This article is part of the Tough Passages series.
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
—1 Timothy 2:15
A Great Debate
The interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15 has been an item of great debate among commentators. The confusion over the meaning of this verse is reflected in different English translations. For example, the NASB says that “women will be preserved,” whereas the ESV says that “she will be saved.”
The NASB reflects the view that Paul is merely stating that faithful Christian women will be preserved physically when they give birth. But this is implausible, because we know that not all faithful Christian women survive childbirth. The ESV is nearer the mark. This particular Greek word always refers to spiritual salvation elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, and we have no reason to think the verb is being used differently here.
But for those women who are married, God assigns a special responsibility to care for the home.
If this is the case, is Paul suggesting that women are saved by means of bearing children? This would seem to contradict Paul’s teaching that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works (e.g., Eph. 2:8).
One ancient interpretation of this text avoids this question by holding that this statement refers not to childbirth generically but to the childbirth of the Messiah Jesus. This interpretation harks back to Genesis 3:15, which says that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the Serpent, a prophecy fulfilled ultimately in the birth of Christ, who destroys the works of the Devil. Thus, women are saved through the childbirth of Christ. But that interpretation makes little sense in context.
With contributions from a team of pastors and scholars, this commentary through 9 of Paul’s letters helps students of the Bible to understand how each epistle fits in with the storyline of Scripture and applies today.
The Wider Meaning
It is more likely that Paul uses childbearing as a figure of speech known as a synecdoche.1 A synecdoche is a figure in which the part stands for the whole. Childbearing is a part of a larger whole, which is the woman’s wider role to care for the home. This is the same role Paul describes in Titus 2:4–5: “Young women [are] to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
So, in both 1 Timothy 2 and Titus 2, Paul declares that wives have a God-ordained role to play in caring for children and the home. This is not claiming that a woman must have children in order to be saved. It is not even teaching that a woman must be married to be saved. But for those women who are married, God assigns a special responsibility to care for the home.
A wife’s fulfillment of this role will be one of the evidences of perseverance in the faith. Salvation is future in this verse: “She will be saved.” Thus it is not entry into salvation that is in view but the future consummation of salvation. Women who embrace their God-ordained role while continuing in the Christian virtues of “faith and love and holiness, with self-control” will find themselves saved on the last day.
- Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15: A Dialogue with Scholarship,” in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 222.
This articles is adapted from ESV Expository Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon: Volume 11 edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr, and Jay Sklar.