Saved Through Childbearing: Virtues as Children in 1 Tim 2

September 26th, 2005 / 0 Comments
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Kenneth L. Waters Sr. attempts to "justify an entire new reading of the phrase saved through child bearning" through his radical interpretation of this notoriously problematic text. His proposal uses the term childbearing as the fulcrum for a complete redefinition of the passage. As even a casual reader of Paul would be troubled by the idea of women ‘earning’ salvation by means of giving birth; one of Waters primary reasons for an alternative reading is to remove the awkward notion forced by the literal reading.

For Waters, the use of childbearing doesn’t concern the literal production of children, but serves as a metaphor for the virtues of "faith, love, holiness, and temperance" (think along the lines of ‘fruit of the Spirit’). Thus, for women, salvation was connected to the demonstration of the qualities, or virtues, that signify transformative workings of faith. The result of which is that, although in this instance the men of the church had been tasked with teaching, salvation is solely attained through Christ and is confirmed through the transformative actions of the women of the church. Thus all women will be saved though the work of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the expression of these attributes.

To qualify his argument, Waters brings to light themes from Philo, Plato, pre-Gnostic thought and Greek culture; all of which employ allegorical uses of childbearing. Waters also considers whether childbearing was used specifically to reference, and perhaps redefine, worship of Artemis, the Ephesian goddess of fertility. Lastly, he maintains that the majority of 1 Timothy speaks of salvation using intentionally gender neutral language, with this passage being the exception in its gender specific directives. Thus, either the author(s) was doing this to contradict other themes within the letter, or perhaps the author was using this passage to further redefine the roles of gender.

My initial reactions have been somewhat divided with this explanation. On the one hand it still seems like a forced reading – perhaps because his reading is unconventional to 21st century language. However, it also does a much better job of maintaining continuity with the thought of the Pauline school. If nothing else it has given me reason not to automatically throw out this text as the work of a redactor, but rather offers encouragement to consider how working to understand an unusual reading (for us) can help illuminate the function of this passage.

Article: "Saved Through Childbearing: Virtues as Children in 1 Tim 2," JBL 123/4 (2004) 703-735 (.pdf)

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