In 2014, The Lost Gospel by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson joined the many books and articles to assert a culturally popular idea: That Jesus was married with children. Along with Dan Brown’s The Davinci Code and Karen L. King’s “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” The Lost Gospel perpetuates an ancient controversy.
Modern and Ancient Pursuit
When the Apostle Paul spoke to the Greeks about Jesus Christ (Acts 17), many in his audience were Gnostics. Their tradition is said to “embod[y] the core wisdom or knowledge of humanity” gained through experience. According to some scholars, Gnostics sought to “portray Jesus in a way that would illustrate their own myths and rituals.” They blended images of Christ as Paul described him with pictures of flawed gods who fulfilled physical desires.
In 2012, Karen L. King wrote about the discovery of a small piece of papyrus bearing the words “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife...’” and “‘she will be able to be my disciple.’” According to The Lost Gospel, during Jesus’ ministry, “he became engaged, got married, had sexual relations, and produced children.” The authors assert that their findings “are based on a 1,500-year-old manuscript which was discovered and rejected in the 1800s.”
Marriage and Identification
Many women in the Bible were identified as “wife of so-and-so.” When theories are put forth about Christ’s marriage, he is typically wed to Mary Magdalene; however, she is never introduced in the Bible as Mary-wife-of-Jesus. That would have cleared up confusion when the New Testament mentions a “Mary” without clarifying which one, yet no such descriptor is ever provided.
“In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul was defending the right to have a wife: ‘Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas [Peter]?’” Paul does not say “if the Master was married, then we can be too.” Wouldn’t a comparison with Jesus as an earthly spouse offer greater weight in favor of this institution if it were true? His “silence speaks volumes.”
Sex and Sin
Sexual sin is identified in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as idolatry, adultery, and homosexuality. Sex within marriage is not sinful. Yet, that Jesus might have married, had sex, and been the father of children seems immoral. “It’s not that there is anything wrong or sinful with the idea of marriage,” says Katherine McReynolds, author of Women as Christ’s Disciples. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with the concept of Jesus being married. Marriage, after all, was invented by God.”
“Clement of Alexandria, [...] a theologian who began teaching in Alexandria around AD 180,” said the same thing more than 1,800 years earlier. He “wrote against false teachers who had declared marriage taboo.”
Jesus’ role as our sinless Savior and his purported marriage do not present a contradiction or an inconsistency. Yet, Christians feel uncomfortable with the notion, perhaps because of our modern associations between a sexually active Jesus and movies like The Last Temptation of Christ in which Jesus had extra-marital sex with Mary Magdalene.
Was Jesus Ever Married?
There is no evidence that Jesus was married in the books that give us the history of his life. So anything that would suggest that Jesus was married is pure conjecture, and we would say usually being articulated by people who have some agenda to undo the biblical record and add something to it. So anybody who's saying that Jesus was married is just making that up. There is no record of that in any historical account or any biblical account.
Now we want to be careful we don't go too far to say that because Jesus was not married, marriage or sexuality are automatically evil in some way. Jesus' disciples did marry. Jesus was at a stage of life where he gave up everything in order to perform the purposes of his father. So we have no evidence that he desired to be married or was married or that there was some part of his ministry that involved marriage does not mean that marriage is wrong or sexuality is wrong, which sometimes people draw the line too far in terms of using his marital status as a commentary on marriage, which would be inappropriate.
Expectations of Marriage
Was it sinful in Jesus’ society to remain unmarried? “It is often suggested that because Jesus was a teacher and functioned like a rabbi that he would have been married as well, since that was the Jewish custom.” Some articles argue that Jesus’ unmarried status was embarrassing to his mother, or that it was more than a custom but an expectation that Jesus marry.
However, a “married person must worry about the affairs of earth,” while the “unmarried person can serve the Lord without such distraction.” Christ’s entire person was taken up with obedience to the Father and laying his life down not for one woman but the entire church (Ephesians 5:25).
To be married and childless would have shamed Jesus’ wife. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). Childlessness was depicted as shameful by Hannah, Elizabeth, and Sarah; like a rebuke from God. If Jesus had married, he would have felt this longing on his wife’s behalf and perhaps been conflicted about leaving her alone with children to raise.
A Celibate Savior
Some of the evidence for Jesus’ celibacy is implied, such as the “Roman church’s later view that priests should not be married” partially stemming “from the view that Jesus was not married.” During the second century AD, North African lawyer Tertullian described Jesus as “a lifelong celibate” who “had made God’s kingdom accessible to those who — like Jesus — never engaged in sexual relations.”
Celibacy was not demanded of the Christian, but McReynolds and others believe it makes better sense that Jesus remained celibate. He was on a “unique mission.” Jesus “stands in a long tradition of prophets that were set aside by special vows to God. And so, I think it does make a theological difference that he remained single and totally devoted to his mission.”
Bride of Christ
The scrap of papyrus discovered by Karen L. King refers to the wife of Jesus. Other manuscripts have indicated that Christ kissed a woman. Even if these manuscripts are legitimate, none of them provides evidence that Jesus was married or that he engaged in sinful relations with one or more women.
Firstly, “kissing served as a common greeting” and would have “suggested close friendship — not necessarily or even primarily a marital connection.” The word “joined” derived from manuscript evidence — “koinonos” in Greek — has been used in reference to “a fellow participant in a shared goal.”
In this case, “Paul had koinonos connections with Titus, Philemon, and the entire church at Corinth.” If the more cynical reader wants to evoke something homosexual from even this statement, consider Simon Peter: He “called himself a koinonos in God’s glory (1 Peter 5:1).” Koinonos does not point automatically to sexual relations.
Even the words “Jesus’ wife” from King’s manuscript can lead the reader astray. The English word “wife” is derived from “queen” and “words for ‘woman’ also double for “wife” in some languages.” There are connections to “weip — ‘to twist, turn, wrap,’ and also a “veiled person.” The New Testament Greek “guné” translates to “woman, bride, wife.”
The church is God’s bride. Paul refers to the church at Corinth as “a pure virgin” whom he “betrothed [...] to one husband,” that is Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). Since Christ is the bridegroom, the church is his bride; Christ is King, the body of believers is his queen. “Let us rejoice and exult [...] for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Revelation 19:7-8).
Confusion and Faith
Why does the issue keep coming up? Every person is identified by sexuality, and culture is scandalized and confused by celibacy. That’s not new — the Flood was designed to wipe every kind of debauchery off the face of the earth, including sexual sin. Sodom and Gomorrah were traditionally singled out for destruction because these cities were “associated with homosexual acts” along with numerous other sins.
Today, various media promote sexual imagery to a wide audience. The language of 21st-century culture is littered with the jargon of sexualization. Why should Jesus be left out of the discussion? He must have at least had some kind of sexual leanings if he was human.
Christians actively promoting women’s rights might also want there to be a Mary-Wife-of-Jesus, the best example of female discipleship. Yet, Jesus’ choice not to marry reminds us that women’s identities come from the Father, not from their husbands (or lack of them). The New Testament “is filled with examples of female disciples.”
Christ legitimized women in a culture, which often reified and denigrated them. “Most frequently, women were regarded as second-class citizens.” Yet, Jesus “valued their fellowship, prayers, service, financial support, testimony and witness. He honored women, taught women, and ministered to women in thoughtful ways.”
But What if He Really Was Married?
Timothy Paul Jones, co-author of The DaVinci Codebreaker, said in an interview “if I woke up tomorrow morning and saw that archaeologists had exhumed incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was married, it wouldn’t destroy my faith. Jesus would still be the risen Lord.” Like many other biblical scholars, Jones realizes that the Christian faith “is not based on Jesus’ celibacy but on the Incarnation and the Resurrection.”
James Martin writes “a married man healing the sick, stilling storms and raising the dead is just as impressive as an unmarried man doing so” and “if a married man himself rises from the dead after being in a tomb for three days, I would be following him. Married or unmarried, Jesus is still the Son of God.”
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.