Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty (1 Timothy 2:15 NRSV).
1 Timothy 2:15 is a difficult verse to interpret. One of the more disturbing interpretations of this verse is that women cannot be saved unless they have children. I have heard several well-known ministers and even seminary professors teach this faulty interpretation. For example, one seminary professor has stated that, “Women must embrace their role as women by bearing children and, if they do this in faith, they will then be saved.” Is this the gospel that Jesus taught?
On one occasion Jesus had the opportunity to affirm the calling of motherhood. A woman cried out to him, “’Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” (Luke 11:27–28 NIV) In no way did Jesus indicate that being a mother was the necessary, or only, way women can obey God’s word.
In his conversation with a Samaritan woman (the longest conversation between Jesus and an individual recorded in the gospels), Jesus did not broach the subject of motherhood. Instead, he and the woman had a long theological discussion about true worship, and he offered her the gift of “living water” (John 4:14). It is not recorded that Jesus offered this gift with the provision that she embrace her role as a woman.
Mary and Martha of Bethany, good friends of Jesus, may have been ascetics (see my blog post on Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany for more information). If so, they would have been unmarried and childless. When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, was he teaching her about the necessity of being a mother in order to be saved? When Jesus later had a theological discussion with Martha about the resurrection and eternal life, did he insist that Martha embrace her womanhood in order to receive eternal life? (John 11:25–27). I strongly doubt this.
The gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. If we put our trust in Jesus as Savior and faithfully follow him as Lord, we—both men and women—share in his eternal life. I don’t recall any New Testament author saying or implying, “Oh and, by the way, women must embrace their role as women and have children because Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross isn’t enough to save them.”
If having children is how women are saved, how will single, childless Christian women be saved? One response is that, yes, single or barren women can be saved, but in order to receive salvation, they must truly embrace what it means to be women.
Those who believe and teach that women must embrace their role as mother—or embrace what it means to be a woman—in order to be saved have added a clause to the gospel.
There is something very wrong with a gospel message that has a gender bias, where faith in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work is not enough for women and they are required to negotiate extra “ifs” and “buts” that apply only to them. Moreover, it is unsound to alter the gospel to make it fit with a faulty interpretation of one single Bible verse.
Paul warned about people who try to pervert the gospel of Christ:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6–9 NIV)