A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:11-15. iii). Women and their role (continued).
These four attempts to limit Paul’s instructions cannot be pronounced successful. It seems to me that the better and more biblical proposal, as suggested earlier, is that Paul’s instructions cover only the universal principle of female submission to male ‘headship’, and not its changeable cultural expression.
We can now sum up this distinction as it has recurred three times in the second half of 1 Timothy 1. As men should pray in holiness, love and peace, but not necessarily lift up their hands while they do so; and as women should adorn themselves with modesty, decency and good works, but not necessarily abstain from all hair-plaiting, gold and pearls; so women should submit to the headship (caring responsibility) of men, and not try to reverse sexual roles, but not necessarily refrain from teaching them.
In verses 13 and 14, as the conjunction ‘for’ implies, Paul supplies a biblical basis for what he has written on verses 11 and 12. From the men and women of his own day he looks back to Adam and Eve, the original human pair. His argument for male ‘headship’ rests on the facts of the creation and the fall. The priority of Adam’s creation established his headship (13), as we have seen, while Eve’s folly in challenging it led to disaster (14).
Anticipating that some of what he has written may upset his readers, Paul ‘modifies’ it ‘by adding a consolation’: *But women will be saved* (literally ‘she will be saved’ in the singular, but Paul is obviously generalizing) *through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety* (15) or ‘modesty’ (REB, NRSV), ‘splendid maternal attitudes’, since persistence in these four basic qualities will give evidence of a work of grace in their hearts.
There are three main ways in which this rather ambiguous promise had been understood.
The first is that women ‘will come safely through child-birth’ (JBP). In this case the allusion will be to the pain and peril of childbirth which were part of God’s judgment on Eve (Gn.3:16). But ‘salvation’ language in the Pastorals always seem to refer to deliverance from sin, not from danger. Besides, such a promise is not true, since many godly women have died in childbirth.
The second interpretation is that women ‘will be saved through motherhood’ (NEB), or ‘salvation for the woman will be in the bearing of children’ (REB). This might have in mind those false teachers who were forbidding people to marry (4:3), But the way of salvation for women, according to Paul, was certainly not through accepting their vacation to bear children.
It seems to me that the third understanding is the most likely, namely that women ‘will be saved through the Birth of the Child’ (NEB mg.), referring to Christ. By this rendering, ‘saved’ has a spiritual connotation, ‘through’ is the means by which salvation comes, and the definite article before ‘childbearing’ in the Greek sentence is explained. Above all, this interpretation commends itself by ‘its extreme appropriateness’. Earlier in the chapter the ‘one mediator between God and men’ has been identified as ‘the man Christ Jesus’ (5), who of course became a human being by being ‘born of a woman’ (Gal,4:4). Further, in the context of Paul’s references to the creation and fall, recalling Genesis 2 and 3, a further reference to the coming redemption through the woman’s seed, recalling Genesis 3:15, would be most apt. The serpent had deceived her; her posterity would defeat him.
So then, even if certain roles are not open to women, and even if they are tempted to resent their position, they and we must never forget what we owe to a woman. If Mary had not given birth to the Christ-child, there would have been no salvation for anybody. No greater honour has ever been given to a woman than in the calling of Mary to be the mother of the Saviour of the world.
Tomorrow: Concluding questions.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.