News broke this week of a discovery of an ancient text that quotes Jesus talking about his wife. If the book/move DaVinci Code proved anything, it is that the topic of Jesus having a wife is one that captures our collective imagination.
The full story is covered here in the Boston Globe.
What was actually found?
According to the Boston Globe story “The fragment is smaller than a business card, and appears to have been torn from a page of a codex, or primitive book, written in a southern Egyptian dialect.”
The fragment was discovered by Karen L. King, a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School after its owner came to her for help to get it translated.
Because the fragment had been torn out of a larger book the beginning and end of each line is missing. King used context and as well as other early Christian texts to guide the translation.
Accordign to the Boston Globe piece: “The context of the eight lines on the front side of the papyrus seemed to be a discussion Jesus was having with his disciples about the ‘the cost of discipleship’ or how becoming a Christian may affect family bonds, similar to passages in Matthew and Luke.
The legible side contains just eight broken lines.
The fourth says: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ .”
The next line reads: “She will be able to be my disciple.”
Even Ms. King admits, “The text is not evidence that Jesus was married”
The first question that usually gets asked when a discovery like this is made is whether or not the document is authentic or a forgery. Ms. King did more than due diligence to investigate if the fragment was legitimate or not. As she said, “This is not a career maker. If it’s a forgery, it’s a career breaker.”
After consulting with other experts she is convinced is it authentic. That’s good enough for me.
I accept the fragment is not a forgery, but is it a reliable record of an actual teaching of Jesus? Many early Christian writings have been discovered over the years, and ultimately rejected. These writings portray Jesus doing things that don’t fit with his character. One has Jesus making animals in something like a sand castle,and then bringing the sand animals to life. We see from the four canonical gospels that Jesus never did a miracle for himself, so this kind of story doesn’t fit.
Does the fragment fit? Jesus talks many times about the cost of following him. It’s important to note that he only talks about this cost in the context of someone who has already made a decision to follow him. To those who haven’t chosen him, he offers only his love and compassion. He doesn’t put expectations on people until they make a decision first.
The four canonical gospels are silent on whether or not Jesus was married. At best, we can say we simply don’t know. We can surmise that it is unlikely the gospel writers would have left out a detail like that, but women were treated very differently in 1st Century Palestine. Jesus was actually way ahead of his culture in how well he treated women, but that’s a subject for another day.
Does it matter if Jesus was married? If he was married, its possible there were offspring. Even if there were the line has been lost to history. And it’s not like his decedents would have some sort of super powers or anything. Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully man. I don’t think any of Jesus’ miraculous abilities would be inherited by his descendants.
The question is most important to those of the Catholic faith. This denomination has long required it’s priest be celibate. If Jesus himself was married, it makes that rule seem a little silly. It’s important to note that no where in scripture are priests commanded to be celibate. That is something the church came up with later on. Honestly, that rule really isn’t working out all that great. Maybe the Catholics should let it go, but that’s up to them.
Its important to remember that choosing to become a Christian in the 1st Century was not an easy choice. You were very likely to be cut off from your family, and friends, and in many cases you were putting your life in danger. This is not unlike the current situation in many countries today. When you became a Christian, you were choosing to become part of new family.
I think the fragment, which King is provocatively calling ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’, will join the other apocryphal gospels as an interesting historical record, but not part of the divinely inspired scriptures by which Christians try to live their life.
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