Jesus’ Wife

wire sculpture by Alexander Calder, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 

The news was news for a time and raised some eyebrows.  At the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome, Dr. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School revealed a fourth century scrap of papyrus, about the size of a business card, that seems to suggest Jesus was married.  The Coptic text is translated:  “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’”

Some linguists are quick to raise doubts about the authenticity of the discovered fragment, claiming it a forgery.  Other experts are certain it’s the real thing.  Some are suspicious because nothing in the New Testament suggests that Jesus was married.  They also point out that the context of the dialogue is anything but clear.  One scholar suggested Jesus might be saying:  “My wife . . . I have none.”  Others want to believe it’s true because it would serve as another argument for allowing Roman Catholic priests to marry as well as elevate the role of women throughout the Christian church.

Historic Christianity maintains that Jesus was single; not only was he born of a virgin, he was one himself.  If it could be proven, I’d be pleased to know that Jesus was married.  Marriage wouldn’t make him more human, but it would make him more dimensional. 

We should at least acknowledge that Jesus – married or not – was a sexual being.  Why should we assume Jesus never got aroused when a Nazarene girl looked intently into his eyes as she smiled or inadvertently brushed by his hip in a crowded marketplace or lingered a bit too long as she stooped to fetch water from the community well?

Are we to assume Jesus felt nothing erotic or sexual, that his body went numb, when a woman, identified by the dinner host as a prostitute, smothered his feet with her tears and kisses, dried them with her hair, then massaged them with ointment and oils?  Just because Clark Kent reacted like a clueless android from the planet Krypton whenever Lois Lane made subtle advances, doesn’t mean Jesus did.  

In the grand scheme of things it probably makes no differences whether Jesus was single or married.  It also makes no difference to the peace process in the Middle East or anywhere else that seven times in John’s gospel it’s recorded that Jesus “loved” one of the disciples more than all the rest.  This has led some scholars, Theodore Jennings of Chicago Theological Seminary being one, to conclude that Jesus’ sexuality led him in another direction altogether.

Maybe such matters shouldn’t be such a big deal to us either.



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  1. Jennifer Zinser September 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Thanks for the clarity!
    Love your commentary. I heard this on NPR and its been interesting to ponder this concept.

  2. Amy Harris October 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Bob and I found your post very interesting and realistic!

  3. Brandon Grafius October 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Great post, Dan. Thanks for the shout out to Ted Jennings – I had him for 20th Century Theology last year, and for a course on Derrida the year before that. What an amazing breadth of knowledge he has. I could listen to him tell stories all day.
    Beyond the question of what this fragment potentially says about Jesus’ biography, I’m even more intrigued by what it might tell us about early Christian communities. If it proves to be authentic, it seems to indicate that there was at least a tradition in early Christianity that thought it was important to preserve something about Jesus’ marriage. The ways our faith ancestors interpreted their religion are important, even if they weren’t the path that the dominant tradition ultimately decided on. We’re all richer for the chance to think about these other possibilities.