|Da Vinci's Last Supper|
The blogosphere lit up yesterday with the news that a papyrus fragment from the fourth century CE may have a line from Jesus that reads “my wife.” As I noted yesterday, Karen King, the scholar who has been studying the fragment, is not saying that this fragment is proof that Jesus was married. All that it tells us is that there were some in history that did believe Jesus was married.
As the new was spreading I was drawn into a facebook conversation with someone who asked what it would mean for salvation if Jesus did have a wife. My answer is nothing. It doesn’t change a thing. The faith and hope of Christianity rests not on whether Jesus was single or married. It is based on his death and resurrection.
This was a big question a few years back when the Da Vinci Code was popular and Dan Brown was raking in millions by suggesting that Jesus had married Mary Magdalene and ran off to France to live a life as a family man. I remember people got all exercised over whether Jesus was married and perhaps had children. The real historical and theological problem with Brown’s plot, however, was whether or not Jesus had died and rose from the dead. That is the problem with Brown’s novel and for Christian theology.
Nonetheless, there were people wringing their hands at the thought that there might be little Jesus’ running around somewhere in the south of France. This inevitably made some wonder if these children would therefore be divine. I suggested to them that divinity is not like pixy dust that can be accidently dropped on someone or passed on through conception. In many ways these people’s theology was being influenced by J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books. One major concern in the books was over who was a “muggle” who was a “squib” and who had pure “magical blood.” But Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity is based on who Jesus “is” not on what he may or may not have inherited from his parents.
But if Jesus did have a wife it would raise some interesting questions about male dominated aspects of theology and ministry. As Michael D’Antonio pointed out today:
The implications of professor King's discovery are profound. If Jesus was married, the main spiritual argument for male-only clergy and the celibacy of Roman Catholic priests falls into question. (Priests wouldn't need to abandon sex in order to imitate him.) But more importantly, if Jesus was a family man, then the claim to special status made by Catholic clergy, who regard themselves as supernaturally closer to God, loses much of its power.
Beyond internal Catholic Church politics, a married Jesus invites a reconsideration of orthodox teachings about gender and sex. If Jesus had a wife, then there is nothing extra Christian about male privilege, nothing spiritually dangerous about the sexuality of women, and no reason for anyone to deny himself or herself a sexual identity. In fact, one could argue that in their obsessive self denial -- of sexual pleasure, intimate relationships, and family - celibates reject the fullness of Jesus' example.
Yet, there is no evidence that Jesus was married. Granted some people thought he might have been, as the papyrus fragment suggests. But it takes some significant hermeneutical gymnastics to find Jesus a wife in the New Testament.
So while the fragment is interesting and, if it is ultimately proven to be authentic, it has no real bearing on the Christian faith. It doesn’t “prove” Jesus was married and it doesn’t undermine Christian theology. What it does tell us is that people have been saying all sorts of things about Jesus for hundreds of years. We are not the first to encounter these claims. We just happen to have the technology to broadcast these claims more widely.