In 1 Tim. 2:15 we find one of the most debated statements made by Paul.
What exactly did Paul mean by this statement? How should we understand and apply the essence in our modern situation?
The first problem we encounter is the interpretation of being “saved”. Does the Word say that a woman will be saved for eternity by bearing children? This surely could not be the meaning of this verse. Or should the verse be understood as that she will be kept safe at the time of childbirth, meaning that she would be protected during the process of childbirth?
King James Version (KJV):
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
New International Version (NIV):
But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Bible in Basic English (BBE):
But if they go on in faith and love and holy self-control, she will be kept safe at the time of childbirth.
Weymouth New Testament (WNT):
Yet a woman will be brought safely through childbirth if she and her husband continue to live in faith and love and growing holiness, with habitual self-restraint.
The word for save (sozo) is of course not used only in connection with eternity. Just as in English the same word is used by Luke when he says that the centurion wanted to save Paul when the soldiers were about to kill all the prisoners just before the ship was about to be stranded. (Acts 27:43)
The second question is to determine who should “continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” The form of the Greek word can either be third person singular, or third person plural.
According to the KJV “she” will be saved if “they” continue in holiness. Does this mean that her salvation is dependent on the successful rearing of her children in the ways of the Lord? That they should live out the appropriate requirements? This is how also the BBE could be understood.
The NIV has both words in plural. That could mean that the responsibility lies with the women themselves to portray the Christian demeanour.
The Weymouth – Translation puts the responsibility on husband and wife!
How should we translate this verse in order to ensure that the correct understanding is represented?
Let us look at a few aspects:
- In this part of his epistle Paul is giving advice on the conduct of man and woman in different situations. It is not concerned about eternal salvation.
- As motivation why Paul does not allow the woman to teach men or take authority over them, he goes back to order God set at the creation. This order had been broken when Adam abdicated his position as leader, following Eve in doing sin. The man is called to take up his position of authority is all circumstances.
- But this might give the impression that the woman is left in her fallen state with only the curse of God coming over her at childbirth with no outcome. That is when Paul emphasizes that she will not be abandoned during the hour of childbirth by living out a Christian life. The curse is lifted by and through her relationship with God, and the acceptance of her position towards her husband. One should bear in mind the pains of childbirth at that time before painkillers or proper medical care, sometimes leading to permanent injuries or even death. This makes Paul’s explanation of God’s grace all the more appropriate.
Henry Alford (1863) directs our attention to the fact that Paul uses the same grammatical construction that he also employs in 1 Cor. 3:15: “If a man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” “By fire” is not the means of salvation, but it indicates the circumstances. Equally “childbirth” is not the means of salvation, but the circumstances. Therefore it should rather be understood as that she would be kept safe during childbirth.
Looking again at the context of this verse, it is clear that Paul either refers to the specific situation of man and woman within the church, or their position in the community in general. The possibility of the disruption of the Godly order is a reality in any community, but should be avoided in the newly established Christian communities.
With great care the essence of this verse should be studied and applied to our modern situation, bearing in mind that Paul himself refers to women taking office in the churches in his time!
Translating this verse to achieve that, is a challenge.
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