Salvation Through Child-Bearing 

Salvation by Faith
Bart Ehrman
Fire Next Time

Salvation by Faith

In the bulk of the Bible, certainly in Paul's letters, the salvation doctrine which is taught is salvation by faith. Works may be adduced as tangible proof of the reality of faith, because they are its results, but they are not themselves salvific nor added to faith to make salvation:

  • “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. ”
  • (Romans 10:11-13).

This teacing is not inconsistent, nor isolated, nor relegated only to certain sections of the Bible:


Bart Ehrman

Who has ever suggested otherwise? Well, Bart Ehrman, for one:

  • “The only way they [women] can be saved is by bearing children — this is, by bearing the curse that God called won upon woman ('pain in childbearing') as a result of the sin in the Garden (see Genesis 3:16) is precisely through having sex and bearing children that a woman can be saved.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene,' p. 237).

One occasionally hears this as well from some of the more discordant, jangling voices of the 'manosphere.' Here is a case where the worst of liberalism meets the worst of Biblicism and the two kiss.

He is referring to this passage of scripture:

"For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.  Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. " (1 Timothy 2:13-15).

The Bible reader will recall that Paul is the great apostle of salvation by faith:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

How strange that he should turn out of to believe in salvation by works for one half the human race, and that moreover by means of an activity that had never been understood by either Jews or Christians to be a meritorious act: enduring childbirth.

This is the same Paul who says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28). How, if there is neither male nor female in Christ, can the salvation plan for women turn out to be not faith, but suffering a biological process no man can perform? How easy can this be! Can salvation really come from a life experience most women, wicked or well-intentioned, undergo anyway? Jezebel was a mom (2 Kings 10:13). Will welfare moms lead the charge into the kingdom? How foolish are those who condemn that eager woman who hung around the fertility clinic until she got octuplets, demanding to know who was expected to pay for it! If Dr. Ehrman is right, these women have found the pearl of great price.

And how can Paul recommend that women remain single, as he is, if so doing ensures their damnation?: "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am..." (1 Corinthians 7:8). No doubt this new information will be a disappointment for those religious organizations which keep nuns on the payroll.

So have we discovered another 'Bible contradiction'? Is this author right in thinking 1 Timothy 2:15 was written by a forger, which says,

"Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control." (1 Timothy 2:15).

Of course, Bart Ehrman does not believe 1 Timothy was written by the same party who wrote Romans in any case; his bread-and-butter is to deny the ascriptions of authorship found in the Bible text.


Fire Next Time

The word translated as 'saved' does not only and always mean 'saved from an eternal abode in the fires of hell.' It can mean no more than preservation in good health. Instead of deliberately understanding this verse in such a way as to create a monumental contradiction in the New Testament, it might be better to look along those lines for a resolution to the difficulty.

Mephistopheles, Eugene Delacroix

You can be saved by the fire-fighter from the fire downstairs or saved by Jesus from the fire to come. When Paul promises his pagan ship-mates they can be "saved" if they obey his instructions, he does not mean to eternal life, but 'saved' only in the sense they will walk away from a boat smashed upon the rocks:

"Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved [sothenai].'” (Acts 27:31).

We hope to be saved to eternal life, preserved and held out of the fire lit by God's wrath. On a more modest note, people also hope, amidst the vicissitudes of life, to be kept safe, preserved in health. It turns out Dr. Ehrman is well aware of this sense of 'saved:'

"The Greek word for 'save,' in this and other contexts, refers to restoring a person to health and wholeness." (Bart Ehrman, 'God's Problem,' p 233).

He just sees no need to cue the unwary reader. Christian women who cling to their Savior will be kept safe through [dia] the painful and dangerous experience of child-bearing.

But why do pain and danger still accompany childbirth? After Eve fell, she was cursed: "In pain you shall bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16). When Christ came and reconciled God with man, was not the curse lifted? No doubt many optimistic ideas have found encouragement in this thought, from nudism to socialism. But these ideas are premature. Thorns and thistles still rise from the ground. Has the son of the woman already trod on the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)...or "shortly" (Romans 16:20)?

Some people have woven fables and folk-tales suggesting the pious are already exempt: "During her pregnancy, Jochebed observed that the child in her womb was destined for great things. All the time she suffered no pain, and also she suffered none in giving birth to her son, for pious women are not included in the curse pronounced upon Eve, decreeing sorrow in conception and in child-bearing." (Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Volume 2, Kindle location 2905). But two thousand years of Christian experience sorts this blessing mostly into the realm of the 'not-yet.' Does this mean Jesus cannot really have been the Messiah, as this Jewish disputant believed? No, but it requires discernment into the times.

This is the kind of argument to which Paul is responding, as heard in a medieval dispute between Jews and Christians:

  • “'And how stands it with your assumption that your Messiah redeemed the world from original sin? The penalties decreed for that sin still exist. Women still suffer pain in childbirth; in the sweat of the brow must the ground be plowed, and Death still thins the hosts of the living — evils which, according to your construction of the Bible, result only from original sin.”

  • (Rabbi Moses ben Nachmani (Ramban), quoted in Michael L. Rodkinson, The History of the Talmud, Volume 19, The Babylonian Talmud, Kindle location 76091).

This argument requires a response, in Paul's day as in the medieval period, and here Paul is giving it. The remedy for the curse is here, though not yet established in full dominion. We are in-between. Those women who pray in faith will be kept safe through child-bearing, even while undergoing pain, a curse for the sin from which Jesus cleansed us.

According to Genesis, men's dominance over women was a consequence of the fall: "And he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). Some people probably thought this dominance was over, since Christ had come. But not Paul. The conflict revolves around where we are on God's timeline, not who is worth what. To be sure, children are understood in the Bible to be an unmixed blessing: "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward." (Psalm 127:3).

But the process by which they come into the world is not salvific. If Dr. Ehrman were to pay attention to his fellow agnostic Robert Ingersoll, he would hear that:

"It [the Bible] makes maternity an offense for which a sin offering had to be made. It was wicked to give birth to a boy, and twice as wicked to give birth to a girl." (Robert Ingersoll, 'About the Holy Bible,' II).

Aren't agnostics prone to tendentious overstatement! The purity code of the Mosaic law does not assign moral turpitude to a discharge of blood, but does require cleansing. We are not dealing with crime but with ceremonial uncleanness. Still and all, it is that; it is not portrayed as purifying or salvific. In Judaism childbirth is an occurrence for which the mother must be purified, on account of the blood:

"When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female. (Leviticus 12:6-7).

Some believers were so alarmed at the thought of God incarnate wallowing in blood and bodily fluids that they affirmed instead that He had passed through Mary 'like water through a pipe.' When did this paradigm get turned on its head, and childbirth became, not defiling, but salvific?

Dr. Ehrman does not tell us, because, in his way of reading the Bible, every utterance is a bolt from the blue, unconnected to anything that has gone before or since, the better to find 'Bible contradictions.' Christians read the Bible by fitting everything together, because they understand these works to be of common authorship. But even unbelievers must realize there are not really in life so many bolts from the blue. When asked, 'what do you think,' most people's response is to replay a tape of something they heard in childhood. Those who believe in inspiration may expect innovation, because the Holy Spirit can drag even a stubborn man like Peter, kicking and screaming, to the house of Cornelius the Gentile. Those who rule out inspiration must expect true originality to be rare; it takes much careful thought to disentangle and question the conventional wisdom. To read the Bible as Dr. Ehrman does, disconnected, every utterance a new world of discourse, is not even plausible from a secular standpoint. If it were not the way to harvest 'Bible contradictions,' no one would read this way.


Greek Learning Eyes Front
Eunice and Timothy The Talmud
Bethar Moses
Youth of Succoth Hezekiah
Scroll of the Law Philo Judaeus
Military Man Lamentation
Signed and Sealed Court Clerks
Masada Reader's Digest
Rabha Outliers
James Son of Zebedee


Misogyny is not an available Biblical option, in spite of its current popularity, because of verses like,

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).

There is however a rival world religion that has invested in it. Unlike Christianity, where misogyny can be found festering in this or that corner, but cannot be found in the founding documents, in Islam, misogyny was baked into the mix very early on. Not to say that there aren't nominal 'Christians' who hold to views nearly identical to these Muslim views, but that those who do are improvising, on their own authority: