Thursday, 13 February 2020

What does saved through childbearing mean?

In his letter to Timothy Paul writes,
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1Ti 2:13-14)
The context of this passage is praying in church with decorum. The outline of chapter 2 is,
  1. Pray for all people including secular leaders;
  2. in order that Christians may lead a quiet life;
  3. God desires everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth;
  4. men are to pray without quarreling;
  5. women are to dress and behave modestly;
  6. women should learn quietly and not exercise authority over a man.
Paul then writes the above statement and then discusses qualifications for elders and ministers.

It is not clear what Paul means. There have been several interpretations of what this passage means. Neither is it certain who the pronouns refer to. "She" is implicit in the verb "to save" and "they" is implicit in the verb "to continue." "She" may refer to a generic woman, such as those in the Corinthian church, or to Eve. "They" could refer generically to women, or to Adam and Eve, or to a husband and wife.

The NET Bible states,
“But she will be delivered through childbearing,” or “But she will be preserved through childbearing,” or “But she will be saved in spite of childbearing.” This verse is notoriously difficult to interpret, though there is general agreement about one point: Verse 15 is intended to lessen the impact of vv. 13-14. There are several interpretive possibilities here, though the first three can be readily dismissed (cf. D. Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,” TJ 1 [1980]: 70-73).
  1. Christian women will be saved, but only if they bear children. This view is entirely unlikely for it lays a condition on Christian women that goes beyond grace, is unsupported elsewhere in scripture, and is explicitly against Paul’s and Jesus’ teaching on both marriage and salvation (cf. Matt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:8-9, 26-27, 34-35; 1 Tim 5:3-10).
  2. Despite the curse, Christian women will be kept safe when bearing children. This view also is unlikely, both because it has little to do with the context and because it is not true to life (especially life in the ancient world with its high maternal mortality rate while giving birth).
  3. Despite the sin of Eve and the results to her progeny, she would be saved through the childbirth—that is, through the birth of the Messiah, as promised in the protevangelium (Gen 3:15). This view sees the singular “she” as referring first to Eve and then to all women (note the change from singular to plural in this verse). Further, it works well in the context. However, there are several problems with it:

    1. The future tense (σωθήσηται, sōthēsētai) is unnatural if referring to the protevangelium or even to the historical fact of the Messiah’s birth;
    2. that only women are singled out as recipients of salvation seems odd since the birth of the Messiah was necessary for the salvation of both women and men;
    3. as ingenious as this view is, its very ingenuity is its downfall, for it is overly subtle; and
    4. the term τεκνογονία (teknogonia) refers to the process of childbirth rather than the product. And since it is the person of the Messiah (the product of the birth) that saves us, the term is unlikely to be used in the sense given it by those who hold this view.

    There are three other views that have greater plausibility:
  4. This may be a somewhat veiled reference to the curse of Gen 3:16 in order to clarify that though the woman led the man into transgression (v. 14b), she will be saved spiritually despite this physical reminder of her sin. The phrase is literally “through childbearing,” but this does not necessarily denote means or instrument here. Instead it may show attendant circumstance (probably with a concessive force): “with, though accompanied by” (cf. BDAG 224 s.v. δία A.3.c; Rom 2:27; 2 Cor 2:4; 1 Tim 4:14).
  5. “It is not through active teaching and ruling activities that Christian women will be saved, but through faithfulness to their proper role, exemplified in motherhood” (Moo, 71). In this view τεκνογονία is seen as a synecdoche in which child-rearing and other activities of motherhood are involved. Thus, one evidence (though clearly not an essential evidence) of a woman’s salvation may be seen in her decision to function in this role.
  6. The verse may point to some sort of proverbial expression now lost, in which “saved” means “delivered” and in which this deliverance was from some of the devastating effects of the role reversal that took place in Eden. The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man, though it has no specific soteriological import (but it certainly would have to do with the outworking of redemption).
The Lexham Study Bible states,
saved through the bearing of children The exact meaning of this statement is uncertain. Paul may mean that women will be saved because Jesus, the savior of the world, was born of a woman (see Gal 4:4). Alternatively, he may be arguing that women will be saved because a woman helped bring about the defeat of the devil (see Gen 3:15). Or, he may be saying that women will be saved from doing evil things by bearing children. Some of the Ephesian women may have been behaving in a manner that led them to neglect what was commonly viewed at the time as their household responsibilities. These women may have been influenced by new cultural trends about women and the false teachers’ negative views on marriage (1 Tim 4:3; compare 5:14; note on vv. 8–15; note on vv. 11–15). If these factors are in view, Paul’s reference to childbirth may represent a woman’s acceptance of what was considered her proper role within the household unit.
The ESV Study Bible states,
This is a notoriously difficult-to-understand verse. Paul clearly does not believe people can be saved in the sense of earning justification through childbearing or any other means (e.g., Eph. 2:8–9). But the NT can also use the term “saved” (Gk. sōzō) in the sense of progressively coming to experience all the aspects of salvation. In that sense, “salvation” is ongoing (see note on Phil. 2:12–13). A similar view is that “saved” can be understood as referring especially to the endurance and perseverance in faith that is necessary for eternal salvation (cf. Matt. 10:22; 24:13; etc.). People are saved as they persevere (continue) in the faith to carry out the Lord’s calling in their life, one example being the unique role of women in childbearing. (The change from singular she to plural they is a literal rendering of the Gk. text.)
Childbearing is likely a synecdoche, if refers to all the roles of motherhood. I think it possible that Paul is reassuring women here. He is not so much stating that childbearing is a means to salvation, rather that a mother may think that raising children is not overtly spiritual and thus question whether she is doing the activities appropriate for one who is saved. A mother may be taking care of what appears to be the mundane, bearing and raising children, not something that seems more spiritual like ministering or teaching within the church. Paul is reassuring such a woman that even if she is only involved in raising her children she still will be saved. Though he reminds women that within this role they must remain faithful to God: they must continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

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