Women Will Be Saved Through Childbearing
1 Timothy 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
This is one of those troubling passages of Scripture that we have to confront from time to time. Quite honestly the authors of numerous commentaries have differing opinions on what is being said here. Some write that this is regarding spiritual child-bearing, that those who are “in Christ” will help to bring birth to those who are being born again but those are the kind comments. Many others have been less generous.
We do know that this letter is being written in regard to the situation in Ephesus. This is a city that is ripe with goddess worship and the entire section leading up to this has to do with propriety in worship. It’s quite possible that in a city that has an over-emphasis on a goddess has also been bringing this idea into the church. Over and over again in the New Testament we understand that societal divisions have been destroyed, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. In the new kingdom, all things are made new and the fledgling church could not allow itself to be influenced by the worship of Artemis (or Diana) the Great!
Humanity had sinned and Eve had been involved in that sin. As a result, neither she nor Adam could bring salvation to the human race. That salvation had to come through Jesus Christ.
Throughout the centuries women have carried with them the “shame” of being identified with Eve. Eve is the one who succumbed to the temptation of the Deceiver and ate of the forbidden fruit. Often women have been reminded that they have within them a little bit of Eve and as a result there is a distortion in the God’s original plan of male-female relationships. Instead of the equality that God had designed, a hierarchy has developed and in God’s prophetic vision he saw the pain with which women would bear children. It was in the place of her relationships with men and the womb that women continued to suffer the consequences of the fall.
Could it be that in this passage we simply see a reminder of this, or is there something new being said here?
Sadly, for centuries this Scripture has been a painful read for many women. Numerous women have struggled with issues of infertility and have been made to feel that they were incapable of becoming all that God had intended for them because they were unable to bear children. That somehow, this was the pathway to a woman’s holiness — by being a good wife and mother, and if that were not possible in her life, she might not be saved. Of course this was also troubling for single women who bore no children, although the stigma seemed to disappear if she were willing to serve in the church and birth “spiritual children.” Married women, however, were not given this grace and if she remained childless she was often made to feel that she had failed in her responsibility.
I would like to suggest that it’s time to look at this Scripture in a different way and it is Gregory of Nazianzus who can give us this clue. In his Epistle 101 he writes, “For that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” This concept is not mine but comes to us from Dr. Nonna Verna Harrison who began to explore this idea of the assumption and the healing of human flesh and what that might mean for women. What Nazianzen wanted us to understand was because of the fall, humanity had become corrupted. This corruption is to be understood in a wholistic way, that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical being of humanity, but we are one united whole. When this corruption occurred it affected the whole being in every way. Relationships were disturbed, human to human, and even humanity to the remainder of creation. This is why we read “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” (Romans 8:22) In deep need of healing, Jesus came as the great physician to bring about that healing process and according to Nazianzen’s understanding, as Jesus assumed human flesh, he brought about the possibility of humanity’s healing, salvation and sanctification. By living out the human life Jesus turned the tables on the corruption and made it possible for humanity to be healed. When we are adopted into his family we are grafted into the new life which he has made possible by his life.
Now, let’s see what this understanding does to this passage of Scripture. We are in the midst of the Advent season, and with great anticipation we are awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child. The angel came and spoke to Mary incredible words, “‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.’” (Luke 1:31-35) As we are told in Matthew’s gospel, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)
Those are very profound words, “God with us.” God, in the form of Jesus Christ was to come, assuming human flesh and heal all that which he would assume. And now in this moment we get a little glimpse of the incredible love of God, stretching from the moment of humanity’s fall into corruption and the sin of Eve to Mary. From the womb of the woman who would have “greatly increased pangs in childbearing” (Genesis 3:16) we find the very first place that Jesus assumes human flesh, for he is conceived in the womb of Mary and the healing of humanity is begun and in that moment God’s love for his daughters and sons abounds. Salvation begins at the place where sin began its corruptive force and then reaches out in the new kingdom, bringing healing at every point of contact.
Women are not saved because each and every single woman gives birth to a child or because a woman is a good wife and mother. Rather, women are saved through childbearing because Mary carried the Messiah in her womb! This is an inclusive statement — because while Jesus is born a man, he is conceived in the body of a woman and therefore, all of humanity has been saved, including and very specifically women who have carried the brunt of guilt for the sin in the garden. Not only are women saved, along with men, but they are called to live as God’s holy kingdom citizens. The standard for holy living is just as high for women as it is for men; for slave as it is for free; for Jew as it is for Greek.
No longer does this passage need to trouble us, but instead give us the hope of the season. Just as we celebrate the advent of the Christchild we gratefully acknowledge the way in which the little babe began his salvific activity from the very moment of his conception letting us know that yes, women would be saved through his birth!
Lord, thank you for your incredible love for all of humanity. Amen.