Can you tell me what the Bible means when it says women “shall be saved by childbearing”?
The verse referred to in the question is 1Timothy 2.15:
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
Remember, the Bible is unique in that it interprets itself. Being God’s Word, it cannot (and never) contradicts itself. For this verse, it’s helpful to rule out first what it CAN NOT mean.
It CAN NOT mean that a woman receives eternal salvation by having children. This contradicts the most basic and core essentials of Christianity in that salvation is found through nothing else, and by no one else, except faith in the atoning sacrifice of the Person of Jesus Christ.
The actual rendered meaning of “saved” in this verse is “to preserve safe and unharmed”, “to heal”, or “to rescue”. The obvious question we are left with is: preserve from what? Heal what? Rescue from what?
In context, Timothy is being instructed by Paul on proper behavior by men and women, specifically in church (v. 8-14). Paul says in verse 13 that Adam was formed first, then Eve, providing the foundation by which God appoints the man authority (and responsibility) over his wife (much to the dismay of the world which equates ROLE with VALUE; but that’s another lesson).
In verse 14, it is pointed out that Adam was NOT deceived, but it was the woman who was deceived and first brought sin into God’s perfect creation (before you get too haughty, men… we were not deceived – Adam WILLINGLY chose to sin knowing full well it was wrong).
Because the woman was deceived first, there is a certain shame and stigma that womankind carries through this sin-cursed life. This brings us to what she is “saved” from through childbearing.
In a sense, women are redeemed from the stigma of bringing sin into humanity by bearing children who can then be raised to worship and serve God – kind of a temporary redemption of the shame of being the “original sinner”.
Women are “healed” and “rescued” through the relationship they have as “mother” to the future generations of humans. Mothers typically spend much more time with the children, and have a much greater influence on them, especially in their formative years.
By this influence, created by children, they “save” themselves in part from what the curse brings to the world because they have a chance to birth and raise kids who will serve God, and thus continue God’s redemptive in the world.
This is a wondrous opportunity that God has given women to help counteract what women’s (Eve) sin did to corrupt the perfect creation.
To add a personal opinion, I think the application can be made that salvation comes by childbirth referring to the idea that while sin was “birthed” into the world by a woman, it would also be through a woman that our salvation would come as well (in the form of Jesus birth of course). This is not the specific meaning IN CONTEXT, but I think it obviously and logically leads us to think about this particular point as well.
Men have a similar opportunity through the authority and responsibility given them to love their wives, be an example to their children, and lead God’s church in sharing the Gospel with the world.
You could say in this manner that “men are saved by obeying God’s Word” meaning that they are counteracting the same stigma of original sin (Adam), but now obeying God and thereby leading their families, and other people to God.
Let me close by emphasizing, it CAN NOT mean “eternal salvation” as this would be a clear contradiction of numerous verses and doctrines. So we have to look at the context and the cultural clues to find the meaning.