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Chapter Three: Critique Of Interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:15

Certain problems occur with each of the proposals for 1 Tim 2:15 found in the previous chapter. The following sections will delineate the disadvantages pointed out by the critics of each view as well as present any responses of supporters to such criticisms.

Saved Through Childbirth: Physical or Spiritual?

Physical Salvation or Deliverance

Physiological: "Brought safely through childbirth"

The proposal that 1 Tim 2:15 is a statement concerning the physical salvation of women through the experience of childbirth has several problems, the first being that it is simply not true to reality.79 If this is a promise of safety through childbirth for committed Christian women, it has not been kept, for since it was penned many faithful women have died in labor. The second problem concerns the sense of swqhvsetai assumed for this interpretation. The verb occurs six additional times in the Pastoral Epistles. Four of those occurrences unquestionably refer to spiritual salvation (1 Tim 1:15; 2:4; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5), while the two others used as support for this position are debatable, but very possibly carry the same spiritual connotation (1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 4:18).80 In other Pauline writings, the majority of uses of this verb denote a spiritual act with eschatological consequences implied.81 Additionally, Paul uses a form of rJuvomai to refer to deliverance from anything other than sin in other Pastoral passages (2 Tim 3:11; 4:18).82 In 2 Tim 4:18, both words (rJuvomai and sw/vzw) are used in the same sentence, showing a firm distinction between safety from evil and spiritual salvation.83 Finally, the context seems to focus on spiritual salvation, with the preceding verse referencing transgression. The idea of physical safety in childbirth is then left unmotivated with the context pointing rather to the need for spiritual salvation.84

Deliverance: "Delivered from committing the errors mentioned in 2:12"

Similar to the disadvantages of the physiological interpretation, problems with the deliverance view arise in connection with the use of sw/vzw among Paul's writings and especially within the Pastoral Epistles. The same arguments mentioned above therefore also apply here: the Pastoral Epistles seem to use sw/vzw in reference to spiritual salvation and rJuvomai in reference to deliverance. Though this interpretation recognizes deliverance from temptation to a specific sin, it underplays the spiritual and eschatological significance of the word as used elsewhere.85 Furthermore, such an absolute use of this important verb would have prompted the use of a qualifier to refer to verses 11-12 or the temptations of Satan.86 There is, however, no explicit mention of Satan in the passage at hand, and the context, especially verse 14, seems to refer to the broader sense of salvation rather than one specific temptation.87

Supporters would reply to these concerns by pointing to the uses of sw/vzw in 1 Tim 4:16 and 2 Tim 4:18 which may refer to something other than spiritual salvation, the concern in the Pastorals for deliverance from Satan, and the explicit mention of Satan in the parallel verse in 1 Tim 5:14.88 In general, they propose that sw/vzw has a considerable range of meaning in the New Testament as well as Paul's epistles, and that alternatives to the literal, i.e. spiritual, rendering should be explored.89

Spiritual Salvation

Christological: "Saved by the Childbirth"

The main problem with the Christological view surrounds its interpretation of teknogoniva". Though it occurs only here in the New Testament, there is evidence that the term deals with the activity and fact of bearing children rather than to a single, specific childbirth.90 The verbal form used in 1 Tim 5:14 (teknogonei'n) emphasizes the act, not the children who are born. The related verb in 5:10 is also used to refer to the general act of raising children; thus it seems the word group does not appear elsewhere as a technical term referring to the incarnation.91 A second problem involves the understanding of the significance of the article, which is here more likely generic or identifying rather than referring to a particular instance.92 A third difficulty concerns the context, which does not explicitly echo the language of Gen 3:15-16.93 Although commentators disagree as to the specific purpose of the allusion in 1 Tim 2:13-14, most agree with Kstenberger that the reference to Gen 3 is functioning illustratively rather than establishing a Messianic typology.94 Another difficulty with the context involves the understanding of Gen 3:15 as the proto-evangelion, which is an interpretation debated among scholars for its absence in the New Testament and its late arrival among the early Church (the earliest form of this idea does not appear until the second century).95 Without this basic idea in the allusion of verses 13-14, the Christological interpretation would have little contextual support. A fourth disadvantage involves the early patristic support for this interpretation, which is not as clear as it might seem and only surfaces in the Latin Fathers, not the Greek Fathers.96 Finally, if this interpretation is correct, the allusion is certainly a highly cryptic and obscure way to refer to the birth of Christ.97

Some of these objections to the Christological view are answerable and thus a sweeping dismissal of the view loses a portion of its force.98 The presence of the article is quite rare in this construction and thus its significance should not so easily be set aside.99 Such a "par excellence" or monadic use of the article as this view suggests is quite a common usage in the Pastoral Epistles (especially in phrases such as toV musthvrion, hJ pivsti", hJ didaskaliva).100 Secondly, understanding teknogoniva" as functioning metaphorically to represent the birth of Christ is not so far removed from having it function metonymically to represent raising children, which is a prominent claim of most other views. Some type of figurative use of this word is almost necessary to make sense of the verse, so the suggestion by the Christological view must be taken seriously.

Concessional: "Saved even though she must suffer childbirth"

The most serious obstacle for the concessional view of 1 Tim 2:15 is the uncommon meaning it assigns to the preposition. Diav does not normally carry the proposed concessional meaning of "even though" or "in spite of," though the attendant circumstances use of the preposition (under whose head the concessional use falls) is more common. 101 It seems in order to make peace with Pauline theology this understanding may unduly choose a rare meaning for the preposition.102 A second difficulty arises with the link between 1 Tim 2:14 and the curse of Gen 3 which is vital to this concessional understanding of verse 15. As was stated earlier, the context of verses 13-14 does not exactly echo the curse language of Gen 3:16, but rather stops the illustration with Eve's fall into transgression with no explicit mention of the curse and pain in childbirth. Furthermore, even if the connection is implied, the curse of Gen 3 was in the accompanying pain of childbirth and did not indicate that the entire event of bearing children be viewed as a curse.103 Related to this idea is a third critique of this view: an understanding of diav with this concessional sense seems to connect childbirth itself to the curse and suggest it as a possible hindrance or endangerment to salvation.104 Finally, the parallel constructions usually listed as support for this idea (Acts 14:22, 1 Cor 3:15, 1 Pet 3:20, and Rev 21:24) are better described with more common uses of the preposition such as temporal or spatial.

Attendant Circumstances: "Saved in the experience of childbirth/motherhood"

Because of their close relation, the attendant circumstance and concessional views have similar weaknesses. With only four debatable parallel passages (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 3:20; Acts 14:22; and Rev 21:24) as support for a similar meaning of the preposition within this construction, the attendant circumstance usage with this construction seems quite uncommon. Critics argue there is little grammatical support beyond these few verses for taking diav as having a sense of attendant circumstance, meaning "in the experience of," and find no grammatical support within the Pastoral Epistles.105 BDAG, however, lists nine examples of this usage, seven of which are Pauline and one is 1 Tim 2:15.106 However, it seems that, again, a determination to fit this verse with the Pauline idea of salvation through faith alone may influence the choice of this usage, which does not seem to appear elsewhere in the Pastorals. Secondly, the line between this usage and the instrumental usage of the preposition can be quite thin,107 and in the context of 1 Tim 2:15, may be quite inconsequential. If a woman's salvation comes in the experience of childbirth, is not that experience functioning as a type of means to her salvation? A third critique concerns this understanding of teknogoniva" as covering a broad range of ideas including both childbirth and motherhood. Arguments exist for limiting the meaning of this term to the act of childbearing, and these will be considered more fully in the perseverance section.

Perseverance: "Saved by childbirth/motherhood."

One critique of the perseverance interpretation involves its understanding of the significance of the future tense of sw/vzw in 1 Tim 2:15. Kstenberger argues that there are no other eschatological references in the context to corroborate an eschatological/perseverance interpretation of this verb.108 The verb is most probably a gnomic future, he argues, but if it is referring to time, it could point to any time in the future from the time-frame of the author, not necessarily the second coming of Christ.109 A second weakness with this interpretation is its ambiguity. Many supporters would agree with Marshall that a good paraphrase of the verse would be, "She will be (finally) saved by fulfilling her domestic role (the bearing and nurture of children)."110 If this is the message of 1 Tim 2:15, the construction of the sentence, especially the prepositional phrase, is certainly an obscure way of communicating that message.111 A final critique of this interpretation is that the apparent theological dilemma has not been solved; salvation, albeit final salvation, is still ascribed to a work of faithfulness in either motherhood or childbirth.112

There is some discontinuity among supporters concerning the meaning and range of teknogoniva" in 1 Tim 2:15. Porter agrees in the most part with the perseverance interpretation, but differs on one important issue.113 He argues strongly that teknogoniva" should not be expanded and refers only to the event of childbirth. First, he suggests that the most reliable extra-biblical information on this term points to a specified meaning restricted to childbirth. Second, he points to the use of the verb form in 1 Tim 5:14.114 Here the word is listed with and differentiated from marriage and household management, creating a difficulty in making it inclusive of these two ideas in 2:15. Third, in 1 Tim 5:10 a different word is used for the concept of child-rearing, teknotrofevw, again making it difficult to see teknogoniva" as inclusive of this idea. Finally, in all of these passages, there is no moral, spiritual, or theological quality attributed to any of these actions, they are all merely listed as specific and definable duties of a woman. Porter concludes that the fundamental assumption of 1 Tim 2:15 is found in the message of the conditional clause that women should live lives of faith, love, and holiness. The main clause of the verse, however, further equates the earthly function of bearing children with eschatological, salvific reward.115

Proof of Salvation: "She proves her salvation by childbearing"

The proof of salvation view of 1 Tim 2:15 is difficult to find in the actual words of the text. Supporters of this view claim to understand swqhvsetai as referring to spiritual salvation, yet in the interpretation of the entire phrase it is assigned the meaning, "to prove one's salvation." This understanding not only adds meaning to the phrase that is not inherent in the words, but overlooks the significance of the voice of the verb. Swqhvsetai is a passive verb, while this interpretation presents a distinct action on part of the subject.

Spiritual Children: "Saved by her 'spiritual children' or good works.

The "spiritual children" interpretation is greatly criticized and enjoys few supporters today. This proposal for 1 Tim 2:15 is obviously highly allegorical and symbolic, which is inconsistent with both the immediate context and the overall genre of epistolary literature.116

Faithful Children: "Saved by childbirth, if her children remain faithful."

The "faithful children" interpretation is also quickly dismissed among today's scholars. First, such an understanding only compounds the theological difficulties with this verse. The idea of connecting the salvation of a mother to the faithfulness of her children is simply incompatible with New Testament and Pauline teachings on salvation. Second, the switch from singular to plural verb forms in the verse does not necessitate a reference to the children in the conditional clause nor demand a change in subjects at all.117 This shift in number occurs throughout the immediate passage concerning women and the shift from Eve to the women in Ephesus in 2:14-15 is subtle, thus the apparent confusion in number. Such a change in number as is found in this passage is characteristic of paraenetic style and does not here support a change in subject from the main clause to the conditional clause.118

Other Explanations

"Dismissive" Explanations

Each of the four proposals presented in chapter two as dismissive have individual problems and disadvantages. The denial of Pauline authorship is considered by many to be unconvincing, though a full discussion of the issues is beyond the scope of this paper.119 However, even if this passage is agreed to be deutero-Pauline material, to use this fact in declaring a passage as unauthoritative marginalizes not only the passage, but the book of 1 Tim, and the message of the Pastoral Epistles as a whole, as well as skirting the implications and issues involved in this specific passage and verse.120 Johnson points out that, especially for the Church today, a biblical book obtains its authority from its place in the canon of Scripture, of which authorship was a factor, but not the lone factor.121 Furthermore, ample evidence exists which reveal the ideas in 1 Tim 2:9-15 to be consistent with Paul's thoughts in other letters. Similar thoughts appear in 1 Cor 11:2-15, where the headship of man is discussed as well as the dishonor of a woman who prays and prophecies without a head covering, and in the household codes of Paul, which also teach the submission of wives to husbands (Col 3:18-19 and Eph 5:22-33).122 The close parallel in 1 Cor 14:33-36 is certainly the strongest evidence that the message in 1 Tim 2:9-15 is Pauline, and critics of this dismissive view believe the textual evidence confirms that this 1 Cor passage originated from the hand of Paul rather than as a later interpolation.123 Thus, the argument that Paul could not have written the words in 1 Tim 2:9-15 is weak, and even if assumed true, cannot be used to strip its authority and place in the canon of Scripture.

Equally problematic is the idea of censoring this passage because its message does not conform to contemporary norms and ideas. This proposal seems to lead to the proverbial "slippery slope" and prompts one to question where the practice of purging unwanted passages from Scripture might end.124 A second problem with such censorship of the text is that it may even exaggerate the harmful effect such passages can have when misunderstood and misapplied.125 Johnson states the problem succinctly, "Only if texts that have scandalous and even harmful possibilities are confronted and engaged by public discourse within the assembly can their harmful potential be exorcised and their remaining positive features be safely considered."126 Declaring 1 Tim 2:15 as unauthoritative and cutting it from discussion is both unwarranted and dangerous.

It is also difficult to find evidence for the passage in 1 Timothy as a quotation from 1 Corinthians. There is significant word change and thus it seems implausible that the author of 1 Timothy would study the Corinthians passage so well without noting the further commentary on the ideas in 14:34-35.127 Furthermore, this proposed quotation does not include 1 Tim 2:15, which under this theory would have been a further addition of the 1 Timothy author and would as such need to be examined for its own implications.128

Finally, the interpolation theory is lacking any sound exegetical or historical evidence with no existing manuscripts of 1 Timothy that omit this verse.129

Recasting/Response theory

The major obstacle facing recasting and response explanations of 1 Tim 2:15 is the impossibility of knowing the exact teaching or saying to which Paul was responding with this statement. Was he responding to Jewish teachings or some other false teachings circulating at Ephesus? Some historical information and literary clues may give the interpreter a general understanding of Paul's opposition, but specifics are difficult to nail down. Thus, these theories do not stand well alone, but are more helpful when joined with other explanations and proposals.

Proverbial Statement

The problem with the proverbial statement view is the difficulty in either proving or disproving its claims. Though it is certainly true that the Pastoral Epistles are especially replete with such statements, most are identified with a marker which seems to be absent in this case.130 Though helpful in explaining the awkwardness of the verse, this theory seems to be fairly speculative and may only provide a convenient, if not falsifiable, hypothesis to allow for the application of rare and uncommon meanings to words and phrases.

Midrash Connection Theory

Again, the major obstacle to the Proverbs Midrash theory is its highly speculative nature. Though studies of Jewish texts and teachings certainly impact New Testament interpretation, especially in Paul's writings, an attempt to deduce Paul's motivations and provide a definitive connection between 1 Tim 2:15 and this Midrash text is an impossible task.


79 Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary, no. 13 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 75; and William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, no. 46 (Nashville: T. Nelson, 2000), 144.

80 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 45.

81 Stanley E. Porter, "What Does it Mean to be 'Saved by Childbirth' (1 Timothy 2.15)?" Journal for the Study of the New Testament 49 (1993): 93.

82 Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 75.

83 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 145. 2 Timothy 4:18a (Nestle-Aland, emphasis mine) reads: "rJuvsetaiv me oJ kuvrio" ajpoV pantoV" e[rgou ponhrou' kaiV swvsei eij" thVn basileivan aujtou' thVn ejpouravnion"

84 I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999), 469; and Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 145.

85 Simon Coupland, "Salvation Through Childbearing? The Riddle of 1 Timothy 2:15," The Expository Times 112 (September, 2001): 303.

86 Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 75.

87 Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 469-70.

88 Andrew J. Kstenberger, "Ascertaining Women's God-Ordained Roles: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15," Bulletin for Biblical Research 7 (1997): 121.

89 Ibid., 119.

90 Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 75.

91 Coupland, "Riddle," 303.

92 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 146.

93 Coupland, "Riddle," 303.

94 Kstenberger, "God-Ordained Roles," 118.

95 Ibid.

96 Arland J. Hultgren, I-II Timothy, Titus, Ausburg Commentary on the New Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 70. See Kstenberger, "God-Ordained Roles," 109-21, for an overview of the history of interpretation of this verse.

97 Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 469.

98 However, since this view seems to find its major support in older commentaries and its major critiques in newer commentaries, it is difficult to find literature where these objections have been answered in a systematic way by supporters of the Christological view.

99 In the New Testament, every other occurrence of this specific construction (a form of sw/vzw plus diaV plus a genitive) there is no article present with the noun. See chapter four under "The Sense of Teknogoniva" in 1 Tim 2:15" and the subsection on the article for further discussion.

100 Walter Lock, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1924), 33.

101 Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 147.

102 See chapter four, "The Force of DiaV + Genitive: A Review" under the subsection discussing the modal usage for more discussion of this use.

103 Ibid.

104 Joh. Ed. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus, trans. by David Hunter (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark , 1881), 134.

105 Porter, "What Does it Mean," 97. 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 2:2, however, seem to be possibilities.

106 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 224.

107 C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom book of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: University Press, 1939), 57.

108 Kstenberger, "God-Ordained Roles," 120.

109 Ibid.

110 Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 470.

111 Many supporters, including Marshall, account for this obscurity by pointing to the historical and literary context of the book—i.e. our present lack of a complete understanding of the false teaching and events surrounding the writing of the book.

112 Coupland, "Riddle," 303.

113 The following arguments are summarized from Porter, "What Does it Mean," 96. See also Huther, Handbook, 134.

114 "Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach" 1 Tim 5:14 NASV

115 Porter, "What Does it Mean," 101.

116 Ibid.

117 Kstenberger, "God-Ordained Roles," 117.

118 Ibid.

119 For a discussion of the issues see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 607-49.

120 Porter, "What Does it Mean," 89.

121 Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, The Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman, no. 35A (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 210.

122 Ibid., 206-7.

123 Ibid. The statements in 1 Cor match Paul's conservative cultural perspective, and the specific support given for the regulation matches Paul's rhetorical strategy in 1 Cor.

124 Ibid., 210.

125 Ibid.

126 Ibid., 210-11

127 Porter, "What Does it Mean," 89. See NET Bible notes on 1 Cor 14:34-35 for a discussion of the issues surrounding these verses.

128 Ibid.

129 Ibid.

130 The marker, pistov" oJ lovgo", is found five times in the Pastoral Epistles. One such occurrence is in 1 Tim 3:1 immediately following 2:15. Certain interpreters identify this as a backwards reference and place this phrase with the preceding verse 2:15. See NA27; Lock, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 33; Johnson, Letters to Timothy, 203; Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 234-42. Major support for this view comes from the fact that in all other cases this marker points to a statement concerning salvation of which 2:15 is and 3:1 is not (Lock, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 33). However, a forward reference seems more likely due to the aphoristic character of the phrase in 3:1, a textual variant that assumes the marker points forward, the fact that in all other cases the formula points forward, and the nature of the marker as stressing the need for readers to accept the truthfulness of the saying. See Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 475; other supporters include E. F. Scott, The Pastoral Epistles, ed. James Moffatt (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1946), 29; and Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 79.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life, Grammar