Last Friday, I began suggesting several answers to the question: Why is the supposed marriage of Jesus such a big deal these days? So far, I’ve offered three options:
1. The Marriage of Jesus is a Big Deal Because of The Da Vinci Code
2. The Marriage of Jesus is a Big Deal Because It Appears to Undermine Orthodox Christianity
3. The Marriage of Jesus is a Big Deal Because It Appears to Raise the Status of Women
Today, I’ll finish up for now by suggesting three more reasons why there is so much hubbub surrounding the supposed marriage of Jesus.
4. The Marriage of Jesus is a Big Deal Because It Seems to Affirm Human Sexuality
If Jesus was literally married to some woman, whether Mary Magdalene or some other person, then we would assume he was sexually intimate with this person. For many people today, this is part of the excitement (and scandal) of the married Jesus. If Jesus had a wife, then sexuality gets an ethical and theological promotion.
To be sure, some Christians associate all sexuality with sin. This is one main reason they cannot tolerate the idea of a married Jesus. The fact that God created sex as something good, something to be shared between a man and woman as they become “one flesh,” something that enables humankind to be literally fruitful and multiplying, is forgotten. But, we are told, the marriage of Jesus endorses sexual intimacy. It seems to correct an error in the thinking of many Christians.
I can understand this perspective. What I find odd, however, is that the “married Jesus” perspective seems to have thrived, if it thrived at all, among Gnostic Christians who actually minimized the value of fleshly existence. They prized the spirit and ignored or denigrated the flesh. Thus, those who might have believed that Jesus was actually married and sexually active held a view of human life that undermines a healthy, holy sexuality. If you’re looking for positive affirmations of human sexuality, you’d be much better off with the Bible than with Gnostic speculations.
5. The Marriage of Jesus is a Big Deal Because It Appears to Make Jesus More Human
Eight years ago, in response to the popularity of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, I wrote an online article called Was Jesus Married? A Careful Look at the Real Evidence. I concluded that the historical evidence for the marriage of Jesus was virtually non-existent. (In fact, if the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is authentic, it supplies the only piece of clear ancient historical evidence for a wife of Jesus other than a circumstantial argument based on the incorrect assertion that all Jewish men in Jesus’ day were married. Of course, the actual evidence from the fragment of this “gospel” amounts to just a tiny bit more than zero, so I would still say the evidence for the marriage of Jesus is virtually non-existent.)
When I wrote my article on the marriage of Jesus, I never anticipated the responses I would get from dozens of people. Through comments left on my blog or through emails, readers let me know how much it meant to them to think of Jesus as married. Almost always, their main point was that a married Jesus seemed to be a much more human Jesus, a Jesus they could relate to, a Jesus they wanted to know and follow. Many of those who wrote to me were Christians who had envisioned a distant, judgmental, inhuman Jesus before they began to picture him as married. For them, Jesus had been 90% divine and 10% human (at most). A married Jesus balanced the scales, or tilted them in favor of Jesus’ humanity.
I do understand that certain streams of Christian tradition have so emphasized the deity of Christ that his humanity has been lost. The classic formula of “fully God and fully human” may have been affirmed in principle. But, in the faith and piety of some Christians, Jesus is “mostly God and barely human.” This kind of Jesus feels distant, judgmental, and uncaring. Yet, for many whose sense of Jesus obliterates his full humanity, a married Jesus brought him back to earth.
If you know anything about early Christianity, you can identify a giant irony here. The Jesus-with-a-wife tradition seems to have existed among those whose Christianity was Gnostic. The essence of Gnosticism involved a denial of the value of fleshly existence. Salvation was the deliverance of spirit from the prison of flesh. The “Savior” in Gnostic speculation is not fully human at all. In fact, many of the Gnostics claimed that the real Christ was not the Word of God Incarnate, was not truly human, and did not actually die on the cross. These things were just illusions or the actions of an imposter. So, historically speaking, belief in a married Jesus seems to be associated with an understanding of the Savior as not truly and fully human. Those who are drawn to a married Jesus because it makes him seem more human are at odds with those who originally cooked up the story of a married Jesus.
6. The Marriage of Jesus is a Big Deal Because Jesus is a Big Deal
Even in our increasingly secular Western culture, and even in a world of wide religious and philosophical diversity, Jesus is still a big deal. Democrats and Republicans want Jesus on their side. So do Methodists, Mennonites, Mormons, and Muslims. Oh, there may be a few enthusiastic atheists who are done with Jesus, but they are plainly in the minority. Most people still care a whole lot about Jesus, or at least the Jesus of their own imaginations. Thus, if someone comes up with a novel claim about Jesus, especially if that claim seems to contradict classic Christian teaching, then folks get excited. Jesus still has the power to upset the apple cart as well as to sell newspapers and drive up the traffic to your web site.
I expect that, before too long, the tempest associated with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife will die down. The fragment of this “gospel” may end up being judged by most scholars to be a forgery. But, even if it is seen as authentic, the fragment’s irrelevance will soon overwhelm the hype. Nevertheless, I wonder if there is anything to be learned from this whole discussion of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. I’ll share a few thoughts in an upcoming post.