The role of women in the church keeps coming around like a broken wheel. This week I'm asked, "Are women really saved by childbirth as Paul wrote to Timothy?"
The passage in question is 1st Timothy 2.15 which reads, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty." This verse is a part of a larger context that includes such commands for women such as modesty in dress, learning in silence, and a prohibition against teaching or leadership roles in the church (or anywhere else, for that matter)especially if these roles presume "authority" over a man.
There are a number of striking contradictions in this passage when placed within the larger context of scripture. For instance, in Acts 4.12 we read there is no way to be saved except by Jesus Christ. Further, in actual practice of the New Testament church we read of several women who were instrumental in the churchincluding women who were teachers and prophetesses: Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla, Tryphena, Typhosa, Persis, Julia, Eudia, the four daughters of Philip, and Syntyche to name just a few. Some of these women clearly taught men (Priscilla, the four daughters) in contradiction to Paul's command (cf., Acts 18.26, 21.8-9).
So, what do we do with this? Either we have to explain the passage satisfactorily to accommodate the church today, or we have to take Paul seriously and silence women within the confines of the church and its ministry.
The most common way in which this kind of passage is handled by churches is that it's ignored. I suspect there are very few pastors who stand up on Sunday morning and dare tell 75-82% of the congregation they may not ask questions in church (1 Timothy 2.11), nor may they teach, speak, or make a soundto include singing (1 Timothy 2.12, 1 Corinthians 14.24). To keep the peace (and 75-82% of their congregations), most pastors simply avoid these passages.
But avoiding them doesn't make them go away. So, those who choose to deal with these passages tend to enculturate them. The rationale of this method is Paul was writing in a first century culture to a first century church and was dealing with a first century problem. Perhaps the women in Timothy's church were being unseemly in light of their culture. Perhaps they were disrupting the service with questions. We're not told what the problems were, but clearly there was some sort of difficulty between the leaders and the women in Timothy's church. Thus, since this passage deals with a specific problem of a specific church in a specific time it cannot/should not be applied in toto to the church today. This is how this and other anachronistic passages are generally handled by pastors in the church today.
But that doesn't clear up what Paul meant by women being saved through childbirth. What could Paul mean? There are a couple of possibilities. One is that Paul meant what he saidwomen can find salvation through childbirth; however, I know of no theologians who find this suggestion tenable. Another possibility is in this culture since women were generally considered little more than chattel, that is, property of a man, they could find their salvation through Christ (faith) plus through living the kind of life befitting of a woman (having children). Certainly, this is more plausible than the first, but it necessitates a works-righteousness theology. A third possibility is Paul isn't here speaking specifically of spiritual salvation. Although the word translated saved is often used to speak of the salvation of our soul, it isn't always used in this sense. It is possible Paul is indicating that the well-being of a woman, that is, perhaps her happiness, is fulfilled/saved through childbirth. Certainly in a culture in which women were considered cursed by God if they could not bear children, the use of the word saved in this context makes sense.
In any event, I found Paul's introduction to this particular passage illustrative. Paul writes, in verse 8 and again in verse 12, "I desire" and "I permit." Paul doesn't place his particular biases on God, rather he owns up to them. On other occasions Paul wrote passages that he owned as his opinions rather than God's (1 Corinthians 7.25), and so this too may be the casethat these are Paul's personal preferences, not God's absolute commandments.
Can a woman be saved through childbirth? Except for this single example, nothing else in scripture seems to support that contention. But God is sovereign and does as God does. We on earth can only speculate in instances such as these.