Wednesday, September 19, 2012

So what if Jesus did have a wife?


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.

11 comments:

  1. Very interesting article. I agree with you 100%. To the average Christian, I don't think it matters one whit if Jesus was married or not. However, this would definitely have an impact on the Vatican's "business." (I say business because personally, I think they've strayed away from what true faith really is and are focusing more on Catholicism as a money-making business.)

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    1. Anonymous, it might not matter in any concrete manner to the average Christian whether Jesus was married, but there is a huge emotional stake in this for evangelicals and fundamentalists. It is a part of their belief structure, something that has been taught for centuries.

      People don't normally react well to finding out that their cherished beliefs are wrong. And that is especially true of the devout, who would ignore a million pieces of evidence if it goes against what they have been taught and in which they have an emotional investment.

      Because if one thing is wrong, then why not another and another?

      Delzotto

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    2. Delzotto,
      I think you are relying on a stereotype/caricature of evangelicals. I am an evangelical biblical theologian and it really wouldn't matter to me whether Jesus had been married and had children. It might produce an emotional reaction at first, but if it were definitively proven, most evangelical scholars and pastors could and probably would use it to support traditional evangelical family values.

      Regards, Brett

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  2. I goggled this topic, "what does it matter if Jesus had a wife", because I needed to know why this was important or not. I'm not religious, but it seemed like people were worried about his martial status. Based on what you wrote, I don't see why it would matter. The male dominance aspect & the denial of sex by priest are topics that appear interesting & warrant further research.Thanks for your viewpoint & information.

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  3. The fact that priesthood is a "men only" area does not have anything to do with wanting to be like Jesus. And, in fact, the Bible states that a priest should have family and children and be a good husband and father, so that it is proved that he can take care of others and therefore is suitable to take care of the church.
    There is no such thing as denial of sexual identity and family in the bible. On the contrary, one of the first commands GOD gave us humans was "Multiply and populate the earth". The bonds of family are also GOD-givven. It is through certain churches over the years that sexuality got a really negative meaning, and has become something forbidden and dirty. GOD never asked us to not have sex, He created us with the capability to have it and added pleasure to it because He wants us to enjoy ourselves. He *did* put some boundaries to it, and asked us to not share the intimacy of it with everyone. But if Jesus had a wife, for me this does not make a difference anywhere. It only means He has gone through that part of life too, and that He can anderstand that as well...
    I am not saying He was or was not married. I think these pseudo-debates only serve the ego of those that cannot understand why someone chooses to follow something larger than him/herself.

    Cheers!

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  4. Well, it must rile some of our more strict evangelicals though. As a Christian, I can honestly say we need more forgiveness for our own texts. We need to be okay if the Bible missed a few points, or they were systematically weeded out by those who compiled the Books of the Bible. That's okay. I think it's wonderful that Jesus might have been married, and all of us should embrace it. Even if it means we alter some of our interpretations. It's okay folks, it's time to grow, to mature, to develop, and stop trying so desperately do the opposite.

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  5. Could Jesus have been a good husband/provider during His ministry?

    I ask because I assume Torah has some specific set of "husband responsibilities" and since Jesus fulfilled the law, it's a question that needs answering before we conclude it would have no theological impact IF Jesus were married to a real woman as opposed to the church only.

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  6. As a follower of Jesus, i also asked the question, "So what if he was married, what difference would it make in the message he was trying to give to us". For me, it would make no difference. I would embrace the truth. It concerns me that information was deleted from the text because of greed, religious theology and male dominance in the church. Jesus as a husband and father would have been a great example to emulate. It would have also eliminated a lot of emotionally and mentally destroyed children hurt by priest practicing supposed celibacy. If that information was held from us, my question is, "what else have we been lied to about". I NEED THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH. As a believer, we walk by faith, but a lie is unexceptable and not an option.

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  7. I keep asking myself, whats with the topic "Was Jesus a married man" . For me it should not really matter. Infact he in that way proved one among us...he has lived the life we all live. Shouldnt that be good for us.
    Yes I do agree that it would only matter to the Catholic Church and the priesthood.

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  8. It doesn't matter whether Jesus was married. Whether he had children. What matters is the fact the People believe that he was the son of G-d. His peachings did not teach hatred but love of mankind. Yet, Christians hate the Jews and yet they worship a Jew. Explain this to me? If Jesus came down today, he would be disgusted with the people who worship him and yet hate his people. He studied the Talmud. He followed the Jewish laws. He did not change them He preached love and kindness. Where is your love and kindness.

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  9. The only way Jesus could have had a wife, is she would have had to be supernaturally conceived like Jesus was, or she would have had to come from one of his ribs like Eve came from Adams. The reason is. Jesus was made from perfect seed, and lived a sinless life,not from the imperfect seed of Adam, if he took a wife from the imperfect seed of Adam, and became one flesh with her, he would have been defiled, and his sacrifice on the cross would have been rejected by God.

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