W&L Gold Brush (Light)

Post

  • Prakich Treetasayuth

Woman Saved through Childbearing


What a strange remark-a woman will be saved through childbearing! What was on Paul’s mind when he said that?


Salvation is one of the greatest gifts God has given to mankind. Apostle Paul made it clear that one can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not through their works (Eph 2:8-9). However, in one of his letters to Timothy, his beloved mentee, the apostle stated that a woman would be saved through childbearing. This statement baffles many believers, old and new alike.


1 Tim 2:15 - Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.


Paul wrote this letter to a young Timothy, his protégé who was overseeing the church in Ephesus. He was faced with difficult issues in the congregation, many of which were shaped by the socio-cultural environment of the city. In order to get a good grasp of these verses, we therefore need to understand the context of the Ephesian church.


Located at a prime spot on the West coast of the modern-day Turkey, Ephesus became one of the prominent commercial centres of the region and one of the largest and most important cities in the Roman Empire. The city was dominated by the great Temple of Artemis which housed the statue of the goddess Artemis, a powerful female deity who was a symbol of women’s liberation and matriarchy. She is said to have elevated the female status. As a consequence, certain women enjoyed honours and privileges, as well as religious functions under the oversight of the municipal authorities and within the Roman sets of rules.


Set in this socio-religious climate, the Christian community in Ephesus was plagued by false doctrine, some aspects of which were related to the status given to women in this city. And that was one main reason why Paul urged Timothy to remain there, to resolve the issue (1 Tim 1:3). In fact, a substantial portion of this letter is devoted to tackling this issue in the congregation (1 Tim 1:3-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-5, 20-21). Some other parts might also be alluding to this problem. For example, Paul encouraged Timothy to hold fast to the true faith and not to depart from the right doctrine as what had happened to Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:18-20). One possible cause of their shipwreck of faith was their decision to follow false teaching. One of the qualifications of a deacon is to be confident in the faith that is in Jesus (1 Tim 3:13).


It is in this context that 1 Tim 2:11-15 is set.


Not permitted to teach or to exercise authority over a man


1 Tim 2:11-12 - Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.


At first glance, it may appear that Paul did not allow any woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. Did he always forbid a woman to teach? No. He encouraged older women to teach what was excellent (Tit 2:3). How about teaching a man? Did he always keep a woman from teaching a man? No. When Priscilla and her husband, Aquilla, met Apollos and saw great potential in this man, they took him along and trained him (Ac 18:24-26). Then why did Paul forbid some women to teach? One possible reason was that they espoused some false doctrine. What was it?


Did he always keep a woman from teaching a man? No. When Priscilla and her husband, Aquilla, met Apollos and saw great potential in this man, they took him along and trained him (Ac 18:24-26).

Deception of Eve


One of the major Greek philosophies that found its way into the church and fused with Christian faith was Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a collection of ancient Greek philosophies with central teaching that the material world is evil but the spiritual world is to be sought. Salvation can be gained through hidden knowledge, or gnosis in Greek, obtainable through certain practices, including asceticism and self-denial.


There are many varieties of Gnosticism, most of which present an explanation of the beginning of the world which features a supreme being far higher than Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes the supreme figure is female rather than male. There is also a Gnostic account of Eve as the creator of Adam, which is part of the secret knowledge only made known to the adherents. That might explain why Paul asserted that Adam was created before Eve.


1 Tim 2:13-14 - For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.


Gnosticism relates that the God of Gen 1-3 was one of the lower powers. He made a tragic mistake by creating the physical universe, as matter is associated with evil. God was so blind that He was not even aware of the existence of the supreme power. Satan came to reveal this knowledge to Eve by telling her to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. As Eve shared the fruit with Adam, they both could now seek the supreme being who was far above the material reality. Therefore Eve was often seen as the principle of spiritual awakening who brought enlightenment to the soul.


Some Gnostic teachers possibly held that Eve was not deceived by the serpent. She rather possessed the full truth from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (gnosis in Greek). However, Paul held the opposite view that Eve was completely deceived whereas Adam clearly knew the truth. He was not deceived but wilfully chose to disobey God. Paul then laid the full responsibility on Adam and not Eve.


Within this context, it seems almost certain that Paul’s intention was not to make any statement regarding hierarchy of men and women, but to refute the doctrine of certain Gnostic teachers.


Salvation through childbearing


Then comes a peculiar notion of Paul about woman being saved by childbearing.


1 Tim 2:15 - Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.


Paul made it clear in his other epistles that salvation is by God’s grace and not by our deeds. How come he says that woman will be saved through childbearing?


Gnostics held that material is evil but spirit is good.

Gnostics held that material is evil but spirit is good. One must therefore deny any physical pleasures, including sexual activities. However, for Paul, marriage neither qualifies or disqualifies anyone from salvation. In order to refute their teaching, he affirmed that a woman could be saved even if she was married and bore a child. Childbearing is neither a condition for nor a hindrance of salvation.


In order to refute their teaching, he affirmed that a woman could be saved even if she was married and bore a child. Childbearing is neither a condition for nor a hindrance of salvation.

CONCLUSION


Due to the prominent city goddess Artemis, women in Ephesus received certain status of privilege. Some women in the church might take this as a licence to do what seemed right to them, including teaching or dominating men or their husbands, which caused distraction and also offence to the congregation as this was against the culture. Some of these women also espoused certain false doctrine, especially Gnosticism.


Certain Gnostic followers held that Eve was not deceived to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead by eating the fruit, she acquired the hidden knowledge. Certain Gnostics taught that the supreme being of the universe was female. Hence Adam was created by a female being, i.e., Eve. Therefore Paul argued that Adam was created before Eve.

Gnostics taught that materials were evil but spirit was good. Humans could gain hidden knowledge through denying physical desires including sexual activities. Paul argued that salvation had nothing to do with marriage. One could be saved even if they were married and had children.


Paul therefore stopped these women from spreading these false teaching and not every woman from the ministry of teaching. He also stopped them from dominating men, thinking that they had a higher status. He did not forbid women to teach or exercise authority over men as a general principle.


Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version


References

Kroeger, Richard Clark et al; I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence; Grand Rapid: Baker Books; 1998

Bristow, John T.; What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love; New York: Harper One; 1991


Copyright©️2021 by Prakich Treetasayuth. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.



Your generosity helps further our mission to equip leaders.

Subscribe for updates!

Be the first to hear about new podcast episodes, blog posts, and more!

W&LL Profile Photo (resize)
Ask us anything related to our ministry focuses.