Saved Through Childbirth?

A Confusing Passage
Perhaps you have stumbled across the passage in 1 Timothy 2: 14-15 that reads,

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Maybe some of you have just glossed over this passage with little to no thought or confusion. For others though, this passage has been a huge area of concern and has generated many questions over time:

  • How are women “preserved” or “saved” through childbearing?
  • What does that mean for women in general?
  • What about Christian women who:
    • cannot bear children
    • whose husbands are infertile, or
    • who remain unmarried?

Four Points of View
This blog will explore the differing viewpoints of four New Testament commentators regarding the questions raised by this passage. We will attempt to discover through these four voices what Paul originally meant and the implications this has for the modern churchgoing woman.

View 1: William Hendriksen
Verse 15 comes at the end of a discussion where Paul is instructing the church at Ephesus regarding how women are to behave in public worship. Hendriksen makes the point that in verses 13-14 Paul refers back to Genesis, emphasizing that Adam was created prior to Eve and that Eve then led the way into sin when she was deceived. Instead of following Adam, Eve chose to lead and thus led them into sin. Hendriksen argues that because of the order of creation and because Eve was created as the helper, those roles should not be reversed in public worship. Hendriksen then concludes that women should not reverse the divinely established order. Women should not be encouraged to do what is contrary to their nature.  Women should not assume roles that were not intended for them. According to Hendriksen, no woman should teach, lead, or rule in public worship. Rather she should learn, obey, and follow.

This background information is necessary to inform the reader how Hendrikson answers the question of women’s salvation through childbirth. According to him, women attain to real happiness and salvation through bearing children: “Childbearing will mean salvation for the Christian mother, for what Christian mother does not experience inner delight, joy, blessing, and glory in seeing the image of her savior reflected in little ones who belong to Him?” The way that leads to salvation is a person’s obedience to God’s ordinances. It is the will of God that a woman influences humankind “from the bottom up” (through child rearing), not “from the top down” (through the leadership roles that should belong to a man). The curse given to Eve included both submission to her husband and painful child-bearing (Gen 3:16). Due to God’s grace the curse of child bearing was changed into a blessing here in verse 15.

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View 2: Gordon Fee
In Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIBC, he asserts that while in verse 14 Paul has said the woman was deceived, he then in verse 15 says she will be saved. Between these two verses there is a slight shift from Eve to the women in Ephesus. In verse 14 Eve serves as the representative woman who, through her deception in the garden by the serpent, became a sinner. Likewise in 1 Timothy, Timothy was facing false teachers who were leading many Christians astray and some women had already turned away to follow Satan (1 Tim 4:1; 5: 15). Paul is not referring to Eve’s salvation but to the salvation of the women in Ephesus.

It is how women are saved that has caused many problems for readers of the New Testament. Many suggest an alternative clause: “will be kept safe through childbirth.” This idea, however, is refuted because many godly mothers have died in childbirth. In addition, Paul’s use of the word “saved” has always related throughout his letters to the idea of redemption from sin and the attainment of eternal life. Paul uses a different word to connote the idea of being “kept safe” (2 Tim 3:11). Fee believes Paul is saying that a woman’s salvation from sin and for eternal life is to be found in her being a godly woman and a model who is known for her good works, which include marriage, bearing children, and keeping a good home (1 Tim 5: 11, 14). “But Paul could never leave the matter there, as though salvation itself were attained by this ‘good deed,’ so he immediately qualifies, ‘Provided of course that she is already a truly Christian woman,’ that is, a woman who continues in faith, love, and holiness.”

In his book Hard Sayings of Paul, Manfred Brauch observed that Paul spent much of his ministry preaching that salvation could not be attained through works or exercising a specific role but only through Jesus (Acts 4: 12; 2 Tim 1: 9). Therefore Brauch concludes that this passage is not referring to personal salvation. In Timothy’s situation, there were heretical teachings being circulated against the validity of marriage. Marriage and the bearing of children were viewed in a negative light and were considered unworthy of the truly spiritual community of “saved” believers. Brauch is suggesting that in verse 15 Paul may be affirming that child bearing, a natural function of a woman, is perfectly acceptable and does not keep her from the community of saved believers:

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View 3: Ben Witherington
In Ben Witherington’s commentary Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, he gives special attention to the definite article placed before the word translated “child bearing”. Because of this, verse 15 is referring to a single specific birth- namely Jesus born of a woman (Gal 4:4). The curse acquired by Eve is reversed through Mary.

The fall came through a woman but then also salvation was brought through a woman. The term “women” used in 1 Tim 2: 15 is likely referencing women in general and “child bearing” is referring to a specific birth, the birth of Jesus. Women are saved by Jesus’ coming, dying, and resurrection.

View 4: Gareth Reese
Gareth Reese, author of New Testament Epistles: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy and professor at Central Christian College of the Bible, affirms that this passage is a promise to women for the forgiveness of sins through the incarnation of Jesus. This promise was given to Eve early in Genesis. The verb “preserved” or “saved” is in the passive voice. “This ‘deliverance’ is wrought for her by someone else. It is future tense, and points forward from Eve to the promised future deliverance ‘through the childbearing.’”

Reese notes that the Greek for “childbearing” is singular. Like Witherington, Reese also pays special attention to the definite article. The definite article can easily be explained as pertaining to the virgin birth of Christ. It is, however, difficult to explain the presence of the definite article if this verse is referring to childbearing in general. Rather, the “child” is the intermediary that provided salvation from sin and condemnation to Eve and other women. At the end of verse 15, Paul is reminding the Christian women in Ephesus of the need to remain faithful until death. It is crucial to observe how God’s part (the reference to the virgin birth) and man’s part (continuing in love, sanctity, and self-restraint) in salvation are both evident here.

The problem with the first two interpretations of these verses is that Hendriksen and Fee are claiming salvation is dependent on a woman’s works, contrary to other places in scripture where it says salvation cannot be attained through works but only through Jesus (Acts 4: 12; 2 Tim 1: 9). In addition they do not answer what this means for unmarried women or Christian women who cannot bear children. Will they not be saved because they did not bear children? Will their sins not be forgiven? Gareth Reese points out that Paul mentions elsewhere in scripture that the single life can be perfectly acceptable to God (1 Cor 7:25-35). Both the interpretations of Witherington and Reese harmonize best with what is found in scripture elsewhere, which ultimately states that women (like all believers) are saved by the birth of Christ who is the only source of salvation.

Much of this material has been studied at Central Christian College of the Bible in the class Pastoral Epistles taught by New Testament professor Dr Eric Stevens. I have really enjoyed digging into the Pastoral Epistles and many other classes of this nature. If this idea is interesting to you as well, consider applying here.


 

Hannah Dunn is currently a student at Central Christian College of the Bible. 

The Why and How of Mentoring

Today, it seems young Christians are frequently left to their own devices after baptism. They may be encouraged to attend a particular small group or to participate in a certain ministry capacity but often the one-on-one discipling relationship they had prior to their baptism is lost once the wet robes from the baptismal are taken off. My intention in this blog post is not to rail upon those baptizers, but rather to look into a discipleship function that is sorely lacking in many of today’s churches and encourage all of us to be more mindful about taking part in reintroducing it.

What is discipleship?

This discipleship concept would be best described as a mentoring relationship. A mentor isn’t something explicitly described in the Bible but we can see the relationships taking place within parts of the narrative. To mention a few examples: Samuel took up the responsibility of being a mentor to Saul, Elijah trained Elisha for years, and Jesus Christ became a mentor for His disciples. The mentoring relationship I would like to focus on is between the Apostle Paul and his faithful protégé, Timothy. It has been commonly said in the pulpit that every Christian should strive to have a Paul (a mentor), a Barnabas (an encourager), and a Timothy (a student).

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Paul and Timothy excel in showing us what a mentoring relationship can and should look like.  This is best seen in the two letters that Paul wrote to Timothy (1st and 2nd Timothy). It is from these sources that we will primarily attempt to formulate the picture of what a successful mentoring relationship should look like. 

But before this can be undertaken the following question must be answered:

Should all Christians have mentors?

Absolutely.

A Christian mentoring relationship, properly utilized, can be nothing but advantageous for the faith and ministry of both the mentor and the student. I have had a few different mentors in my time at Central Christian College of the Bible here in Moberly, Missouri. Each one has helped me grow in my faith and reach new limits in my ministry. It has been useful to have personal instruction from my mentors in places they noticed I could use some growth. In addition, my mentors have encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone in my ministries and try new things. But the best part of having a mentor is not having an instructor of sound doctrine or having someone to encourage my growth. It has been having someone I can watch live out what has been taught.

Even most young Bible readers are very familiar with the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is littered with sound and practical instruction from the wise King Solomon himself. Many Christians will commit themselves to reading a chapter out of Proverbs each day to find how the teachings can come alive within themselves as they carry it out. But could you imagine just how beneficial it would be to also have someone deeply invested in your life while putting flesh to the framework of sound teaching?

While a mentoring relationship isn’t specifically prescribed in the New Testament or really even explicitly mentioned, it is something that is described thoroughly, especially in the relationship between Paul and Timothy in the Pastoral Epistles.

What does a Christian mentoring relationship look like?

The Apostle Paul is well known as the man who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles during the time of the book of Acts. Throughout his ministry career he made friends as well as enemies, but one of his closest associates was Timothy. Timothy was a young man with a Greek father and a Jewish mother. His father isn’t mentioned beyond this in the New Testament, but we see Paul take up this place as a spiritual father and he even calls Timothy “my true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). That Paul takes up a parenting role for Timothy is one of the foremost aspects of the Christian mentoring relationship. Paul acted as a spiritual father to Timothy by circumcising, teaching, leading, encouraging, charging, and sending him. Paul became personally invested in Timothy’s faith and his ministry.

It is of no doubt that Timothy was able to grow in his faith because of how influential Paul was in his life. Paul was around to live out the gospel right in front of Timothy’s own eyes. It is one thing to hear or read sound teaching in the class room, typical Sunday sermon, or in personal or communal Bible study. It is another to be able to witness the Word being lived out in the flesh. Timothy was blessed in that he was able to have such a mentor as Paul involved in his life.

Another key factor in this relationship is that Paul helps Timothy form and reshape his character in a way that betters his ministry. It is commonly thought by bible scholars, including Gareth Reese of Central Christian College of the Bible, that Timothy was of a timid disposition. Paul consistently gives Timothy charges throughout his letters to be bold in his ministry, to remain above reproach, and to preach the Word both in and out of season. Paul recognized shortcomings in Timothy’s character and encouraged him to grow out of his weaknesses. While this could be, and should be, applied with young and old ministers specifically, I also believe that every Christian should strive to have some form of mentoring relationship to aid in character development. Timothy, without the encouragement and mentoring from Paul, ran the risk of failing in his ministry and/or shipwrecking his faith.

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Not only did Paul help Timothy form his character, but he also helped him grow in his ministry. For a while Timothy followed Paul around on his missionary journeys, but after a time Timothy had grown enough to stay in cities without Paul or even to be sent by Paul to cities to help the churches there. Clearly Paul had great influence on Timothy’s ministry career. Throughout the Pastoral Epistles we can see Paul instructing Timothy in things such as church structure, roles of men and women in the church, and sound doctrine. All of these were ways Timothy was to fulfill his ministry.

One of the final aspects of the Christian mentoring relationship, and the one that I would say is the most pivotal as far as how far-reaching it can be for the Kingdom, is the concept of “each one teach one”. Paul and Timothy traveled together often and we can even see Timothy being a co-author for some of Paul’s books. Clearly, Paul thought that Timothy was capable enough to take part in writing some of Paul’s letters and to play a significant role in his ministry.

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                                                                     (map found here

This was only possible because of how strong in his faith Timothy had grown through their mentoring relationship. For every Christian that is in currently being mentored, it is their duty to carry on this model and mentor another.

How can a young Christian get a mentor?

There are a few options available for a young Christian to get a mentor in their life. The first is to find an older Christian who is actively involved in their congregation. This could be an elder, a deacon, a preacher, their own father or mother, or just any mature Christian in their congregation. Most older Christians are usually salivating for the opportunity to get involved in a young person’s life the way Paul was involved in Timothy’s life. All it would take is to ask.

Another option is to get involved in a ministry. Often times, being involved in ministries can open doors to meeting older ministers who would be willing to invest. This will usually be a boss or a supervisor. This can also be an excellent way to find someone you yourself can begin mentoring.

Finally, the last option- and the one that I would most encourage- to find a Christian mentor is to invest in a formal Christian education. Most Bible colleges are full of faculty and staff as well as older students who are more than willing to mentor others because they are getting mentored. Students at Bible colleges can be mentored in the classroom and in the dorms. Also, many churches located near Bible colleges are actively involved with the college and will gladly take the opportunity and responsibility to aid students in their ministry training.

Whichever option you decide on, be sure that your mentor is someone who is willing to spend a large amount of intentional time with you.  Find someone who is willing to be honest and also who has years of experience in being a mature, disciplined Christian. Finally, be willing to humble yourself to not only hear hard teachings but also to change. Be willing to change into someone who mentors others in the spirit of “each one, teach one”.

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This post was contributed by current student Jake St. Clair.