Oh great, I was hoping someone was going to ask about that. This is the type of question where I usually ask someone what they would like it to mean and then suggest a commentary. In all seriousness, when you crack open a commentary you will find statements about this section like, “This is the most discussed passage in the Pastoral Epistles today” (Mounce, 103). Let me try to summarize and comment on some thoughts from William Mounce’s commentary and from the NET translation notes (which point to Moo’s commentary) at https://netbible.org/bible/1+Timothy+2, and then give my two cents.
First let’s look at what we can be sure that it isn’t saying:
- This isn’t saying that you need to have children in order to be saved. That would be a works- based salvation system that is contrary to everything else Paul teaches and his high view of singleness.
- This isn’t promising salvation from the dangers of childbirth. This doesn’t correspond to any strain of theology or our experience of Godly women dying in childbirth.
- It isn’t saying that Eve was saved through childbirth because she gave birth to humanity which would produce Jesus who would then save us all. The language is pretty clear that it is about the process of childbirth, not the child that is born.
It is more likely that this verse can’t be read in isolation from the previous 4 verses (It starts with “For” which is a good indicator that it is connected) and is part of a larger argument that Paul is making that there are genuine created differences between men and women and that those ultimately do impact the roles that we have. This statement will raise a whole host of other questions, but for this verse, and your specific question, Paul is seemingly drawing on parallels between Eve in Gen 2 and 3 and the Ephesian women with whom Timothy is working. The most succinct answer that I found was Mounce quoting Schreiner, who wrote about this passage:
“This does not mean that all women must have children in order to be saved. Paul is hardly attempting to be comprehensive here. He has elsewhere commended the single state (1 Cor. 7). He selects childbearing because it is the most notable example of the divinely intended difference in role between men and women, and most women throughout history have had children….To select childbearing is another indication that the argument is transcultural, for childbearing is not limited to a particular culture, but is a permanent and ongoing difference between men and women. The fact that God has ordained that women and only women bear children indicates that the differences in role between men and women are rooted in the created order.” (Mounce, Word Biblical commentary, 146-7 quoting from p151 of Schreiner).
I think that is the best summary of understanding the text and the argument that Paul is making. In short, Paul is arguing for a differentiation in roles within the church based off of creation order. He sees rebellion against God-ordained order as problematic in Ephesus and is reminding Timothy that compliance with God’s created order, which includes gender based differences- an example of which is childbirth, is a part of living out our salvation. However, I will point out that leaves a lot of room for you to figure out how what Paul wrote applies to you. (Here is where the homework for all of us really begins!) Also, I think it is worth looking at passages like 1 Tim 4:16 which give us some more context on Paul’s view of perseverance and salvation. I hope this gives a little more information and can help initiate a good conversation with your friend. I appreciate the question, it caused me to go back and do a little reading, re-reading, and reflecting myself. Thanks again ~ Nathan
P.S I got my wife to double check this answer for me