The Rabbi Says, “Sure Jesus Had a Wife!”

I had a little fun with the idea that Jesus had a wife last week. This week, something a little more serious. My dear friend, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, often posts at the Emergent Village blog; he regularly co-preaches with me at Solomon’s Porch, and he and I are co-presenting next week at Luther Seminary’s Celebration of Biblical Preaching Conference. I asked him what a Jew might think of Jesus being married, and he wrote this superb guest post:

The Rabbi says, “Of course Jesus was married!”

The recent headlines regarding a fourth century papyrus fragment in which we read a reference to Jesus’ wife raises a wonderful dilemma for Jews and Christians in dialogue.

When Christians search for their (Jesus’) Jewish roots, the question of marriage and even children is not very radical. The first commandment of the 613 mtizvot (commandments) in the Torah is “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Jesus would not have consciously chosen to be single nor celibate as a first century Judean following normative Torah, but the Christ, the risen and incarnate Messiah, is beyond those normative structures. When Jews are asked by Christians to explain what it means to be a Jew, far too many begin with the self-definition of: Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, tragically defining themselves by rejecting the primary religious axiom of all Christians.

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

So, this news about Jesus being married is a wonderful and unexpected opportunity for Jews and Christians to reconnect about who they are in relation to each other. Since Jews do not have a problem with the historical reality of Jesus and they assume the necessity of marriage, the possibility of Jesus having a wife is not very challenging.

The Essenes — the desert monastic cult that is mentioned along with the Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus’ time — were celibate and are therefore outside any Jewish norm. Christians can help Jews understand that their focus is actually on the Christ and not the human Jesus, the Judean for whom marriage would have been the norm. Christians might feel ambivalent about giving up their Jewish roots, but for the sake of honest dialogue it is important to explain that the risen Christ is their salvation and the human Jesus while mysteriously linked to the Messiah/Christ can’t be married according to later doctrine!

Jews and Christians alike must face the challenge that the Scriptures and traditional histories and commentaries from which the Judaism and Christianity of today are based cannot be defined by facts discovered out of context. Our two communities will always be challenged by the next new discovery which as a matter of course will counter our traditional point-of-view. Our faiths, observances, and theologies are not accumulated facts that will be changed when new facts are found.

The current legal battle over circumcision requires contemporary medical and legal thinkers to accept that this is a ritual that defies rational debate. The rational possibility or even necessity of marriage for Jesus, the Judean/Galilean teacher, is of little importance, because the Christ Jesus could not have married! Jews have to listen and learn from their Christian dialogue partners that arguing against a Christian’s religious values is not a valid act of 21st century religious pluralism.

“Yes,” the rabbi would say, “Of course Jesus was married!” But if the rabbi wants to understand how Christians must intellectually multi-task, having both a Jesus in history and a Christ beyond history, then listening might be the best tactic.

  • Keith Rowley

    I like it when you post simple yet profound observations like this.

  • Keith Rowley

    Just a quick question, I grew up in church, have gone all my life, consider myself a Christian, started a masters in Christian ministry which I never finished, and still am uncertain WHY Jesus can’t have been married.

    Could you point me to a resource for the foundation of this doctrinal position?

    • Curtis

      1) If Jesus were married, he would most likely have children, based on the common definition and practice of marriage of his time. In Jesus time, a marriage that did not produce children would not be considered “marriage”.
      2) If Jesus is God, and he had children, then, by definition, his children would also be God (or part-God) which messes up the whole idea of Christianity being mono-theistic. Not to mention the theological problem of having part-Gods running around Earth with us today.
      3) If Jesus had children that were not God, that calls into question the very nature of Jesus being God. The only way Jesus can have kids that are not God is if Jesus, himself, is not fully God. That messes up Christian theology that teaches that Jesus and God are one and the same entity.

      In short, the prospect of Jesus being married, and having kids, messes around with the clean Christian theology that Jesus is God.

      • Gary (NJ)

        If Jesus were married and had children, I don’t see why one must assume that His divine nature had to be passed on to the offspring any more than if the Buddha had children, they would automatically have to be born Enlightened. A great artist or surgeon can have children who have no talent or interests similar to the parent(s). I know this is all hair-splitting, but it was just my thoughts on the above comment.

      • Kay Sherman

        If you made two list supporting Jesus as God and a list of evidence that says Jesus was Human, the human side evidence greatly out wieghts the God part. The beloved Disciple that Jesus loved more then the rest, that laid his head on Jesus chest..dosen’t that sound like something a young boy ie…son would do with dad after a long day and tired! At the cross when Jesus ask the same beloved Disciple to care for his mother. We assume Jesus is saying care for my mother, could it be Jesus was saying to his son…care for your mother.

      • nate shoemaker

        if Jesus had been married and had children, wouldn’t they have been ‘made in his image’? and as such, being human children made in his image living in this world, wouldn’t they have been subject to the same human brokenness and temptation? i guess i don’t how, given he had children, they wouldn’t be subject to the same “all have sinned and fallen short” piece that all the children of God, made in his image, people are subject to…

        i’m not necessarily siding that Jesus was married, because who knows… but i also struggle with understanding why we think he could not have been and why that would ‘break’ Xianity

      • nate shoemaker

        if Jesus had been married and had children, wouldn’t they have been ‘made in his image’? and as such, being human children made in his image living in this world, wouldn’t they have been subject to the same human brokenness and temptation? i guess i don’t how, given he had children, they wouldn’t be subject to the same “all have sinned and fallen short” piece that all the children of God, made in his image, are subject to…

        i’m not necessarily siding that Jesus was married, because who knows… but i also struggle with understanding why we think he could not have been and why that would ‘break’ Xianity

      • Bob Cahill

        The historical Jesus was God in the same way we all are. The post-Easter Jesus is for a another discussion. Problem solved.

        If Mary was human and the Spirit wasn’t, that would make Jesus a Demi-God. Right?

        It’s metaphor, not fact. I thought this was a progressive christian blog!

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          Not progressive enough for you, Bob?

  • Jeff

    Jesus married a Gentile? Why is there a pig outside the house in the cartoon?

    • Gary (NJ)

      HAHAHA I thought the same thing!

  • Keith Rowley

    Curtis,
    This is a very Greek understanding that god hood would be passed down genetically. While affirming Jesus divinity as well as humanity and understanding that these are not seperatable, I still question the idea that Jesus divinity was somehow inherent in his genes.
    I tend to view the physical world as being mostly inherently good bases on it being God’s creation and at worst neutral based on the fall. However as good as I think the physical world to be I have never considered Jesus physical blood and body to be divine.
    I know this lends itself to dualism and so can only be taken so far, but viewing Jesus phisical body instead of his spiritual nature to be the center of his divinity seems more than a little suspect to me.

    • Curtis

      Yes, passing godhood through your offspring has Greek origins, but it found in Christianity as well. That is part of the background story behind the Holy Spirit hooking up with Mary, after all. If there were no partnering required to bestow godhood, God could have anointed any human baby the Messiah. The fact that there was an intimate partnering between the Spirit and Mary is what make Jesus a special baby. If God were to further partner with another woman, through Jesus, it would lead to more special babies.

      Jesus being married is the start of the slippery slope toward either A) Polytheism or B) Jesus being merely human, and not God. Either option renders orthodox Christianity meaningless, so most Christians would reject the notion that Jesus could be married.

      • http://bobcharters.blogspot.com Robby Charters

        I think we’re missing out one component, the fact that Jesus didn’t suddenly become God by virtue of his birth to Mary via the Holy Spirit, but that various parts of the New Testament show that he was with God in the beginning, and therefore preexistant. The Word BECAME flesh, but was still the WORD at the beginning.

        In becoming flesh, He became a full human being, not a partial one. Therefore, it was the particular seed that was God, because it already was God before. Any children born to Him through His being fully human would only be themselves, and no more God than the first Adam was through having life imparted to him straight from the Breath of God (the Holy Spirit)

        • Curtis

          On the one hand, you are right. On the other hand, in the midst of the 4th century church, fighting for their life over whether Jesus was human or whether Jesus is God, I doubt the prospect of Jesus having children is something “Jesus is God” camp wanted to deal with.

  • Keith Rowley

    So the traditional view is that Jesus sperm would have been divine? Sorry to be slightly crass but this seems more than a little crazy to me.

    • Curtis

      Yes, I agree it is crazy. But it is God who grants special status to God’s offspring, as God did with Jesus, crazy as it may be.

  • Mary

    My comment is not about Jesus’ marriage.
    I just have to say this. I have listened to this for 20 years now. “Jesus = God” is a flawed understanding of scripture. I have been a Christian for over 45 years and attended church with very old, very conservative Evangelicals. If anyone had stood up in church and said or sang Jesus Is God ; the old folks’ & the minister’s heads would have fallen off.
    Jesus is the Son of God.
    Jesus holds a unique spot- at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus was clear on this as was his Father who sent him.
    Divine? Yes. Trinity? yes …. with God the Father – ALWAYS – as the first Cause.
    If this is clear a lot of theological issues become clear, including the importance of whether Jesus was married or not…. not important…. still the Son of God.

    • Curtis

      If Jesus is God, what does that make the children of Jesus? Isn’t it something very, very special for God to have offspring?

    • Bob Cahill

      Oh what a tangled web we weave, when the Bible literal we conceive!

  • Keith Rowley

    I guess I have alwasy thought of myself as a child of God and thus don’t think of God having children as that unusual.

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  • Keith Rowley

    If I had to give a reason I would say the authors of the new testament were NOT trying to hide anything about Jesus life so if Jesus were married it would have been mentioned in the Bible.

    • http://bobcharters.blogspot.com Robby Charters

      On the other hand, there are a lot of things we don’t know about life in NT times, simply because the writers didn’t think they were important enough to mention. They didn’t know it would one day become a controversial issue, and to them, whether it was so or not so, it was beside the point — not the central subject they were trying to communicate.

  • Hilary

    I always thought it was because the Catholic Church didn’t want to think about Jesus getting laid. But whenever Christians talk about him being ‘perfect’ or perfectly fulfilling the Law, I always think about “be fruitful and multiply” is one mitzvot he missed. Usually I let it pass rather then get rude about it.

    And yes, what is with that pig in the picture, and she’s asking about milk? Eeesh.

    Hilary

  • JamieR

    I have a couple of thoughts about the idea of Jesus being married and having children.
    1) The command to “be fruitful and multiply” was given directly to Adam and Eve, it is not codified in law of Moses, and therefore if Jesus did not “multiply” he was not in violation of the law. There are many people who cannot bear children, and they are in nowise sinning or violating the law.
    2) Jesus came to this Earth for a very specific mission. It would not have been right of him to take a wife, knowing that he was going to die and leave her a widow. The Word says that a man who does not take care of his wife and family is worse then an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8). At the cross, Jesus fulfilled the command to honor his father and mother by making sure his mother was taken care of by one of his disciples (John 19:26). If he was married, why did he not do the same for his wife? Shouldn’t he have said to one of his disciples “John, or Peter, please provide for my wife and make sure she is taken care of”? Not to mention the fact that after his resurrection at the tomb, Jesus told Mary Magdalene (who most think would have been his wife) “don’t cling to, (or touch), me” (John 20:17)… doesn’t sound like the words of a loving husband. If he was married, I would feel sorry for his wife.
    3) Most importantly, the bible clearly states that sin came into the world through the rebellion of Adam, and Jesus (due to his Father being God and his conception brought about by the Holy Spirit) did not inherit this sin nature from Adam (Romans 5:12). This is why He was able to lead a sinless life and be the sacrifice and substitute for our sins. Therefore, if He had children, they too would not have inherited a sin nature and would have no need for a Savior. This cannot be possible. The Word clearly states that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus is the Passover lamb, slain from the foundations of the world to take away our sins.

    • maria b

      finally someone that makes sense AMEN!!!!!!!!

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  • Michelle

    I don’t think Jesus had a wife. Not even looking into the Theological and intense spiritual reasons behind it- we have dug up one piece of an incomplete manuscript that mentions Jesus saying, “My wife…” which, if we look at language during that time, could also mean “bride”. Christianity teaches that the bride of Christ is the Church. So, Jesus, always speaking in metaphors and calling us broods of vipers, could be referring to his Church. Secondly, he mentions something about “I will dwell with her”. Sounds sexual, but look at Hosea 2. God wants to “lure us into the desert”. That’s not sexual, it’s endearing. And again, language. “Dwell” could mean something else entirely. Finally, it’s a piece of a puzzle. There are gaps between these little bits and pieces, and it’s not really smart to put together the pieces that we do have and assume they are all talking about the same topic. In addition: even if this piece that they found WAS a complete document, detailing a thousand-page manuscript from the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, it is still only one document in existence that even mentions anything near the possibility of Jesus having a wife. It will not be the be-all and end-all of Christianity, or of any sort of historical conclusion. In other words, more pics or it didn’t happen.

  • Norm Morford

    To focus only on the Christ without reference to the human Jesus was considered heretical for the early centuries.

  • http://tiny.cc/bostonreaders ounbbl

    Rabbi, How many real Jesus were there?
    Most of them when they grown up would have married. You know what I mean, the persons who go by the name Yeshua, Yehoshua, etc., if you just forget the none-existing name or person of Jesus in the first century of Roman Province of Palestina. Back then, anyone could have married. Anyone would have married. That was the norm of the society. (My grown-up children have nothing of marriage in the mind set, like so many in our times in the Western society.) But anyone should have married? Why a rabbi even mentioning the name ‘Jesus’? He has nothing worthy to do for his like?

  • Charles

    There are lots of problem with Jesus being married, but his status as the incarnation of God isn’t one of them. The traditional version (which I’m not sure I entirely agree with) says that the eternal Logos united himself with a human nature. The human was a normal human. All attempts at distinguishing him (the Holy Spirit instead of a human spirit, etc) were finally rejected as heresy. So if he had a wife and children, the children wouldn’t also be incarnations of God because they wouldn’t be the vehicle for the Logos.

    The biggest problem is that there’s no sign of a wife in the earliest accounts of the Church. Admittedly, the early Church so idolized virginity that I could imagine them trying to hide it, but I don’t they’d be 100% effective. While rabbis were typically married, I could imagine someone knowing what he was going to go through deciding not to put a wife through it. It’s also hard to imagine some of the early church attitudes growing up with Jesus married. It would require a surprisingly complete and early suppression of that information.

    I’m sympathetic with the author’s suggestion that Christians have two versions of Jesus, one in history and one not. Some Christians have consciously done that. But most have not. Normally they take one of the other as primary (usually the traditional theological version) and use it to filter what they will accept of the other.

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  • http://NONE alejandro blanco

    …The first commandment of the 613 mtizvot… truth.. ai..

    … idea for milleniums YESHUA to ben like a single one, that also radically brought the idea on ROME to be a single one for suposed called SANTITY even tehre over catolisism which is not really a good prerrogative on front of JAI.. but tehre’s this section over consider..

    .. how there at “OZMAHUV’HA TAHAM ZEDOV AMAHAM” to come to be about?.. telling: ..

    .. must accumplish the law., reason for came to.. but.. “HOW TO BE OVER THERE TO SAY: .. even his generattions, who shall account them?”..

    .. TELLING FOR ONCE: the whole in the same job came for.. over the same “EZAHOT AHAM’HA JAI DELAHJ” .. over there the whole saved..

    .. TELLING FOR TWICE: the none own gendeer over self conceiving for there had to be in curse and having the same condition to redime privated of all and become none really like GOVERNMENTAL-INSITITUTIONAL-MEN KINGDOMS RECOGNIZED NO TAKING LIKE!”..

    .. he said “MY KINGDOM ( MELECH’HA JAI ELAH ) IS NOT OF THIS WORLD”.. I shall do the my ABBA EJAHT ANAHAM ERUCH..

    .. I say.. what do you think?..

    .. and “JADU’BHAE JAHAM ANTICH” it ain’t no pagane.. forgive me please..