Saved Through Childbearing: The Commentaries

Mother and Child

I am working through I Timothy 2:15.  Here is that verse in its immediate context:

11 A woman in silence must learn in all submission/obedience, 12 but I do not allow/permit a woman to teach nor to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived became a transgressor.  15 But she will be saved by means of childbirth, if they remain in faith and love and holiness with self-restraint. [My translation]

Here is how several commentators interpret verse 15.  I started with the oldest, Chrysostom. These are direct quotes, but I trimmed out some of the reasons for the interpretation. Any of my thoughts I put in brackets. Unless otherwise noted these are all quotes from commentaries on I Timothy 2:15. Obviously this is just a sprinkling of the comments made in the history of the church on this issue. However, I cite several major figures.

Chrysostom: Sermon on I Timothy 2:15
This is the amount of what he says. As all men died through one, because that one sinned, so the whole female race transgressed, because the woman was in transgression. Let her not however grieve. God hath given her no small consolation, that of childbearing. And if it be said that this is of nature, so is that also of nature. [The editors note that this last phrase is obscure and hard to understand. It is worth noting that Chrysostom ends his sermon with an exhortation on why mothers should raise children well.]

Martin Luther
It is a very great comfort that a woman can be saved by bearing children, etc. That is, she has an honorable and salutary status in life if she keeps busy having children. We ought to recommend this passage to them, etc. She is described as “saved” not for freedom, for license, but for bearing and rearing children. Is she not saved by faith? He goes on and explains himself: bearing children is a wholesome responsibility, but for believers. To bear children is acceptable to God. He does not merely say that bearing children saves; he adds: if the bearing takes place in faith and love, it is a Christian work… This is the  comfort for married people in trouble: hardship and all things are salutary, for through them they are moved forward toward salvation and against adultery.

John Calvin
To censorious men it might appear absurd, for an Apostle of Christ not only to exhort women to give attention to the birth of offspring, but to press this work as religious and holy to such an extent as to represent it in the light of the means of procuring salvation. [Calvin goes to explain why this refers to women bearing children. Then he adds:] No consolation could be more appropriate and more efficacious to shew that the very means (so to speak) of procuring salvation are found in the punishment itself. 

Geneva Bible (1560, finished in 1599)
He adds a comfort by the way, that their subjection does not hinder women from being saved as well as men, if they behave themselves in those duties of marriage in a holy and modest manner, with faith and charity. 

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)But it is a word of comfort that those who continue in sobriety shall be saved in child-bearing, or with child-bearing – the Messiah, who was born of a woman, should break the serpent’s head…Though the difficulties and dangers of childbearing are many and great, as they are part of the punishment inflicted on the sex for Eve’s transgression, yet here is much for her support and encouragement: Notwithstanding she shall be saved, etc. Though in sorrow, yet she shall bring forth, and be a living mother of living children; with this proviso, that they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety: and women, under the circumstance of child-bearing should by faith lay hold of this promise for their support in the needful time.

John Gill (1697-1771)
But rather the meaning is, that good women shall be saved, notwithstanding their bearing and bringing forth children in pain and sorrow, according to the original curse… And so the words administer some comfort to women, in their present situation of subjection and sorrow; though they may be rendered impersonally thus, “notwithstanding there is salvation through the birth of a son”: and the sense is, that notwithstanding the fall of man by the means of the woman, yet there is salvation for both men and women, through the birth of Immanuel, the child born, and Son given. 

Jamieson, Fausset, Brown (1871)
Moreover, I think it is implied indirectly that the very curse will be turned into a condition favorable to her salvation, by her faithfully performing her part in doing and suffering what God has assigned to her, namely, child-bearing and home duties, her sphere, as distinguished from public teaching, which is not hers, but man’s. In this home sphere, not ordinarily in one of active duty for advancing the kingdom of God, which contradicts the position assigned to her by God, she will be saved on the same terms as all others, namely, by living faith. Some think that there is a reference to the Incarnation “through THE child-bearing” (Greek), the bearing of the child Jesus. Doubtless this is the ground of women’s child-bearing in general becoming to them a blessing, instead of a curse; just as in the original prophecy the promise of “the Seed of the woman” (the Saviour) stands in closest connection with the woman’s being doomed to “sorrow” in “bringing forth children,” her very child-bearing, though in sorrow, being the function assigned to her by God whereby the Saviour was born. This may be an ulterior reference of the Holy Spirit in this verse; but the primary reference required by the context is the one above given. “She shall be saved ([though] with childbearing),” that is, though suffering her part of the primeval curse in childbearing; just as a man shall be saved, though having to bear his part, namely, the sweat of the brow.

[It would appear that all three of the men above felt that the passage referred to both the birth of Christ and to women bearing children. This is a rare position in modern commentaries. Most take it to mean either Jesus or bearing children, not both.]

John Wesley (1703-1791)
Yet she – That is, women in general, who were all involved with Eve in the sentence pronounced. Shall be saved in childbearing – Carried safe through the pain and danger which that sentence entails upon them for the transgression; yea, and finally saved, if they continue in loving faith and holy wisdom.

Robertson (1932-Robertson’s Word Pictures)
This translation [The Revised Version] makes it refer to the birth of the Savior as glorifying womanhood. That is true, but it is not clear that Paul does not have mostly in mind that child-bearing, not public teaching, is the peculiar function of woman with a glory and dignity all its own. “She will be saved” in this function, not by means of it.

Stephen B. Clark (1980-Man and Woman in Christ)
I Timothy 2:15 is not a passage which sees the destiny of women or the salvation of women in childbearing and motherhood, but instead is essentially a passage which safeguards the spiritual worth of childbearing and motherhood. [Clark thinks that Paul is making sure women don’t misunderstand the curse on the woman (Genesis 3:6) as prohibiting or minimizing childbearing or motherhood. He sees it as referring to bearing children, not to Christ.]

John MacArthur (1986-Sermon on I Timothy 2:15)
I don’t see Mary and I don’t see the birth of Christ here…Mark it down, because in the raising of a godly seed it is the godliness and the virtue of the mother that has the greatest impact on the young life in the next generation.  Is that not so?  Theirs is the challenge to raise a godly seed.  God has designed this to give woman back her dignity.  She is saved from the stigma of the Fall, and her path to dignity, and usefulness, and her great contribution comes in accepting what God said that you will bear children.  Motherhood then is woman’s appointed role in general. 

George Knight (1992-New International Greek Testament Commentary)
The most likely understanding of this verse is that it refers to spiritual salvation through the birth of the Messiah.

John Stott (1996-The Bible Speaks Today)
It seems to me that the third understanding [He had listed three options] is the most likely namely that women will be saved through the Birth of the Child referring to Christ.

Andreas Kostenberger (This Paper)
We may therefore conclude that 1 Tim 2:15 may best be rendered in the following way: “She (i.e., the woman) escapes (or is preserved; gnomic future) [from Satan] by way of procreation (i.e., having a family).” Moreover, in line with 1 Tim 5:14, one should view procreation as merely the core of the woman’s responsibility that also entails, not merely the bearing, but also the raising of children, as well as managing the home (synecdoche; cf. also Titus 2:4-5).

Philip Towner (2006-New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Paul urges these Christian wives to re-engage fully in the respectable role of the mother…through which she may “work out her salvation.”

Philip Ryken (2007-Reformed Expository Commentary)
[Ryken does not state it clearly or succinctly, but he quotes Stott with approval and does believe the passage is referring to the birth of Christ.]

Here are two blog posts that address this passage. First, Jeff Meyers argues that the passage refers to the birth of Christ.  Second, John Piper quotes Henry Alford on the passage. They believe it refers to childbearing, but take a different slant on it than some of the men above.