An Encouragement to Young Moms from A Really Weird Verse

In 1 Timothy 2:15, Paul says,

Yet she will be saved through childbearing- if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

I'm guessing you haven't read these words in any Hallmark cards for expectant mothers. 1 Timothy 2:15 is a baffling verse. To complicate matters, it comes at the end of an extremely controversial paragraph (vv. 8-15). 

What are we to make of it? What is Paul saying? That women are justified by childbirth? That God will preserve them during pregnancy? That women will be saved through the birth of Christ? All of these interpretations suffer debilitating weaknesses.

A proposal set forth by Andrew Wilson (and others) is far more satisfactory, both exegetically and theologically. As Wilson notes, the key question is, "saved from what?"

Judging from the context, the answer appears to be deception. Paul mentions the serpent's deception of Eve in 2:14. Moreover, Satanic trickery is an important theme in 1 Timothy. Consider the following passages:

3:6-7 - He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
4:1 - Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons....
5:14-15 - So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan.”

Paul writes to protect the Ephesian church from demonic deception. What falsehoods were the Ephesians - and the Ephesian women in particular - tempted to believe? According to 5:11-16, some of the younger widows were being drawn from the faith by engaging in promiscuous behavior with non-Christian men (whom they subsequently married). In addition, they were becoming idlers and gossips. On the basis of 1 Timothy 4:3, it appears that false teachers had infiltrated the church, and were denouncing marriage and family life as "un-spiritual" pursuits. 

In addition to this internal evidence, Bruce Winter provides important background information. In his work on the "new Roman women," Winter draws attention to the first century trend towards abortion, provocative dress, and sexual licentiousness, particularly for affluent and influential women.

Drawing these lines of evidence together, we can attempt to reconstruct the situation. Paul is writing to women who (a) are being taught that marriage and child-rearing are ignoble pursuits, and (b) live in a culture where influential women are repudiating their roles as wives and mothers. In addition, some of the church's widows are succumbing to idleness, gossip and promiscuity.

To protect the church, Paul encourages these women to embrace the responsibilities of motherhood. Doing so will save them from various demonic temptations (e.g. sexual immorality, laziness, gossip, etc).

Andrew Wilson nicely summarizes what this does and doesn't mean:

Not that there are no other ways of being saved from the devil, of course. Women who are single, or cannot have children, have a high place in the scriptural story, and there are many things, other than raising children, that biblical women do to avoid laziness, gossip and so on (Proverbs 31 is a good place to start!) Nor does childbearing have magical powers, so that the woman is saved from the devil by the mere act of raising a family; that’s why Paul says it is only effective “if they continue in faith, love and holiness, with self-control”. Nor, significantly, is rescue from the devil’s trickery something that women need and men don’t, as is clear from the fact that the most satanically deceived people in the Pastorals are all men (1 Tim 1:18-20; 2 Tim 1:15; 3:1-9; 4:10). But having children, for most women, is a gracious gift of God which, if they combine it with faith, love, holiness and self-control, causes them to be kept safe from the devil. And that’s something to praise God for.

Raising children is very hard work. Sadly, our culture doesn't always acknowledge this. A woman who "looks well to the ways of her households" (Prov 31:27) deserves far more praise than she receives.

So, young moms: Thank You. The sacrificial investment you're making is not trivial. It is not menial. It is not insignificant. Your work is absolutely pivotal to the extension of God's kingdom on the earth. And if you're discouraged, God is using motherhood to deliver you from ensnarement, and conform you to Christ's image. It's a crucible for holiness. God is liberating you from sin and making you like Jesus; and he's using the trials and monotonies (and joys!) of motherhood to do it. So carry on in faith, love, holiness and self-control.