The Myth Behind the Meaning of Paul’s Words on Women and Childbearing

Sandra Glahn studies the record of an Ephesian goddess to aid our reading of a challenging passage.

As a female New Testament scholar, I simply do not have the luxury of avoiding 1 Timothy 2:11–15, where Paul, after stating that women should “learn in quietness and full submission,” claims they “will be saved through childbearing.” The “saved through childbearing” verse has been quoted to me by more strangers and (possibly) well-meaning acquaintances than any other, but one particular time stands out.

I don’t remember what context could have possibly made his statement appropriate, but one day about ten years ago, a young man said in a conversation about my teaching, “Well, you are saved through childbearing.” In this instance, I was in a position of authority over him, and I could tell that his “joke” sought to return me to my rightful place.

“Then I guess I am not saved,” I quipped back, knowing that his interpretation of this verse depended on my literal procreation. I also knew, unlike him, that my body was giving many signs that I might never bear a child. (As a side note, by God’s grace, I eventually did become somebody’s mother.)

My story provides a minute glimpse into the horrendous ways that women have been hurt by the misuse of 1 Timothy 2:11–15, and in the introduction to her recent book Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament, Sandra L. Glahn gives a heartbreaking picture of her experiences with infant loss as well as encounters with this text in cultures where it stands supreme in determining how women might participate in the church. She, like I, internalized messages about womanhood and how the worth of women is measured. There must be many arrows in our quivers, they …

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