RPM, Volume 11, Number 28, July 12 to July 18 2009

1 Timothy 2:15

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

Three weeks ago we began a series on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, as a part of a larger series which is devoted to understanding Paul's letter to Timothy as a whole. As we began that series we looked at 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul's command to the Ephesian women that they were not to teach or have authority over a man. We next looked at 1 Timothy 2:13, at the first of Paul's reasons for saying this - namely, that Adam was formed first, then Eve. We saw that this was/is a biblical/theological distinction and not a cultural one, and therefore NOT to be dismissed as an irrelevant, culture-bound command that has nothing to do with us today. We then looked, last week, at 1 Timothy 2:14, and the matter regarding Eve's deception by the serpent. In that study, we saw how this statement strengthened Paul's argument in verse 13 by reminding us, negatively, what happens when roles given to men and women by God are ignored or reversed.

This leaves us with verse 15. In some ways, this is another difficult verse in what has admittedly been a string of difficult verses. However, as I hope to show this morning, when you look at this verse in the light of all that we have seen already, it becomes easier to deal with. And so, without any further delay, let's get stuck into it. But before we do that, let's pray together.

Now, as we concentrate our attention on verse 15, there are at least two aspects of Paul's words which makes this difficult - what it says about salvation and what it says about child¬bearing. Let's look at what it says about salvation first.

The two main possibilities for understanding the word that Paul uses here for "salvation" are that it either refers to salvation in the sense of "deliverance from trouble" or salvation in the sense of eternal life through Christ's work on the cross. If it means deliverance, then the verse is simply saying that the woman will be "saved" or delivered through child-bearing. That is, even though the difficulty of childbearing has been increased as a result of the curse, she will be able to stand it or endure it.

While this interpretation is a possibility, it is not a very likely one. For starters, the passage has not been talking about child-birth up until this point. Therefore, it is not an idea that fits very well with the flow of the discussion thus far. Secondly, while the word might mean deliverance, the fact is that this word is almost always used by Paul to mean salvation in the sense of Christ's work on the cross.

To take this, then, as a reference to spiritual and not mere physical salvation fits more naturally with the context, especially when you keep in mind that Eve is described as a sinner in the previous verse. To then talk about salvation, in a spiritual sense, in the next verse would seem quite natural. Even further, this view fits more naturally with the last half of verse 15 which talks about "continuing in faith, love and holiness" - which relates quite easily to the idea of a spiritual salvation, but not nearly as easily to the notion of physical deliverance from the hardships of childbirth.

Now, of course, to conclude that Paul must be talking here about salvation in a spiritual sense answers one question but at the same time raises others. Is Paul saying here that women are not, in fact, saved by grace through faith but rather by a physical act of child-bearing? And if he is not saying that, what is he saying and what does child-bearing have to do with it?

Well, you shouldn't be surprised to hear me say that Paul is NOT offering an alternative view of salvation here. He is not replacing salvation by grace with salvation by some sort of work - in this case childbirth. If you have spent any time in Paul's letter to the Galatians, or any of his other letters, for that matter, then you will know that he cannot be reversing here (salvation by faith) what he preaches so passionately against (salvation by works) in other places. So what is he saying?

A closer look at the passage itself reveals that Paul was not referring here to the means of salvation but rather the context in which the women will come to know and experience that salvation. Notice that Paul says, not that the woman will be saved by child-bearing but through child-bearing. Now, precisely why he refers to "child-bearing" here we will see in a moment, but the point is that he is not talking here about the cause or ground upon which a person is saved but about circumstances and situation in which one is saved. Paul writes in a similar fashion in another place, Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is BY grace you have been saved THROUGH faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not BY works, so that no one can boast.
We are saved BY grace and THROUGH faith. To be sure, faith is an indispensable part of the equation, but at the end of the day, we are not saved because we have exercised faith - i.e., because of some work of meritorious believing or trusting. Rather, we are saved by God's grace in sending his Son to merit our righteousness and endure God's wrath which we justly deserved because of our sin. It is through faith in that - this gracious thing that God has done - that we are saved.

In a similar fashion, Paul is not saying that child-bearing is the efficient cause of the woman's salvation. But his comments about child-bearing are related to this whole matter. Precisely HOW they are related, we will see in a moment.

Now, this understanding of the text is further supported if we look at the last half of the verse. Notice that there is a condition built into this statement — IF something happens, then something else will follow. Paul says that women (notice the shift to the plural here) will be saved through childbearing - IF they CONTINUE in faith, love and holiness with propriety. In other words, Paul, in speaking of women who will be saved, is assuming the presence of faith, the pre-existence of faith in the women about whom he is speaking here. Paul has in view here women who have already responded to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. So, in linking their salvation to continuing in faith, Paul is only saying what he says in other places: that genuine faith is a continuing, persevering faith. "Okay", you might say, "But how does the matter of child-bearing fit in?"

Well, as always, let's think about the context. There has been a sustained discussion here, really starting back in verse 8, of the respective roles and functions of men and women in the gathered community of faith. Paul has talked about behaviors and attitudes that are and are not appropriate for men and women who profess to worship God.

He has supported his statements and instructions positively by referring in one instance to the pattern established in creation and has negatively supported his statements in another instance by referring to what happens when creation patterns are ignored or reversed. Paul's concluding remarks in verse 15 are simply following in this same vein.

By referring to childbearing, Paul is taking a function which belongs exclusively to women - a role which is not reversible or transferable or culturally conditioned in any way - and, in doing so, he uses this one, undeniable trait, that is the exclusive property of women, to refer to women as a whole.

You may remember from last week, when we looked at Genesis 3, that it was this same function - child-bearing - that God chose, as well, to be the focal point for describing the curse that was pronounced upon the woman as a result of the fall into sin. Paul's choice of this same aspect of womanhood is no accident but is, in fact, directly related to the events of Genesis 2 and 3. When we looked at those passages last week we saw that one of the dynamics behind the whole incident with the serpent and the forbidden fruit was this reversal of roles that went on between Adam and Eve. Instead of relying upon and appealing to her husband in the matter of whether or not to eat the fruit, Eve rejected that and acted independently of her husband, in spite of his authority. She then came to him and Adam, equally guilty, exacerbated this role reversal by following the lead of his wife into sin and eating of the same forbidden fruit.

So, Paul, by talking about women and child-bearing, is using that one aspect of womanhood to refer to one of the central roles associated with womanhood - saying that women will be saved, not through a rejection of their unique role as women - and thus God's authority in so ordering that situation — but rather by embracing that role - as symbolized by the function of bearing children. In other words, by embracing and submitting to God's authority in this area. To put it another way - it is not by SCORNING or DENYING divinely established role distinctions but by ACCEPTING them that women will demonstrate deeds appropriate for those who worship God.

Now don't mis-hear me on this. Paul is not saying that women should just stay home and have babies. He is not saying that "mother" and "wife" exhaustively describes who women are and what they are meant to be and do. Paul isn't saying that women cannot have jobs and careers. After all, this is the same Paul who speaks favorably, in Corinthians, of men and women choosing to remain single. And, obviously, single women do not and CANNOT have the role of either wife or mother. So, it is not so much the ACT of child-bearing that is in view here as that which it represents - the fact that biologically and otherwise, women and men, are different and do have different roles.

However, by way of a balancing statement, let me also say that while "wife" and "mother" do not at all exhaustively describe who women are and what they might be or become, it is also true that Paul's words here ARE meant to encourage the Ephesian women not to disparage these roles. Quite to the contrary, these roles ought to be treasured and held in the highest esteem As Hurley writes,

....twentieth century cultural developments make the selection of child-bearing as the part to represent the whole seem inappropriate or strange. [And, I might add, politically incorrect]. Public opinion [says Hurley] is increasingly against the bearing of children. Both men and women often look upon children as a problem and a burden. In some circles the bearing and raising of children is viewed as a prime means of reducing women to bondage...
In short, our contemporary culture makes it difficult for us to hear Paul's words on this matter because some important things have been devalued in our culture. One factor that contributes to this on-going devaluation of womanhood is that there is, especially in our day, an assumption that is often made about our culture as compared to other, previous cultures. As Jensen puts it,
...The assumption [we often make] is that previous cultures are [always] wrong [and backward and primitive] and our culture is right. It is the assumption that previous cultures are un-enlightened and stupid and our present culture is much wiser and more sophisticated. [But] this is an unwarranted and unsupportable assumption. [It is equally possible that] the previous culture may have been right and [it is] our culture which may be un-enlightened and stupid...
In short, mere progression of time does not automatically lead to enlightenment. We have to remember that it is only in the past few decades that child-bearing and motherhood and looking after a family have been so disparaged. It was not so long ago that we remembered the honor and privilege and great responsibility attached to the task of raising decent, godly people and managing a home which is a haven, and a refuge, and a beacon, and a place where the Gospel is seen and heard and much good is accomplished for Christ's kingdom through the vehicle of Christian hospitality and fellowship. Such things were once considered noble and things well worth making sacrifices for. And well they should have been.

So, saying that a woman will be saved "through child-bearing"- that is, by embracing her role as God intended that she should - that sort of language may sound sexist and condescending in our age of historical chauvinism and theological illiteracy, but let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. And it is a sad, sad day when a lie makes us ashamed of the truth.

Again, while Paul is NOT at all saying that women should just stay home and have babies, neither is he saying that women should abandon these noble and godly enterprises, nor should they seek to abandon these roles or to think that these things are "up for grabs" and are decided simply on the basis of private goals and personal convenience and current cultural trends.

Well, after four weeks of looking at the "theory" side of things, I want to spend a little bit of time here at the end thinking about the application side of this whole matter. How do we use these truths to shape the actions and attitudes of men and women in our church? In order to help us think clearly about this, I want to use an approach suggested by Hurley - an approach that consists of asking a series of questions - all of which are aimed at getting to the heart of various possible applications of these truths in the life of the Church.

The reason for using series of questions to apply these things is that thinking about questions forces one to think about why you are doing what you are doing. The alternative to asking questions is coming up with some sort of "list" of what kinds of things are and are NOT allowed to men and women in the church. Such lists, while helpful in some situations, are limited in their usefulness and inevitably end up promoting a rather "wooden" or rigid approach to things which then ends up breeding a kind of Pharisaism in the Body of Christ. Far better is to ask questions which help you to think biblically about a matter and come to a decision on a case by case basis.

That being said, let me give you six questions which will help you to think out loud about the applications of the matters raised here in I s` Timothy (and elsewhere) to particular circumstances. The questions are grouped into three categories:

What does the Bible say?

  • 1) Does Scripture expressly prohibit the activity in question?
  • 2) Does Scripture expressly permit the activity in question?
What's at the heart of this issue?
  • 1) Does the activity in question effectively overthrow a biblical norm or motive, but escape censure on a technicality of definition?
  • 2) Is the activity, in fact, in keeping with the obvious intent of Scripture, but prevented by a technicality of human definition?
How will this issue likely be perceived by others?
  • 1) Is the activity likely to be misunderstood or perceived in such a way that it leads to confusion or becomes a stumbling block?
  • 2) Can the activity be explained sufficiently that it is not likely to be wrongly perceived or to become a stumbling block?
Now just because I've given you six questions, doesn't mean you necessarily would have to work your way through ALL of these every time you consider how to apply the Scriptures to some issue related to the roles of men and women. If the situation in question turns out to be something that is expressly forbidden - or expressly permitted in Scripture - then there is no need to ask any more questions.

Well, how does this all work? Let's answer that question by thinking out loud about two situations (thanks again Dr Hurley) and hopefully, through that process, you can see at least one way in which you can apply the things we have been learning to some specific issues. So, the first issue is this - and it is a relevant one for us as a congregation - but Lord willing we will be electing elders sometime during the first part of next year. Elders, by definition, are those who exercise authority over the local congregation. Further, they carry out their various tasks through the teaching and application of the Scriptures to peoples' lives. The question is this: Is the office of elder open to the women of the Church?

For starters, let's ask the question: Does Scripture expressly prohibit or permit this activity? As we have seen in 1 Timothy 2, Paul did not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man in the church. However, to be fair, we must admit that the Bible does not expressly say that women should not be elders in the church. So the first questions do not help very much at this point.

Well, If you look a little farther on in Timothy, in chapter 3, you will see Paul's qualifications for being an "overseer" which is simply a synonym for "elder." And in amongst those qualifications it says that the elder is to be "the husband of one wife" - but does not say "or the wife of one husband" and, as a result, would appear to have men in view. It also talks about the elder being one who "manages his own family well" and would seem to have in view the matter of male headship within families which Paul discusses in greater detail in Ephesians 5:22ff. A further qualification of an elder is that he must be "able to teach" - and the implication is that the elder would be able to teach the WHOLE church, not just one gender or subset of the church.

Let's think through some of the other questions for a moment. If a woman WERE an elder, would this activity effectively overthrow a biblical norm or motive but escape censure on a technicality of definition? Or is the activity, in fact, in keeping with the obvious intent of Scripture but prevented by a technicality of human definition?

Well, of the two questions, the first would be more relevant for this situation. That is, someone might argue that, technically speaking, the Bible does not forbid women to be elders - i.e., there is no sentence that says that - and therefore they should be allowed. However, we would have to say that this is a problem of semantics, a technicality of language which nevertheless overthrows a biblical norm. This is because, in order for a woman to serve as an elder she would, at various times and places, be required to both teach men and to have authority over them - activities which ARE expressly prohibited in I Timothy 2. So, without even looking at the questions dealing with how the situation might be perceived, the Scriptural evidence and a look at the reality of the situation is enough to provide an adequate answer to this question. Women should not serve as elders in our churches.

Let's look at a second "case study," as it were. A woman in our congregation wants to pursue a PhD in New Testament Studies at Westminster Theological Seminary. Her plans are to pursue an academic career, using her gifts and training to publish scholarly books and articles which help people to better understand the Bible. She approaches the Session of our church to ask if they will write a letter or reference, recommending her to the PhD program. How should the Session respond?

Looking at the Scriptures, we would have to say that there is no express statement about whether or not /omen should pursue advanced theological degrees. Indeed, there are no statements about men doing it either! However, we do have something that is close and at least related to this issue. What we have is the very positive statement in I Timothy 2 that "...a women should LEARN in quietness and full submission...." And so, far from forbidding such a thing, Paul says that women should learn - without placing any limits on the extent or depth of that learning.

What about the other matter of writing scholarly books and articles on the New Testament? Again, there is no express prohibition against, nor is there any express encouragement for these things. We'll have to think about this a bit further using our other questions. Does the activity effectively overthrow a biblical norm or motive, but escape censure on a technicality of definition? Or, is it the other way around - is the activity in keeping with the obvious intent of Scripture, but prevented by a technicality of human definition?

Well, it seems to me that the way you answer that depends a great deal on the intent of the person in question. It is quite possible that someone might take this path for the express purpose of "getting around" the Scriptures. That is, there would be a fundamental, internal un-willingness to submit to the Scriptures on this matter and a companion desire to ignore role distinctions. So, a person like this might pursue an academic career and produce books and papers and yet escape censure because it wasn't being done from a position of authority in the Church even though her intent was to circumvent authority.

On the other hand, it also seems that it is at least equally possible that someone could take this sort of approach for very honourable reasons, using her gifts and training to further the cause of the Gospel by adding to the Church's collective understanding of what the New Testament says. Indeed, James Hurley's own book leans on such a resource as he, in one chapter, draws upon the work of a female New Testament scholar - Margaret Eleanor Thrall and her work on 1st and 2nd Corinthians, published in 1965 by Cambridge University Press.

Seen in this light, work such as this is simply being offered to the church for its edification. It is not binding upon the church in any way, nor is it tied to any ecclesiastical office or function. There is no requirement to accept what is said, nor is there a consequence for rejecting it. A congregation is meant to submit to the teaching and authority of its elders. But it is not required to submit to something written in a book or an article by a Christian author. After all there is nothing in Scripture that forbids a man to learn from a woman.

What about the matter of perceptions? Could this sort of thing be misunderstood and cause confusion? Possibly. Could the activity be explained sufficiently such that it is not likely to be wrongly perceived. I believe so. Even further, it could not only be explained in a way which clarified matters, it could also be approached in a way which did the same thing.

For example, it is my understanding that some Christian songwriters (e.g., Michael Card, I believe) have, at least at one point in their careers, made a practice of submitting the lyrics of their songs to the elders of their churches before recording them and making them publicly available. Why? Because they wanted to show that they were not free agents and that they were people who were under the authority of a local congregation and thus accountable to God in that way. In a similar fashion, a woman who was engaged in scholarly work on the Bible might, as a matter of accountability and in deference to divinely established patterns of relating, engage in a similar practice - submitting her work to a panel of her male colleagues or to the elders of her own local church, something which, I might add, would be a good practice for ALL scholars - male and female alike. So, my response to this second question would be to say that women could and should pursue biblical studies and do work that will benefit the church in that way.

Now, we could go on like this for quite some time, thinking of possible situations and working through the issues - but we won't. And you may or may not agree with my conclusions on these two matters and, if so, you must tell me so afterward. And when we finally have a session of our own, they may discuss these things and come to a different conclusion - and I will have to submit to their authority in that. But I offer these two as examples to show you how you, on your own, might continue to think through these things and apply what the Scriptures say in a responsible fashion and in a way that wants to UPHOLD the Scriptures instead of just seeing what can be "gotten away with".

It is my conviction that the end result of this process is not at all discouraging but is in fact very encouraging and even liberating - and leaves you with quite an extensive range of ministries that are possible for women (and men) in the church today.

Indeed, in the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, they have worked through this process - just for purposes of illustration - and in one chapter compile something like 80 different specific avenues and opportunities for ministry for both men and women - including ministries to the handicapped, to the sick, to the socially estranged, prison ministries, youth ministries, sports ministries, therapeutic counseling ministries, audio-visual ministries, writing ministries, teaching ministries, music ministries, evangelistic ministries, radio and television, theater and drama, social justice and mercy ministries, prayer ministries, missions, etc.

Well, I think we have gone on long enough about this, so let me sum it up this way: God has built and established his church with His people, for whom He died. He has given the church the awesome commission of bringing the Gospel to this world. As we carry out this mission, and as we function together as His church He has given us a definite pattern of relating and living in community - a pattern that is rooted in the very structure and order of creation itself. We honor God best not only when we are faithful to his message but also when we are faithful to his methods, when we do things according to the pattern he has set before us.

Paul's words in 1 Timothy help us to recognize and remember those patterns. Within those parameters and guidelines there is tremendous freedom and opportunity for men and women both to adorn the Gospel with their lives and with their lips. Let us not be like the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden who focused on the one thing they couldn't do and in the process forgot the virtually limitless, in exhaustible possibilities of what they could do. Let's not let issues like this cause us to forget or disparage the great freedom and privilege and opportunity we have been given. Let's not let Satan deceive US into doubting the wisdom or goodness of God in ordering things in the way he has - in determining that some things are out of bounds, that not everything is up for grabs. Instead, let us fully and gladly embrace the truth of God, even and especially in this area of men and women and how we are to relate to one another in His Church.

Because, at the end of the day, it is HIS church. And He has every right to decide how things ought to function within it.......

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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