An Inconvenient Scripture
1 Timothy 2 has long been one of the most difficult passages (ref. quote below, plus other male supremacist and egalitarian sources) of scripture, not only because of some difficult (to our ears) grammar and rare Greek words, but also because of presuppositions brought to the text. I’ve covered this before but today I want to focus on the very end of the chapter, to answer the question of whether or not “she” can be understood as a generic reference to all women.
This matter only arises due to the presupposition that Paul must be making up a new law that forever silences all Christian women and forbids them to “take authority over” any man, for all time. When the Greek is read without this bias, much of the alleged difficulty vanishes, and then the passage can be studied like any other. But most Bible translations use a kind of “special pleading” approach to this passage, and their influence has done great damage to the Body of Christ.
As you know, some translations gloss over the Greek wording, which is as follows:
she-shall-be-saved yet through the parenting-of-children if-ever they-should-be-remaining in faith and love and holiness with sanity (Note: Each group of words connected with dashes denotes translation from a single Greek word)The point I’m focusing on is the “she shall... if they”. Some translations render it something like “they will... if they” or “women will... if they”.
24 tn Or “But she will be preserved through childbearing,” or “But she will be saved in spite of childbearing.” This verse is notoriously difficult to interpret, though there is general agreement about one point: Verse 15 is intended to lessen the impact of vv. 13-14. There are several interpretive possibilities here, though the first three can be readily dismissed (cf. D. Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,” TJ 1 : 70-73).
(1) Christian women will be saved, but only if they bear children. This view is entirely unlikely for it lays a condition on Christian women that goes beyond grace, is unsupported elsewhere in scripture, and is explicitly against Paul’s and Jesus’ teaching on both marriage and salvation (cf. Matt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:8-9, 26-27, 34-35; 1 Tim 5:3-10).
(2) Despite the curse, Christian women will be kept safe when bearing children. This view also is unlikely, both because it has little to do with the context and because it is not true to life (especially life in the ancient world with its high infant mortality rate).
(3) Despite the sin of Eve and the results to her progeny, she would be saved through the childbirth – that is, through the birth of the Messiah, as promised in the protevangelium (Gen 3:15). This view sees the singular “she” as referring first to Eve and then to all women (note the change from singular to plural in this verse). Further, it works well in the context. However, there are several problems with it:
[a] The future tense (σωθήσηται, swqhshtai) is unnatural if referring to the protevangelium or even to the historical fact of the Messiah’s birth;
[b] that only women are singled out as recipients of salvation seems odd since the birth of the Messiah was necessary for the salvation of both women and men;
[c] as ingenious as this view is, its very ingenuity is its downfall, for it is overly subtle; and
[d] the term τεκνογονία (teknogonia) refers to the process of childbirth rather than the product. And since it is the person of the Messiah (the product of the birth) that saves us, the term is unlikely to be used in the sense given it by those who hold this view.
There are three other views that have greater plausibility:
(4) This may be a somewhat veiled reference to the curse of Gen 3:16 in order to clarify that though the woman led the man into transgression (v. 14b), she will be saved spiritually despite this physical reminder of her sin. The phrase is literally “through childbearing,” but this does not necessarily denote means or instrument here. Instead it may show attendant circumstance (probably with a concessive force): “with, though accompanied by” (cf. BDAG 224 s.v. δία A.3.c; Rom 2:27; 2 Cor 2:4; 1 Tim 4:14).
(5) “It is not through active teaching and ruling activities that Christian women will be saved, but through faithfulness to their proper role, exemplified in motherhood” (Moo, 71). In this view τεκνογονία is seen as a synecdoche in which child-rearing and other activities of motherhood are involved. Thus, one evidence (though clearly not an essential evidence) of a woman’s salvation may be seen in her decision to function in this role.
(6) The verse may point to some sort of proverbial expression now lost, in which “saved” means “delivered” and in which this deliverance was from some of the devastating effects of the role reversal that took place in Eden. The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man, though it has no specific soteriological import (but it certainly would have to do with the outworking of redemption).
25 tn There is a shift to the plural here (Grk “if they continue”), but it still refers to the woman in a simple shift from generic singular to generic plural. (emphasis mine)
I agree with points 1 and 2, but only with 3 in the fact that this refers to a single woman, and that “the childbirth” is accurate to the Greek grammar, whereas “childbirth” without the definite article is not. But notice the error in the statement “referring first to Eve and then to all women”. The sentence has no component of chronology or sequence; it is a conditional statement, an “if... then”, a statement of cause and effect. Paul is not speaking of a widening sphere but a condition which must be met. Can anyone cite another passage of scripture that uses “s/he will... if they” to denote a widening sphere? I am not aware of any, and it would be grammatically nonsensical.
In the sub-points under 3, I agree with [a] and [b]. The problem with [c] is that they are about to make their own argument in favor of subtlety in point (4) to follow. If subtlety is only accepted or rejected on the basis of degree, then it is completely arbitrary and highly speculative. Consistency demands that there be a defined line over which subtlety must pass, yet there is no objective basis for where that line is drawn. The real difference between “somewhat veiled” and “overly subtle” is personal preference, and even their claim in (4) is hardly what I’d call merely veiled; I would classify their interpretation there as “overly subtle”.
I agree with point [d]. No scripture ever speaks of Jesus’ birth in the context of how we are saved. Some argue that Paul must be speaking of spiritual salvation from the wrath of God due to the Greek word he uses here, but that is a circular argument. If context determines the meaning, then we must check all contexts to find a word’s semantic range. If one context is unclear, like this one, then we can’t dogmatically insert the meaning found in the other contexts, but instead should add this context’s possible meaning to the semantic range. The whole phrase, as they pointed out in the beginning of the note, is clearly understood to be an antidote to the error, so the most likely meaning of this context is to be rescued or delivered from that error.
In point (4) we’ve already noted the problem with subtlety, but they make a false statement: that “the woman led the man into transgression”, and they cite 1 Tim. 2:14 as the proof. Yet that verse only speaks of the woman having fallen into transgression due to deception. Where is there anything resembling this claim of Eve leading the man into transgression? They simply pulled that one out of the air. They would have us believe Eve tempted or coerced Adam, but Genesis simply states that she gave the fruit to Adam who was “there with her”. Talk about “overly subtle”! And where is this alleged “physical reminder of HER sin”? The woman Paul is talking about would then be shown as being cursed with childbearing!
Point  is of course blatant eisegesis. It claims that women will be saved by playing a role, one which apparently men are exempt from playing, as though Christian men do not need to “continue in faith and love with holiness”. Since they say “this does not necessarily denote means or instrument... but circumstance”, they are in fact arguing that a woman is saved by all that they have decided must accompany motherhood, and that only women are held to their “role”. Where is there any discussion of men keeping to their alleged role? In other contexts of general instructions to various groups, Paul discusses both male and female, slave and free. If this is one of those general instructions, then where is the teaching about men’s roles? Why are only women expected to show outward evidence of their salvation, and how do single women show this?
Point  grasps at straws. And it adds a phantom verse to Genesis: an alleged “role reversal that took place in Eden”. Where does Genesis tell us of this role reversal? It isn’t there. And if Paul is citing Genesis as the basis for this “law”, then it must be found there, but it is not. So to read “roles” into Genesis simply because Paul cites it is another circular argument. The context here in 1 Timothy is deception, and Paul clearly links that deception to Eve. He says nothing about roles, and neither does Genesis. Then they add “the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man”, yet it was never there to begin with. There can be no “again” unless there was a “first”, yet it is absent from Genesis before sin.
Then at the very end they simply note the shift from singular to plural, and tack on their own unsupported interpretation: that in spite of all they just wrote, somehow the rules of Greek grammar are to be dismissed when Paul mixes “she” and “they” in the same sentence. They already stated that “she” is definitely singular, so are they not doing what they condemn the TNIV for, which is using “they” as a singular pronoun? How can they “strain out the gnat” of “she” and yet “swallow the camel” of “they”? Such a flippant brush-off of the crux of the whole passage, the very key that solves the “difficulties”, is a serious omission by those that consider themselves scholars.
I won’t repeat what I’ve written elsewhere about the whole chapter, but hopefully the point has been made that this passage, especially verse 15, has been shamefully mangled in order to put words in the mouths of Paul and Moses. It is a display of double standards, of inconsistencies, and of tortured logic. But by remembering the purpose of the letter (stopping false teaching), by considering what Paul is in the habit of writing as well as his vocabulary, by remembering that nobody cites an OT reference to something that isn’t stated there, and above all by remembering that no specific prohibition would ever negate a universal principle, we can greatly reduce the difficulties found here or in any other passage of scripture.
Of course there is still room for disagreement on some things here, but we can rule out any one-sided role requirement or salvation by a most dubious form of “works”. We can also rule out that women suffer from the sins of both Adam and Eve while men are only affected by the sins of Adam. Such ideas tear at the very fabric of the faith. Without the need to advance an agenda of class superiority this passage becomes an affirmation of redemption and vigilance against falsehood-- not an enslavement of women.