Was Jesus Really Married? Christian Experts Sound In

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When I first heard that a professor at Harvard Divinity School found a piece of ancient papyrus indicating that Jesus had a wife, my initial reaction was one of skepticism and eye rolling. Hadn’t we been over this already—back when Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci Code and got everyone questioning whether Jesus was secretly married to Mary Magdalene?

And besides, the papyrus contained eight random lines, none of which were complete sentences, and only a few of which were even related to each other. The words, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife . . .'" were legible among the various phrases; thus, speculation began as to whether or not this writing could actually be legitimate. Did Jesus have a wife that the Bible never mentioned? Was it possible?

The more I thought about it, the more difficult it was for me to wrap my brain around the concept. And I came up with loads of questions I couldn't even begin to answer. For example, if Jesus had been married, would people have thought he loved his wife more than anyone else? Would it mean the God of the universe had sex with a mere mortal—much the way Zeus was rumored to do in ancient Greek mythology? If he and this wife had a baby, would their offspring be part divine being?

And, finally, what about that verse in I Corinthians 7 where the Apostle Paul writes, "An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided." Would that same statement be true of Jesus? If he were married, would his interests be divided, and would his mission of being the redeemer and savior of mankind then be compromised?

In the spirit of speculative fun, I thought I might do a little research and find some answers. It turns out I am not the first person to consider such ideas. In 1970, a professor and theologian named William E. Phipps published a book called Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition. It is an extensive study of Jewish culture in the time of Jesus’ life, as well as an examination of the Catholic Church and their call for priestly celibacy.

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Granted, I am not Catholic. I make this distinction because I recognize that in the Catholic tradition, Jesus' marital state has much greater ramifications. Both Paul and Jesus are presumed to have led lives devoted to celibacy and service to God. Their example is a primary reason why the Catholic Church still upholds this ideal. Yet, even if the newly found papyrus proves to be solid evidence that Jesus was married, the Church does not seem likely to change its stance, nor do the priests seem likely to adopt any new traditions. In a New York Times opinion piece, Reverend James Martin writes, "And will this fascinating new discovery make this Jesuit priest want to rush out and get married? No . . . It wouldn't upset me if it turned out that Jesus was married. His life, death and, most important, resurrection would still be valid. Nor would I abandon my life of chastity, which is the way I've found to love many people freely and deeply."

As Evangelical Christians, we see things a bit differently. I attend a non-denominational Christian church where all of the pastors and church leaders are married and the majority of them have children. Celibacy is only expected while pastors are single, and marriage is both encouraged and celebrated as something God created and placed his blessing over.

Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, believes this whole notion is not nearly as controversial as the media is making it out to be. In his 2006 book, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Bock writes, "One of the most basic beliefs of Christian faith is that Jesus was 100 percent human [as well as 100 percent God].  So if He had been married and fathered children, His marital relationship and His parenthood would not theoretically undercut His divinity but would have been reflections of His complete humanity."

In theory, Bock is right. Marriage is a common practice, and any desire to marry would have been a definite reflection of Jesus' humanity. Most men do want to find a woman to share their lives with, after all. But on the other hand, if Jesus had chosen a wife, wouldn't people have thought he was playing favorites by dedicating his life to one woman and uniting himself with her sexually? Is it even appropriate to conceive of God conceiving children with a human being whom he also refers to as "his child?"

Forgive me if I find the concept a bit—I don’t know—incestuous?

Kenneth Samples agrees. He is the former Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor for the Christian Research Institute. In an interview for Reasons.org, he argues:

"Jesus is not just any human being. He’s not just any man. He is the God-man. He is a single person who has both a divine and human nature. He is the redeemer of lost human beings. He is the second person of the Trinity. His relationship with other human beings is going to be very different in that context. He says that he has come to save the lost. His life is not the typical, 'Let’s settle down, have kids, have a basic family.'"

To discuss this topic further, I chatted with Jeremy Livermore, host of a weekly radio show on Christian apologetics, which Wikipedia describes as "a field of Christian theology which aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and attempt to expose the flaws of other world views." He finds the prospect of Jesus' potential marriage to be an intriguing concept, but highly unlikely.

"There's no indication given in the Gospels that Jesus had a wife," Livermore insists. "However, it would be extremely interesting to see Jesus be married in the Bible—loving his wife, showing the world what that looks like."

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I then brought up I Corinthians 7 where it draws the comparison between a married man and a single man. It says that a single man is free to devote his life entirely to God, while a married man must divide his interests between pleasing his wife and pleasing God. According to Livermore, it's important to consider the original context of Paul's statement before making it applicable to everyone. As an example of this, he cites biblical passages that claim women should be veiled and remain silent at church.

Over the centuries, Christian churches have interpreted those passages in different ways. Some believe they apply to everyone through all ages, while others believe Paul was merely talking to a specific group at a specific time. Livermore believes the latter to be true, and says Paul's remarks about marriage fall into the same criteria. "When Paul made that statement, it may or may not have been applicable to Jesus, or the apostles. We do know that some early church leaders were married, and some were not, but you can't really say that some were more distracted than others because of it."

I would agree. It sounds a bit like generalizing an entire population, and the way people react in certain situations is always going to vary.

I asked Livermore about the recently found papyrus fragment and if he thought it could be legitimate evidence that Jesus had a wife. He said there's still too many unanswered questions for historians and theologians to take it very seriously. For example, they're not one hundred percent sure when it was written, where was it written, or by whom. They also can't tell why it was written, or what sort of document it is. Is it fictional by nature, or is it trying to describe things accurately? Could it be lines from a play, or a poem, or a song?

Whatever his marital status, to me, Jesus' message doesn't change. Married or not, he still died on a cross, and to me, that is what's most important.

What do you think? Is it possible Jesus had a wife? And if he did, does that change the way you view him or his mission on earth?

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