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A Promise for Obedient Women (2:15)
2:15 Paul expressed a promise for those women who showed obedience, but few verses have caused such vexing problems for interpreters.
To arrive at the proper understanding, it is important to observe that Paul used the Greek word for “saved” in the spiritual sense of obtaining the forgiveness of sins. The NIV translation obscures the fact that Paul made a subtle shift from Eve to “the women” in Ephesus in v. 15. Paul used the feminine singular “she” or perhaps “a woman” instead of the plural “women” in the first part of v. 15. His shift back to the plural “they” at the conclusion of the verse applies the words to all the Ephesian women. Paul employed the term “childbirth” as a synecdoche for that part of the woman’s work that describes the whole. Paul’s words are a reminder that a woman’s deepest satisfaction comes from her accomplishments in a Christian home. Paul was teaching that women prove the reality of their salvation when they become model wives and mothers whose good deeds include marriage and raising children (1 Tim 5:11, 14). His words contain an implicit warning that the wealthy women in Ephesus were not to aspire selfishly to the office of teacher or overseer. Paul may also have been aiming a blow at the false teachers who had disparaging views about sex (1 Tim 4:3). His comments assume (cf. Gen 3:16) that motherhood is a divinely appointed role.
Four other possibilities for interpretation appear. No serious interpreter accepts the first alternative that Paul promised women salvation by their having children. A second interpretation is suggested by the translation of the 1978 edition of the NIV: “Women will be kept safe through childbirth.” The fact that even Christian mothers sometimes die in childbirth would nullify this as a viable interpretation. A third view sees a reference to the birth of the Messiah in the verse. The word “childbirth” follows an article in the Greek so that an acceptable reading of the phrase may be “the childbirth,” Mary’s giving birth to Jesus in the virgin birth. However, Paul located the salvation event in Jesus’ death (2:6), not in his birth. Also the noun “childbirth” refers to the act of bearing children, not to a single birth of a child. Fourth, Paul may have meant that women would avoid the errors of vv. 11–12 by childbearing, but giving birth to a child does not necessarily affect a woman’s theology (other than increasing her understanding of suffering and may also awaken awe at God’s gift of life and her sharing in it [cf. Gen 4:1]).
Fulfillment of motherhood alone does not assure the woman salvation, for she must continue in faith, love, and holiness combined with good judgment. It is assumed that such a woman has the faith that will activate her love and holiness so that her salvation does not spring from works alone. Paul’s words spotlight the importance of the domestic role for the woman. They do not preclude the possibility that a woman can serve as a model wife and mother while also adding to the family income. No wife (and no husband) should permit career opportunities to precede domestic commitments.
Hurley (Man and Woman, 223) says: “The selfishness of our twentieth century, which does not want its enjoyment of pleasures undercut by the financial and personal obligations entailed in raising a family, was not common in the first century. In his day the bearing of children which Paul selected as a part to represent the whole of the high calling of women was a valued activity which women embraced with joy and with pride and for which they were deeply respected.” Although we may question the suggestion by Hurley that selfishness was not common in the first century, it seems likely that the role of motherhood was more esteemed at that time than in modern America.
Summary. Paul faced a problem in Ephesus because some church leaders had lost any semblance of godliness. They were apparently influencing women to follow them in their practice of contentious, self-seeking rebellion. The women in Ephesus had neglected home responsibilities and had selfishly tried to claw their way to a position of dominance in the local church. Paul wanted to see the practice of serious Christianity make a return to Ephesus.
The need for saints has scarcely ever been more evident than it is today. In a world that alternates between viewing Christianity with a sneer and a yawn, only saintly (godly, unselfish, consistent, sacrificial, courageous) living can make an impact on our society. Both men and women must assume places of responsibility in the home. Further, both must respond to one another with mutual respect and love and must demonstrate the behavior of servants of Christ rather than that of contenders for ecclesiastical office.
By Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin
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 Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 102–103.
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