One of the reasons I love youth ministry is the never-ending supply of unusual questions that most teens are seemingly unafraid to ask. You have the old standbys like the problem of evil, the process of canonization, or imprecatory Psalms (those that invoke judgment or calamity upon one’s enemies). Every once in a while you get a wild question like, “How did freshwater fish survive the flood?” And then there are the questions you get by accident.
Such was the case when I asked a student to read 2nd Timothy 2:15. Except I had accidentally asked her to read 1st Timothy 2:15. “Are you sure?” she asked, stunned. I of course said that I was sure, only to have a 14-year-old female student tentatively whimper out:
“But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.¹”
Foolishly, I thought I could simply say, “Whoops, wrong Timothy,” and move on. While a few people started to turn their Bibles to the intended book of Timothy, the first of the follow-up questions hit:
Student: “Wait, you said nothing could save us besides the blood of Jesus.”
Me: “We can talk about this verse after Focus (our youth group) is over.”
Another Student: “Why would childbearing save women?”
Me: “Just wait until…”
Yet Another Student: “Does that mean I have to have a kid to be saved?”
And a Fourth: “And they’ll only be saved IF, after they have kids, they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety? All four of them? So if we’re saved, but we don’t have kids or live a perfectly holy life we aren’t going to Heaven?”
Sometimes, my friends in youth ministry, you realize the need to simply scrap the plans for the evening. This was one of those times. Sending kids home with a firm hold of 1 Timothy 2:15 and an abundance of questions to their parents about why 2 Timothy tells them they have to bear children in order to gain access to the Father was simply not going to suffice. Instead of viewing this turn of events as an unwanted interruption, this blunder became an opportunity to talk about grammar, context, redemptive history, and Eve.
First, we had to look at the dash.
“But women will be saved through childbearing
if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.”
That dash serves two functions. First, to separate the two clauses from each other, to make sure that the word “women” isn’t linked to the word “they.” Second, the dash ends a largely parenthetical thought from before. The ESV and the NIV differ as to where that thought begins, and some translations retain the dash without adding another. Since our youth use multiple translations, you can’t get away with simply telling them what one translation argues without going into the whole of how two translations can say two extraordinarily different things. All that aside, the idea that this dash separates all of salvation from our own merits should bring a large sigh of relief, as it somewhat smacks against the gospel with a first blush interpretation. Someone being saved “if,” followed by a list of things which they can do (including childbearing) should cause our gospel centered red flags to fly up.
Secondly, we had to work out the pronouns. I know this sounds boring at the start, but the difference between one woman being saved versus the entirety of women being saved through the act of bearing children hangs on pronoun interpretation. Who is going to be saved here?
If you take it out of context, and simply read 2:15, you may end up with the word “women.” In context, and more aptly translated (ESV) you get “she.” Now “she” being saved through childbearing still doesn’t help at all unless we know the antecedent of the word “she.” Who is this she? All women, perhaps? This is where we get our help from reading the entire section.
“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.”
Aha! Who gets saved through childbearing? Eve.
We know of no other who receives such a promise than Eve herself. The promise of the offspring points the way:
“ And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)
So you see, through the larger redemptive historical context, larger even than the chapters surrounding our odd verse in 1 Timothy, that Eve herself is the recipient of the term “she.” Eve must bear children so that the promise of her offspring can be fulfilled, and the promise of a crushed serpent brought to fullness. Think of it this way:
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman (Eve) was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet Eve will be saved through childbearing—if they (check the commentaries, there are multiple solid proposals) continue in faith….”
This only makes sense if you understand (1) the grammar of the dash, (2) the context of the verse in 1 Timothy, and (3) the larger redemptive historical context of Eve and her offspring (ultimately, the son of God and our total salvation). There are so many priceless bits of knowledge in play. You have covenants, Old and New Testament connectivity, Paul’s writing style, the proto-evangel, and the promise of Christ Himself coming to save Eve, His greatest grandmother and the first of his daughters. All of these interplays are fascinating, and are worth taking the time to explain to our students.
That, friends, is the heart of youth ministry. Are we taking time to explain the complexities of the Word? My mistake (one of many) was the idea that such a weird verse could simply be put to the side, or shelved for future discussion. Instead, taking the time to explain not only the text, but the process of understanding a Biblical text, has borne fruit in some of those students to this very day. Yes, it demands a patient understanding of larger concepts. It demands a model of youth ministry that includes abundant time for Scriptural mediation and study. It demands our knowledge of larger concepts and the ability to answer questions with fascinatingly deep roots.
To this day, I’m thankful for the mistake of picking the wrong Timothy. I’m thankful that God was able to use that mistake to show the depth of His Word. And I’m extremely glad that none of my students, as far as I know, have attempted to save themselves through childbearing.