Saving the Woman in 1 Timothy 2: Childbirth, Women’s Bodies, and the “Other Instruction”

Few have considered a medical background to the assurance of 1 Timothy 2:15 that a woman “will be saved through childbirth….” Scholars usually dismiss a physical “saving” from death or injury in childbirth as an obviously flawed interpretation. Therefore a theological interpretation is sought, but this is difficult as the διά + the genitive would suggest that salvation comes through the means of childbirth (Porter, 1993). This paper will be arguing that “she will be saved” refers to both physical and soul healing. In the Greco-Roman world women’s health was viewed as womb centric (Gosbell, 2018). In the medical literature it was thought that a man could deal with excess substances through diet and exercise, while a woman was unable to do this due to innate weakness of her body: “No matter what regime she followed, her body accumulated an excess of blood and she had to have her monthly courses to maintain a healthy balance of her bodily components” (Dean-Jones, 1994). Excess could also be dealt with through pregnancy. However, wombs could become too wet or too dry. In the Hippocratic literature a dry womb could become detached in search of moisture. In order to keep the womb anchored in place a women needed to be pregnant or to have regular intercourse to keep the womb moist. A dry womb not only resulted in physical illness but also created an imbalance in the soul (character). Thus the best way for a woman to achieve health was regular intercourse. In my 2018 SBL paper I made the case that those advocating the “other instruction” in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 were forbidding marriage; in other words, forbidding sexual intercourse, and controlling their sexual desires through diet. This paper will argue that “she will be saved through childbirth” should be read against this medical background: the writer of 1 Timothy is arguing that a woman’s body is healed or kept safe through the normal processes of intercourse, pregnancy, and childbirth that the advocates of the other instruction oppose. And through maintaining this balance her soul will also be kept in balance and healthy.