1 Timothy 2:15 has been one of the most puzzling verses to decipher throughout church history. One of the difficult things in interpreting this verse is the translator’s rendering of some difficult grammar. Some translations leave out some of the grammar that is necessary to come to a correct interpretation. How can we claim to know what Paul meant in this passage if we leave out some of the key inspired grammar?
Here are some of the particular grammar issues that Paul presents in 1 Timothy 2:15 –
- Paul switches from singular feminine to third person plural. Since it is improper grammar to allow both singular and plural to refer to the exact same person(s), then “she” cannot be the exact same thing as “they”.
- Paul uses a unique form of childbearing by using a definite noun and not a verb
- “The childbearing” is singular not plural
- The grammar is future tense with a conditional clause so the “she” in question cannot be someone who is dead at the time of Paul’s writing.
Many of the translations of this difficult verse move into interpretation rather than just translation in an effort to help people understand Paul’s hard saying, but in doing so they leave out some of the inspired grammar that actually would conflict with their interpretation. Without the presence of all of the inspired grammar any English translation of 1 Timothy 2:15 is going to be much harder to understand Paul’s thought process. For example, some translations leave out the singular so that it appears Paul is talking about all women. Others leave out the plural so that it appears that Paul is talking about a generic woman. Some change the singular noun to childbearing as plural as if the birth of all children is in view and some also leave out the definite article as if childbearing is concerning any child and any birth without any particularity.
Other translations make a change from the inspired preposition dia (meaning “through”) and switch it with the preposition for “in” so that it is “in childbearing” not “through childbearing” as if it is the childbearing itself that saves rather than something that comes through the vehicle of childbearing. At least one translation changes the conditional “if” to the word “assuming” so that “she will be saved…if…” is changed from a conditional statement to an assumption that all women will want to continue in the faith.
Lastly one version, The New International Reader’s Version also removes the logical contrastive conjunction so that the verse is not connected to the previous verse but rather is asking a question instead of having Paul make a conditional statement.
1 Timothy 2:15 (NIrV) Will women be saved by having children? Only if they keep on believing, loving, and leading a holy life in a proper way.
The most faithful of all translations to the literal Greek grammar is Young’s Literal Translation that renders the verse:
1 Timothy 2:15 (YLT) and she shall be saved through the child-bearing, if they remain in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.
If we take the literal words written by Paul we come up with the thought that the bad news about “the woman” (vs 14) as “being” in transgression (perfect tense meaning a completed action which has a state of being that exists in the present in relation to the writer) is going to change with a conditional promise in verse 15. In verse 15 Paul says that “but/or and”and this is a logical contrastive conjunction that suggests an oppositional thought or relationship to the word, phrase or clause to which it is connected. So while the continued state of sin is brought out in verse 14, the contrast to that is a positive outlook about her salvation. Therefore “she shall be saved” is a positive promise. But “she shall be saved” is also future tense so “she” cannot be referring to a dead Eve but must be referring to someone else.
In “she shall be saved”, Paul uses the same Greek term (sozo) that he exclusively uses in his epistles to mean spiritual salvation. Thus spiritual salvation is the normal and natural way to interpret Paul’s usage of “sothesetai: (sozo) in 1 Timothy 2:15.
The way that “she will be saved” is “through” something. “Through” here means a marker of instrumentality or circumstance whereby something is accomplished or affected, by, via, or through. Therefore the childbearing is not the cause of salvation but the instrument that is used to bring the salvation “through” to the one who is in sin. The instrument that is used for salvation is clearly shown in Philippians 2:5-8 –
Philippians 2:5–8 (NAS)
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The vehicle is taking upon Himself the likeness of a man through the process of conception and birth. The salvation is the death, burial and resurrection of the one who came through the vehicle of conception and birth. The conception and birth is like a portal that was the vehicle to bring the sin-bearer from heaven to earth in the form of the Kinsman redeemer.
Paul continues in saying that “she will be saved through the childbearing” or “the bearing of (the) child.” It is not any entry into the world of any child. It is a particular entrance with the definite “the” and a particular child whose flesh was the vehicle through whom salvation could come for all those who are caught in sin.
Next Paul says that “she will be saved…if” The “if” is an adverbial conditional conjunction which introduces a condition that must occur before another action or event can occur.
As part of a conditional clause this conjunction introduces the protasis (the if element of an if … then statement). (Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology)
The conditions that are stated replicate the things that the false teachers were straying from that are listed in 1 Timothy 1:5-6.
1 Timothy 1:5–6 (NAS)
5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,
If a woman has been caught in deception and she has strayed from a godly love from a pure heart, strayed from a good conscience and strayed from a sincere faith, these are things must be turned back to in order for her to stay within the boundaries of the true faith.
The last thing to point out where Paul has made a clear condition is that “they” are to work through these conditions for “she will be saved…if they…”
The need for a helper to bring one to faith in Christ is never more crucial than in the issue of deception, for the truth of the matter is that the deceived rarely walk away on their own. The lure of deception is so strong that without help, the trap of the lie will keep the deceived in bondage. The one who knows the truth but who has been silent in correcting the error must now step up to the plate to be a major factor in encouraging the woman who is in sin. His encouragement will help her to step away from the deception and into the light of the truth.
The next question is regarding whether Paul is giving a solution to the problem of a particular false and deceived teacher or whether he is describing the nature of a particular false teaching. I would like to explore these options to see which fits the passage in this one verse.
The letter that Paul wrote to Timothy was written concerning the problems in the Ephesian church. In the city of Ephesus was a cult-like belief in Artemis the goddess of virginity, women’s concerns including childbearing, the hunt and the underworld. Many came to see her as such an important part of that culture that people gave her great loyalty and a temple was built in Ephesus in her honor. Virginity was especially emphasized in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: only virgins and men were permitted access and married or sexually active women were excluded under penalty of death (see documentation here). Since women called on the many breasted Artemis to help with childbirth, Paul’s words about the childbearing are thought to be written in such a way as to be refuting a myth about the Ephesian goddess Artemis but is this really what Paul had in mind?
I would like to submit that it is highly unlikely that Paul was appealing to a particular myth about an Ephesian deity in verse 15 because of the specific grammar found in the verse. While the myth was that Artemis oversaw childbirth and kept women safe during this precarious time, Paul wasn’t talking about keeping a woman’s physical life safe in the act of giving birth, but rather his grammar shows that in verse 15, Paul is referencing the bearing of one child and salvation is not being physically saved from the perils inherent in giving birth to children, but rather it is spiritual salvation from sin through the agency of the coming of One who became the source of our spiritual salvation. The genitive bearing of child determines something that belongs to the child as its source and no emphasis is put on the woman as source at all. Salvation is not coming through the mother or by keeping the mother physically safe, but through the agency of her child’s coming.
If Paul was creating a connection between a false teaching and a myth that associated protection during child birth to the help of the goddess Artemis as a woman’s physical savior and Mother of all, then he failed to use the proper grammar for that teaching. He should have used a verb instead of a noun and he should have used the plural “women” who would experience maternal protection rather than a singular “she”. Rather than referencing all women and feminine protection from harm during childbirth, Paul used a term that he exclusively used for spiritual salvation in all of his epistles. That goes against the grain of a multi-breasted gynecological helper. Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy 2:15 takes the meaning of salvation in a completely different direction.
In addition, if verse 15 is all about refuting a false teaching regarding the one who women are to look to for help during labor, then the specific grammar of verse 15 makes no sense in that context. Who is the “she” and who are the “they” and what does this grammar change have to do with protection from child birthing problems? The conditional promise using both the singular and plural grammar simply doesn’t fit with a refutation of Artemis as a goddess midwife. I have just never seen a satisfactory explanation for a connection between verse 15 and the myth of Artemis. But is it possible that there is a connection between verses 13 & 14 and this goddess myth? We will have a look at that question the next post.
*note I have removed one relatively small point from my post as I received correction about an error that it included. I stand corrected as I want only to hold fast to what is true.