I was talking with my father-in-law the other day about Genesis 1-3 and the fall of Adam and Eve and at some point our conversation turned to that mysterious passage in 1 Timothy where Paul says that women will be saved through childbearing. In the course of our discussion, a thought occurred to me about that text that was new (to me anyway). Here’s the 1 Timothy passage:
1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing- if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
The two most common interpretations of this last verse are
1) “saved through childbearing” is a reference to the promised Messiah in Genesis 3:15 (“saved through the birth of the Messiah”) or
2) “saved through childbearing” means that woman are saved through faithful embrace of their God-given femininity, epitomized in motherhood.
The thought that occurred to me was that these two options may not be as far apart as they would appear.
Note the connection between “saved through childbearing” in 1 Timothy and the curse of the serpent and the woman in Genesis 3:15-16. When the LORD God curses the serpent, he promises conflict between the seed of the snake and the seed of the woman. This conflict will culminate in the crushing of the serpent’s head by her seed. This passage is often called the proto-euangelion—“first gospel.” Deliverance from the serpent’s enmity will come through the Seed of Eve. So, the bearing of children carries the promise of great Blessing.
Then, in 3:16, the LORD God curses the woman by promising to greatly multiply her pain in bearing children. Birth-pains, as any mother will tell you, are indeed a result of the Fall. So the bearing of children carries the reminder of the great Curse.
These two realities—the Blessing and the Curse, the Promise and the Pain—are a tremendous summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-6).
But how did Jesus redeem us? Compare the passage above to the similar one in Galatians 3:13-14. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
So the One born of woman redeems his people by bearing the curse. The Promise of Blessing will come through the Pain of the Curse. Restoration arrives through Crucifixion.
So then, isn’t this simply the first option given above: “saved through childbearing” refers to the birth of the Messiah? Yes, but it’s more. For if Paul is connecting Genesis 3:15-16 in his summary statement, then this gospel promise is embodied and portrayed anytime a woman gives birth. For every birth contains both Pain and Promise, Blessing and Curse. The pain of childbirth reminds us of the curse of God upon our sin. But the joy following childbirth reminds us of the Skull-Crushing Seed of the Woman. At least, that’s the connection that Jesus made in John 16:21-22:
“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
In this way, every birth, marked as it is by pain and promise, by the curse and the blessing, displays the gospel in miniature. When a woman sees this microcosm of the gospel for what it is—that is, when she abides in faith, love, and holiness and views the pain and glory of childbirth through faith-filled eyes—she will be saved by the redemption accomplished for her by the One born of woman who himself bore the curse of the Law.
Not a bad remanation to reflect upon this Christmas season.