In 1995, Tom Schreiner, H. S. Baldwin, and I edited the book Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9–15 (now out in a 2d edition ). The focus of the book is a thorough exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul says he does not permit women to teach or have authority over a man in the Church. Subsequent to the release of the book, when I participated in forums on the “women’s issue,” the question invariably came up what I thought 1 Timothy 2:15 meant. At that time, my honest answer was, “I don’t know,” because I hadn’t studied the passage in depth yet.
Since then, I have been able to look at 1 Timothy 2:15 from every conceivable angle. I have looked at the history of interpretation; the seven (!) major views on the phrase “saved by childbearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15; the meaning of the words “saved” (sozo) and “childbearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15; and so on. My conclusion: in 1 Timothy 2:15, Paul says that women will be spiritually preserved (from Satan) by adhering to their God-ordained role related to family and the home. This is contrasted with Eve, who transgressed those boundaries and fell into temptation (v. 14).
The way I construe the logic of 1 Timothy 2:12–15 is as follows. In verse 12, Paul sets boundaries for women in the church. In verses 13–14, Paul gives two reasons for this: (1) creation order: the man was created first, then the woman (v. 13); (2) the scenario at the Fall: rather than God-man-woman-Satan, a complete reversal had taken place: Satan-woman-man-God. In v. 15, Paul addresses the question, “How can women today avoid the mistake made by Eve?” The answer: by adhering to their God-given boundaries and tending to their God-given responsibilities.
Here are several contextual pieces of support for this interpretation:
- The implied reference to Satan as the agent of the woman’s deception in verse 14;
- The fact that what is implicit in verses 14–15 is made explicit in the later parallel passage in 1 Timothy 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.”
- The reference to “childbearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15 is also further explicated in 1 Timothy 5:14–15, where it is expanded to “marry, bear children, manage their households.” Hence “childbearing” is not limited to the act of bearing or giving birth to a child but is part and parcel of a woman’s familial and domestic roles.
- The meaning of the word sozo, while typically in Paul (though not the Gospels) referring to spiritual salvation, sometimes in the Pastorals is spiritual preservation, that is, protection from the devil and his instruments, the false teachers, who disparage human sexuality, marriage, and childbearing (apart from 1 Timothy 2:15, see especially 4:1, 3, where reference is made as “teachings of demons” to those who “forbid marriage); for another importance instance where sozo means spiritual preservation rather than salvation, see 1 Timothy 4:16 where Timothy is hardly said to literally save his hearers; rather, he is urged to protect them and help preserve them from false teaching and the devil.
For a fuller treatment of 1 Timothy 2:15 see the popular version “Saved through Childbearing? A Fresh Look at 1 Timothy 2:15 Points to Protection from Satan’s Deception,” CBMW News 2/4 (1997): 1–6; and the more academic version “Ascertaining Women’s God-Ordained Roles: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15,” Bulletin of Biblical Research 7 (1997): 107–44. For an alternative interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15 as suggesting eschatological salvation see Tom Schreiner’s chapter on the exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:9–15 in the second edition of Women in the Church (Baker, 2005).