There are a lot of verses in the Bible that are just plain weird.  I offer these up for your consideration. 

  • Ezekiel 16:45 – “Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.” (That’s a weird insult!)
  • 2 Kings 6:28 — “Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.” (That’s just weird; and as plans go, it is awful!)
  • 1 Chronicles 26:18 – “As for the Parbar on the west, there were four on the highway and two at the Parbar.” (It’s weird, but it was my favorite verse in college.)
  • Ezekiel 4:15 — “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.” (Weird, weird and weird.)
  • 1 Timothy 2:15 – “But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (That may be the weirdest of the group!)

See what I mean? They are all weird, especially that last one. We all know that we are saved by grace, not by works, but here Paul seems to say that women can be saved through their work of childbearing. That’s right! Forget about “justification by faith” and welcome to “justification by giving birth!” And what does “saved” mean here? Physically saved? Spiritually saved? Spared only during childbirth? Saved by a bell? See what I mean? Weird.  

But it gets weirder. The NIV tries to smooth things out here, but a literal translation would say: 

Yet she will be saved through childbearing,
provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

That’s right, while the NIV talks about women being saved through childbirth, the actual Greek text has the first-person singular, “she” (“she will be saved through childbirth”). But the pronoun used to refer back to “she,” is the third-person plural pronoun, “they.” How is that for weird and confusing? Is the “she,” Eve? Is “she” some specific woman in Ephesus? And who are “they”? Are “they” all women or just women in Ephesus or just Christian women or married women or just faithful women? Who is she? Who are they? Weird!  Scot McKnight writes about this verse:

“Once again, no one knows for certain what this verse means.” 

It is a weird verse. But there is one more weird thing about this verse. Everyone knows that there must be some background information here that unlocks what Paul is saying, but no one is sure what that background is. All we know is that whatever that background is, it must have something to do with women, with childbearing, and with being saved. What a coincidence! Did you know that Artemis was a goddess whose primary followers were women? And did you know that Artemis was often called, “savior?” So, two out of three is not bad, right? But wait, did you also know that Artemis was a midwife. And there we have it! The trifecta! And that is enough to convince me that behind this weird verse is Artemis hidden in plain sight.  

This seems to be the argument put forth by Sandra Glahn in her book, Nobody’s Mother (InterVarsity Press, 2023). In the first half of the book, she investigates what ancient writers said about Artemis and everyone agrees, Artemis was a midwife. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.  

As the story goes, Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin of her brother, Apollo. Usually, twins are born at roughly the same time and almost always in the same place (unless they are born in a fighter jet). But, as the story goes, Artemis was born just outside of the city of Ephesus, but Apollo, her twin brother, was born nine days later (nine days!) in a town 400 miles away from Ephesus. Let me say that again, because it is weird. Leto was exceedingly pregnant and gave birth to her firstborn, a daughter, whom she named Artemis. This happened near the city of Ephesus. But it took Leto nine more days before she was ready to give birth to Artemis’ twin brother, Apollo. During this whole time, Artemis was with her mother (apparently, goddesses are born as adults). During these nine days, Artemis comforted her mother and helped her as she prepared to give birth to Artemis’ twin. During these nine days, they also traveled over 400 miles (they say walking is good to get things going, delivery-wise, but I don’t think they meant for a woman to walk 400 miles). 

Finally, Leto was ready to deliver, and she gave birth to Apollo. But throughout this whole time, Artemis never left her mother’s side.  

This story gives rise to two interesting facts about Artemis. First, it is argued that this episode drove Artemis to ask Zeus if she could be a perpetual virgin. If your very first experience in life was to watch your mother go through 216 consecutive hours of labor, you can understand how Artemis would never want to go through that. Childhood trauma shapes us. Second, serving her mother through the process of childbirth ignited a spark in Artemis to want to give herself to help women in childbirth by being a midwife.  

Now, before we develop that, let’s remember something we said two or three weeks ago, namely, that Artemis was also a famed archer. There is a saga where Artemis kills the giant Tityus with her bow and arrows because the giant was attacking her mother. In a song of celebration over the defeat of the giant, we read these words: 

“Lord Artemis hunted the giant down with arrows from her unconquerable quiver.”

So, Artemis was both a midwife and an archer. But interestingly, we discover in the stories of Artemis, that her arrows were of two types. Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I watch a western involving people getting shot with arrows, I wince because I know that would have to—have to—hurt.  I wince when I get a splinter! I can’t imagine the stabbing pain of being perforated by an arrow. Now, clearly, when Artemis shot the giant, it hurt. Her arrows killed the giant. But Artemis also had arrows that killed, but killed painlessly. In chapter 5 of the Odyssey, we read that Calypso reminded Hermes how Artemis killed Orion with her “painless arrows.” And again, in chapter 6, Odysseus encounters the ghost of his mother in the Underworld, and he asks her if she died by illness or by Artemis’ arrows. He says:

“Come, tell me this, and declare it truly. How did you die?
Was it long disease, or did the archer, Artemis, assail you
with her painless shafts and slay you?”

Here’s the point: Artemis, the archer, often offered a painless death to those who were in desperate straits and called upon her name. Now, name a situation where someone would be in desperate straits, in great pain and would routinely call upon Artemis? If you guessed childbirth, give yourself a gold star because you are absolutely right. But, I would bet you are still thinking of a modern delivery, because even that is overflowing with anguish, but in the ancient world, giving birth was terrifying and extremely treacherous. Sandra Glahn writes:

“Being a midwife was an important job in a world
in which women were pressured to bear children
and in which they faced more risk of early death
than ‘even the most afflicted country in the modern world.’”

Let’s put that in context. The average life-expectancy during the 1st century was less than 25 years.  Of those surviving childhood, only four out of every hundred men and fewer women lived beyond age fifty. To maintain a zero-population growth in the Roman empire, each wife had to produce on average, five children. Greek women were usually married between the ages of 14 and 15 (men were usually around 30). Now, imagine being a 15-year-old “girl” and delivering your first child with no pain-killers, no clean hospital, and no doctors. And beyond all of that and beyond the fact that you would be in extreme pain, you would also have in the back of your mind that you were likely going to die an excruciating painful death as you gave birth. This situation drove many women to seek help by crying out to Artemis for help. They would pray to the goddess either to rescue them so that they (mother and child) could survive childbirth or that, if things went horrifically wrong, that Artemis would come and with her “painless arrows” put an end to their misery.  

There is a poem written by the ancient writer, Euripides. The first half of the poem is told from his perspective, and then it switches to the testimony of a woman who finds her solace in Artemis (this part is in italic).  The poem goes like this:

“But women’s nature tends to show
a lack of balance—in childbirth
a sense of wretched helplessness
combined with utter folly.
Those feelings pierce my womb, as well,
but I call out to Artemis,
guardian goddess of the bow,
who eases all our labor pains.
She never fails to visit me—
gods be thanked—and is most welcome.

In the ancient world, only Artemis was seen as someone who was concerned about women in the process of childbirth. And only Artemis offered hope. She could respond to the prayers of her people and provide an easy delivery with minimal pain or she could bring a quick and painless death if necessary. And for this mercy, many bestowed upon Artemis the title, “savior.” Artemis “saved” women either by keeping them safe during childbirth or by mercifully ending their lives with her arrows.  

So, maybe 1 Timothy 2:15 isn’t as weird as we first thought. When Paul announced that “women will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety,” it was shocking news. For them, Artemis oversaw all births, and Artemis was the savior of women. But Paul comes along and, in effect, says to these women in Ephesus, “Don’t be fooled! It is not Artemis who saves, but Jesus! Don’t cry out to Artemis, but trust in Jesus and know that God moves in response to our prayers. And don’t look to Artemis to help you die; give yourself to Jesus and live! And don’t abandon your faith in Jesus when you approach childbirth, instead, continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. These were all words that the women in Ephesus, especially those who had previously been followers of Artemis, needed to hear. In fact, they weren’t weird at all. Instead, they were life-giving words

True, we might not see her and Paul may not call her by name or address her directly, but when it comes to writing to the church in Ephesus, Artemis is always there in the background, lurking just out of sight, hiding in the shadows, and skulking behind the page. But her influence is everywhere, and she is always nearby. That’s Artemis hidden in plain sight. Thanks for reading.