Was Jesus married?
Was Jesus married? The answer to this question is either yes or no, so you have a 50 per cent chance of being right.
There is no explicit answer in the New Testament to the question of Jesus’ marital state. It makes no mention of his wife, but neither does it state he was unmarried. Indeed, whenever the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — refer to Jesus’ natural relatives, they speak only of his father, mother and siblings. He had four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas; he also had sisters, but they are not named or numbered.
The fact that the Bible is silent on Jesus’ marital state is taken by some as strong evidence he lived a single life. Others suggest the New Testament’s silence on the subject is evidence he was in fact married, the reason being that virtually all J ewi s h m e n in Jesus’ day did marry. However, the governmental and religious laws of his time did not require him to marry.
These and other thought s b egan swi r l i n g in my inquiring mind last week. I had just read about the discovery of a piece of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married. A codex in Coptic from the fourth century quotes Jesus as referring to “my wife.” The fragment also suggests the existence of a female disciple.
Karen L. King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, says it’s the only extant text in which Jesus is explicitly portrayed as betrothed. She goes farther, calling the slip of papyrus, which is the size of a receipt, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”
The fragment says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife....’ “Unfortunately, the rest of the sentence is cut off. Another segment says, “As for me, I dwell with her in order to …” In the latter case, the speaker remains unidentified.
“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King says. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of the vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.”
I’m trying my best to restrain my excitement about this most recent “discovery.” It sounds too much like a scene snatched from the pages of Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” which claims that Catholic leaders covered up Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene.
It’s also highly reminiscent of the so-called James ossuary, which was announced to a breathless world in 2002. The ossuary is a 2,000-yearold chalk box that was used for holding the bones of the dead. An Aramaic inscription, translated as “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” is cut into one side of the box. The inscription is considered significant because, if genuine, it could provide archaeological evidence of Jesus of Nazareth. Ho w e v e r, some scholars strongly suspect a modern- day forgery.
Apparently, Karen King herself is holding off publishing the claim that Jesus had a wife, pending full vetting and scientific dating by experts in the field.
Other scholars shy away from committing themselves to the authenticity of this most recent biblical discovery.
Darryl Bock, undoubtedly speaking for many others, inserts a cautionary note into the ongoing debate . “It is one speck of a fringe text in a sea of texts that say Jesus was single,” he says. “Thus, in the end, even if it says what people are suggesting, it tells us only about a fourth century group’s views, not anything about Jesus.”
I have no sadistic desire to be a killjoy. And I certainly have no aversion to accepting bona fide discovers that have the potential of throwing light on the Bible. If Jesus had a wife and/or a woman disciple, then so be it. At the same time, I too urge restraint in too readily accepting at face value sensational claims that have not been authenticated.
In 1986, I read a book — “Religion’s Rebel Son: Fanaticism in Our Time” — that helped settle many questions I had about the human penchant for gullibility.
“The twentieth (and, I might add, twenty-first) century is the most credulous and conformist age in history,” Lloyd Billingsley writes. “Modern Man can be induced to believe anything, provided it is dished up in the proper jargon, endorsed by the proper authority, or, best of all, seen on television (or, in the contemporary setting, the Internet).”
These and other thoughts began swirling in my inquiring mind last week. I had just read about the discovery of a piece of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married. A codex in Coptic from the fourth century quotes Jesus as referring to
“my wife.”The fragment also suggests the existence of a female
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be
reached at email@example.com