1 Timothy 2:12-15 (ESV)

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through [the] childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

1 Timothy 2:15 (Nestle GNT 1904)

σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης.

  1. What is the significance in the movement from she will be saved (third person singular, presumably Eve?) to if they continue in this verse?
  2. Is the 'they' most likely a reference to women generally, or a turn of phrase related to 'the childbearing' or family-raising or however this could be otherwise translated?

3 Answers 3


This is an excellent point. The third person singular is indicative of the change from the plural used in the verses preceding vs. 11. Beginning with vs. 12, the form changes to "a woman", not "women". Paul instructs Timothy on the manner of dress and conduct for women praying in public in vs. 9.

"8 I wish, therefore, that men pray in every place, lifting up kind hands, apart from anger and reasoning; 9 in like manner also the women, in becoming apparel, with modesty and sobriety to adorn themselves, not in braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or garments of great price,"

Many commentaries have been written on these verses because they are confusing, and seem out of sync with the first 10 verses, and with other scriptures Paul wrote concerning women praying and prophesying in the assemblies (1 Cor. 11:5), and commending Phebe who was a "ministrant of the assembly," and who "became a leader of many, and of myself" (Rom. 16:1-2).

Becoming a leader of many, including of Paul, would seem to indicate some form of teaching on the part of Phebe.

There were problems in the church at Ephesus which Paul identified in Ephesians and in his letters to Timothy.

"First, they have lost their spiritual bearings. They have wandered (v. 6)--an image of slow but steady movement away from some point. Perhaps in the beginning these teachers only drifted aimlessly. But as they hardened in their disbelief and became argumentative in their attempts to convince others of their views, their lives came to be characterized not by love but by controversy, impure hearts and ineffective consciences. They have wandered from the faith.

Second, they speak and teach foolishness (v. 6). Having left the faith and diverged from the standard of approved teaching, their doctrines and discussions are meaningless talk, devoid of truth (6:4-5). In choosing the word he does, Paul places their doctrine into the category of idolatry and paganism (compare Acts 14:15; 1 Pet 1:18).

Third, verse 7 reveals that they claim authority for their teaching. Teachers of the law, a title given to the rabbis (Lk 5:17; Acts 5:34), were regarded as the authoritative interpreters of Scripture. These enthusiasts were not interested in simply offering their ideas for consideration. Rather, they "taught" them as God's message and expected them to be received." Source: False Teachers

In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Christ told them in Rev. 2:4-5,

"4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; ..." (NKJV)

They had fallen away from their first love of Christ and His word, and were turning back to fables, rabbinical legalism, and idolatry.

Paul identified three men who were most likely the source of these false teachings: Hymaneus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20) and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17). Paul's instructions to Timothy were to remain in Ephesus so that he "may charge some that they teach no other doctrine," (1 Tim. 1:3), and to

" Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." 2 Tim. 1:13. (NKJV)

So, Paul's concern was that the church at Ephesus not stray from their faith in Christ. 1 Tim. 6:20-21,

"20 O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— 21 by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith..." (NKJV)

In 1 Tim. 2:12, The Greek word for "woman" is "gykaiki", is from Strong's 1135 "gune" and means "a woman, wife, or my lady". It was sometimes used for a specific woman or wife such as in John 4:42, and Acts 5:1. Other times it is used in the generic sense for all women as in 1 Cor. 7:27 and 1 Cor. 11:6.

So, the word in the third person singular cannot by itself be an indicator of whether verses 11-15 of 1 Tim. 2 refer to all women or just one at the church at Ephesus who may have been deceived by false teachers.

Nor can Paul's comment about being saved through child-bearing be a universal condition for salvation of women as it does not meet the conditions of Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16 by which we all must be saved, nor does it address the condition of unmarried women with no children, nor of married women who are barren and may never have children.

So, the "they" third person plural pronoun in vs. 15 has no other antecedent but the third person singular "woman" of verse 14.

Because of the confusion and difficulty of these verses in 1. Tim chap.2, and because they seem to oppose previous scriptures which Paul taught in the letters to the Corinthians and Romans for the conduct of women in the assemblies and the work they had done with Paul, the admonition to Timothy seems to be centered around the false teachers and deceivers at Ephesus who were causing some women at Ephesus to be led astray.

One interesting commentary on the child-bearing in verse 15 is based on 1 Cor. 3:15, and was put forth by Henry Alford in 1863:

" Just as that man should be saved through, as passing through, fire which is his trial, his hindrance in his way, in spite of which he escapes — so she shall be saved, through, as passing through, her child-bearing, which is her trial, her curse, her (not means of salvation, but) hindrance in the way of it. (Alford, H. [2010]. Alford’s Greek Testament: an exegetical and critical commentary [Vol. 3, 320]. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)" Source: here

  • Good answer. I hope to see more of your answers in the future. Don Jun 1, 2017 at 11:03
  • Thanks Gina - this would be a fairly well-argued answer if it were in response to a more general question about roles of women in the new testament - but that's not the question here. A good answer should be able to demonstrate its exegetical process without relying too heavily on extended discussions about other passages beforehand - starting with a conclusion before arriving at the passage carries a risk of eisegesis, not exegesis. However this is still a well argued Answer and I certainly wouldn't down-vote it.
    – Steve can help
    Jun 1, 2017 at 12:30
  • Thank you, Steve. These scriptures are fairly difficult, and the pronouns do not help. I thought a discussion of the background might help the determination of the pronoun usage.
    – Gina
    Jun 1, 2017 at 13:48

I see 5 noteworthy possibilities to explain the change between singular and plural, any one of which could be true (and they probably aren't entirely mutually exclusive either):

  1. Paul unintentionally goes from plural to singular and back again
  2. When Paul speaks in the singular he has in mind a specific woman in Ephesus
  3. Paul is teaching against the worship of Diana, which was common in Ephesus
  4. Paul is talking about families. She = a mother, they = her whole family
  5. Paul is referring to Eve and making a profound theological statement


Let’s consider each in turn:

1. Paul unintentionally goes from plural to singular and back again

Unintentional shifts like this are not uncommon in spoken or written language (e.g. the word “they” is misused is English all the time). Of course, since Paul was likely using a scribe (see discussion of amanuenses on this site here and here), one cannot help but wonder whether a professional writer would make this mistake.


2. When Paul speaks in the singular he has in mind a specific woman in Ephesus

Timothy was leading the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), a major city in its region, where Paul himself had lived for more than 2 years (see Acts 19). This means Paul had quite a bit of personal knowledge regarding the people in Ephesus and the problems they faced. He’s able to be much more specific than he could be in writing to say, the Romans. When he wrote to them he had never been to Rome.

It would be of great benefit to know what questions Timothy may have asked that prompted the letter, but it is possible that, given Paul’s knowledge of the people, congregation(s), and culture, Paul is offering advice to Timothy regarding specific individuals when he speaks in the singular.

This has also been suggested as a possibility in understanding verses 11-12, which also use “woman”, whereas the previous verses referred to “women”. In this case, singular is advice with respect to an individual, and plural is advice for people in general.


3. Paul is teaching against the worship of Diana, which was common in Ephesus

Ephesus was home to the temple of Diana and was a hotspot for the worship of Diana (see Acts 19:23-28). In some expressions of the lore, believers in Diana saw her as the goddess of pregnancy, and would seek her protection during childbirth (see here).

The cult of Diana interpretation is interesting because Paul was just cautioning against hairstyles they were known for in verse 9 (see Stott's work here p. 84).

In this case, Paul is telling Timothy, when a woman comes to you with concern about childbirth and is considering Diana worship, here is the counsel to give her: she will be saved by the true and living God, and His blessings will be poured out if she and her husband are faithful.

Note that “saved” here could mean physical protection or it could have in mind an eternal blessing, or both. In other words, whether the blessings come in this life or in eternity, they will come from the true and living God, not from Diana.

(Additional context re the cult of Diana can be found in the aforementioned work by Stott, with summaries in my thoughts on a related question here, and an article by Gregory Brown here)


4. Paul is talking about families. She = a mother, they = her whole family

If Paul has in mind the eternal well-being of a whole family the last clause of verse 15 expresses the behavior he hopes will be exhibited by all in the family. But only the mother in the family is bearing children, so “she” is the appropriate term in the first clause.

This potentially carries interesting implications about salvation—that spiritual progression and eternal opportunities are a family affair.


5. Paul is referring to Eve and making a profound theological statement

Verses 13 & 14 are about Adam and Eve. If they are the antecedents for verse 15, “she” is a reference to Eve and “they” means Adam & Eve. Then Paul might be saying something like this:

Redemption from the Fall will come because Eve will safely carry into the world descendants, from whom will come her Savior. Christ is of the seed of Eve, and so her Salvation is indeed a result of her motherhood (see Genesis 3:15 as well as Dottard’s post here). Her role as a mother is a critical part of God’s plan to offer salvation to her and to the entire human family.

What about the “they”? Adam isn’t off the hook here. Eve does the child-bearing, but both mother and father have a sacred duty—together—to bring up their family in “faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” The righteous branch of their posterity, from which Christ will come, is borne by Eve, but is to be raised & taught by both Adam and Eve.



I don’t know which of these Paul meant—but the 5th option intrigues me the most. In this case, Paul is teaching about Adam, Eve, and family, and using them as examples to be considered and emulated by their descendants.

My own thoughts on what the broader New Testament teaches on this subject--and the vital role of women of faith--can be found here


Paul under inspiration is advising christian women to be modest in their clothing ,balanced and to do good works.

1Timothy 2:9-10

9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.

Following that Paul tells us that Adam was made first and that Eve was deceived and became a transgressor. So, how could a christian woman not be deceived like Eve, but be saved through child bearing ? (provided they continue in faith). Paul's further comments in chapter five helps us understand what he actually meant, he wrote:

1Timothy 5:13-14 (NRSV)

13 Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us.

Paul emphasizes the central role of women in the household and that bearing children and managing their households, would prevent them from falling away from the faith and so give opponents reasons for slander.

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