The Cross, the Woman, and “Salvation Through Childbearing”
John 19:25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
March 13: Genesis 3:8-16; 2 Timothy 2:13-15 a
Our focus on the Lord’s Day, March 18, is Jesus commending his mother Mary to his beloved disciple John, “Woman, behold, your son! … [John], Behold, your mother!” In the next few days, we will meditate on Jesus, Mary and John. However, I will not address our Savior’s total love, compassion and respect for her mother, because this is obviously a part of what’s required of the Law he perfectly fulfilled all his life, the fifth commandment (Exod 20:12). That is one of the most important applications of this text to our lives. We will instead reflect on how God unfolded his plan of redemption in the covenant of grace, culminating in the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, through Mary.
As in the wedding at Cana (John 2:4), Jesus here addresses Mary, not as “Mother,” but as “Woman.” Was Jesus disrespecting his mother Mary, just as if we addressed a woman today as “Woman”? Remember how former President Clinton addressed the woman involved in the sex scandal? “That woman,” not Miss Lewinsky. And that shows not just an attitude of ignoring and denying his relationship with her, but that of disrespecting her. But in the first century, addressing a woman as “Woman” is not uncommon or improper.
More significantly, the word “woman” (Greek gyne) alludes back to redemptive history, all the way back to the creation story. In the first announcement of the gospel in Genesis 3:15, God prophesied that the Seed of the woman will destroy Satan, that ancient deceiver, the serpent of old. Paul makes this connection in a puzzling statement in 2 Timothy 2:15:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
What was Paul talking about here? The nearest context is in verses 11-15: the role of women in learning and authority, both in submission to men. Women are to be quiet in learning and must not have authority over men, obviously in teaching (verse 12). Why? Paul goes back to the creation account—his argument transcends times and cultures. “Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived” (verses 13-14). The woman was not created first, but she was deceived first. Then comes the oft-misunderstood statement, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing.”
Since the context goes back to the creation and fall account, which passages in the Genesis narrative are the connections? G. K. Beale sees the allusions back to Genesis 2 and 3: 1
|Genesis 2:7: God formed the man from the dust of the ground||1 Timothy 2:13: For Adam was formed first, then Eve.|
|Genesis 3:12: The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
Genesis 3:13: Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
|1 Timothy 2:14: and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.|
|Genesis 3:16 a: And to the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pains and your groaning; in pain you shall bring forth children…” (LXX)||1 Timothy 2:15 a: Yet she will be saved through childbearing.|
In Genesis 3:16, the Greek word used for “shall bring forth children” is texe tekna; in 1 Timothy 2:15, the word for “childbearing” is teknogonia.
So how do these all connect? Women, represented by Eve, the woman who will bear a Seed (Gen 3:15), are to learn in silence and not have authority over men. Why? Because (1) she was not the first created; and (2) she was deceived first. And since she was deceived, she became a transgressor and her only salvation is through childbearing.
Does this mean that all women who bear children are saved? Or that women must bear children to be saved? Of course not! Instead, Paul makes Eve and Mary represent all women. The woman of Genesis 3:15 will bear a Child, a Seed, who will crush the serpent’s head. Mary, on the other hand, “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The salvation of women (and men) came when Mary bore a child, Jesus, “born of woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4), who saved transgressors by the atoning sacrifice of himself on the cross.
This is also why in the ancient church, the Greek verb tiktw, “to bear (a child),” was used of Mary as early as the mid-3rd century, and the Greek term used for her, theotokos, is literally, “God-Bearer” or “Birth Giver of God.” The ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. even affirmed this term to condemn the Nestorian heresy of separating the two natures of Christ into two persons.
So Jesus, on the verge of death on the cross, shows his love, honor and respect to Mary his mother. And so, 2,000 years later, should we. But he did not show devotion, veneration, or worship to her as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, or Protector of the Church. In fact, she was the one who needed a Savior (Luke 1:46), and in her old age, needed the support and care of John the beloved disciple of Christ, “[John], behold your mother!”
Related sermon: “God Sent Forth His Son”
- Beale, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 894-7. ⇧