Women "Saved" Through Childbearing (I Tim 2:15)

What did the deutero-Paulinist mean by “a woman being saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty” (I Tim 2:15)? Lynn Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, pp 138-140, lists four possibilities without taking sides.

(1) A woman will successfully endure the birthing process if she meets the stated conditions.

(2) A pregnant/childbearing woman is delivered, not from death, but from the restriction against teaching and the use of abusive authority (I Tim 2:12). Alternatively, the woman is Mary, who as the counterpart to Eve, reversed the damage of the Fall by giving birth to the messiah; thus a pregnant/childbearing woman is delivered from the effects of Eve’s sin. In either case, the woman is delivered or released from certain constraints.

(3) A childbearing woman has an assurance of spiritual salvation – a polemic against abstinence salvation which denigrated having children and other things related to the “material world”.

(4) A childbearing woman has an assurance of spiritual salvation – an endorsement of Roman modesty codes, which demanded repercussions for adultery and promoted higher birthrates, in effect discouraging abortions.

The pastoral letters are a bit outside my comfort zone. Anyone care to weigh in on the options?


11 thoughts on “Women "Saved" Through Childbearing (I Tim 2:15)

  1. Tough passage. The translation you have papers over problems in the Greek, which makes it all the more difficult.

    It's not really “a woman being saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty” but σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεχνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπη καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης (“but she will be saved through child-bearing, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with prudence”).

    I've been tempted to conclude that the “she” in the context is Eve, and the “they” is Adam and Eve, but I can seem to get it to work!

  2. Thanks, Stephen. And from what I glean from the debates, the Greek noun represented by “child-bearing” can encompass a lot of things — pregnancy, delivery, child rearing — all at once.

    Your idea about Eve seems somewhat compatible with an alternative of option (2), namely if the “she” is Mary (Eve's counterpart), who through birthing Jesus reversed the damage of the Fall; and so women are delivered from the effects of Eve's sin with Christ's birth. I should add that to option (2).

  3. I'm sceptical of interpretation (2) which imports a whole lot of orthodox christian theology not in the text itself.

    I might also observe: (1) isn't true, Christian faithful women die in childbirth sometimes, and (4) is hopelessly misogynistic!

  4. In the context of Senaca the Younger's ad Helviam and Ovid's comments on abortion among Roman New Women, the meaning of this passage seems to be closest to your number one. Women have a greater chance of survival if they carry their child to term than if they abort their child. The pseudo-pauline author is encouraging women to keep their children and to act faithfully. Bruce Winter's book is very enlightening in this regard.

  5. Thanks Ken. Option (4) does have the ring of plausibility, regardless of how unappealing it may stand in today's world (as Karl notes). The trouble is that I'm finding all of these options come across as plausible, aside from perhaps (2a), since “delivery from the restriction against teaching” seems, well, too restrictive.

  6. I don't think (4) is misogynistic, especially if “saved” isn't understanding as salvation but rather more practically as her life will be saved. Abortion in the classical period had very high rates of mortality.

  7. I've been reading some of the non-canonical work recently and I think that (3) makes a great deal of sense not just against the Marcionites but also the other groups that taught that sexual abstinence was required for salvation. If you accept a date for 1 Timothy of early 60s, then people would have been getting a bit concerned that Christ might not come again in their lifetimes and that there might well be a need for Christians to continue to have children if there was to be a church in existence when he did.

  8. I concur with Judy on Meaning (3). Note that another characteristic of the false teaching the letter was written to counter was the forbidding of marriage (4:3). Also, if we think of this heresy as sort of a “proto-gnosticism” then the danger of childbirth, as well as marriage in general and sexual expression in particular (including the result of childbirth) was not physical but spiritual.

  9. In the ancient world women died more frequently than they do today from childbirth, or afterwords. Childbirth was a fearful thing to go through prior to medical science having figured out a lot of things that can go wrong. As for abortion techniques of the ancients, they included plants/herbs used to induce abortion, and they were given early. Even drinking can cause a miscarriage. They also applied such methods early on. I'm not sure many if any women in the ancient world opted for what we today call late term therapeutic abortions. So, in my opinion, the fear would be carrying a child to term and dealing with giving birth and all the risks that entailed in the ancient world that knew so little about modern medical science, along with knowing so little about subsequent problems after giving birth, including blood loss, infections, etc.

    Children also had a far higher mortality rate in the ancient world than today. Even in day of the French naturalist, Buffon, a little over 200 years ago, he mentioned that half of all children born didn't reach the age of seven.

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