Did Jesus Have a Wife? (No)

The Religion section various news outlets have all covered the story of a new fragment written in Sahidic Coptic which implies (kind of, but not really) that Jesus had a wife, presumably Mary Magdelene.  Remarkably the DaVinci Code still gets name-checked in these articles.  I think that it is quite silly that a legitimate news outlet could state “The text is being dubbed ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” citing a PDF copy of a paperwritten by Karen L. King of Harvard.  This is a draft of a paper which will appear in the Harvard Theological Review in January.

If you are interested in the fragment, read the paper – it is well written, includes a transcription of the fragment and has judicious conclusions.  The paper states quite clearly that the fragment does not prove  Historical Jesus had a wife.  It is a fragment, “measuring c. 4 cm in height by 8 cm in width,” with 8 complete lines on one side, 6 on the other.  All lines are fragmentary so reconstruction is necessary.   Since the fragment is small and does not say that much, King’s article is a good introduction to Gnostic literature in general and how Gnostic Literature uses marriage imagery. The bottom line is that this fragment is interesting, but adds little to what was already known about Gnostic thinking the second and third century.

Does this fragment tell us anything about historical Jesus?  No, and I do not think that the document, if we had the whole thing, would claim to be making historical statements about Jesus.  This is not a lost or suppressed tradition about the way Jesus really lived, it is a bit of theology from the fringes of early Christianity.  That alone makes it interesting, but it cannot be trotted out as evidence for the Real Jesus.  As King herself concludes, “our papyrus is much too fragmentary to sustain these readings with certainty” and that the late date “argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus.”

The NBC News story interviews Ben Witherington and links to Jim West and James McGrath.  Two observations are in order here.  First, Witherington is a generally conservative voice, yet his scholarship has drawn the attention of a “big news” organization.  I like this trend and would like to see more voices from conservative scholars int he media – perhaps even an evangelical or two.  I cannot imagine Darrell Bock has nothing to say about the fragment.   Second, that two scholar-bloggers are cited is an indication that the biblio-blog community should be taken seriously as an outlet for real scholarship.  Given the format of a blog / website, scholarly response to these sorts of media frenzies are much more swift than a journal article, which may be published months later, long after the media has moved on to something else.

18 thoughts on “Did Jesus Have a Wife? (No)

    • Thanks, Jim. I saw you were mentioned on the BBC story, as a “Baptist pastor in Tennessee.” I’ll bet that has some different connotations around the world. My favorite line from the BBC article is from Wolf-Peter Funk, who said there were “thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things.”

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    • ‘For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.’
      – Ulrich Zwingli –

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      • What is so bad with Jesus having a wife? You guys are so pious in your personal relationship with Jesus you fail to remember that nothing is impossible with God.

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      • I am not sure I said anything about whether he had a wife or not, only that the fragment in question does not say he has a wife. Nor is there any evidence that he had a wife from any credible source. If you need to believe Jesus had a wife, go for it. That is not what really matters.

        And I am not particularly pious either .

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      • I am not so pious either, and I have a wife myself! 😉 But if we read and hear the Gospel of Matthew 19: 10-11-12, “The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this (looking back to verses 7-9), it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mothers womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men: and also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

        It always nice to read and know your Bible! 🙂 And Jesus Christ had no “wife”! Here of course Jesus speaks metaphorically, those who have made themselves “eunuchs” are those who voluntarily take celibacy in imitation of their Lord and for the service to His church and kingdom!

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  1. If this has no historical aspect, and is not backed by the Word of God, then there is no need to assume that Jesus had a wife. The fact is, that the assumption is needless to say, pointless. Unless it affects your own walk with God, then it shouldn’t matter. If it was important for us to know, then God would have made it known. So then, if we should know and if it were important to know, God would have made it known, but apparently it’s not important for us to know, or not true, because we obviously don’t know if He had a wife or not, because God has not made it known.

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  2. I would write a scripture reference that supports the claim that Jesus had a wife, but sadly there is none. For me caring about if Jesus had a wife or not for me is like caring about what Jesus’s favorite color was; compared to raising questions about other things in Jesus’s life, that scripture concretely states. If I placed this issue in a separate pile I might not even notice if the wind blew it away. Case and point

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  3. That is completely true, that there is no scripture to support the pointless claim of Jesus having a wife. There is no significance in Him having a wife. The most basic and biggest point that it comes down to is that Jesus did NOT need a wife, so there was no point in having one. All this comes down to is the fact that it does not affect or change the Gospel of whether or not He had a wife so why talk about it? It doesn’t affect the Gospel and doesn’t affect His ministry so no need to assume or care.

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  4. I think that whether Jesus had a wife or not was more important than what his favorite color was, but i do believe that it does not matter if he did or not. I do not believe he had one because there is no biblical evidence anywhere stating anything close to this. I believe that if he was married it would have been somewhere in the gospels, but it is not. This would have been a very important thing just as important as his birth, childhood, and ministry. Being married would have held him back from his ministry.

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  5. I found both articles very interesting and I think it stands as a good example as why we need to examine evidence careful. As we study Jesus I think it is very important to look closely at our sources. Things like this article, or as said in class the gospel of Thomas are out there and in some cases are used to prove a certain group or person’s point of view. I find it key to be as sure as possible that our sources are credible from a historical stand point.

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  6. My recommended reading: Anne Rice’s, “Christ the Lord” series. It was recommended to me by Dr. Matthew Loverin. And they are a great works of FICTION. But, despite being fictitious accounts of the life of Christ pre-‘ministry,’ they have a very interesting take on Jesus on relationships. Anne Rice carefully depicts a young Jewish torn between the expectations of his large, familial community (to be married and start a family) and of the Jewish community at large (to fight the Romans for freedom and to cleanse the temple). But no matter how much we (or Rice) try and speculate what Christ’s life was like as he developed his ministry, we see from the infallible writings of the gospels that Jesus not only chose a different course, but that he accomplished both those expectations (assuming the family really did pressure him to be a ‘normal’ man and start a family) in a very radical and unexpected way. Praise the Lord!

    (The cleansing of the temple and establishment of his kingdom are a conversation for another time (or blog post)).

    [Insert relevant bible reference here]. That would be all well and good… if there was one. But, simply put, Scripture doesn’t talk about this. Wait, what!?!? How could Scripture not mention whether or not Jesus was wed? And that is most likely because he was not. If he were, there would be no reason not to record it; even if it is just to simply mention her in passing. And one could argue that women were not recorded in such records for cultural reasons. But I would probably just slap them across the face with every mention of a woman in scripture; especially, the ones that refer to Jesus’ female followers and companions. And of course, those would be glued to the large passage describing the resurrection, in which the first to be trusted with the news were… men. Oh, wait! They were women. Silly me!

    No, Christ did not have a wife (not that it would be bad had he). Instead, Christ took on a different bride. The bride of Christ. For it will be like a wedding banquet and a victory banquet when Christ and his bride are finally united through the victory over death and resurrection!

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    • I am going to have to re-educate you after that last paragraph. I know a dissertation you might like to read….!

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  7. Looking in the Bible I cannot find scripture that backs up Jesus having a wife the only thing that could see would be that Jesus’s wife was the Church. I really don’t think that it would have been wrong if Jesus had a wife there is just no evidence that states he had one. I would have to say that if Jesus did have a wife there would have been something more than this paper that would have stated otherwise.

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