Yet she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. 1 Timothy 2:15

1 Timothy 2:15 is a difficult verse to understand. One of the more disturbing interpretations of this verse is that women cannot be saved unless they have children. I have heard several well-known ministers teach this faulty interpretation.[1] For example, Jim Hamilton, (an associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a preaching pastor at a Baptist Church in the USA) has stated that “All women must embrace their role as women by bearing children and, if they do this in faith, they will then be saved.” (Bold added.)

I challenged Jim on this and he responded, “Well, read 1 Tim 2:15—Paul isn’t contradicting Jesus.”

I have no idea what Jim meant by this. I’m aware of what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:15, but Jesus never said anything at all about women having to have kids in order to be saved.

What did Jesus say to women?

saved childbirth 1 Timothy 2:15On one occasion Jesus had the opportunity to affirm the “virtue” of motherhood. A woman in the crowd cried out and said to him, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Jesus replied, however, “Blessed rather are those who are hearing the word of God and obeying it” (Luke 11:27–28 NIV). In no way did Jesus indicate that being a mother was necessary, or the only way, women can obey God’s word.[2]

In his conversation with a Samaritan woman—the longest conversation between Jesus and an individual recorded in the Gospels—Jesus does not broach the subject of motherhood. Instead, he and the woman have a long theological discussion about true worship, during which, Jesus offers the woman the gift of Living Water (John 4:4). It is not recorded that Jesus offered this gift with the proviso that she embrace her role as a woman and have children.

Mary and Martha of Bethany, good friends of Jesus, may have been ascetics. If so, they would have been unmarried and childless. When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet learning from him, was he teaching her about the necessity of being a mother in order to be saved? When Jesus later had a theological discussion with Martha about the resurrection and eternal life, did he insist that Martha embrace her womanhood in order to receive eternal life? (John 11:25-27). I doubt it.

Jesus and Paul contradict Jim

By saying that “All women must embrace their role as women and bear children, and if they do so in faith they will be saved” Jim is effectively adding a clause to the gospel.

The gospel message I know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. And that, if we put our trust in Jesus as Savior and faithfully follow him as Lord, we—both men and women—share in his eternal life. This is the gospel message, the message of salvation.

I don’t recall any New Testament author, including Paul, saying or implying, “Oh, and by the way, women must embrace their role as women and have children if they want to be saved because Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross isn’t enough to save you” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1ff).

Paul does not contradict Jesus. That is because neither Paul nor Jesus connect salvation with supposed gender roles. I believe that Jim has misunderstood Paul’s meaning and intention in 1 Timothy 2:15. [My interpretation of this verse is here.]

What about childless women?

In 1 Corinthians 7:34, Paul says that singleness is a better state than marriage for people who want to serve the Lord with undivided devotion. But if having kids is how women are saved, how will single and childless Christian women be saved?

Jim bears the childless women in mind and adds yet another caveat to the gospel: “This doesn’t mean that single women or barren women can’t be saved, but they should by faith embrace what it means for them to be women.” (Bold added.)

It is easy for the majority of people to embrace their sex, as our sex is an intrinsic part of who we are. As a female, I know what it is to be female. I don’t even need faith to embrace what it means to be a woman—I just am a woman!

Being a woman is not a defining role, however, as there are many varied roles that godly women can take. The Bible shows us that women were involved in all kinds of activities, ministries, and life situations. Many of these Bible women were not defined by their marital status or by whether, or not, they had children. [More on biblical roles for women here.]

The gospel of Jesus has no gender bias

There is something very wrong with a gospel message that has a gender bias, where faith in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work is not enough for women, and they are required to negotiate extra “ifs” and “buts” that apply only to them. Moreover, it is unsound to alter the gospel to make it fit with a faulty interpretation of one single Bible verse, namely 1 Timothy 2:15.

Paul warned about people who try and pervert the gospel of Christ:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Galatians 1:6-8


Endnotes

[1] Jim’s article is not new, but I would think that if he had changed his mind on this topic he would have taken down his post. His post is here. Other complementarians, such as Bruce Ware, hold to similar views. John MacArthur implies in this video that the only redemptive act women can perform is having godly offspring.

[2] Procreating is a joint responsibility. The command to be fruitful and multiply was given to both men and women (Gen. 1:27-28). Having children is not the sole responsibility of women.

[3] Here is my paraphrase of 1 Timothy 2:15: “But she [the woman addressed in 1 Tim. 2:11-12] will be preserved through the bearing of children if they [her and the man of 1 Tim. 2:12] continue in faith and love and sanctity and self- restraint.”

Paul’s real meaning here was that he wanted a Christian woman in Ephesus to know that getting married and having children would not jeopardise their salvation. Paul associates moral purity with childbearing because some people in the Ephesian church were forbidding marriage and teaching that celibacy was a necessary moral virtue (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3a). Paul encourages the Ephesian women to get married and have children, which they couldn’t do if they held to the false ideal of virginity and celibacy (cf. 1 Tim 5:14). (More on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 here.)

© 23rd of June 2013, Margaret Mowczko

An abridged version of this article was published by Christians for Biblical Equality (International) in their Arise e-newsletter on the 25th of July 2013.  (Arise archives)

Image Credit: “Mary holding the Child Jesus before starry blue background” © mammuth (iStock)


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