by Al Maxey

Issue #278 ------- December 7, 2006
Think what cowards men would be
if they had to bear children.

George Bernard Shaw {1856-1950}

Salvation Through Childbirth
A Reflective Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:15

One of the genuine joys of this writing ministry is the personal contact generated with my readers. Not a single day goes by that I don't hear from you via differing mediums (emails, letters, phone calls, and even visits to our city to spend a few precious moments face-to-face). I treasure the association with each of you who have sought to intertwine our lives in sweet fellowship here below -- which is truly just a foretaste of Heaven! Many of you have even poured out your hearts and souls to me, and I strive to be extremely careful never to betray that great trust. On those occasions I do share your struggles with the readers, it is always done with your permission and with great respect for your privacy. I only mention names and specific locations when you specify that I do so for some purpose. That being said, I want to share with you a very small portion of an email I received over the weekend following Thanksgiving from a dear sister-in-Christ from the beautiful state of South Carolina. Her struggle has touched my heart deeply, and I promised her I would do a study of this issue and make it available to all of you. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the thoughts and insights shared in this present edition of my Reflections will bring peace to her troubled soul, and perhaps to others who may be facing the same doubts. The following is the pertinent portion of her letter that I shall attempt to address:

The passage to which this sister alludes is 1 Timothy 2:15. "But women will be saved through childbearing -- if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety" [NIV]. This dear lady is not alone in being troubled by this passage. Disciples of Christ have been scratching their heads over this one for centuries! "This verse is obviously a difficult one to explain" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 362]. Even such a noted scholar as Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, wrote, "Verse fifteen is most difficult of interpretation" [vol. 2 -- The Pastoral Epistles, p. 49]. The online commentary produced by InterVarsity Press observes, "Verse 15 sounds strange to the ears in any version, and, not surprisingly, its meaning is debated." Dr. Kenneth Waters, Sr., a professor of NT studies at Azusa Pacific University, stated, "Few verses have generated as much anguish and controversy for interpreters of the Pastoral Epistles as 1 Timothy 2:15." The well-known biblical scholar Andreas Kostenberger, in a lengthy featured article which appeared in the periodical produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, wrote, "This simple statement has mystified average Bible readers as well as Christian scholars for centuries" [CBMW News, Sept. 1997, p. 1]. As stated above, the confusion is not necessarily cleared up by its treatment in the various versions and translations. Note just a few:

The great variety of translation is obvious. Some say "women" will be saved, others say "she" will be saved. Some declare the subject of the phrase will be "saved," others state she will be "preserved" or "kept safe." Some have "motherhood" in the place of "childbearing." In the second phrase of the verse, some have "if they continue" and others have "if she continues." There are also diverse renderings of those things in which she/they must continue. To put it bluntly, if one had to rely upon the English translations of this passage, one would have quite a confused view of authorial intent.

It is no surprise, therefore, that there are several dramatically differing interpretations of this passage, some no less confusing than the plethora of human translations, with a few being quite extreme. Perhaps the most extreme of them all is the doctrine that women of marriageable, child-bearing years can only be saved from the fires of hell through an act of procreation. For example, Dr. Charles Ellicott feels the apostle Paul is placing the primary blame for "the fall" upon Eve. "Adam and Eve both sinned, but Adam was not deceived. He sinned, quite aware all the while of the magnitude of the sin that he was voluntarily committing. Eve, on the other hand, was completely, thoroughly deceived -- she succumbed to the serpent's deceit. Both were involved in the sin, but only one (Eve) allowed herself to be deluded" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 188]. Thus, it's all Eve's fault, which is why Paul is saying women aren't fit for leadership (they are too easily deceived). But, God in His infinite wisdom and mercy is willing to save these feeble-minded creatures if they will fulfill their purpose in life by bearing children. Ellicott writes, "In other words, women will win the great salvation; but if they would win it, they must fulfill their destiny; they must acquiesce in all the conditions of a woman's life -- in the forefront of which St. Paul places the all-important functions and duties of a mother" [ibid].

David Padfield, who is the minister for the Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois, wrote an article titled "Saved in Childbearing" in which he saw this whole passage in Paul's letter to Timothy as a warning against women seeking to take the lead in the church. They are basically being told to "keep your place." He asks the question: "Since they were not to become elders, deacons, preachers or even Bible class teachers in the public assembly, how could women be saved? Paul answers this very question by stating that women 'will be saved in childbearing.'" Somewhat surprisingly, some well-known leaders from the past would agree with Padfield. William Barclay, in his commentary on Paul's letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, wrote, "Women will find salvation, not in addressing meetings, but in motherhood, which is their crown. Whatever else is true, a woman is queen within her home." David Lipscomb, in his commentary, wrote that a woman "is not by nature, physically or morally, suited to public positions or to counteract the rougher elements of the world. But she is of finer texture ... and is better fitted (superior to man) for the work of nursing, training children, and keeping the home attractive and cheerful. ... The woman who neglects the duties she owes her children and her home for the public life that God has created for man, leaves her work, her character, and her mission."

I firmly believe God intends for there to be a distinction between the sexes with regard to many areas of responsibility, and also with respect to our physical appearance --- i.e., men are to look like men, and women are to look like women. I firmly believe that leadership among His people is to be carried out by men. However, I also believe many men have "played this for all it's worth," and have only succeeded in abusing the very ones God has called us to cherish above our own lives! Honoring God's order within the family and church does not suggest the inherent superiority of men, nor does it suggest the inherent inferiority of women. Far from it. It suggests the sovereignty of God, and our respective roles within His kingdom. To try and take such a passage as we have before us in this study and to then employ it as a tool for suppressing women, even suggesting they can only be saved by presenting us men with babies, is both abominable and unconscionable! Thus, I completely reject such an interpretation of this passage, even though "the most common interpretation among conservative evangelical interpreters today is that women will eventually be spiritually saved by adhering to their God-ordained role centering around the home" [Andreas Kostenberger, CBMW News, Sept. 1997, p. 1]. If this premise is true, are we then to assume that all those women who are barren, or who remain unmarried, or who choose, for whatever reason, not to have children, are thereby eternally lost? Dr. Paul Kretzmann tries to provide a loophole, saying, "Unless God Himself directs otherwise, a woman misses her purpose in life if she does not become a helpmeet of her husband and a mother of his children. ... The home, the family, motherhood, is woman's proper sphere of activity; her primary function in life; her highest calling" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT: vol. 2, p. 378].

Examining the Text

There are some words, phrases and grammatical constructions within the text of 1 Tim. 2:15 that I believe we need to examine a bit more carefully, as a better understanding of these will aid us greatly in arriving at a more reasonable interpretation of the passage. Context is also critical ... as always! The immediate context of verse 15 is to be found in the two preceding verses [13-14], in which Paul returns his readers to the garden, the creation of Adam and Eve, and the fall. Without revisiting every aspect of the early chapters of Genesis, I believe we can all agree that both man and woman erred greatly, even though the motivating nature of their respective transgressions may well have been different. Both were driven from the garden, both had the sentence of physical dying placed upon them, and both were given a specific "curse." The curse upon man was that he must now labor long over the land to scratch out an existence from it [Gen. 3:17-19], whereas the curse upon the woman was, in part, that her pain in childbirth would greatly increase [Gen. 3:16]. In that same passage God told Eve that her husband "shall rule over you." Paul alludes to all of this within the overall context of the passage before us in his first epistle to Timothy. Thus, women were not to exercise rule or authority over the men, and they were further to accept the role God ordained for them, and not seek to rebel against it.

In 1 Tim. 2:14 Paul's focus is clearly upon "the woman" who was deceived. He is speaking specifically of Eve. This is very important to establish, because verse 15 begins (in the Greek text) -- "But she will be saved through the bearing of a child." Although some translations say "women will be saved," this is an assumption and an addition to the text. The word "women" is not present in the original text. Rather, the word for "saved" appears as a future passive indicative, 3rd person singular -- "she will be saved." Who is the "she" (singular) in view? Clearly it was Eve, from the previous verse. For some translators to change the singular to a plural, and then insert the word "women," is to take liberties with the inspired text that can only lead to a twisting of the original intent. When Paul spoke of "salvation" in verse 15, he had only one person in view at that point; it was the woman of whom he was speaking in the previous statement -- Eve. Adam Clarke wrote, "The word 'saved' in this verse refers to 'the woman' in the foregoing verse, which is certainly Eve" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 593].

The apostle Paul states that Eve, "being quite deceived, fell into transgression. But she will be saved through childbirth." In what possible sense would Eve be saved by giving birth? Saved from what? The word we translate "save" is sozo, which means "to save, rescue, deliver, set free." It has a wide variety of uses in Scripture [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 49] and does not always refer to spiritual or eternal salvation. "It is used in the NT of the healing of a sick person in the sense that he is saved from illness and from death -- Mark 5:34. It is used in the sense of being saved from drowning in a shipwreck -- Acts 27:20. Paul uses it in relation to being saved from becoming entangled in false teaching -- 1 Tim. 4:16" [ibid]. "The salvation spoken of here (1 Tim. 2:15) is not salvation in the ordinary sense of the word, as when a sinner puts his faith in the Lord Jesus, and is saved from sin and becomes a child of God" [ibid]. There are several theories proposed as to the nature of this salvation:

  1. Some have suggested that since part of the curse against Eve (and by extension to all women) was increased pain in childbirth, the gracious provision of God to this fallen woman was that He would safely bring her through this time of tribulation. Therefore, Paul is saying, according to this theory, that although she will suffer great pain in giving birth, as a penalty for her transgression, nevertheless she would "be saved through childbirth" -- she would not die, but would live to see her sons and daughters begin to fill the earth. God would give Eve pain, but would preserve her throughout the process. He would deliver her through the delivery, so to speak. The New World Translation translates the passage: "she will be kept safe through childbearing."

  2. Many scholars believe the Greek word teknogonia, from which we get "childbirth," may have a broader meaning. W. E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of NT Words, says it also "implies the duties of motherhood." Indeed, the NEB reads, "she will be saved through motherhood" (as do some other versions). The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the NT says that this word may mean "the rearing of a family" [p. 399]. In this theory, Eve's salvation would be from the grief of seeing her children turn away from God, IF "they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control" [NKJV]. Thus, if she proves to be a good mother to these children, training them up in the way they should go, and they walk in that path of righteousness, she would be saved from a life of grief through her effective motherhood. By extension, then, the same would be true of all women whom God has blessed with children.

  3. One of the most popular theories, however, is that Paul's statement about Eve and about childbearing is Messianic in nature. Much significance is placed upon the Greek construction here. In the text we literally read: "But she will be saved through the childbirth" or "through the birth of a child" (singular). A great many commentators and biblical scholars see this as a clear reference to the birth of the Messiah, who ultimately would save Eve (and all others) from their many sins and transgressions. Thus, Paul speaks of the fall, of Eve's transgression, and then states her salvation is through the birth of a child. That child, who did indeed descend from Adam and Eve [Luke 3:38], was Jesus, the seed of the woman, who would crush the head of the serpent of old [Gen. 3:15]. Frankly, I think this view has much to commend it, and it seems to fit the contexts of both Genesis 3 and 1 Timothy 2 better than the others. At present I tend to lean strongly toward this interpretation, although I am still open to further study on the matter.

But what exactly are we to make of the last phrase in this Pauline passage -- "if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control" [NKJV]? To whom does "they" refer?! And, yes, this is a change from the singular ("she shall be saved...") to the plural ("if they..."). Some feel "they" is simply extending the promise given to Eve in the first part of the verse unto all women. Others feel "they" is a reference to the children of Adam and Eve (and, by extension, to the children of all women). Women would be saved from a life of grief if their children would live faithfully to their God. I am convinced, however, that there is a simpler explanation. If "she" in the first part of the verse finds its antecedent in the immediate context (a reference to Eve), then why wouldn't "they" also find its antecedent in the immediate context? That would make "they" refer to Adam and Eve. If, in fact, the ultimate "salvation" of this first couple was to be found in the birth of a child (the Messiah), there would be a single set of conditions for this couple, and all couples, to meet in their remaining days -- to live lives of faith, love, and holiness with self-control. Salvation, then, would not be works-based, but faith-based. Not by law, but by love. As He is holy, we must be holy!

Dr. Kenneth Wuest concurs, as do other scholars, with this particular view -- "As to the plural pronoun 'they' ... it seems better to understand the plural to be of the woman and her husband" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 51]. In a footnote to the New English Bible, this last phrase in 1 Timothy 2:15 is translated: "if only husband and wife continue in mutual fidelity." In The Expositor's Greek Testament, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll says the same thing, almost word for word, "It seems better to understand the plural of the woman and her husband" [vol. 4, p. 110]. "If this view be accepted," writes Dr. Nicoll, then the qualities mentioned by Paul (faith, love, holiness, and self-restraint) "refer respectively to the duties of the man and wife to God, to society, and to each other" [ibid].

Concluding Thoughts

One of the major problems with the interpretation that 1 Tim. 2:15 teaches women will be saved from eternal death by means of childbearing is that such a doctrine is clearly a works-based theology, one which discounts the realities of God's grace and a woman's faith. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" [Eph. 2:8-9]. If women are saved by means of bearing children, then the above passage to the Ephesian brethren is rendered meaningless. A number of biblical scholars have pointed out this inconsistency, such as the study by Jeff Spencer titled "Are Women Saved by Faith Plus Works?" which appeared last year in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the journal published by the Christian Research Institute [vol. 28, no. 5, 2005]. Andreas Kostenberger also asks, "Is Paul here suggesting salvation by works? In what sense can a woman be 'saved' by bearing children? What would be so virtuous about bearing children that could become the cause of women's salvation? And what about single women or married women who do not or cannot have children?" [CBMW News, Sept. 1997, p. 1]. There is simply too much conflict in the above theory with Scripture and with plain old common sense.

Returning to the letter of the dear Christian lady from South Carolina, it is my studied conviction that she has no reason to fear being cast from the presence of God because of her choice not to bear children. The ultimate redemption of mankind is by faith in and acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not believe 1 Tim. 2:15 negates this fundamental Truth; indeed, it upholds it. Both Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, which Paul specifies in the verses prior to our text. However, as prophesied at the time of their fall, the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent who deceived her. Therefore, through the birth of a child would come salvation -- i.e., through this fallen, sinful woman would come mankind's Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would cover all sins, even those of the pair in the garden. What must Adam and Eve evidence to receive such grace? Paul says it will be theirs "if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control" [NKJV]. They, like us, are saved by faith, a faith evidenced in hearts filled with love, lives of self-restraint with regard to the lusts of the flesh, and sanctification through the indwelling and transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

How strange that the apostle Paul would actually urge the unmarried, and widows and virgins, to remain single (1 Cor. 7) if a woman's salvation was conditioned upon her bearing children!! That would be contradictory advice. However, the problem is solved if Paul had in view the birth of a child, who would be the Savior of all. Our response therefore, whether male or female, is to live a sanctified, self-restrained life, one evidenced by faith and love! This has always been God's desire for His people, and through the birth of the Messiah He has achieved our redemption. It is here that we must place our trust. Dear sister in South Carolina, rest easy tonight ... your salvation is in Him, not in yourself. "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" [Luke 2:10-11].

Reflections on CD
Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

by Al Maxey
Order Your Copy Today
Readers' Reflections

Attention Readers: Bouncing Articles -- As most of you probably know from personal experience, sending email is not always fool-proof. Like our regular postal service, sometimes the mail gets through, sometimes it doesn't. When an email comes back to the sender, this returning of email is known as "bouncing." I usually get about a dozen returned Reflections every mailing (which is an extremely small number considering the thousands that are sent out). After I get about three such "bounces" in a row from a particular address, I then remove that person from the mailing list. By keeping my list as updated as I can, I reduce the number of returns. Every so often, however, a huge number of my articles "bounce" back to me (this has happened, thankfully, only about 3 times in the four years I have been sending out my weekly Reflections). Once was when Yahoo! went on the blink for some reason, and I got back all the articles sent to Yahoo! addresses. The very same thing happened a few years back with both AOL and Netzero. Usually this is just a glitch in the system with the server and is quickly cleared up, or perhaps they are down for maintenance, or it may even be weather related (when large storms impact a major part of the nation, this can impact servers located in those areas). Whatever the reason might be, the reality is: the articles are not delivered.

Well, it happened again after I mailed out my last article on "Congregational Outreach." I had almost 200 "bounce" back to me. Rather than try to deal with each one, which could be quite time-consuming, I simply deleted these 200 notifications of returned mail. Therefore, I don't know which of you fell into this category. However, if you are reading this, and if you didn't receive last week's article dealing with outreach methodologies, then you are quite likely among those 200. If you would like to receive that article, just let me know and I'll resend a copy. Or, you may read it at the Reflections Archives on my web site. Readers, if at any time you should notice that it has been a while since you last received one of my articles, it is very possible your server is no longer sending them on to you. Most servers have greatly increased their SPAM services to their subscribers, and when they do so it often screens out mail you might want to receive. My Reflections have many of the "red flags" of SPAM -- they tend to be large in size, contain graphics, are clearly a mass mailing, place addresses in the BCC, and the like. Therefore, you may need to contact your server and have them adjust their settings to allow inflow from my address. Thanks for your patience and understanding as we all struggle with this challenging technology. --- Al Maxey


From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Al, You said it best when you said we need to get out of our buildings and into our communities. Our congregation is not large, but we have begun doing some of the things you mentioned in your article, and the Lord has taught us much through these activities. For example: do outreach from a servant's perspective and keep your expectations realistic. Don't expect those to whom you reach out to be at your church building the next Sunday. In other words, don't do outreach with a "payback" from these people in mind. Does it mean your time, effort and money were wasted if you don't "pack the house" from your outreach? Certainly not! God measures success differently than we do. Our faithfulness to Him in reaching out to those in need is what counts. God will sort out the rewards later.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I don't know if Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas counts, since it has chosen no longer to call itself a "Church of Christ" (although I believe it still counts), but this congregation is very heavily involved with their community. Over a million dollars a year is budgeted for the dispensing of food, clothing, medical care, and many other benevolent activities. Some 1200 families a month are helped. Also, the church building is used almost on a daily basis by community groups.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Al, I teach an online Restoration History class through the Consortium of Christian Colleges for Distance Learning. May I create links to your articles on the Lunenburg Letter (Issue #115) and the Last Will and Testament (Issue #131) for the students to read as they evaluate these documents? Thanks in advance.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, I've been very blessed to read your articles online for the last year or so. I stumbled across your web site one day and have since feasted on your wisdom and common sense. I come from a One Cup background, and somehow, through the grace of God, have come to attend a very active, community involved, grace-centered, growing, One Cup congregation that actually believes in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yes, believe it or not, such congregations do exist, albeit an extreme rarity. Keep up the great work, Al.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Al, Loved, simply loved, seeing all the things in print that people are doing for their communities. It gave me some ideas, and if it doesn't give the sitting-on-their-hands congregations an idea or two (or a jab in their ribs, conscience-wise), then I would be surprised!! Also, the letters from your readers concerning your rebuttal of Don L. King's article in the recent issue of Old Paths Advocate were fascinating. Like I have said before, there is nothing like seeing one's very own inner thoughts on some matter mirrored in the open letters from so many and varied locations. Gives us all hope and strength to speak out. I have a pile of letters sent to the preachers associated with the Old Paths Advocate that have never been answered. When asked about this, they too said they had lost them. When we sent them another ... well, you know the rest of the story.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Dear Al, It is 2:00 a.m. and I just finished reading your latest Reflections. It was very good; filled with provocative thoughts on what we all can do. As to your letter to Don King and Ronny Wade, and your request for them to respond to your questions, do not hold your breath waiting for an answer. The One Cup group of our brotherhood does not face confrontation scripturally or bravely. So again, do not expect an answer. They won't give one! Thanks for your continued encouragement by and through Reflections.

From a One Cup Minister in Kansas:

Bro. Al, One Cup man here. The Old Paths Advocate does not speak for all one-cuppers in the USA. I know many brothers and sisters who do not agree with Don L. King's view of 1 Cor. 11. I've challenged the OPA staff on more than one occasion, and I have never received an answer from any of them. I sent a letter to Don L. King over two years ago regarding his view of 2 John 9. His view being that "the doctrine of Christ" means all the teachings given by Christ rather than the teachings about Christ. As of this email I have not received an answer, and I doubt I ever will. God Bless all who seek unity!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Al, Thank you one more time for shining the light in a dark world. Sadly, the "dark world" is too often found in the Body of Christ. How I pray that we won't be counted among those who not only aren't going in ourselves, but are preventing others from entering the Kingdom as well.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Al, I hope you don't mind, but I've been quoting you quite a bit lately on MarsList [a Non-Institutional Church of Christ Internet group). You just seem to make my points to them so much clearer than I do, so I simply copy and paste from your Reflections, and I don't change your words at all when I quote you. Thanks!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Your current article on community involvement is excellent. It gives those of us without any imagination a list of things to consider doing. Our minister is president of the local ministerial alliance, and was very active in helping evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. There was a grant of $10,000 given by some government agency to only four groups for their excellence in this work, and our group was one of those. Our minister tells me that other ministers in this alliance feel that his presence has been a real contribution.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Al, I just read again your article about Christmas [Issue #226]. Boy are you in for a surprise on the day of judgment. God is going to ask you why you wanted to support and teach a false doctrine about this Roman Catholic Holy Day. It was started by them, not God. I don't understand why you don't support their other Holy Days also. All you false teachers try, without success, to use Romans 14 to support your position, but that is just another false teaching you will have to answer for on the day of judgment. No reply required/needed, for you have nothing to offer in defense.

From a Minister in India:

Bro. Al, I sincerely thank you for your Reflections. I study your every lesson with great interest, and we create interest also in our brothers to read your valuable lessons. As I have told you, I make copies of your issues of Reflections for the brethren here, and we share them in our church services. Our brothers who preach the gospel take your articles and share them with others in their own communities. I held meetings in two other cities recently, and shared your studies with the brethren there in the Bible classes, and shared them also in evangelism in the community. We thank God again for all your wonderful efforts for the Lord. The brethren here greet you.

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: