Did Jesus really have a wife?

What you are looking at above is a 1,600-year-old piece of papyrus that was written in Coptic. A New York Times’ article on it set off speculation on whether or not Jesus was married:

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

Hold on there all you Dan Brown fans, don’t get too excited. There’s more to the story.

The Smithsonian Magazine has a lengthy back story on the papyrus and the scholar who discovered it. I highly suggest you read it when you have the time. The papyrus looks to be authentic, meaning that it is not a modern forgery. And, the Smithsonian Channel will premiere a special documentary about the discovery on September 30 at 8 p.m. ET

So the question remains, could have Jesus been married? Sure. Is it likely he was married?

No. There just is not enough evidence to prove it.

The credibility of such a claim is drastically reduced because of the date of writing: 300-350 years after the Gospels were written. Unless earlier manuscripts can be found, this is just an interesting fragment. True, it is possible. But the explicit evidence is just not there. It’s clear it was written after the Gospels during a time of Gnostic Christian thought – misguided Gnostic Christian thought. Gnostics believed some wacky ideas that were considered to be heretical. Namely, that Jesus wasn’t fully divine and human, that one must find the hidden meaning to Christ’s teaching in order to truly understand, and many gods exist.

The Harvard scholar who is behind the discovery, Karen King, says:

What I’m really quick to say is to cut off people who would say this is proof that Jesus was married because historically speaking, it’s much too late to constitute historical evidence,” she continued. “I’m not saying he was, I’m not saying he wasn’t. I’m saying this doesn’t help us with that question.

Other “gospels” were written before and during this time period.  Many of which tried to portray Jesus and his teaching in a different light. The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Judas, and many others write of a theology and narrative of Jesus that conflict with the orthodox history of Christ.

Why make such a fuss about debunking this Jesus story? People really believe these stories. Read some blogs and books from authors who believe the Catholic church is covering up the Gospel of Judas. Those folks are serious!

In the end, I’m not really concerned about such “new” evidence, but it is important to distinguish fact from myth.

Alan Rudnick

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Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education. http://alanrudnick.org

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  • http://PaulAndrewAnderson.webs.com/ PaulAndrewAnderson

    I first read this article at the NPR site last week: they would not post my reply, as follows: 
    History is written by the victors! We have such an
    infinitesimal percentage of all that occurred on this planet, that it is absurd
    to think that we know much of anything, historically speaking (the book:
    Killing History, just came to mind). I know that we can only use what we have,
    but it is non-comprehensive to assume that everyone thought one way, based upon
    the one person (or even a dozen individuals) who published words, wherein, those
    words were preserved into our timeline. We often hear sound-bites from the
    past; E.g.: that all humans thought the world was flat! when it is doubtful
    that even a small percentage of humans thought that way (Google: Bible
    indicates earth is round).

    This same sound-bite mentality exists today; few people
    spend any time learning anything; when we look through responses such as those
    offered to us today, with the internet and with the great reply tool, Disqus,
    we can see this manifest. It becomes apparent that most people who post
    comments on sites like this (all over the internet), simply parrot a regurgitated version of what mass-media
    has been broadcasting over the last day or week; these TV drones have a “professional opinion” on a topic they have actually spent zero hours researching;
    they are often contentious, not erudite. We treat something old (like a tiny
    piece of papyrus) as if it has authority just because it is old; validated by
    the credentials of modernity.

    It would, in no way, alter my view of the Lord Jesus Christ,
    if He were married or not married; it would not impact the propitiation in any
    way. We know empirically that all New Testament texts were written at the time
    of Christ, and then the epistles at the time of the apostles; they are not some
    hodgepodge of random texts assembled at a later date (as some suggest) to enforce patriarchal agendas
    (Google: Jesus’ interactions with women).
    With all that said; if Jesus was married, we would have that fact clearly
    mentioned in the New Testament in some fashion, or in other historical texts of the time.

    Furthermore, there is no way to confirm if this swath of
    papyrus reflected the greater Christian view of its timeline either. Indeed,
    this could have been written by one person and read by a few dozen, and that is
    all, up until this year. It could have even been written as propaganda for its
    time. Nonetheless, people need content to contend over, and this
    credit-card-sized piece of papyrus will do nicely to tickle the ears of the masses, and give the
    employees of the credential mills evermore dogmatic content to debate. Enjoy!  I would add the fact that Jesus Christ did not come to earth to be yet another consumer of corporeality; His life had a specific purpose, and getting married would not have forwarded the cause of Christ in any way. Furthermore, and knowing He was not going to be here all that long, I am sure that He would not want to leave a widow behind.