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Written by Jimmie Burroughs Email to a friend
There has been a lot of buzz on the Internet and in the news media the past few days about a newly discovered ancient document that indicates that Jesus had a wife. I received an objective email about the matter that I will share with you below, but first let’s examine 10 obvious facts concerning the alleged ancient document, the Bible and the life of Jesus that repels the suggestion that he may have had a wife:
- The authenticity has yet to be fully established concerning the tiny fragment of the document in question, and whether it has anything to do with the historical Jesus.
- Even Professor Karen King of Harvard who researched the document does not say it pertains to the historical Jesus.
- If the date of the fragment is correct, that places it as late as the 4th century, and therefore hundreds of years after the actual events surrounding the life of Jesus, and also during the primetime for Gnostics who were making up their own facts about Jesus to strengthen the doctrine of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, many are erroneously taking this as just one more unproven bit of evidence against Christianity.
- There have been many religious writings throughout the ages concerning Jesus and religious matters that did not measure up to the requirements of inspiration.
- There have always been critics of Jesus and spurious writings concerning him.
- Of all 27 books of the New Testament not one time is there any mention of Jesus having a wife or even an allusion to it.
- Jesus met the woman thought to be his wife, Marry Magdalene, during his personal and public ministry, which was the final three years of his life. The fragment says that Jesus said he abode with her, but Jesus said the opposite in Scripture. He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). According to the words of Jesus he had no place of abode during the time in question.
- Jesus was an iterant preacher the final three years of his life. He and his disciples traveled extensively proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick. They apparently lodged with friends in the villages that they visited, or camped out of doors. Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness alone during his temptation in the final three years of his life.
- Jesus knew he would soon die on the cross; that was his purpose for coming to earth. It would be cruel and out of character for Jesus to marry knowing he soon would die and leave a grieving wife behind. I wouldn’t do that, and I can’t be compared to the morals and ethics of Jesus.
- I don’t believe Jesus had a wife, nor do I think it can be proven that he did, but just say it was proven beyond a doubt that he did have a wife. Would that change the fact that he lived a sinless life? No! Because marriage is approved by Scripture and is not sin. Would it change His purpose to die on a cross to pay the penalty for humanities’ sin? No! However, it would complicate matters if there was child born to the marriage. Would the child be considered a second son of God or a daughter of God, also would they be considered God manifested in the flesh?
The following is the email that I received from a friend that elaborates on the subject and treats it in a very objective way:
The Web is by now awash with stories of an ancient text in which Jesus says ‘my wife’. The story which broke yesterday in the New York Times and some other sources, is being carried today by outlets too numerous to list. Some of the reporting is responsible, but not all. Consider this extract from The Daily Mail:
“If genuine, the document casts doubt on centuries old official representation of Magdalene as a repentant whore and overturns the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence.”
We are of course in a context where there is so much ignorance of basic facts about Christianity that even when the media properly relay facts they get completely distorted and misunderstood in a popular perception. This can be seen in the way derivative media put spin on the story and in the online comments below the news items.
Here we try to establish a few facts.
The scholarly article upon which almost all knowledge of the fragment is based is here. (http://news.hds.harvard.edu/files/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0917.pdf )
What do we know from this?
What’s in a name? First, let’s start with the name. The scholar involved, Professor Karen King of Harvard, has decided to call this The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. However, it might more appropriately be named The Fragment about Jesus’ Relations, since the is no evidence that it was called a gospel and the text mentions at least two family members. Of course, such a name would not generate the same publicity. Despite this unfortunate choice of name, Professor King is to be commended for publishing a good photograph and detailed scholarly analysis of the fragment simultaneously with the press release. Usually in the case of controversial text the media hype comes long before the availability of the text.
Genuine or forgery?
Professor King has provided pictures of the papyrus, but it is not publicly known who owns it, or where it came from. If genuine, it almost certainly came from Egypt because that is where papyri like this are found.
Because it was not found in situ it is obviously possible to doubt its genuineness. Scholars at Tyndale House think that, on the basis of limited evidence currently available, it is possible it is genuine, though there are good reasons for skepticism – see the comments of Dr. Christian Askeland, an expert in Coptic manuscripts here.
What about date?
It is written in Coptic, the language of Egypt which descended from the even earlier language of the Hieroglyphs. Coptic is Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet with a few extra letters. Because Coptic was only emerging as a written language in the third century and papyrus went out of use in the seventh century the 8 cm x 4 cm fragment has to be dated some time from the third to the seventh century and the scholars involved with this fragment have stated that it is fourth century on the basis of the handwriting.
Since we have virtually no firmly dated Coptic handwriting, this date is just an educated guess.
Then we turn to the date of the contents. Here Professor King puts the text in the late second century, but all that we really know is that the text is at least as old as the manuscript.
The papyrus at the centre of the publicity
What does it say?
Here is King’s translation of the text, with square brackets used where the text does not survive:
1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it[
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
8] an image [
1 ] my moth[er
2 ] three [
3 ] … [
4 ] forth which … [
5 ] (illegible ink traces)
We believe this to be a largely reliable translation. But is it evidence that Jesus had a wife? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Not even Karen King is claiming that it is, though it’s inevitable that some of the news outlets will present it otherwise.
What we have here is a typical sort of text which arose after Christianity had become very popular and when derivatives of Christianity began to emerge. The language of the text is very similar to the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 101 and 114, and the Gospel of Thomas saying 101 shows influence of Luke 14:26, as the Gospel of Thomas does elsewhere. This way of speaking belongs to the mid-second century or later, in other words generations later than the books of the New Testament.
He concluded: “Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.
You can read his fuller analysis here.
Please feel free to forward this email.
Warden, Tyndale House, Cambridge.
36 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge, CB3 9BA, Tel. 01223 566602
Tyndale House is a division of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF),
a company limited by guarantee, registered in England & Wales No. 387932.
Registered Office: 38 De Montfort Street, Leicester, LE1 7GP. Registered Charity: 306137
Over the years there have been many efforts to discount the life of Jesus as well as the Bible and all have failed. There is no other book or prophet that is anywhere close to measuring up to the Bible and Jesus. The Bible has been proven over and over again to be reliable and accurate. There is no doubt from the Bible and extant history that Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Son of God who came to pay the sin debt for all humanity through his death on the cross. Learn more about how you can have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus.
Jimmie Burroughs: Founder of Christian personal development.
About the author: Jimmie Burroughs is a motivational speaker and author who has been involved in teaching Christian Personal Development for more than 30 years. There are hundreds of articles to help you on this website, Website Contents , in your person growth. If I can help you personally, please send your concerns via: Contact me.
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