About a year and a half ago, biblical scholar Karen King introduced the world to a piece of Coptic writing in which Jesus made reference to his wife.  Today, we have learned that scientists believe that this papyrus fragment likely belongs to the fourth through eighth centuries A.D. and therefore is probably not a modern forgery.

But remember: even King does not consider this fragment evidence that Jesus actually had a wife.

In light of this news, I want to direct everyone to the post Sonja wrote about the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” back when it was first introduced to the world.  It remains the best piece I have read about this issue.

Before we rush to re-assure ourselves that Jesus was never married, I wish we would take King’s advice and ask ourselves why Jesus’ sexual and relational life matters so much and what is at stake.  This discovery also provides a prime opportunity for us to explore questions about canonicity, history, and the relation between the two.  But in order to pursue these tasks, we must allow ourselves to be uncomfortable for at least a little while.  Surely, it matters a great deal whether or not Jesus was married.  But do we know why?

Click here to read Sonja’s “Jesus’s Wife: Would It Even Matter For Women?”



9 thoughts

  1. w/r/t Kyle Cupp ‏@kylecupp
    @KatieMGrimes @WomenInTheology Indeed. If Jesus was married, then we should ask ourselves why neither Scripture nor Tradition mention it.

    Kyle, I agree with you, I don’t think Jesus was married. Where I disagree is that if he wasn’t, (and I don’t think we’ll ever know) that somehow supports mandatory celibacy for clerics.

    Both Matthew and Luke follow Mark 1:30-31, Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.

    Romans 16:7 “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles,”

    Since you brought up the tradition, here’s St. John Chrysostom mentioning Junia as an apostle and my guess is she’s married to Andronicus. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junia#cite_note-30

    All 4 canonicals put Mary Mag’dalene at the tomb on Easter Sunday. IIRC, the only other folks who rated that highly were Peter, James, and John. That doesn’t mean she and Jesus were married, but she was so compelling in the memories of the evangelists’s sources that it wasn’t possible to leave her out of some of the most hallowed space in the canonicals. As you know, there aren’t a lot of things that all four canonical agree on. I think there’s ample evidence that later generations erased a lot of the inclusion of women among Jesus’ followers.

    I don’t think Paul wrote the letter to Timothy, but it’s in the canon. 1 Tim 3:2 confirms that guys who had been married more than once were being considered for roles as bishops/priests.

    I’m no NT scholar, but is there any tradition of celibacy in Israel or 1st century Judaism? I thought fecundity was the big value in agrarian cultures. Kids were cheap labor and they came in handy when some other tribe wanted to annihilate you. AFAIK, the tradition of celibacy came from gnostics who had Greek influences that increasingly took over Xtianity after Romans destroyed Jerusalem 70CE.

    And that imho accounts for desert fathers (St. John Chrysostom….) who embrace celibacy, but that’s quite a bit different than making it MANDATORY for all clerics. The labor pool for priests and bishops will imho improve quite a bit after ordination is no longer “reserved” to one gender who has to promise celibacy.

    Even after Hildebrand made celibacy mandatory in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Gregory_VII , there were plenty of clerics, bishops, and popes, who had lots of sex, offspring.

    Perhaps the greatest recent institutional failure of clerical celibacy was among European Catholic priests who refused to stand up to Hitler. IIRC, Maximillan Kolbe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe is one of the few documented celibate martyrs. After World War II, I think it was already time for Catholics to ask what alleged benefit celibacy was supposed to provide. After the epidemic of “altar-boy sex,” among priests and bishops, mandatory celibacy looks to me like a very significant liability.

  2. In Jesus’s time, marriage was not partnership but ownership. As a feminist it matters a great deal to me whether or not Jesus owned a woman.

    1. So to make sure I am understanding you, you are saying that, based upon your understanding of how marriage worked in those days, if Jesus were married this would indicate that he willingly and knowingly participated in a sexist relationship and institution?

      A word of caution though: I am not sure exactly what you meant by “ownership,” but I think that we tend to equate ownership with slavery. I think it really important to point out that, while marriage in ancient Rome was certainly not egalitarian, wives were definitely not treated like slaves. It was much much better to be a wide than to be a slave of either gender.

      1. Jesus did not, to my recollection, live in ancient Rome, or even a place with a predominantly Roman culture.
        Being treated slightly better than a slave is hardly very much when a married woman was at a man’s disposal to rape, beat and abuse at his whim. Having lived through psychological abuse, where the constant possibility of violence- even if it never came- without recourse drove me to the brink of suicide, I do not particularly enjoy dwelling on the idea of a woman having to contemplate that at the hands of incarnate God. I have yet to meet a heterosexual woman who has not sometimes contemplated how her male partner could harm her even now.

      2. Not that it really matters for the purposes of this conversation, but yes he did.


        You misunderstood me if you think I am sanctioning male power or privilege in any form. Simply seeking precision in our speech. We do a service to all slaves if we make it seem like the difference between wife and slave was no big deal.

        There’s no one in any time or place who if asked whether they would like to be a slave or a wife would say, “six of one; half dozen of the other.”

        And pointing out that it is better to be a wife than a slave does not in any way mean that I think sexist marriages are good or that I doubt that various forms of marriage have had a negative impact on women’s flourishing.

        I’m not your enemy here, I promise.

      3. I want to push back against a couple of Junia’s points. Firstly, I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through, and I wish you love and peace. But you wrote, “I do not particularly enjoy dwelling on the idea of a woman having to contemplate that at the hands of incarnate God.” But would she? We see Christ in the Gospels speaking to women, protecting them, astonishingly treating them like people. Surely if he had married, he would have communicated and behaved so that his wife felt safe. In other words, since sexism is sinful, surely Christ would have been an egalitarian husband.

        The second point: “I have yet to meet a heterosexual woman who has not sometimes contemplated how her male partner could harm her even now.” This is somewhat true, in my experience. I’m a petite woman and my husband is a muscular man. When playing around/wrestling/hugging tight, it sometime strikes me how much stronger he is than me, and how his hug could really crush me if he put all his might into it. But I experience that not so much with fear, but in a sense of “wow, human bodies are so diverse” or just a keen sense of my (and his) embodiment. Heterosexual partnerships need not go hand in hand with a sense of danger. Threat is not somehow inherent to men, or masculinity, or romantic interactions.

        Lastly: Jesus did speak about marriage positively (as when he spoke against divorce), so I think he was already endorsing an institution that was in practice highly problematic in his time. I imagine that, had he participated, it would be with the same witness to reform and transformation as all his other actions. My chief issue with the idea of a married Christ is that it seems cruel to start a family knowing one would have to abandon them, especially given the lives allowed to widows and orphans in that time.

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