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Women are saved through the bearing of children (Monday with Mounce 35)
1 Tim 2:15 has been labeled as one of the truly strange verses of the Bible, and appropriately so. I know of no one who takes it “literally” (although I assume that someone somewhere has tried to do so).
But actually it does illustrate an interesting concept in Greek, and that is the overlapping of semantic ranges.
There are two Greek words meaning “to save.” The most common is σωζω. It has a wide range of meaning, from “to preserve or rescue fr. natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve, rescue” to “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save/preserve from eternal death” (BDAG). σωζω is the normal word for spiritual salvation.
The other word is ῥυομαι. It has a more restricted meaning, “to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve” (BDAG). Its focus is more on rescue from physical danger.
Paul uses ῥυομαι when describing his first court appearance. “So I was rescued (ερρυσθην) from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue (ρυσεται) me from every evil deed and bring me safely (σωσει) into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:17-18). The issue is not Paul’s salvation. He was rescued from the attacks in court (although he knew his death was imminent).
But notice the play on words. Paul did know that the culmination of his salvation lay ahead, and that his savior would bring him home; that is the force of σωσει. The ESV’s “bring me safely” is unfortunate (so also the NIV, TNIV, NET, NLT). We changed the RSV’s “save me” (still in the NRSV); I assume I lost that vote.
So what about women and childbirth? As I recall, Paul is quite consistent with his use of σωζω. (I am on the road headed to a retreat in Canada and can’t check my commentary.) It is one of the strongest arguments that in v 15 Paul is talking about the woman’s spiritual salvation. Any notion of godly women being kept safe through the process of childbirth (as the first printing of the NIV had it) is denied by reality. So if women are saved by bearing children, what is that all about?
The position I take in my commentary is that Paul is talking about how women work out their salvation, in the same sense that Paul says all of us should work out our salvation (σωτηριαν κατεργαζεσθε) with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). The women were not to listen to what the opponents were teaching, looking for other avenues of how their Christian commitment should show itself, which probably included staying out of marriage (1 Tim 4:3) and hence childbirth. But they were to stay in their marriages and see their God-given privilege of bearing children as something to be enjoyed and treasured.
But whatever your specific interpretation, Paul’s consistent use of σωζω argues for some understanding of spiritual salvation in this passage, and not some other meaning more accurately conveyed by ῥυομαι.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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