Thursday, August 07, 2014
Stump the Priest: Saved in Childbearing?
Question: "What does 1st Timothy 2:15 mean when it says that a woman shall be "saved" in child bearing? How do the Orthodox interpret that passage?"
One important thing to keep in mind here is that the word translated as "saved" has a broader meaning that is often assumed in our culture, which has been heavily influenced by Protestant thinking. It can mean "help", "deliver", "heal", etc.
As is often the case, St. John Chrysostom provides the best answer to the question:
“The woman,” he says, “being deceived was in the transgression.” What woman? Eve. Shall she then be saved by child-bearing? He does not say that, but, the race of women shall be saved. Was not it then involved in transgression? Yes, it was, still Eve transgressed, but the whole sex shall be saved, notwithstanding, “by childbearing.” And why not by their own personal virtue? For has she excluded others from this salvation? And what will be the case with virgins, with the barren, with widows who have lost their husbands, before they had children? will they perish? is there no hope for them? yet virgins are held in the highest estimation. What then does he mean to say? Some interpret his meaning thus. As what happened to the first woman occasioned the subjection of the whole sex, (for since Eve was formed second and made subject, he says, let the rest of the sex be in subjection,) so because she transgressed, the rest of the sex are also in transgression. But this is not fair reasoning; for at the creation all was the gift of God, but in this case, it is the consequence of the woman’s sin. But 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 the 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; for not only that which is of nature has been granted, but also the bringing up of children. “If they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”; that is, if after childbearing, they keep them in charity and purity. By these means they will have no small reward on their account, because they have trained up wrestlers for the service of Christ. By holiness he means good life, modesty, and sobriety" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on 1 Timothy).
So the reproach against the female sex that was due to Eve's deception is undone by child bearing and the bringing up of children. St. John notes that not all women have children, and so it is not that individual women are saved only if and when they give birth, but the female sex as a whole is delivered from the reproach of Eve through child birth. This is especially true of the Virgin Mary, whose obedience has undone the disobedience of Eve.