Chapter Six: Conclusions on 1 Timothy 2:15
The message of 1 Tim 2:15 is certainly strange and foreign to the 21st century mind. Any interpretation of this portion of Scripture must wrestle with the theological, contextual, syntactical, and lexical difficulties embedded within these few words. Yet even with this realization, the interpreter seems to be left with a dilemma. On the one hand, the temptation to allegorize and theologize is tremendous when dealing with such a difficult text. But on the other hand, to focus only on the grammatical and lexical issues and to limit the understanding of every word and construction to its most common, usual sense appears to make childbearing a prerequisite for the salvation of women. The tension is high and so are the stakes— especially if you are a childless woman, as I am! The best interpretation will recognize this tension, and will therefore not only present the most probable explanation for the words and grammar of the verse in its context, but will also attempt to provide an explanation for the awkwardness and ambiguity of this infamous verse.
The following paragraphs of this chapter present certain conclusions about the meaning of 1 Tim 2:15 based on the study of the previous chapters and sections. First is a general conclusion as to the proper approach to 1 Tim 2:15, second is the choice of the most probable explanation for the verse with a summary of support from chapters four and five, and third is a discussion of "runner-up" interpretations which could certainly be considered possible, even if not chosen as most probable by the present author.
The present study on the details of 1 Tim 2:15 leads to certain conclusions, the first of which was evident in the introduction and is recognized by most scholars: dogmatism must be left at the door when interpreting this verse. There is a reason that so many differing proposals have been made for this verse: it is simply difficult to unpack. We are far removed from the historical context and know little of the situation to which Paul is writing, the paragraph surrounding 2:15 has been the subject of much debate in recent decades with several competing interpretations existing among evangelicalism (and thus emotions surrounding the passage are high), the individual words which comprise 2:15 are difficult to define, and the grammar poses problems of its own. Though such circumstances cause one to proceed with caution and with grace, one must yet continue to proceed in search of an adequate explanation for 1 Tim 2:15; the inspiration, authority, and usefulness of all Scripture demands that such a search must never cease.
With this first most basic and general conclusion in mind, the present study leads to a second conclusion regarding the most probable explanation of 1 Tim 2:15. From the list of interpretations examined in chapters two and three, a form of the perseverance view stands out as the best candidate for explaining the message of 1 Tim 2:15. A woman will experience the full reality of her final and ultimate glorification by means of her present good works in the realm of motherhood. It is her continuance in the faith through which she was justified, however, which is the true basis of a woman's final salvation.
This proposed explanation for 1 Tim 2:15 fits well with the theology expressed in the Pastoral Epistles (chapter 5): believers are justified on the basis of God's grace alone, yet good works—the natural outcome and the present reality of that salvation—are not wholly disconnected from the future experience of salvation. For women in this context, the specific good work of raising and nurturing children is a proper and effective means by which their consecration to the Lord and sanctification may be accomplished. This explanation also fits well with what is known of the historical situation and the false teachings which prompted the writing of 1 Timothy. First Timothy 2:15 combats portions of the circulating false doctrine in affirming marriage and motherhood as not only roles that are acceptable for believing women, but as roles which actually enhance a woman's spiritual life rather than hinder it in any way. In addition, 1 Tim 2:15 combats some of the inappropriate behaviors that were a result of the false teachings by encouraging modesty and self-control. The message of 1 Tim 2:15, then, is in accordance with the message to women throughout 1 Timothy, in which the responsibilities of motherhood are seen as a good work which expresses the present reality of a woman's salvation, plays a part in her sanctification, and at the same time, serves to safeguard her from falling away from the faith and towards the paths of Satan and the false teachers.
The lexical and syntactical analysis (chapter four) adds further support for some form of the perseverance interpretation of 1 Tim 2:15 as the most probable explanation. The understanding of swqhvsetai proposed by this interpretation is consistent with Paul's use of this verb, both in limiting it to spiritual salvation as opposed to physical deliverance and in using it to refer to many aspects of salvation including the reference here to final, eschatological salvation. As discussed above, this use of sw/vzw is also consistent with the special emphasis of the Pastorals in linking the believer's present responsibility to good practice with both past justification and eschatological glorification. The instrumental use of diav in 1 Tim 2:15 matches its use elsewhere when found in connection with sw/vzw, both when written by Paul and other New Testament authors. The metonymical use of teknogoniva", in which its literal meaning of childbirth represents the responsibilities and duties of motherhood as a whole, is supported by a similar use for the verb form in 1 Tim 5:14.
The awkwardness of the message of 1 Tim 2:15 does not disappear with the perseverance interpretation, but an explanation does surface. With this verse, Paul is combating and confronting the false teachings and the results of those false teachings with the truth (as he is throughout the Pastorals); thus the statement is a bit confusing as are many such statements of which only one end of a conversation is available. A careful examination of the context and lexical/syntactical issues reveals this statement to conform to both Pauline theology and the purpose of 1 Timothy. Such an examination also suggests that while Paul is responding to false teachings, we need not insist he is recasting such teachings or quoting a proverbial statement in order to understand the message of the verse.
Finally, the perseverance interpretation of 1 Tim 2:15 resonates with the experiences of many women whose daily lives are spent knee-deep in the duties and responsibilities of motherhood. As many of these have testified, the responsibilities of motherhood bring a depth to the spiritual life of a woman that no other duty brings. The task of nurturing and caring for the life God has graciously given is a sanctifying process that deepens both the desire to live a godly life and the necessary dependence upon God for the power to lead such a life.
If the perseverance interpretation is the most likely explanation for 1 Tim 2:15 in light of the research presented in this thesis, one other view must be mentioned alongside as a possible explanation based upon a quite similar understanding of the preposition: the attendant circumstance interpretation. The attendant circumstance understanding of the preposition in 1 Tim 2:15 results in only a slight change to the message of the verse. Instead of picturing motherhood as the means through which a woman will reach the full reality of future salvation, it is simply a realm or circumstance which accompanies the process. Motherhood is understood more as the realm of this sanctifying work rather than the means through which it actually occurs. Thus this view is certainly possible, but remains in the "runner-up" position because of the consistency of the instrumental use of diav with sw/vzw in the New Testament.242
The words of 1 Tim 2:15 are confusing and often troubling to the modern-day audience. We do not choose this verse for our daily devotions and sometimes we wish it were not a part of the canon of Scripture at all. An overview of interpretations of this verse reveals many varied positions, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, which may tend to frustrate and discourage the would-be exegete. One thing, however, seems to be confirmed by most, if not all, of these commentators: the firm belief that this verse is NOT saying that women may be saved only if they experience childbirth. Men and women are saved by grace alone, not by any work. Thus, with this settled we must struggle with what the verse IS saying, how the grammar and words are functioning, and how it fits with the theology and theme of the entire letter. The present thesis concludes that the best explanation of 1 Tim 2:15 comes from the perseverance interpretation: A woman will experience the full reality of her final and ultimate glorification by means of her present good works in the realm of motherhood. It is her continuance in the faith through which she was justified, however, which is the true basis of a woman's final salvation.
As the preceding chapters and sections have revealed, difficult passages such as 1 Tim 2:15 are the reason we have such phrases as "the hermeneutic of frustration." We must grapple with the possibility that we may only know with unhindered certainty what this verse does NOT say and may never have the ability to dogmatically proclaim what it absolutely does say. However, this does not excuse us from exploring the options involved in such a text, for as we analyze the grammar, study the context, and discuss and debate the issues in community we can only come closer to a clearer understanding of this and other such passages and thus a clearer understanding of our gracious God and our responsibilities to him.
242 Because of its place as a sub-type of the attendant circumstance use of the preposition, the concessional interpretation may be considered in the "second runner-up" position as a possible explanation.