What does 1 Timothy 2:15 mean? Is this verse talking about Eve or all women? When it says “she will be saved in childbearing” is that implying that a woman must bear a child to be saved?
The first thing we need to recognize is that the verse we are looking at comes at the end of a chapter describing our responsibilities and blessings in the present creation. This is important to keep in mind. We are told in Galatians that we are one in Christ where there is neither male nor female, bond or free (Gal 3:28; Gal 6:15). This is our position before the Lord. However, we are still to walk in the present creation remembering that we are under the governmental order established at the beginning. We have similar admonitions in 1 Corinthians 11, where headship is explicitly described, and it is said there that even Christ has a Head, which is God.
So, it is important to first look at this responsibility of submission in the present creation. The chapter begins with the injunction that men pray everywhere for those in authority. Here immediately the responsibility of submission is implied. This is so we can live peaceful lives. The real point here is that we need to remember that this attitude is exhibited by the Lord Himself and in no way implies subjection or inferiority (see Mark 10:42-45; Jn 5:19; Jn 8:28; etc.).
In the last half of 1 Timothy 2 (vv 8-15), we are first given distinctive responsibilities for men and women and then the issue of Eve’s transgression is brought forward. The phrase “lifting up holy hands” at the beginning of this section reminds men that they must be openly without reproach when they pray publicly. It brings dishonor on the Lord if we are quarrelsome and yet presume to lead in prayer. For women, they need to be modest in action and deportment. Her submissiveness is explicitly enjoined. This must be understood properly as indicated above. We must all show godly honor to those whom God has set over us, whether a “king” (vs 9) or a “man” (vs 12).
It is important that we realize from what is said in this chapter that submission is a responsibility that is just as much for men as women. The Lord Jesus Himself gives us the greatest example of submission when He said “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (Jn. 5:19) and then in perfect obedience laid down his life (Jn. 18:11). Here women are given the particular place of representing in the present creation the Lord Jesus in His submission to the will of the Father. This is implied both in 1 Corinthians 11 and here.
As in 1 Corinthian 11, the order in creation is the basis for the relationship between men and women. The distinctions are not related to ability, intelligence, status, or any natural capacity or position. The introductory word “for” at the beginning of verses 13 and 14 show that this order is based on God’s sovereign action of creation and the subsequent failure of the woman. Verse 15 gives a compensatory blessing. So, we need to look at these verses carefully.
The association of the trial and blessing for the women in childbearing with the transgression of Eve has led to various attempts at interpretation. So, we need to go back to the Garden and see what we can learn about the consequences of this transgression.
Genesis 3:16a reads, “To the woman he said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain, you shall bring forth children.” The meaning that jumps immediately to mind is that this is the physical pain associated with the activity of giving birth. Certainly, no one can doubt that there is substantial pain normally associated with childbirth. Reinforcing this interpretation is the observation that animals do not seem to experience the pain that humans do. Without discounting this pain a further observation is that the pain felt may extend to the sorrow endured because of the disruption of family relationships brought by sin. In the case of Adam and Eve, the sin that was brought in led to them experiencing the murder of their second-born son at the hand of their firstborn son. Who can tell how much similar pain has been experienced in human families? The importance of this observation is that it may relate in a special way to the blessing declared in verse 15.
If the pain of childbirth is the primary issue then “saved in childbirth” is taken to mean that a godly woman will be relieved of at least some of the natural pain associated with the physical act of giving birth to a child. If this is taken as the primary meaning, then at least two problems come to my mind. First, we see an inconsistency with both common experience and the Biblical record. The histories of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah come to mind as striking counterexamples (see Gen 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; 35:17-19; 1Sam 1:5). In addition, I am sure many of us have known apparent contradictions to the principle that those who “continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (v 15b) will experience fertility and easy childbirth. So, whether or not this is at least part of the meaning it cannot be the complete meaning. This conundrum has led some to consider another interpretation.
This interpretation links the childbearing to the birth of the Lord Jesus by whom all are saved. For example, the ESV translation includes a cross-reference on “childbearing” in verse 15 to Galatians 4:4. The argument for this interpretation seems to be that the meaning is that salvation has come to us all through the woman, as Galatians 4:4 says. The phrase “if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” must then designate either those who receive the salvation provided by the One who came by the woman to provide salvation or the character of those in the Messianic lineage.
However, F. W. Grant writes: “The thought of a reference here to Christ as the child born seems to have no justification in the language nor in the context.”1 William Kelly and J. N. Darby seem to agree.2,3 So, I think I am supported in believing that this interpretation goes beyond the language of the verse.
If we accept this judgment then we must conclude that being “saved in childbearing” refers to some mitigation of the judgment against Eve given in Genesis 3:16a and the consequences of sin generally. We might expect those who “continue in faith, love, holiness, and self-control” to suffer less in childbirth than others. But, we already saw that this does not seem to be a common experience. This leads me to propose that the salvation from pain includes in a major way the consequences of sin extending to the subsequent family life. This also seems to me to make better sense of the qualification of godliness. General experience, as well as Scripture, validates the connection between a godly life on the part of the parents and joy and peace in the family, sometimes to many generations4,5 (2 Jn 4-8).
In this regard, L. M. Grant writes, “Yet, let us notice too that her being “saved in childbearing” is conditional not only upon her own continuing in faith and love and holiness with discretion, but upon this being true of both husband and wife: ‘If they continue.’ This surely impresses upon us the vital value of true spiritual unity in the marriage relationship: a woman who marries an ungodly husband could not claim such a promise as this.”6
Many years ago I read an obituary describing the godliness of a great-grandmother who had passed to the Lord’s presence. It was noted that she had seen her children, and grandchildren, saved and faithfully serving the Lord; and great-grandchildren were being faithfully taken to Sunday School. This strikes me as a worthy meaning for being “saved in childbearing.”
A final note is perhaps needed. This all has to do with childbearing. Women who for whatever reason do not have children will find their God-given ministry in other areas. We cannot take the encouragements given in this passage as implying anything negative regarding those to whom it does not apply.
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- Archer, Gleason L., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 411-415.
1. F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible: Hebrews to Revelation, (New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1932), 86.
2. William Kelly, An Exposition of the Two Epistles to Timothy (London: C. A. Hammond, 1948), 53.
3. J. N. Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, (Winschoten/Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop, 1970), Vol 5, 145.
4. William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 2084.
5. The word used for “salvation” (Strong’s 4982) can also be translated preserved or delivered and so points to a godly mother’s position in the assembly being preserved with a conditional promise of continuing in faith, love and holiness with self-control.