Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Saved through childbearing

The interpretation of "saved through childbearing" in Paul's first letter to Timothy is enigmatic with a surplus of suggestions as to its meaning. Is Paul talking about Eve here, or a woman, or all women? Why does he change from the singular to the plural? Paul writes,
Likewise also the women should adorn themselves in respectably, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds which are fitting for women who profess godliness. A woman must learn in quietness with all submission. But I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was deceived, came into transgression. But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control. (1 Timothy 2)

A common interpretation is to see the salvation through childbearing to be a reference back to Eve, and then incorporating all women if they continue in faith, love and holiness with self-control. The childbearing would refer to Eve being the ancestor of Jesus and the promise of deliverance in the curse on the serpent. That Eve will be saved (future tense) seems slightly unusual although it may be that this is used because of its application to other women that Paul then makes. But why just women? Surely men are also saved through Jesus and must continue in faith.

The following is a possible solution. The Greek word gyne is usually translated "women" in this passage. Were the term to mean "wife" in this context this could modify how we read Paul here. The passage would read,
Likewise also wives should adorn themselves in respectably, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds which are fitting for wives who profess godliness. A wife must learn in quietness with all submission. But I do not permit a wife to teach or to exercise authority over her husband, but to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but [his] wife, because she was deceived, came into transgression. But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control.

Thus when Paul talks of "saving through childbearing," he may be referring back to this sentence: "I do not permit a wife to teach or to exercise authority over her husband". If so, then it makes sense for him to use the singular "she": the wife of her husband. But when Paul adds the qualification to continue in faith, this qualification refers to all wives, not the exemplar wife Paul was specifying in his original instruction.

What does Paul mean by saved through childbearing? Childbearing may well be a synecdoche for raising children. The curse in Genesis is likely a synecdoche as conception is hardly painful. That is, a wife can and will be saved in the role of motherhood even if such a role may seem less prominent in the church. Of course a wife who raises children must still remain faithful to Christ in that role and Paul specifies this.

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