A new 4th century fragment of a Coptic document has been found that says “Jesus said to them, my wife…”
So does this mean Jesus was married?
I love it when these kinds of things come up because it is in my formal field of study “New Testament.” I’m sure all the meteorologists get just as excited during a hurricane.
What I love about it is the search for the truth, and the OBVIOUS desire by many to discredit Christianity and/or the church (particularly the Catholic Church, but they usually dislike Southern Baptists 3 worst behind Mormons).
There will be more dis-information that you hear about this on the nightly news than actual news, but I love that it’s out there.
I remember all the people reading Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code” and instantly becoming experts on Christian origins. Darrell Bock (a New Testament scholar) has a great book on that one, and he wrote a helpful post here about whether or not Jesus did have a wife.
You will hear on the news, or read on a blog that “we now have evidence that Jesus may have had a wife.” This is simply incorrect.
Here is the release on the web by Harvard.
Here is a quote from the ACTUAL ARTICLE that Karen L. King actually wrote:
Published here for the first time is a fragment of a fourth-century CE codex in Coptic containing a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus speaks of “my wife.” This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century. Nevertheless, if the second century date of composition is correct, the fragment does provide direct evidence that claims about Jesus’s marital status first arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship. Just as Clement of Alexandria (d. ca 215 C.E.) described some Christians who insisted Jesus was not married, this fragment suggests that other Christians of that period were claiming that he was married.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- This stuff is cool! If you have an interest in this kind of thing, you might enjoy Biblical Studies, in particular New Testament studies. There are several areas of specialization within NT Studies, but looking at ancient documents and figuring out how Christianity came together is part of it for sure. You might do well if you like this stuff.
- Who cares if Jesus was married? Well, Catholics do, and so do the people trying to discredit Catholics. I personally would have no problem with Jesus being married, it’s just that there is no historical reason to think that the most historically attested ancient figure (i.e. Jesus Christ) was married. The data just isn’t there. This is why you will see people (with zero expertise in the field) jump on this fragment right away. “Ah Ha! See, it’s all lies from your church…”
- This is a copy and a translation. Almost all the ancient writing that we find, at least when it comes to the writings of the first Christians, is not a “first edition.” This was, as the scholars think, originally written in Greek (like the NT) but is in what is called “Coptic” (the Egyptian descendant of Greek). Point of fact, there is not a distinct word for “woman” and “wife” in the Koine Greek. You can usually tell, but still, sometimes the word means “wife” and sometimes it means simply “woman”
- This text does not tell us what it says. It includes the word “Jesus” but that is one of the most common names in the first century. But assuming it means “Jesus Christ” and assuming it means “my wife,” and assuming that the original Greek “first edition” was written 100 years earlier… even then, all this says is that someone around 200AD was trying to argue that Jesus was married, which is not news. We already know this was a controversy at this time. That’s part of why this fragment seems authentic. It’s really cool! but we learn nothing from it we didn’t already know… but it is perhaps concrete evidence that what we knew is actually the case.
- The earlier church disagrees. There was overwhelmingly wide agreement within the Christians of the first and second century that Jesus was, in fact, not ever married.
- This does not challenge the faith. Though sections like Matthew 19:12 does seem to indicate that Jesus was not married, and not a single first century document (though granted, a very rare thing anyway) has ever suggested that Jesus was married… even if he was… I say “so what?” Nothing in marriage would detract from his mission or teaching in any way. Marriage is a gift from God and it is not some kind of “compromise” to get married. I think it would be cool if Jesus was married. If they are trying to then say that sex is somehow always a sin or that he had children and some are still living today… that’s just silly.
So what do you think? Does it make a difference to you if Jesus was married?