CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Wife of Jesus?

Sep 21, 2012

It is always amazing to find people who regularly denounce the Bible as untrustworthy, unreliable, and full of mistakes all of a sudden latch on to some flimsy and dubious claim from antiquity concerning the Bible. They renounce the real deal as so much superstition, but will accept as gospel any foolish and spurious claims made when it casts doubt on Scripture.

Appearance of Christ to Mary MagdaleneWe have another classic case of this now occurring, something which Dan Brown would be loving greatly. A recent find has suggested Jesus may have had a wife. One news item begins the story this way: “An ancient scrap of papyrus makes explicit reference to Jesus having a wife, according to a renowned expert in Christian history. Harvard divinity professor Karen King unveiled the 4th-Century Coptic script at a conference in Rome. She said researchers had identified the words ‘Jesus said to them, “my wife”,’ which might refer to Mary Magdalene.”

Of course this rather sensationalist opening statement is greatly toned down later in the article when it says, “Prof King said the script was not proof of Jesus’s marital status. ‘It is not evidence, for us, historically, that Jesus had a wife,’ she said.”

But leave it to the MSM and those with agendas to run with this big time. Anything to question the reliability of scripture and orthodox Christian teaching is snapped up immediately and peddled far and wide. Al Mohler has just written on this, and is worth citing:

“This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. One British newspaper notes that the claims about a married Jesus seem more worthy of fans of Dan Brown’s fictional work, The Da Vinci Code, than ‘real-life Harvard professors.’ If the fragment is authenticated, the existence of this little document will be of interest to historians of the era, but it is insanity to make the claims now running through the media.

“Professor King claims that these few words and phrases should be understood as presenting a different story of Jesus, a different gospel. She then argues that the words should be read as claiming that Jesus was married, that Mary Magdalene was likely his wife. She argues further that, while this document provides evidence of Jesus’ marital status, the phrases do not necessarily mean he was married. More than anything else, she argues against the claim that Christianity is a unified body of commonly-held truths.

“Those familiar with Karen King’s research and writings will recognize the argument. Her 2003 book, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, argued that another text from the era presented Mary Magdalene as the very model for apostleship.”

He concludes, “The energy behind all this is directed to the replacement of orthodox Christianity, its truth claims, its doctrines, its moral convictions, and its vision of both history and eternity with a secularized — indeed, Gnositicized — new version.

“Just look at the attention this tiny fragment of papyrus has garnered. Its few words and broken phrases are supposed to cast doubt on the New Testament and the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. A tiny little fragment which, even if authentically from the fourth century, is placed over against the four New Testament Gospels, all written within decades of Jesus’ earthy ministry. ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?’ Not hardly. This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. Nevertheless, do not miss what all this really represents — an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.”

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington also questions this, and cites Simon Gathercole of Cambridge: “Jesus has female disciples in the canonical gospels, who support his ministry (Luke 8), and who are part of his entourage generally. There is no reference to marriage of any kind, which is striking in a biography.”

Also, Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts has written a very helpful and detailed study, “Was Jesus Married? A Careful Look at the Real Evidence”. His entire article is worth closely studying (see link below). Let me here just offer a few snippets from it:

“In this article I will examine the historical evidence for and against Jesus’ purported marriage. Whether we’d like to think of him as married or not is not particularly relevant here. What matters is historical evidence. We don’t need more ranting and raving about this issue, no matter what the position of the ranters and ravers. Rather, in the mythical words of Joe Friday, we need ‘Just the facts, ma’am’.”

He offers a number of arguments and collections of evidence to make his case that Jesus was most certainly not married, and then concludes with these words:

“One who has read The Da Vinci Code and been persuaded to accept its fictional history as fact will no doubt object at this point: ‘But you don’t understand. Jesus’ marriage to Mary was a secret. These texts only give tiny clues. The real truth of Jesus’ marriage was hidden, and that’s why the non-canonical gospels say so little about it.’ Of course this could be true, theoretically speaking. But I’d argue that we have much more evidence for Jesus having been an alien from outer space than the husband of Mary Magdalene. After all, he is transfigured on a mountain with glowing beings (Mark 9:2-8) and he ascends to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9). One can make up all sorts of theories about Jesus, but the only way to evaluate these theories is with the facts of the ancient texts we have. And these texts simply do not support the theory of Jesus’ marriage…

“I have spent time going over the non-canonical material in detail because most Christians (and non-Christians) are unfamiliar with these texts. So when somebody says, ‘The non-canonical gospels really show that Jesus was married,’ most believers don’t know how to respond. Now you have seen the evidence, and you know how to respond. You have more direct exposure to the non-biblical gospels than 99.9% of the population. So when someone states confidently that the non-canonical gospels reveal Jesus’ marriage to Mary, you can respond, ‘Well, have you ever studied what the non-canonical gospels actually say about Jesus and Mary?’ To which the answer will almost always be ‘No.’ To which you can add, ‘You know, I’ve actually looked at this evidence, and there is nothing there. Mary appears rarely in the non-canonical gospels, and when she does appear, it’s usually as a close disciple of Jesus, and sometimes as one who reveals special knowledge that Jesus revealed first to her. That’s it’.”

Finally, if you still want to cling to this, it should be pointed out that many experts question the authenticity of this papyrus altogether. As one reports states, “Scholars on Wednesday questioned the much-publicized discovery by a Harvard scholar that a 4th century fragment of papyrus provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married. And experts in the illicit antiquities trade also wondered about the motive of the fragment’s anonymous owner, noting that the document’s value has likely increased amid the publicity of the still-unproven find….

“Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt. ‘I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic’ when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.”

So it seems clear that we can put this one in the Dan Brown basket: fiction masquerading as truth.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19645273
www.albertmohler.com/2012/09/20/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife-when-sensationalism-masquerades-as-scholarship/
www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/09/20/simon-gathercole-on-the-jesus-wife-papyrus/
www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/was-jesus-married-a-careful-look-at-the-real-evidence/
bigstory.ap.org/article/harvard-claim-jesus-wife-papyrus-scrutinized

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12 Responses to The Wife of Jesus?

  • I personaly find this news item to be quite funny, for a very simple reason.

    If he was married, he would have whilst on the cross, ensured his “wife” was looked after, yet we find that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ ensured his “mother” was looked after as almost his last act.

    Therefore this laughable “theory”, like others before by antitheists, evolution, flat earth, realiens, hollow earth, etc etc etc, has been falsified by simple reading available texts (ya know, the proper scientific method that the antitheists love to throw out the door when they attack the Bible).

    Neil Waldron.

  • What floors me is that people who claim to be so rational and scientific (and would never fall for religious nonsense) suddenly abandon all pretense of scientific analysis when it suits them. And they expect respect? They jest!

    John Symons

  • The Gospel of Mary Magdalen, The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Thomas, I’ve read snippets of these and I can hardly keep a straight face. For example one tells of Jesus not talking but in fact it’s the cross that talks and ascends to heaven and Jesus head expands and reaches the clouds. Utter bewilderment.
    Daniel Kempton

  • G’day Bill,

    Actually (a little tongue in cheek) Jesus does have a wife, well, a bride. His people, the church. Bought with His precious blood. Is it entirely impossible that the fragment is referring to Jesus’ wife, the church?

    Andrew Campbell

  • Was there only ever one person named Jesus that walked the earth? My understanding is that the name Jesus wasn’t that uncommon in those days. Talk about grasping at straws. For Intellectuals some professors ain’t too bright.
    Greg Sadler

  • Don’t forget that there are other Jesus’ around at the time, so if the fragment is authentic, we have no idea which Jesus we are talking about. Jesus was very much a common name just like Mary was a common name around that time. It is based n such tiny evidence that it is laughable that such “scholarship” is being done on it. If we treated the rest of history like we do the Bible, then we would know nothing about the past.

    Ian Nairn

  • “The non-canonical gospels really show that Jesus was married,”

    That’s one reason they’re non-canonical!!

    John Bennett

  • Now, now, John Bennet, that’s circular reasoning…. 🙂

    John Angelico

  • Even the Experts are questioning this find.

    news.yahoo.com/doubts-over-harvard-claim-jesus-wife-papyrus-165816944.html

    Ian Nairn

  • Dear Bill, that report you are talking about obviously come under the category “Thou shalt not let the facts spoil a good story”. Thankfully millions of people know the truth,
    regards,
    Franklin Wood

  • Dear Bill,

    [Big Yawn] Excuse me but I’m too old and tired to take to the streets holding a banner which says “The only spouse Jesus had was His Church”. These boring people bring up these old chestnuts on a regular basis because they haven’t the imagination to think up anything new. The last time it was Mary Magdalen who was the wife of Jesus. He DID elevate marriage at the Marriage Feast of Cana but His bride was the Church He founded. THAT was the work God came amongst us to do not get married and have children. HE left that to mere mortals. The only worry is that there are no shortage of useful idiots to promote such nonsense.

    Patricia Halligan

  • Thanks guys

    And hopefully the last word on this from the experts:

    “News flash: Harvard Theological Review has decided not to publish Karen King¹s paper on the Coptic papyrus fragment on the grounds that the fragment is probably a fake.”

    danielbwallace.com/2012/09/26/jesus-wife-fragment-judged-a-fake/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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