What Is the Meaning of 1 Timothy 2:15, “But Women Will Be Saved through Childbearing”?

Question from a reader:

What are thoughts on the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:15, which says, “But women will be saved through childbearing”? Do you agree with John Piper’s perspective?

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

This is a big question in the center of a big debate that I don’t think can be answered from just one perspective, including John Piper’s. He makes a strong case, as does Henry Alford whom he cites. This portion, I think, is particularly strong:

Henry Alford notices that being saved “through” something does not have to mean being saved “by” it, but may mean being saved through it as through a danger. He also notices that Paul does combine the two words (“being saved” and “through”) this way in 1 Corinthians 3:15. “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Could “She will be saved through childbearing,” mean “She will be saved, not by means of, but through (that is, in spite of) the engulfing pains of childbirth”?

Alford draws our attention to the fact that in Genesis 3:16, after the fall, when God was appointing the devil and woman and man to their distinctive experiences of the curse, “bearing children” was the very point where God’s curse lands on the woman. “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.’”

Pause and feel the weight of this for women in the centuries before modern medicine. No hygiene, no spinal blocks, no episiotomies, no sutures, no caesarians, no antibiotics, no painkillers, and often, no recovery. Untold numbers of women died in childbirth and countless more suffered the rest of their lives from wounds that prevented childbirth, or any kind of normal sexual life.

In other words, even more than today, there were aspects of childbearing that felt like a curse from God — and often that burden lasted a lifetime, not just in the moment of birth. How easy it would have been for women to despair and feel that God was against them. He was their curser, not their savior.

To this sense of despair Paul responds with the hope of the gospel. No to the curse! The pains of childbearing — even if they last a lifetime — are not God’s final word to women. God intends to save women. He intends for her to be a fellow heir with man of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7).

Henry Alford sums up his interpretation like this:

"…Just as that man should be saved through, as passing through, fire which is his trial, his hindrance in his way, in spite of which he escapes — so she shall be saved, through, as passing through, her child-bearing, which is her trial, her curse, her (not means of salvation, but) hindrance in the way of it."

From Randy: I just read a number of sources to remind myself of what was out there, and these are some that I think are helpful. After reading all of them, if you are like me, you still won’t totally understand the passage, but at least your understanding of it will be more informed and enriched. 

I would add that many egalitarian treatments of the passage fit with modern ways of thinking but simply do not fit the context of the inspired passage itself. I tend to be skeptical of most things that God’s people never believed to be true until the last 50 years. 

On the other hand, I also believe that the handling of this and many other passages has been skewed by false concepts and assumptions about women not being equal to men. Those are fatally flawed and lead to another sort of bad interpretation. 

For instance, some preach the portion from 1 Corinthians 14 that women should  be silent in the church but ignore the equally inspired teaching that a woman is to have her head covered in the church when she publicly prays and prophesies (1 Corinthians 11). Which means, of course, it is fine for her to publicly pray and prophesy in the church as long as she follows the guidelines. Somehow this must be reconciled with the command to be silent, but clearly it proves it is not absolute as some teach. (This article is helpful.) 

On 1 Timothy 2:15, I find each of these has something to offer: 

Gotquestions.org: What does it mean that women will be "saved" through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15)?

Denny Burk: What Does It Mean that Women Will Be Saved through Childbearing? (1 Timothy 2)

What Does It Mean That Women Will Be Saved through Childbearing?

Here’s another perspective if the above aren’t enough.

Photo by Rochelle Leader on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries