A recent news item about Jesus and marriage has a lot of people speculating. Was Jesus married? Here’s the skinny, from a September 19, 2012 Washington Post article:
“A newly revealed piece of papyrus offers fresh evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married, according to a Harvard Divinity School professor. Four words written in Coptic on a fourth-century codex quote Jesus referring to “my wife,” Karen King, a scholar of early Christianity, said on Tuesday (Sept. 18). It is the only extant text in which Jesus is explicitly portrayed as betrothed, according to King.
“King is calling the receipt-sized slip of paper ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.’ She believes the fragment was originally written in Greek, and later translated into Coptic, an Egyptian language. The fragment says, ‘Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…,’ according to King. The rest of the text is cut off.”
Was Jesus married? Let’s avoid the speculation and get right to the evidence from the scriptures. In short, the answer is a resounding, “no.” Here’s why.
There is no biblical evidence for a married Jesus. Whether from the Gospels or the writings of the Apostles, the New Testament is not only silent on this, it is quite a bit more than simply silent. Allow me to explain. I’ll provide six reasons from the scriptures why I think a married Jesus is not a reasonable ascertain.
First, the Apostle Paul, writing in I Corinthians 9:5 was defending his ministry and stated as part of his case, the following: “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
Notice that Paul defends the right of marriage by using the other Apostles and the brothers of Jesus as his example. It seems unreasonable that Paul would not mention Jesus being married as his defense if, in fact, Jesus had actually been married. Paul referred many times to Jesus as the model of his Gospel and life. Why then no mention of a married Jesus to justify marriage for the Apostles?
Second, Jesus said in Luke 9:58, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” It stands to reason that if Jesus had been married that he might have a home to return to, along with a wife. This does not seem to be the case.
Third, in John 19:25 four women are mentioned to be present at the crucifixion of Jesus. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Notice that two of the women are family—his mother and his aunt. One was married and one was Mary Magdalene. There is no indication that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, as some have erroneously claimed. Certainly this cannot be deduced from this passage. By doing so one might conclude that Mary the wife of Clopas was Jesus’ mistress. Such an ascertain would be beyond silly. We are only left with the conclusion that there was no wife of Jesus present at his crucifixion.
Fourth, when Jesus died on the cross he entrusted his mother’s care to John. “Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:27). Jesus made no mention of entrusting his wife to someone. In fact, technically, under the Mosaic Law, if Jesus were married then his widow would have to be “redeemed” by one of his brothers and children raised up in his name (Deuteronomy 25:5). There is zero biblical, historical, or archeological evidence for such a situation. Therefore, this silence seems to indicate that Jesus had no wife.
Fifth, marriages in Jesus day were usually arranged by their parents when the children were still young. Considering the special nature of Jesus identity that was told to Joseph and Mary (Luke 1:26-38), it seems reasonable to assume that his parents did not arrange a marriage for him. If they knew that their son was the Son of God, how could arranging a marriage for him even be appropriate?
Sixth, in all of the writings of the New Testament there is never any indication that Jesus was ever married. While it would not normally be good exegesis to make an argument like this from silence (as I’ve already done), the fact remains that there is a lot of silence on the subject. None of the four Gospels even hint at a married Jesus. None of Paul’s writings hint at a married Jesus. The same is true with Peter, James, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews. It doesn’t seem reasonable to assume that seven of the New Testament’s writers who knew Jesus personally would fail to mention, even in the smallest way, that Jesus had been married. The only conclusion from the biblical evidence that we are left with is that Jesus was never married.
The Fragment Problem
If you are still not convinced from the scriptures that Jesus wasn’t married, then let me make three simple observations about the fragment.
First, the fragment says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” That is precious little to go on to make a case for Jesus being married. The scriptures refer to the church as Jesus’ bride (II Corinthians 11:2; Matthew 9:15). Perhaps this is what was meant in the passage, but there is no context in the fragment in which one can make a contextual judgment. There are any number of ways this text might have been written. It could say, “My wife, if I had one, would…” Or it might say, “My wife is the church…” Or it might say, “My wife, said the farmer…” and so on and so on. The text might be a fragment of story that uses the term in a different context. It might be written as a fictional or legendary account not rooted in history, but rooted in allegory or some other kind of illustration. We simply have no way of knowing what the proper context for the passage might be, and therefore, should refrain from assuming the passage is a legitimate source document for a married Jesus.
Second, one cannot make a legitimate case for a married Jesus from a single line of previously unknown text written three centuries after the fact that also happens to be in contradiction to every other religious and secular account of his life for the previous 300 years. Thousands and thousands of lines of text have been written about Jesus over those 300 years, none of which alludes to a married Jesus. Should then one recently discovered, uncontextuallized, partially recovered sentence, written by an unknown author with motives unknown overturn such a weight of historical evidence? This does not seem reasonable.
Third, the fragment in question is dated to the fourth century with no indication of whether the text was part of something much older. We have dozens of historical documents, in addition to the New Testament, and none use language such as this. If the text is a copy of something much older then it would be of something hereunto unknown. Regardless, taking a fourth century fragment as an historically valid biographical piece of evidence is a stretch to say the least. It is generally accepted that the further away a biographical text is from its source the less reliable it becomes unless it has been researched and sourced from original documents or documents long-accepted as valid sources of information. The fragment gives no indication of this. In this case, the 300 years of silence about Jesus’ wedded state is deafening.
Some might point out that there is nothing in scripture that forbids Jesus from being married, or having children. We can certainly dive into this topic but it would be nothing more than mere speculation, which I don’t think encourages anyone in their faith. We are warned not to pay attention to such things as they can lead to ruin (I Timothy 1:4). What, after all, is the use of speculating about the “what if’s” of something that never happened? What profit is there in such an exercise where the practicals of the Christian life are concerned? None. It is best for us to keep our face planted in what the scripture actually says instead of speculation. Only the scripture is a sufficient tool for our faith and practice.