the" - and the Greek article is stronger than the English one, closer to the demonstrative pronoun = "this";
3) the words "[she] will be saved" translate the Greek verb "sozo", which, more often outside of the Bible and occasionally inside the Bible has the meaning "deliver" = not eternal salvation but rescue from trouble in time;
4) the word translated "through" is the Greek preposition dia, which, while it can mean "through" in the sense of "by means of", here means, as if often the case, "through" in the sense of "[passing] through" (this is the usual meaning when combined with the verb sozo).
When one puts these facts together with the immediate context of the example of the first woman, Eve, it becomes clear that 1Tim.2:15 is to be related directly to Genesis 3:16, that is, to the curse of pain in childbirth as Eve's part in the judgment for the fall (corresponding to Adam's "thorns and thistles – sweat of the brow" and the serpent's "eat dust – crawl on the belly"):
The woman [Eve] participated in the transgression [of Adam's fall], though she was deceived. But she (i.e., still here as a type of all women to follow) will be delivered-safely-through this [painful experience of] childbearing [Gen.3:16] – provided they (i.e., all believing women after Eve's example) prudently abide in faith, and love, and sanctification.
1st Timothy 2:14b-15
Having in verses 9-14 just "pulled up short" a group women in Corinth who were taking advantage of Timothy's apparent difficulties in asserting his own authority, Paul, in verse 15, finds it necessary to provide a bit of reassurance for all the Corinthian women that the Genesis 3:16 curse on women of painful childbirth which he has mentioned to shore up Timothy's position of authority should not occasion fear about having children – for God will protect and deliver-through this experience all those Christian women who are truly following Him – this is really the main point behind 1st Timothy 2:15.
So it is a bit ironic that this verse, meant to encourage sisters in Christ by assuring them of God's concern for them in the matter of childbearing (a potentially frightening thing in the context of Genesis 3:16 when unexplained – especially in the 1st century), has from time to time been a cause for alarm rather than a reassurance.
See also the links: "The Creation of Eve" and "The Seed of the Woman".
I hope this is some help to you,
Yours in Jesus Christ,