The end of the second chapter of the apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy has a statement that is strange to many readers. The verse seems to suggest that having children is necessary for a woman’s salvation. The King James Version renders 1 Timothy 2:15 thusly: “Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
Some teachers have noted that the word translated “childbearing,” τῆς τεκνογονίας, tes teknogonias, carries the definite article and therefore, this verse has been linked in many minds with the specific bearing of the Messiah, a promise made in Genesis 3:15. Such a view would seem to have support considering the apostle’s link with creation in the previous verses. The problem, however, is that such a view does not quite fit the syntax of the Greek. The word teknogonias is in the Genitive case and is more accurately rendered “the bearing of children.”
Although Paul is certainly alluding back to the creation, Genesis 3:15 is the record of the Lord’s judgment on the serpent. The apostle’s allusion contextually fits better with the Lord’s words of judgment on the woman in the following verse. Genesis 3:16 says:
To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’
The definite article that Paul uses, therefore, refers to the particular act of bearing children, not a particular birth. Yet, Paul is not saying that women are saved by having children as that would violate his entire message of salvation by grace through faith. Rather, the apostle is using a very skillful literary device known as a synecdoche (i.e., using a part to express a whole or vice-versa).
The act of bearing children is an act that is unique to women, and thus, Paul uses this act in a representative manner for the character of a Christian woman. It is important to note that the words “she” or “women” connected with “saved” or in some translations “preserved,” do not appear in the Greek text of this verse. Certainly women are included in this, but the focus is on the general salvation she brings to the world as a godly woman. It is not speaking of salvation from sin, but salvation from the terrible conflicts that result from God’s curse due to sin. The verse is more accurately rendered:
But will be preserved [i.e. from conflict] through the [woman’s] bearing of children if they [i.e. her children] continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control.
That is, although it was the woman who first transgressed in Eden (1 Timothy 2:14), she is responsible for bringing up each new generation of people. Through teaching her children to have faith in God, to love Him, and walk in holiness, having self-control, then she and the entire world are spared innumerable conflicts, not just in the family but even between nations. Paul is not saying that women are “saved” from their sins by having children; he is saying that a godly woman “preserves” her family and even the entire world from the particular results of God’s curse in Genesis 3:16, “your desire will be for you husband [i.e. in a domineering way], and he will rule over you [i.e., as a dictator].”
Yet, we need to remember that this does not refer to merely one particular act. Women fulfill this role of childbearing through all the things that childbearing represents, namely, their tender care for others, whether a woman’s family, husband, church, co-workers, or, if she has children, her own children as well. She preserves the world and herself from conflict if the next generation that she is raising up continues in what she teaches them from the Word of God, if her children continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control. As the early church father John Chrysostom said about this verse, “By these means [women] will have no small reward on their account, because they have trained up wrestlers for the service of Christ.”1 By her tender care, a woman preserves her family, her church, the business she works for, the organizations she associates with, and all society from conflict. This is an important role that the godly woman has which is slowly vanishing from our postmodern society with the rise of “third wave” feminism. Consequently, our present society is beginning to unravel at the seams. For more information on the roles of men and women in society, please see this video by The Fuel Project: “The Truth About Feminism.”
- John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. James Tweed and Philip Schaff, vol. 13, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 436.