One of the more puzzling passages for some in all of Scripture is 1 Timothy 2:15. After what seems to be a sharp rebuke of women, the writer (possibly Paul) says, “The woman will be saved through childbearing.” Way to put women in their place, Paul.
Now, of course, there is much more going on here than meets the eye, and even much to teach us at Lent. First, a quick background. As scholars rightly note, the cultural context is very relevant. N.T. Wright explains:
And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion – the biggest Temple, the most famous shrine – was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept men in their place.
We now know Paul was not dictating a permanent silence for women when he said, “I am not (currently!) permitting a woman to teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12) no more than he believed that women should not braid their hair or wear gold or pearls (1 Tim. 2:9), which he says immediately before this!
Why, then, a reference to women being “saved through childbearing?” (1 Tim. 2:15)
I’d suggest Paul is gently reminding women that this Artemis Cult allegiance cuts them off from a unique and mysterious wonder – carrying a child. Consider this: a woman gets to experience an extraordinary thing, as she carries a life which mysteriously grows within her. Is there any more noble image or metaphor of salvation?
John Calvin called this intimate union unio mystica. When we are in Christ, we carry within us. We bear Christ’s life within, as it grows slowly, patiently, mysteriously in us. Paul himself says in Galatians, “For I am crucified with Christ, yet it’s not I but Christ that lives within me.”
A woman gets to experience something that only Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew intimately and perfectly. Indeed, we, men, have much to learn from a woman’s experience of carrying a precious life which is mysteriously growing within. This text, though used to put women in their place, actually says something quite different! Women are ennobled. To be sure, this is why our Catholic brothers and sisters revere Mary so highly.
Here is the great mystery of Lent - that we would shed all that is not Christ (what I often call our flesh – sarx - or false self) and that God Himself would dwell deeply and mysteriously and even more fully within.
If so, we too might be saved by bearing Christ within…
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