Salvation by Vocation (1)

At the outset, let me say that I believe that salvation is the gift of God accomplished for us by the Triune God. We add nothing to his saving grace. The provocative title of this post is intended to draw the doctrine of vocation into the orbit of how God works out his saving purposes in us by means of our specific stations in life. Vocation is God’s chosen arena for extending his grace to us and through us.  God progressively sanctifies us, perseveres our faith, and pounds out our salvation in the present by our vocations. I believe this is a sound biblical assumption. To get at this idea, I have chosen an intriguing scriptural entry point: 1 Timothy 2:15.

The context of this verse is about leadership and teaching in the local church. Paul establishes the proper parameters for both men and women in this regard from God’s creational intentions. He also touches on the dynamics of the fall narrative in relation to both Adam and Eve. Then Paul transitions with this statement,  “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

This is a strange verse at first glance. Some have argued that it is one of the most baffling texts in the New Testament.[1] There is much debate over every aspect of this text. In my opinion, there are definite challenges in the interpretation of the text, but there is one view and interpretation that seems straightforward, simple, and sound.

The gist of the view is that this text is speaking of the unique vocation of a woman in her ability to bear and raise children. I want to provide you a selection of quotes from a few solid biblical interpreters who hold this position. Here are the thoughts of Martin Luther from his lectures on 1 Timothy.

“It is a very great comfort that a woman can be saved by bearing children, etc. That is, she has an honorable and salutary status in life if she keeps busy having children. We ought to recommend this passage to them, etc. She is described as ‘saved’ not for freedom, for license, but for bearing and rearing children. Is she not saved by faith? He goes on and explains himself: bearing children is a wholesome responsibility, but for believers. To bear children is acceptable to God. He does not merely say that bearing children saves; he adds: if the bearing takes place in faith and love, it is a Christian work . . . This is the comfort for married people in trouble: hardship and all things are salutary, for through them they are moved forward toward salvation and against adultery.”

John Calvin writes this from his commentary on 1 Timothy.

“To censorious men it might appear absurd, for an Apostle of Christ not only to exhort women to give attention to the birth of offspring, but to press this work as religious and holy to such an extent as to represent it in the light of the means of procuring salvation. Nay, we even see with what reproaches the conjugal bed has been slandered by hypocrites, who wished to be thought more holy than all other men. But there is no difficulty in replying to these sneers of the ungodly. First, here the Apostle does not speak merely about having children, but about enduring all the distresses, which are manifold and severe, both in the birth and in the rearing of children.

Secondly, whatever hypocrites or wise men of the world may think of it, when a woman, considering to what she has been called, submits to the condition which God has assigned to her, and does not refuse to endure the pains, or rather the fearful anguish, of parturition, or anxiety about her offspring, or anything else that belongs to her duty, God values this obedience more highly than if, in some other manner, she made a great display of heroic virtues, while she refused to obey the calling of God. To this must be added, that no consolation could be more appropriate or more efficacious than to shew that the very means (so to speak) of procuring salvation are found in the punishment itself.”

Andreas Kostenberger made this statement in  an article he wrote on the topic.

“The view that has found considerable support among commentators in recent years is the one that interprets the reference to “childbearing” in 1 Tim 2:15 as a synecdoche. Women, it is held, will be spiritually saved by adhering to their God-ordained role in the domestic sphere. The future tense of σωθήσεται is usually taken to refer to women’s eschatological salvation at Christ’s second coming. As has been seen above, this was essentially the view of John Calvin, and many conservative interpreters such as Alford, Barclay, Bowman, Foh, Hendriksen, Kelly, Moo, Schreiner, Scott, White, and Witherington follow this approach.

Of all the interpretations surveyed thus far, this reading perhaps does most justice to the text in context. Moreover, this view is attractive particularly for conservative (and here especially Re­ formed) interpreters since it appears to harmonize well with Pauline theology elsewhere…Moreover, in line with 1 Timothy 5:14, one should view procreation as merely the core of the woman’s responsibility that also entails, not merely the bearing, but also the raising of children, as well as managing the home (synecdoche; cf. also Titus 2:4-5). The sense of the injunction in the present passage is thus that women can expect to escape Satan under the condition of adhering to their God-ordained role centering around the natural household.”[2]

You get the thrust. These interpreters hold that Paul is articulating an important principal about vocation. God calls us all to unique things and he uses these things to work out his saving purposes in our lives. John Calvin actually uses the language of vocation as he thinks about this text. He states, “Let us who know to what end we are made learn to bear the yoke God has laid upon us, i.e., let everyone of us follow his vocation.” Women are in a unique position to have children and raise them up. It is not given to men to bear children; this is a glorious gift that belongs to women alone. And it is one arena where God is at work in a powerful way.

Terri Moore wrote a helpful 90 page dissertation on this one verse. She concludes that the interpretation we have been discussing is the most faithful to the context, the book of 1 Timothy, and Pauline theology. She makes this statement in her conclusion about the saving significance of the vocation of child rearing.

“Many women have testified that the responsibilities of motherhood bring a depth to the spiritual life of a woman that no other duty brings. The task of nurturing and caring for the life God has graciously given is a sanctifying process that deepens the desire to live a godly life and the necessary dependence upon God for the power to lead such a life.”

A few qualifications are necessary at this point. First, I believe that underneath Paul’s teaching is a principal. That principal is that God works his saving, sanctifying, and persevering grace into the lives of his followers through their specific stations of life. In my view, this verse points to a much broader topic that is applicable to everyone in the human race. Second, this text does not mean that women who are unable to have children or choose not to have children are outside of the saving influences of God. This is a principal not a command. There are many other vocations that women participate in outside of child rearing where God is pleased to work his salvation. Proverbs 31 is a case in point on this topic.

I have been long winded….I will pick this up in the next post. There we will build on what we have discussed here. Any thoughts, disagreements, or comments on this topic? It is an intriguing one to me.

[1] David Kimberley, “1 Tim 2:15: A Possible Understanding of a Difficult Text,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (35:4, 1992), p 481-486.

[2] Andreas Kostenberger, “Ascertaining Women’s God-Ordained Roles: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15,” Bulletin of Biblical Research 7 (1997): 1-38.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s