There is nothing quite as remarkable as childbirth. That moment you get to hold a newborn for the very first time; the child snuggled tightly in cozy cloth; your arms wrapped tenderly around him or her. It warms your heart and brings you an indescribable measure of joy that has no comparison.
Even so, childbirth is a unique privilege for women that is sadly undervalued today. And in a culture that not only tolerates abortion, but also endorses and defends it, childbirth is even horrifically devalued. With vibrant contrast, the Bible has high praise for childbirth. God showed Leah kindness when he opened her womb in order to compensate for Jacob’s lack of love toward her (Gen 29:31). He gave Hannah joy when He finally allowed her to conceive after years of infertility (1 Sam 1:20; 2:1). He took Elizabeth’s shame away when He enabled her to get pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:24–25).
But there is perhaps no greater honor given to childbirth than what is said in 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Childbirth is more than a source of immeasurable joy. It is a woman’s very salvation. But at the risk of grave theological error, we must ask the question, what does that mean? Certainly, it cannot mean that women are eternally saved by giving birth to children. That would make room for works-based salvation, which the Bible adamantly rejects. So what does “She will be saved through childbearing” mean then?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The list of answers is not short. Many have offered suggestions, but the overabundance of options has only muddied the waters. Heretical theories aside, here are some of the more popular ones:
Women will be spiritually saved through the bearing of metaphorical children, who are faith, love, holiness, and self-control.
Women will persevere in their faith through the bearing of children.
Women will avoid falling into sin by rearing children with spiritual virtues.
Women will be granted physical safety when they give birth.
Eve will be spiritually saved through the birth of Jesus.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, will be spiritually saved through the birth of Jesus.
While each of these proposals is safe for Christians to believe, they all come with their problems. For example, number 4 is easily debunked, because good Christian women suffer difficulty in labor all the time. God does not treat women in labor differently because of how spiritual they are. Number 6 is also problematic, because 1 Timothy 2 makes no mention of Mary, the mother of Jesus. To insert her into the storyline is out of bounds. But all of them fail to account for one factor, in particular, and that is context. The single greatest reason each answer is unsatisfactory is because it ignores the argument Paul is making. But when we factor in the context, First Timothy 2:15 presents itself as a promise that Eve (and all godly women with her) will be delivered from the shame she brought on herself at the Fall.
HOW DO WE KNOW IT MEANS THIS?
Now it is one thing for me to say this; it is another to prove it. What makes this theory more tenable than the others? It all has to do with that missing factor called context. And there are two levels of context I want to examine that offer strong evidence for this view.
THE SEMANTIC CONTEXT
Semantic is a big word, but it is just a word that means “the meaning of a word.” And it shouldn’t surprise us that words often come with a range of meanings. For example, the word “love” has a lot of meanings. Saying, “I love you,” to a significant other is far different than saying, “I love that place!” One is a romantic love, the other a preferential love.
The same principle can be applied to the word “save.” Because we as Christians are obsessed with our salvation (and rightfully so), we tend to attach an eternal meaning to every occurrence of the word “save.” Often, it’s a good call. But this time, it’s not. That’s because “save” in Paul’s letters does not always have an eternal meaning. And the letter of 1 Timothy gives us a good example of this. First Timothy 4:16 says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” This verse cannot be talking about eternal salvation, because Pastor Timothy is already saved along with most of his congregation (“hearers”). So, if the meaning is not eternal, what is it? I would suggest it is reputational. By keeping a close eye on his conduct and preaching, Timothy can spare his church from undue negative perceptions. The world is watching, and, while it is impossible to disarm every unbelieving critic, God calls the church to live in a consistently winsome way before the world. Suffice it to say, a church’s uncompromising reputation is an important part of honoring God in that we model His faithful character.
This definition of “save” fits 1 Timothy 2:15. The woman will be spared a negative impression when she bears children who grow up to live in faith, love, and holiness with self-control. How this woman acquired a bad reputation and who is shaming her for it are questions yet to be answered. But for the time being, it is possible to imagine that childbearing could play a role in removing the sting of a bad reputation.
THE NEAR CONTEXT
Near context in this case will refer to 1 Timothy 2:8–14, the verses leading up to 1 Timothy 2:15. But I want to pay special attention to verse 14, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” The woman talked about in 1 Timothy 2:15 appears to be Eve from verses 13 and 14. She is the nearest antecedent in the text, as grammarians would say. God promises that through childbirth Eve can be saved, if they (her children) continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control. In light of what is said in 2:14, Eve’s reputation seems to be the topic of discussion. She was deceived by the serpent, not Adam. Therefore, she bears a unique black mark of shame on her record. However, childbirth offers a wonderful opportunity at redemption explained by the Genesis story itself. God promised the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” At these words Eve discovered that a child of hers would erase the stigma she created for herself just moments ago. Satan thought he had won. He thought he had beat God at His own game. He thought he had ruined Eve for good and began to laugh at her demise. Nothing could be further from the truth. Eve would give birth to a child who will crush Satan’s head. Childbirth will shut Satan’s mouth.
But 1 Timothy 2:15 also seems to indicate that this promise of redemption not only applies to Eve, but also to every woman who has the same expectation of and love for this child. First Timothy 2:15 is set in the context of women in the church and the example of Eve’s deception in the Garden of Eden (2:14) is used as one argument to forbid women from stepping into an authoritative role. In other words, the Apostle Paul correlates what happened in the Garden with how the church should operate today. Eve made a bad decision and therefore burdens her female descendants with bad consequences.
This is not to say that men are off the hook or are in any way better than women. In fact, Scripture speaks more to the failure of Adam than it does to Eve (Hos 6:7; Rom 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:22). In Adam, the entire human race plunged into sin. But in Eve, the entire female line bears the weight of her shame. Because she took charge that day, instead of her husband Adam, she was the one seduced by Satan. She bears that responsibility as the head of the female human race. It may not seem fair that all women in succession reap the awful benefits of her decision, but that’s how God has set up humanity: “All for one and one for all.” After all, how could God raise us from the dead if there is no “all for one” (Rom 6:5; 1 Cor 15:13)?
And with this in mind, we find a blessing in disguise built into this collateral damage. If a bad decision for one resulted in bad consequences for all, a chance at redemption for one should roll over into a chance at redemption for all. It stands to reason that the opportunity offered in 1 Timothy 2:15 extends to all women as well. Through childbirth women have the chance to erase the black mark on their record. By giving birth to children and raising them to live like Jesus, mothers can present children as tangible evidence that the ultimate child has already come and crushed Satan’s head through His death and resurrection. When they exemplify qualities of faith, love, and holiness with self-control, they illustrate the character of Christ and demonstrate His power to change people’s lives. There is nothing more humiliating for Satan than having to watch his plan to trick Eve come back to bite him generation after generation.
It’s safe to say that childbirth is much bigger than we often give it credit for. Not only are mothers raising the next generation, pouring their lives into their children, and rearing them to fear the Lord and love their Savior, but they are also illustrating the power of the gospel by their parenting. Yes, it’s true that Satan tricked Eve. It’s true that the human race fell into sin. But it’s also true that God will vindicate that day with His very own Son, Jesus. Each and every child who grows up to love Christ and live like Him puts on a visible demonstration that Christ wins and Satan loses. And that makes a monumental impact in both the natural world and the supernatural.
With all this in mind, let me admonish everyone for a moment:
Mothers, I want you to feel encouraged and empowered by the faithful work you do in bearing and raising your children. There is no greater calling for you in this life. None.
Fathers, I want you to understand the enormous importance God places on your wife’s role as a mother. Seek to help her with that task as best as you can.
Ladies who are not mothers and perhaps never will be, I want you to never feel left out or somehow ostracized by a verse like this. You play a vital role in this endeavor by your faithful service in the church, and in so doing I firmly believe the blessings and promise of 1 Timothy 2:15 extend to you as well.
Gentlemen who are not fathers and perhaps never will be, I want you to avoid tuning out thinking you have no part to play in all this. You carry the torch of truth in the church and need to do everything in your power to uphold the value of motherhood as an emblem of the gospel.