“Please explain the meaning of the phrase that suggests woman ‘shall be saved through child-bearing,’ as that language is found in 1 Timothy 2:15.”
Paul wrote to Timothy:
But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression: but she shall be saved through her child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety (1 Tim. 2:12-15).
Verse 15 is shrouded in some ambiguity. There are a couple of possibilities that we may explore.
Important Interpretive Principles
First, though, we must emphasize this fundamental principle of Bible interpretation. Obscure passages must always be interpreted in the light of more complete revelation.
This means that no interpretation is to be placed upon a text that creates a conflict with clear instruction found elsewhere in the sacred volume. The Bible, being the inspired word of God, will be in harmony.
What It Doesn’t Mean
At the outset, let us consider what the passage obviously does not teach.
It does not affirm that the act of child-bearing is a personal requisite for a female to be saved. If such were the case, single ladies, along with those who are unable to bear children, would be beyond the pale of redemption — a conclusion that is absurd.
Such a circumstance, in many cases would place redemption outside the scope of individual choice — which is not a biblical option.
Additionally, the text does not affirm that any woman who bears a child will be saved. There are clearly defined conditions preliminary to being saved (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21), and having a child is never listed among them.
Further, the sometimes-stated notion, that this passage contains a pledge that the Christian woman will always be kept safe during the act of bearing children, is equally untenable. Neither the language nor the context will support that view. And, tragically, experience has often demonstrated the fatal danger of childbirth — even for the most godly of women.
What Is the Meaning?
What, then, is the meaning of the text? Two prominent views have been advanced by respectable scholars.
Mary’s Role in the Birth of Christ
It is alleged by some that the reference is to woman’s role in producing the Savior of the world.
Notwithstanding the fact that woman was the instrument by which sin was introduced into the world, and that her teaching capacity has been limited in some contexts (v. 12), she need not be forlorn. God, by means of his wonderful scheme of redemption, determined to send a Savior for humankind. This Deliverer would come through woman (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4).
Thus, by means of “the woman” (note the definite article as reflected by the Greek text), the opportunity for salvation has been achieved. In this sense, Paul would be suggesting that all women are potential heirs of salvation because of the role Mary played in the sacred scheme of redemption.
Each woman who wishes to enjoy salvation, however, must embrace the gospel personally, and continue in the faith — if heaven is to be attained ultimately.
Though this is not the most common view of this controversial passage, it has been argued with some force by C. J. Ellicott (1819-1905), professor of divinity at Kings College in London. Ellicott was the chairman of the British New Testament revision committee that produced the English Revised Version (1870-81) (See: A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles).
A Figure of Speech
A second view is that the expression “childbearing” reflects a figure of speech, common to the Bible, known as the synecdoche — a part put for the whole, or the whole put for a part. In this case, the former aspect would fit best.
Thus, “childbearing” would represent the totality of the woman’s domestic role — which by divine design was woven into the very fabric of her being and for which she is uniquely suited.
Even though she is culpable in the human sin problem, nonetheless, the woman plays an important function in the divine scheme of things. The role of wife and mother will grant her great fulfillment, and is a valued contributor to the success of the Christian movement.
Note a couple of comments to this effect.
“Childbearing” includes the rearing of the children, which means Christian rearing to every Christian woman. Paul has in mind what we read in his other letters: the Christian family and home, the mother surrounded by her children, happy in these outlets for her love and affection, in this enrichment of herself and for them, Eph. 6:1, etc.; Col. 3:20. “By way of childbearing” speaks of the highest ideal of Christian (and even secular) womanhood (Lenski 1937, p. 573).
W. E. Vine argued that the thrust of this context is this: In spite of woman’s role in the original transgression, she has a legitimate place in the divine scheme of things. She plays a vital role in the spread of the gospel.
On the one hand, by begetting children she would be saved from becoming a prey to the vices that characterized the world of that day, and which are reproduced in our own time. On the other hand, the woman who brings up a family for God takes an important part in the maintenance of the testimony of the church (1925, p. 23).
Similar sentiments could be cited many times over.
Regardless of the intricacies of various views, the thrust of the apostle’s argument is perfectly clear. Yes, woman was deeply involved in the apostasy of the human family, by yielding to Satan’s temptations and falling into deception.
Further, one aspect of her penalty is that certain leadership roles under the Christian regime are denied her. Be that as it may, she is not to despair. God still has many noble and valuable uses for his daughters — the most fulfilling of which is represented in the domestic talents with which she has been blessed so richly and beautifully.