Yet she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, and love, and holiness with moderation. This is a trustworthy saying. 1 Timothy 2:15–3:1a (my translation)
1 Timothy 2:15 is the only verse in the New Testament that connects having children with salvation, and it’s not an easy verse to interpret. Who is being spoken about here? How are we to understand “saved” in this verse? How are we to understand “childbearing”? How does verse 15 fit within the broader context of 1 Timothy 2:8–15 and of the entire letter?
What does 1 Timothy 2:15 mean?!
There are various interpretations of “she will saved through childbearing” put forward by scholars, but in this article, I mostly explain how I understand the phrase. To keep the word count down, I’ve chosen to focus only on a few concepts in this discussion on 1 Timothy 2:15. I’ve passed over other concepts quickly, but have linked to more information.
A Proposed Backdrop to 1 Timothy 2:15
What was happening in the Ephesian church?
From 1 Timothy 4:3, we know that some people in the Ephesus church were forbidding marriage. They were probably teaching that celibacy was a moral, and even a necessary, virtue. Paul considered these ideas to be doctrines of demons!
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth. 1 Timothy 4:1–3
Despite Paul’s disapproval, we read in more than a few early Christian texts that not marrying and not having sex and children were seen as good things. Moreover, sexual renunciation was positively associated with salvation and the resurrection. (I quote from several such texts here.)
With this backstory in mind, here is my understanding of 1 Timothy 2:15.
Yet she—a woman mentioned in 1 Tim. 2:11–12 who needed to learn, etc
will be saved—she will keep her salvation
through the bearing of children—through, or despite, the experience of sex and procreation
if they—a woman and man (wife and husband) mentioned in 1 Tim. 2:11–12
continue in faith and love—usual expressions of following Jesus
and holiness with moderation—piety without excesses such as sexual asceticism.
Paul did not want an Ephesian woman (and women like her) to take the notion of holiness to extremes by refusing to have sex and babies with her husband. He wanted her to know that having sex and having children would not jeopardise her salvation: she will be saved.
The Language of 1 Timothy 2:15a
“She will be saved” (sōthēsetai)
Some have taken the Greek verb used in this phrase, sōthēsetai (from sōzō), to mean that a woman will be kept healthy and safe while giving birth. Considering the miserably high incidence of maternal mortality in the ancient world, however, I cannot see how any sensible person would promise such safety. The dangers of childbirth were life-threatening, even for Christian women.
Furthermore, some see 1 Timothy 2:15 as a Christian response to women calling on the Ephesian Artemis to help during childbirth. This goddess was known as a midwife who helped women in labour. I’ve looked long and hard at Artemis of Ephesus, but at this point in time, I do not think she is firmly behind 1 Timothy 2:15.
Artemis is not mentioned in the letters to Timothy. On the other hand, there are blatant clues in these letters that point to sexual asceticism as being an issue in the Ephesian church (1 Tim. 4:3; 5:11–14).
I believe Paul used the word “saved” in 1 Timothy 2:15 with the same basic meaning as he did earlier in the same chapter when he wrote that God “wants all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4 cf. 1 Tim 1:15; 4:16).
Note that the verb sōthēsetai (“she will be saved”) is followed by the common conjunction de (in its usual post-positive position). This word often has the simple sense of “and” but it can have a slightly adversative sense. I think the sense here is, “But she will saved,” or “yet she will saved,” and that this phrase follows on from the idea of “to domineer a man/ husband” (authentein andros) at the end of verse 12. I propose that a woman in Ephesus was domineering her husband by withholding sex for the sake of piety. I explain this further here: An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11–15.
The sense of the Greek preposition dia, often translated as “through” in 1 Timothy 2:15, is not easy to grasp. Somewhat similar language for “saved through” is used in 1 Peter 3:20 and in 1 Corinthians 3:15, so it may be helpful to compare these verses.
Just as Noah and his family were “saved through (dia) the water,” which is given in an analogy of baptism and salvation in 1 Peter 3:20–21, the Ephesian woman will be saved through (dia) the experience of procreation. Paul indicates she won’t be doomed if she has babies.
In 1 Corinthians 3:15, Paul uses the exact same verb as in 1 Timothy 2:15, sōthēsetai (“s/he will be saved”) for people who will be saved but will suffer loss “as through (dia) the fire.”
In these verses, going “through water,” “through fire,” or “through “having children” does not hinder salvation despite the real or perceived dangers. Rather, as we told elsewhere in the New Testament, “Whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved (sōthēsetai)” (Acts 2:21). This verse is one of many which tells us that our salvation lies in reliance on Jesus.
The Childbearing (tēs teknognias)
The word often translated as “childbearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15 is used with a definite article, so these two words may be translated as “the childbearing.” Some claim that the definite article means that one particular childbirth is being spoken of here, the birth of Jesus. However, abstract nouns, such as teknogonia, are often used with a definite article in ancient Greek with no pointed significance and without referring to one particular event.
Furthermore, teknogonia doesn’t necessarily refer to just giving birth. Lynn Cohick writes that teknogonia “is rather elastic and can indicate pregnancy, delivery or raising the child.” The word seems to say more about the person having children than it does about the children, or child.
Later in 1 Timothy, Paul uses a cognate of teknogonia, and this verse is clearly not about the birth of Jesus. Rather, Paul’s concern is again celibacy. He instructs Timothy not to enrol young widows as official widows as this would entail a pledge of celibacy which could be difficult to sustain (1 Tim. 5:11–15). Paul wanted the young widows to get married and to have children (teknogonein), and engage in the usual activities of respectable Roman matrons which they couldn’t do if they held to flawed ideas of celibacy and procreation (1 Tim. 5:14 cf. 1 Tim. 4:3).
1 Timothy was written because of “other” teachings (1 Tim. 1:3ff), and 1 Timothy 2:15 addresses one of these strange teachings. I suggest an influential woman in Ephesus (or a group of Ephesian women) was taking notions of holiness too far and was refusing to have sex and children with her husband. As I’ve indicated, this was not an uncommon occurrence in the early church, and we see the beginnings of this already in 1 Corinthians 7 (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3).
However, Paul doesn’t explain what prompted his words in 1 Timothy 2:15, so we can’t be certain why he wrote them. On the other hand, we can be sure that this verse is not representative of Paul’s general teaching on salvation. Nowhere else does he mention that having children has any bearing whatsoever on salvation. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encouraged permanent virginity and celibacy while acknowledging that it was not for everyone. And of course, some men and women cannot have children.
Whether a person has a child, or not, has no effect on whether they will be saved; a faithful follower of Jesus will be saved either way. This is a trustworthy saying.
 Irenaeus, in his work opposing heresies (written about 180), mentions the school of the Gnostic teacher Saturninus who spoke strongly against marriage and procreation. Saturninus was active around the year 100. Irenaeus wrote, “They say marriage and procreation are from Satan. Many of those, too, who belong to his school, abstain from animal food, and draw away multitudes by a feigned temperance of this kind.” (Against Heresies 1.24.2 cf. 1 Tim. 4:2–3)
Clement of Alexandria, writing around the year 200, poses the rhetorical question, “What about those who use religious language for irreligious practices involving abstinence … and teach that we ought not to accept marriage and childbearing or introduce yet more wretches in their turn into the world to provide fodder for death?” (Stromata 3.6.45)
Peter Brown makes this comment about Encratites, a second-century Christian sect led by Tatian which forbade marriage and also discouraged the eating of meat.
In the Encratite tradition, the end of the present age was to be brought about by the boycott of the womb. And the boycott of the womb was crucial because sexuality was presented less as a drive than as the symbol of ineluctable processes, the clearest token of human bondage.
Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in the Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 99.
I have more quotations, including several from primary sources, here: Celibacy, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15.
 Andrew Bartlett has summarised four approaches to understanding “she will be saved …” and he mentions English Bible translations that reflect these approaches.
- Some commentators see here a promise of mothers’ physical safety during childbirth. This is reflected in NASB : “But women will be preserved through the bearing of children …”
- Some say that childbirth is an attendant circumstance during which women will experience their spiritual salvation. This is reflected in EHV: “But she will be saved―while bearing children …”
- Some say that women will be saved by means of childbearing because this means they are adhering to their God-ordained domestic roles. This is reflected in NABRE: “But she will be saved through motherhood …”
- Some say that “the childbearing refers to the birth of Christ, which brings salvation. This is reflected in DLNT: “But she will be saved by The Childbearing …”
Bartlett also lists other English Bible translations that fit with these four interpretations in a footnote.
See Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (London: IVP, 2019), 270–271.
None of these four options expresses how I understand 1 Timothy 2:15, and my preferred English translation of 1 Timothy 2:15 is the CSB, “But she will be saved through childbearing …”
Aida Besançon Spencer quotes three people who hold to interpretation 3. (Hurley, however, has a unique spin.)
Thomas Schreiner writes that childbearing “represents the fulfillment of the woman’s domestic role as mother in distinction from man. Childbearing, then, is probably selected by synecdoche [in 1 Tim. 2:15] as representing the appropriate role for women.” James Hurley agrees: “Women in general (and most women in [Paul’s] day) will be kept safe from seizing men’s roles by participating in marital life (symbolized by childbirth).” Similarly, Dorothy Patterson asserts: “Keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife.”
Spencer, “Jesus’ Treatment of Women in the Gospels,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall (eds) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2021), 97.
These ideas echo what the 1599 Geneva Study Bible says: “… their subjection does not hinder women from being saved as well as men, if they behave themselves in those duties of marriage in a holy and modest manner, with faith and charity. (Source: Bible Hub)
 Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 138.
 Henry Alford expresses my thoughts on the linking of teknogonein with Jesus’s birth. In the 1800s he wrote,
I own I am surprised that any scholar can believe it possible that St. Paul can have expressed the Incarnation by the bare word ἡ τεκνογονία. He himself in this same Epistle, 1 Timothy 5:14, uses the cognate verb of the ordinary bearing of children: and these are the only places where the compound occurs in the N.T.
Alford’s Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary (Source: StudyLight)
The author of the Letter of Hebrews may have addressed the issue of celibacy in the first half of Hebrews 13:4 when he stated, “Marriage is honourable among all people and the marriage bed (or, marital sex) is pure …” (my translation cf. Heb. 13:4 KJV).
 Frances Young, among others, connects the phrase pistos ho logos, used several times in the Pastoral Epistles and which can be translated as “this is a trustworthy/ faithful saying,” with salvation.
[The pastoral epistles (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1, referring back to 2:15; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8)] are punctuated by ‘faithful sayings’. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the standard phrase ‘faithful is the saying’ refers to what has gone immediately before or what follows immediately after, but what is evident, I submit, is that the formula is invariably attached to a statement about salvation. This would suggest that the phrase does not simply signal a reliable Pauline tradition, or a secure doctrine but rather heralds an assurance of the gospel.
Frances Margaret Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 56. (Google Books)
© Margaret Mowczko 2023
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Celibacy, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15
1 Timothy 2:12, in a Nutshell
3 reasons why it’s a woman, not all women, in 1 Tim. 2:11–15
An interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11–15
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
My articles on the Ephesian Artemis are here.
My articles that mention celibacy in the early church are here.
The Prominence of Women in the Cults of Ephesus
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
Is Motherhood the Highest Calling for Women?
Verses About Continuing Salvation
바울 사역의 신학: 디모데전서 2:12