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f) 1 Tim 2:15: One expert called this sentence “certainly one of the strangest verses in the New Testament.”
Consequently, scholars have offered numerous interpretations of this verse.
Some assert that it serves as an admonition to live as a traditional wife and mother, making childbearing a means of “working out salvation” via a woman’s God-given role.
Others translate the definite article (“the”) to identify “the childbearing” as the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:18–25).
Major difficulties beset those views. Paul advised virgins to remain unmarried, so he did not consider giving birth and raising children a necessary condition for women to receive salvation (1 Cor 7:32–38).
The second explanation not only involves an obscure reference to the nativity, other Scripture emphasizes the death and resurrection of Christ—not his birth—as the means of salvation (Acts 26:22–23; Rom 6:8–11; 1 Cor 15:3–4; Phil 3:10–11).
Paul employed a medical term (teknogonia) for the physical act of giving birth.
The preposition he chose also makes a critical difference. He wrote, “But they shall be saved through (dia) childbearing, if they remain in faith and in love and in holiness with self-control.”
In this instance, he referred to coming through a prevailing circumstance, such as labor.
Long after the judgment upon Eve (Gen 3:16), childbirth during the Greco-Roman era remained a frightening prospect.
For example, the wife of a centurion married at the age of eleven. She died while giving birth to her sixth child at the age of twenty-seven. Only one of those children survived to adulthood, a sadly common statistic.
Interpreting this passage while considering the cultural context of the cult of Artemis in Ephesus resolves much of the confusion. Women nearing childbirth often prayed and sacrificed to Artemis for protection during delivery.
In the Hymn to Artemis, the goddess told Zeus, “The cities of men I will visit only when women vexed by the sharp pang of childbirth call me to their aid.”
Even a man prayed to her, saying, “Queen of heaven, whether you are Phoebus’ (Apollo’s) sister, who by relieving women in labor with your soothing remedies have raised up many peoples, and now are venerated at your shrine in Ephesus…help me in this extremity of tribulation.”
Paul wrote against these practices. Godly women must direct their devotion and prayers to the Lord, not to Artemis (1 Cor 12:2; Gal 5:19–21; Rev 21:8).
“Faith, love, and holiness with self-control” do not constitute good works but characterize God’s people (Gal 5:22–25; Eph 3:14–21; 1 Tim 6:11–12).
“Shall be saved” (sōzō) can refer to physical deliverance in Scripture (e.g. Matt 9:20–22).
Nevertheless, the nuance of “salvation” throughout Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus connotes our ultimate redemption in the age to come (1 Tim 1:15; 1 Tim 2:1–6; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 1:8–12; 2 Tim 2:10; 2 Tim 3:14–15; Tit 2:11–14; Tit 3:4–7).
God never promises that a woman shall live through childbirth.
Yet, a believer who approaches her time of delivery can rest in the assurance of the salvation of her soul and the resurrection of her body after the return of Christ.
Indeed, when Paul described his impending death in 2 Tim 4:6–8, 16–18, he used the same verbal root to depict his expectation of salvation.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Read 1 Tim 2:15. How did Paul advise the women of Ephesus to spiritually prepare themselves for childbirth? What made his declaration counter-cultural? How can we apply this in our culture?
Go to A Minority Religion (1 Pet 3:1–2)
[Related posts include The Cult of Artemis; Prayer without Anger (1 Tim 2:8); Adorned with Good Works (1 Tim 2:9–10); She Must Learn (1 Tim 2:11); Domineering Women (1 Tim 2:12–14); An Anguishing Process (Gen 3:16); Exegesis and Hermeneutics; and Ancient Literature]
[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 8: Pain and Desire (Genesis 3:16, 20)]
Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 143.
Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 235.
Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 145.
Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 103.
Marshall and Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, 468.
Danker, et al., “δια” (dia), BDAG, 223–6, 224.
 Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 135.
Aeschylus, Suppliant Women, 2 Vols. (Herbert Weir Smyth; LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926), 674, Http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0016%3Acard%3D667.
Callimachus, “Hymn III: To Artemis,” in Callimachus Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. (ed. G. R. Mair; trans. A. W. Mair; LCL; London: New York: Heinemann; Putnam, 1921), 20–22, 63, Https://archive.org/stream/callimachuslycop00calluoft#page/62/mode/2up.
Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass (trans. E. J. Kenney; London; New York: Penguin Books; Penguin Putnam, 2004), 11.2, 170–1, https://archive.org/stream/TheGoldenAss_201509/TheGoldenAsspenguinClassics-Apuleius#page/n219/mode/2up.
Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, 103.
Danker, et al., “σωζω” (sōzō), BDAG, 982–3.
Werner Foerster and Georg Fohrer, “σωζω” (sōzō), TDNT, 965–1024, 994–5.
Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 144.