Saved in Childbearing? God’s High Calling for Mothers (1 Timothy 2:9-15)

Taken from The Journal For Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Fall 2003, Volume VIII,

Issue 2, pp. 59-65

9In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,

10but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.

11Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.

12And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

13For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

15Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control

(1Timothy 2:9-15, NKJV).

One of the things I always say in premarital counseling concerning God’s design for marriage roles in this: “You have been affected by cultural feminism, and there are certain ways in which you think like a feminist. Whether you are the man or woman is of no import; everyone has been affected by cultural feminism, and to some degree, we all think like feminists.” In saying this, I tend to see what I just saw from many of you—a look of surprise or incredulity and even a tinge of outrage. We think, “No, not me; I reject that! I am not a feminist!” However, someone came to me this very week and said that what I had told him during their premarital counseling was true.

Every single force in our culture is driving us away from thinking biblically about gender roles. For instance, many of you have probably seen the shoe company advertisement that says, “Get your girls sports balls, not dolls. She can be anything she wants to be.” It shows a girl caked in mud, playing some physically challenging sport. The message is that real women are tough, hard-driving, and aggressive, and if you get in their way, they’ll knock you out of it.  That’s a real woman.

Our society also pervasively accepts homosexuality, particularly on television. We see the feminization of manhood at every turn, but strong and godly leaders are not portrayed positively anywhere; the television portrays them as bumbling, close-minded old relics.  What was once culturally taboo is now commonplace. Just a few years ago, shock struck the nation because a clearly homosexual couple showed affection to one another on television, but now that sort of thing is on every night.  Homosexual males are almost always portrayed as loving, kind, and endearing, which is just one more example of how society is pushing harder for gender lines to be blurred. What are girls to be? They should be the ones that knock you out of the way. What are men to be? They are too passive, mild, perhaps even confused about their own gender.

This confusion about gender roles can also be seen in the family and among God’s people in the church. We face these issues within our own area because there are churches in our own city that ridicule that idea that God has ordained role distinctions based on gender. One local congregation has called a woman to be its pastor, and when the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 was embraced by the Southern Baptist Convention, some churches were outraged about the idea that men were to be leaders of their homes, and that the office of pastor was limited to men.  We must face these issues knowing that we are not removed from such thinking. The gender confusion is not just “out there”; it is upon us.

However, these types of issues should not surprise us. When we think about Satan’s attack on humanity in the garden, it becomes clear that this was always an issue of contention. The neglect of biblical gender responsibilities has always been a siege on God’s design for the family. Satan has attacked the family model of husbandly headship and wifely submission, both of which were part of God’s design for the created order.

Genesis 2:15 and the following verses show us that the role of Adam as leader, protector, and provider was rooted in God’s created order. Notice that the problem with the Fall was that Adam was not leading in the way that God had intended, and Eve was not seeking the leadership and protection of her husband in the way that God had intended.

15Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

Here, man is given the responsibility to work, to tend the garden, and to exercise his dominion over the land that the LORD has provided. Verse eighteen continues, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Note the word that is used to describe Eve’s role in the relationship. God said that he made Adam to be a provider and protector, and here we see that God is going to make for Adam a “helper,” a complement to him. The passage continues:

19Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones

And flesh of my flesh;

She shall be called Woman,

Because she was taken out of Man”

This is a Hebrew play on words that actually comes across in the English rendering, “She shall be called Isha

[woman] because she was taken out of Ish [man].” There is a connection, a complementary relationship, between these two in the design of God. Verse twenty-four continues:

24Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

31Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ 4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.

We notice that Eve’s sin was not only rebellion against a direct command of God, but also a unilateral decision in complete and absolute independence from the protector that God had provided. Verse six continues by saying, “She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Adam shows his weakness by following his wife into sin.

7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

8And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

9Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”

By the way, that’s one of the most important questions in the text: just where was he? Now, skip ahead to verse 17:

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: Cursed is the ground for your sake…”

Because Adam heeded the voice of his wife and failed to act in his assigned leadership role, Adam has merited the LORD’s judgment.

Let’s examine the context of our passage, 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Paul’s letter to Timothy, one of the Pastoral Epistles, was written after he had left Timothy in Ephesus. In it, Paul is exhorting him to do primarily two things: to deal with false teaching and disorder in the Ephesian church. False teachers were propagating untruths, and problems of disorder in the church were surfacing. One of these was a failure to understand gender roles. Our text begins in chapter two, verse eight:

8I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;

9in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 11Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.

12And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

Here, Paul’s words “I desire” (v.8) could also be translated, “I purpose.” These are very serious words. He is not saying this in his own authority, but with the authority of the Lord. Paul’s desire is that the men pray “everywhere.” These men are the male members of the congregation, and the word everywhere could be translated every spot. In this particular context, it is a reference to corporate worship. It means that in every spot that is marked out men should be found praying. As leaders in the assembly, they are to be men of prayer, and it says that they are to be “lifting up holy hands”; holy hands are set apart hands. The main focus here is not the physical position of prayer, although a common position of prayer included upraised hands, but instead that the lifted hands are to holy and set apart to God, not marked by hypocrisy. Verse eight specifies this by including the phrase, “without wrath.” He desires holy hands to be lifted without doubting, without vacillating, and without anger. The Lord desires the men in the gathered assembly to be men of prayer, and their hands to not be unclean with hypocrisy, disputing, and anger. The men who lift up their hands are to be leaders, and they should lift up hands of integrity.

This entire discussion is set in the context of the church and how it is to be ordered. Paul begins by talking about general issues related to women in the church, but in the end, he focuses on the example of motherhood specifically. Therefore, the matters we will examine today will apply to women in general and mothers in particular.

The Woman’s Character

Verses nine and ten discuss the woman’s character in the church. Verse nine says, “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” The phrase in like manner also, suggests that there are things for women to consider about their role in the church body, just as there are for men. The word translated adorn is the Greek word kosmeo, which is where we get the term cosmetics; it means, “to put into order,” or, “to arrange.” You’ll sometimes hear a woman say that she has to put her face in order, meaning that she needs to apply cosmetics and those kinds of things. Adorn here carries the idea of making ready and could be translated beautify. Read this way, the text would state, “In like manner also, let the women beautify themselves.” There is to be a specific way in which they are to beautify themselves, and therefore, we know that not everything that a woman does to beautify herself is acceptable in the sight of God.

What does it mean to “make yourself ready” or to “put yourself in order?” Notice the way women adorn themselves in verse nine—“modestly.”  In 1 Timothy 3:2, the word is translated respectable. Understand that decent, modest dress is not a holdover from bygone days; it is the command of a sovereign God. Decency in dressing habits is not embracing the efforts of a past generation to be prudent; modesty is the command of the thrice holy God. The text commands that women dress self-consciously every day to the glory of God. When a woman opens the closet and pulls out the drawers, she should think, “I will dress today to the glory of God; I will adorn myself in modest apparel.” If the apparel is not modest, it does not glorify God.  The word modest is the opposite of provocative, seductive, and revealing. Melody Green, the wife of Keith Green, the songwriter and musician who was killed in a plane crash many years ago, wrote a little booklet called Uncovering the Truth about Modesty. In it she pens these words:

Our bodies are precious because they are a gift from God. They are attractive because God has made us in His image for His pleasure, and if we are married, then to please our mates as well. But God never intended for us to flaunt ourselves or exhibit our bodies in an immodest way. Many Christians are either oblivious or uncaring about the effect that they have on others.  They may even appear to have a real excitement and love for the Lord, however, their body is sending out a totally different message.

Of course, many people today do not think like this. Many have no knowledge of the pervasive command for modesty in the Bible. I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback by a comment of Randy Stinson’s when he was conducting a marriage conference at our church. He said that one of the things he does to promote modesty in his home is that he will not allow his daughter’s dolls to be naked. He’ll say, “Get some clothes on that doll! We don’t go around this place naked, and neither will that doll.” That may sound strange, but it is a small way to communicate to your children the biblical mandate for modesty.  As verse nine continues, it also says that women are to clothed with propriety. Propriety means reverence for God, and it actually connotes a sense of shame; we do not want to do anything or dress in any way that would dishonor God. Oh, how that is lost in our culture today! Including church culture.

Furthermore, the text continues by saying, “In moderation.” The word means discretion and is translated elsewhere as self-control, or sensibly. One is to be dressed in attire that is marked by discretion, or in common terminology, not showing everything! In 1 Peter chapter three we find out that the issues of dress are not merely outward issues. You cannot be godly from the outside in, or measure a skirt length to find out who is godly and who is not. Some people may dress very modestly and be headed to Hell; the real issue for the people of God is the heart. 1 Peter 3:3 says:

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

Verse nine of our text tells us how women in the church should not dress. There is nothing inherently wrong with braided hair, but in the cultural context, the braids were fastened by jeweled combs and pins made of ivory and silver. Paul depicts women who wore their hair very high, filled with expensive jewelry. The braids were just a way of holding all those jewels in place, so it is not the braiding that is the problem, but what the braiding represents—gaudiness, extravagance, and showiness. Women of that time lavished gold and jewels all over their bodies to communicate their wealth or importance. Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman historian, describes a dress of an emperor’s wife that today would cost $500,000.  Dressing in this way is a propagation of self, but the goal of the Christian is to glorify God.  Verse ten continues this thought: “But, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” There is a way of dressing which is proper for women who profess reverence to God. The point is this: a woman cannot revere God if she disregards what His Word says about modesty.

The Woman’s Conduct

Verse eleven concerns the woman’s conduct in the church: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” You see, not only were there women who were showing a lack of reverence for God in their appearance, but it seems that they were also showing a lack of reverence for God by disregarding the leadership of their husbands in the church.  The women whom Paul is addressing wanted to be preachers and teachers, delivering the Word; they wanted the spotlight to be on them. Notice at the beginning of verse eleven it says, “Let a woman learn” — a present active command. Those words were shocking in their day. Paul says here that a woman should learn, which was not a well-accepted thought at the time. In that culture, it was not important if women learned, and in fact, they were often not allowed in the assembly at all.  With these words, Paul shows himself to be a great liberator of women. Paul’s words are not shocking because they are so oppressive, but because they are so permissive; Paul says here that God commands women to learn in the gathered assembly.

However, the manner in which a woman is to learn, according to verse eleven, is in silence, with all submission. The all is emphatic in the text. Women were to learn in submission, voluntarily putting themselves under the leadership of their husbands and their church leaders. Women should learn because they have a godly, important role in the church, but it is not the preaching or public teaching role. Rather, they should learn in quietness, submitting themselves to the authority that God has ordained.

Verse twelve says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” The phrase to have would be better translated to exercise. The verb permit deals with actions that individuals desire to perform. By virtue of “not permit[ing]” women to teach, Paul communicates that there were women in the church who desired to be teachers or pastors, exercising authority over men in the church.

There are many today that ask, “You say the office of pastor is for men? Who are you to say whom God has called? What gives you the right? Understand, beloved, that God has said it! If anyone has the right to determine who has what role, it is the Maker of heaven and earth!  Recently I was in a meeting with some local pastors to talk about these issues. As the discussion went on, one of the pastors said, “You don’t have the right to question anybody’s call! I would never question a person call to the ministry!” I replied, “Okay, sir, what will happen when a young man in your church who is a practicing homosexual or drug abuser comes forward and says that he has been called to preach?  Are you going to ordain him?” Of course not! Suddenly, he’s going to question the call—and why? Because it’s wrong! The person struggling with those issues has misunderstood the call of God.1 God’s words on this subject are not ambiguous. He does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be in silence. The person’s desire for the office is irrelevant; God’s desires as He has expressed them in His Word are what matters.

The words translated to teach in verse twelve mean to be a teacher. The text refers to official, doctrinal, biblical instruction for the church. It is not talking about dialogue in an informal setting, but about having authority over a man or over the church. God has designed the office of pastor/teacher to be reserved for men.  The Scriptures encourage women to teach other women; it encourages women to teach children; it encourages them to speak evangelistically and informally, but the preaching/teaching seen in this passage, is clearly limited to men.

The Woman’s Perspective

Next, I want you to see the woman’s perspective in verses thirteen and fourteen. Many people may ask, “Why shouldn’t a woman be a pastor? After all, I saw a woman preaching on TV last night, and she sure was a lot better than you.  Who are you to say she can’t preach?” The Spirit-inspired text often anticipates human arguments and stands ready to answer our objections.  The reason given in the text is simply that God has designed it that way. Verse thirteen says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Paul appeals to the created order to prove his point. Adam was created first as the head, and Eve was created next to be the helper. God created Adam and Eve to complement one another, not to compete with one another.

Many argue today that the position of man as head of the home is a result of the Fall, and that we should try to reverse the Fall by practicing absolute equality, but such as position is untenable. The Bible never roots the issue of male headship in the Fall; it was God’s design, part of His created order from the beginning. No one can say these words are culturally bound, because at the time Adam and Eve were created, they were the culture; they were the only human beings that existed. It is a dangerous thing to take what God created, what He called holy and good, and call it sinful. For someone to say that the issue of male leadership and authority is rooted in the Fall is to take what God called good and declare it not good. I wouldn’t want to answer to God for that.

Verse fourteen continues, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Note that Adam was not deceived, yet he is not guiltless. The reason Adam was not deceived was because he was absent! He wasn’t protecting, providing, and leading. When tempted, he willingly fell, following the leadership of his wife. The text says that she was being deceived, and the words are strong, meaning that she was completely and utterly deceived. She was acting outside of God’s design for her, and so she was vulnerable. Thus, we have a role reversal with Eve leading and Adam following, along with the consequences that ensue when we stray from God’s design.

Eve stepped outside of her role, and Adam failed to live up to his, but who does the New Testament hold accountable? Romans chapter five says Adam is responsible for the Fall. We have the tendency to say, “But Adam wasn’t deceived! It was his wife!” Adam gives the same response to God: “It wasn’t me! It was the woman whom You gave me! If that woman wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have done it.” However, Adam is responsible because he was the God-ordained head of his home and the representative for all of humanity, plunging the human race into sin by violating God’s design and God’s command. A woman’s perspective must be that of embracing her role fully, realizing it is God’s design. She must think, “God’s wisdom is perfect, and His ways are right. God’s design is good for me.”

The Woman’s High Calling

Finally, we get to verse fifteen, a notoriously difficult passage to interpret. We have seen that Paul talks about the woman’s character and how it is to be marked by modesty, propriety and moderation. In her conduct in the church she is not to exercise the functions of teaching or exercising authority over men.  Rather, she has a role of learning in submission. Her perspective must be that this is not just some cultural dictate, but God’s design.

John MacArthur writes the following concerning this subject: “Women must stop believing the Devil’s lie that the only role of significance is that of leadership.” The world thinks, “Why in the world would you cheat women from having the blessings of being a pastor/teacher? That’s just chauvinism!” Many women today think similarly, but the truth is that while God has made us with different roles, one is not inferior to the other.  We are to complement one another, and we can only achieve God’s high calling if we embrace the roles that He has assigned for our lives.  The idea is not that an angry woman grits her teeth and says, “Okay, I won’t be a pastor! I won’t wear immodest clothing either, because I’m supposed to be godly.” Instead, a woman should joyfully embrace God’s design for her life, knowing that it is good for her soul and her pathway to joy.

Verse fifteen says, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.”  The word nevertheless suggests a contrast to what has been said, that Eve was involved in bringing about the Fall through the sin of gender rebellion and that women aren’t to be pastors, having authoritative roles in the church. Nevertheless, the text tells us that a woman has a high calling: she will be saved, or rescued, in child bearing. What in the world does that mean? Does it mean that every woman that has a baby goes to heaven?

Some interpret the verse like this: the she here is a reference to Eve.  Eve would be saved in childbearing because, in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, her seed would crush the head of the serpent. According to this interpretation, Eve will be saved in childbearing because her descendant, the Messiah, will save all His people.  Although there may be an allusion to that here, it is not the primary issue.  The primary issue of the entire context has been the role of women in general.

Holding that the she refers to Eve cannot be the best interpretation of the text because it ignores the conditional clause at the end of the verse: “if they continue…” Who are “they”? The pronoun here is not referencing Eve,  but all women. The she is a generic reference to women in general. Is the text saying that if Eve continues in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control, she will ultimately be saved? No, the conditional clause tells us that the verse refers to women generally. It is very important to note that the verse says, “… if they continue in faith.” The “if clause” shows us that the women about whom Paul is speaking are in Christ. This passage concerns those who are continuing in the faith, those who are showing Christian love and being sanctified. They are already believers, Christian women, who are reflecting Christ in the way they live their lives.

But what does “she will be saved in childbearing” mean? Childbearing is used in this passage to represent the essence of what it is to be a woman.  We could say that she will be saved in motherhood.  This is one thing that no man can do! Someone told me the other day that Jason is having a baby. Well, that’s a news story! Having children is bound up with the essence of womanhood, so Paul uses it here to represent the whole of God’s design for women.  “She will be saved in childbearing,” means that a woman who is embracing the design that God has for her life, living by faith, pouring her life into raising godly seed, children who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, is triumphing through Jesus Christ over the terrible effects of the Fall.

Part of the curse of the Fall was pain for women in childbearing, but by the sovereign grace of God and His calling out of women from the kingdom of darkness, who continue in the faith and pass on the faith to the next generation, the effects of the fall are, in a sense, reversed!  Even things initially related to judgment, such as pain in childbearing, can ultimately be means of glorifying God.  This is what happens when a believing woman bears children and raises them in the fear of the Lord. God’s high calling for women is not that they would become like men, but that they would be real women, and real women embrace God’s design.

But what does it mean that “she will be saved in childbearing?” The word “saved” here is used in the same way it is used in 1 Corinthians 9:22, when Paul says, “To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” Does Paul mean that he is the one actually saving people? Is he rejecting the sovereignty of God or think that by doing these things that he can actually be the one that saves people? Of course not—Paul is committed to the sovereignty of God in salvation!  He is saying that he will order his life so that God would be pleased to use him as an instrument to bring people to faith in Christ.

This text does not mean that women are saved by physically giving birth to children. Instead, it means that women who embrace their divinely-assigned role are showing that they know God’s sovereign grace through Jesus Christ. They are showing that they believe in the promises of God and are continuing in the faith and are saved.  Joyful Christian motherhood is a magnification of God’s salvation in the world and helps to reverse the curse of the fall, reflecting the kingdom of God on earth—what a high calling!


The responsibility of raising godly children is great, and mothers have a special relationship with their children that cannot be replaced. Women in the church are on the front lines of leading this fallen world out of sin and into godliness by childbearing and raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Who can think that is not a high calling?  What are women thinking when they forsake God design and purpose for something else? Motherhood is a very high calling and requires strength for continuance in the faith; there is no spotlight when you’re changing a dirty diaper. No one shows up at my house during the day to congratulate my wife for raising our children well. I sometimes hear, “That was a good sermon,” but my wife is in the trenches of mothering our children without a spotlight, and it is imperative for her to see her role as part of God’s design, rejoicing in being on the front lines of kingdom work!

If you have a godly mother, oh how you should be thankful! She probably wasn’t perfect, but if she taught you the things of God, you should be eternally thankful. What a gift! What a high, holy calling! Praise God that He saves women who are among the fallen children of Adam, who walk in the doomed steps of Eve, and weaves them into the fabric of His redemptive purposes!

1. My only point here is that this man’s logic is not valid. He said that he would never question anyone’s call to the ministry but the truth is that he most certainly would under certain circumstances. If we agree that there are qualifications and certain standards involved with being a minister of the gospel the only question left is “Who sets the standards?” The answer is that God does according to His self-revelation in His word. I am not in any way comparing women to homosexuals or drug abusers. Womanhood is a wonderful blessing from God.

By |September 9th, 2010|Categories: Writings|

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