A firestorm of controversy surrounds a papyrus fragment recently unveiled by Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School historian. The textual fragment has sparked a heated debate over Christian history, archaeological accuracy and the role of marriage in the Christian church.
The fragment, which is about the size of a business card, contains just 33 words, including: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .” and “she will be able to be my disciple.”
Recent carbon dating and chemical analysis testing by scholars at Harvard and MIT prove the papyrus and ink to be authentic, and dating back to possibly the First Century A.D. Other testing dates some of the materials to around 300-650 A.D.
The controversy arises because of the Catholic dogma that Jesus was not married, under the belief that marriage is an earthly, human, even lustful practice, not indulged in by the Son of God–God Himself. Of course, like most dogmas, there is no scriptural support for the belief. In fact, for 1,700 years the Catholic Church has not only taught its members that Jesus was unmarried, but that its own clergy must likewise remain celibate. For millennia the Catholic church vilified Jesus’ disciple, Mary Magdalene, as a repentant prostitute, attempting to tarnish early Christian beliefs that she was actually the wife of Christ. Only recently has the Catholic church publicly withdrawn the slanderous speculation. This fragment casts not only a serious shadow on the Catholic church’s view of marriage, but on its claim to proper understanding of Christ and His role as Savior and Redeemer.
Was Jesus actually married? The fact that this ancient Christian fragment indicates that He was is not proof positive. The fragment merely evidences that Christians at the time it was written, if authentic, thought he was. The apostles who provided the world with the written gospels specifically eliminated those details from their accounts. In fact, aside from Jesus’ birth, teaching as a young man in the temple, and an overview of his three year mission culminating in His crucifixion and resurrection, the scriptures offer very little detail about His life.
Would it have been common for Jesus to be married? Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, and it was a strict requirement that Jewish Rabbis be married. The very first commandment is “Be fruitful and multiply,” and Jewish Rabbis, especially at the time of Jesus, adhered strictly to the law. Did Jesus adhere to Biblical laws? When Jesus told John the Baptist that He needed to be baptized, John hesitated, believing Jesus to be above the law. But Jesus instructed him: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Further, the Apostle Paul explained the union of the man and the woman in true Christianity thus: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Indeed, history, tradition, commandments and scriptures all point to the high probability that Jesus was married.
Whether or not this particular fragment of parchment is accurate about Jesus being married, the news that He probably was should not shock anyone who is a Christian. Marriage is honorable, and bearing children is Godly. Because the Catholic church was formed by pagan emperors centuries after the demise of the original Christian church, many Catholic dogmas are plainly wrong. That doesn’t mean Christianity gets it wrong–just one branch of the tree. As the reformers left the Catholic church and attempted to correct its course, marriage of clergy was reinstated–correctly.
This fragment is probably accurate. Whether or not it eventually turns out to be authentic, the belief that Jesus was married is most probably true. What does that mean to Christians today? It means that dogmas created to control Christians should be abolished. What was the warning of Timothy? He told us to avoid those, “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” 1 Timothy 4:3
J.L. Thompson is a Christian writer, and holds a Juris Doctor degree. He is Editor-in-Chief of Scottsdale Multimedia, Inc., a leading ghostwriting firm. Volume One of his new novel series “The Coming Flood” has just been released, titled Trees of the Garden. Visit J.L. Thompson on Facebook