Is Sex the Reason Some Insist Jesus Wasn’t Married?

Is Sex the Reason Some Insist Jesus Wasn’t Married? September 24, 2012

Whatever one thinks of the authenticity or otherwise of the papyrus fragment that seems to be stuck with the title the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” I think it is useful that people are talking about the possibility of Jesus having been married. Some react to the idea with such an excessive dismissiveness, as though their faith were at stake, that is makes me think that some people have a view of Jesus that bears no relationship at all to the human figure in the earliest New Testament Gospels. I made this to sum up their view using the popular meme:

Phil Fox Rose has some discussion of whether Jesus having been married would matter, and to whom, and why – concluding with a few suggestions on how the text might have continued.

Francis Watson has yet another discussion of the issue of the papyrus fragment’s authenticity, in an article in The Bible and Interpretation.

April DeConick and James Tabor discuss the NBC News piece asking whether Jesus was “too holy for sex.”

See also the recent posts by Joseph Hoffmann, Stanley PorterDavid Gill, Tony Jones, Christian Piatt, and Rod the Rogue Demon Hunter.

If there is one thing that everyone should agree about, it is that this papyrus’ authenticity or inauthenticity, and its interpretation, do not tell us whether or not Jesus was married. And there is circumstantial evidence that might suggest whether he was or was not married. But none of those points explains why people react so viscerally to the idea that Jesus was married. If you are among those who do, I’d be interested in discussing why.  Is it, in fact, because you think that Jesus Christ was “too holy for sex” and if so, does that suggest a radically different view of sexuality than is found in at least most of the Bible?

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  • Ian

    I assumed this was the root of the scandal, yes. My reading of church history is that it has certainly be a key pillar of Christology. In Catholic terms, the priesthood must be celibate and Jesus is the high priest. Which carried over into protestantism’s sex-is-dirty subtext.

  • Dr. David Tee

    The NBC piece is nothing short of ridiculous. It doesn’t matter if the fragment is authentic or not, It does not come from a source that follows God, preaches the truth nor have the real Jesus confessing he is married.
    The fragment is nothing but a bad attempt at sensationalism and tries to undermine people’s faith in the real Jesus found in the Bible.
    One must consider the source then compare its beliefs with God’s criteria found in the Bible. If they do not match up then they are not talking about the real biblical Jesus. Besides if Jesus was married you would think it would be big news for Jesus’ enemies to take advantage of.
    They don’t so the evidence is against the fragment and possible claim.

    • You are going to have to make up your mind. You can either talk about historical evidence, in which case this fragment tells us nothing about the historical Jesus – and neither do most of the words placed on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of John, which are radically different in style and content from the way Jesus speaks in the other Gospels. Or you can simply accept on faith in the church’s authority to decide on the canon that everything in the NT is factual and everything outside it is not. But you cannot adopt the latter stance and then pretend to have objections based on evidence, and expect anyone to find that claim credible. Please choose, and then be consistent.

      • Dr. David Tee

        You make no sense whatsoever. Nothing stops me from using any truthful argument. The fragment doesn’t tell us anything about the biblical Jesus and the canon has nothing to do with this.
        Considering the source means we check the beliefs of the authors and if they donot line up with the Bible then they are unbelievers and false teachers.

        • That is a stance that merely asserts that the Bible is the standard by which all things are to be judged, which is not a stance that has to do with historical evidence, since the historical evidence indicates clearly that there was a long process, including substantial debate about certain texts’ inclusion, by which the contents of the Bible took on the form they now have.

          If you think that you can talk about the Bible and it can have nothing to do with the canon, then you clearly have not given much thought to what the Bible is or how it came to exist as the collection as you know it today.

    • Ian

      “Besides if Jesus was married you would think it would be big news for Jesus’ enemies to take advantage of. ”

      I’m almost afraid to ask, but how could Jesus’s enemies take advantage of him being married? What is it about Jesus being married that would be so damaging to your faith, ‘doctor’?

      • Dr. David Tee

        Think…if it wasn’t mentioned in the NT after Jesus’ ressurrection then his enemies, who were still alive, could discredit the NT and expose it for a fraud.since the statements we have in the NT allude to the fact that Jesus was single.

        • Ian

          “the statements we have in the NT allude to the fact that Jesus was single” such as? I’m only aware of people basing their ideas about Jesus being single based on the fact that the NT *doesn’t* talk about a wife. (But then again, since we learn from Philo and Jospehus that being single was unusual, though not unheard of, others suggest that the NT silence on his single-ness is a good indication he was married, since his being single would have been more noteworthy). So clear this up, please share where the NT alludes to Jesus being single.

          • ezra

            The scriptures do not say Jesus was single. That is tradition that developed later. There was a lot of Greek philosophy influence then in the culture … the idea that flesh and spirit could not mix .. so if Jesus were GOd, he could not be human .. that was a huge controversy for awhile in the early church.
            Tradition also said jesus had no brothers and sisters, but his “brothers” are mentioned in passing. It doesnt say, so you cant use the bible to prove one way or the other..

    • aar9n

      We know Jesus had wives because the prophets said so. If you knew the truth you would believe them, but you have closed your mind to the truth and consequencly Heavenly Father will turn his back on you.

  • Gary

    Of course, if you have an organ, I assume you play it. Same logic goes for circumcision at 8 days old. It’s there. Same for a butt. He ate and drank. So heaven forbid, he pee’d and pooped. Can we picture Jesus asking, please pass the Charmin? Irrelevant. I still think of Origen. Drastic measures take drastic action.

  • I think what upset people most about previous claims of Jesus being married was the baggage that went along with it. For example: Jesus’ treatment of Mary Magdalene seems less altruistic if he got sex out of it, also the secret goddess worshiping troubles some believers as well as the claim that the church drastically altered the teachings of Jesus as a direct conspiracy against women. When I think of Christians responding to claims of Jesus being married I always think of it with these other things attached to it.

    I don’t think it’s the notion that Jesus is married in particular that upsets people but the fact that it causes us to wonder why the canonical gospels and church tradition have overlooked this fact. It seems the authority of Scripture and the church is seriously undermined if they neglected to mention Jesus’ marriage.

    • ezra

      i dont see it as undermining scripture at all. A basic premise of logic is that you cannot argue from silence. Silence means nothing because it is silence. Wives of other people were not mentioned either, so it is consistent with the culture for a wife to not be mentioned.

  • domy

    I think it’s also interesting to ask why some want so much that Jesus has been married.
    if there is someone who can not bear the thought of a sexual Jesus there are others who can not stand the idea of ​​a celibate Jesus.

    • ezra

      Yes, to me that is a more interesting question than whether Jesus was married.

  • My objection to the idea of Jesus being married is simple: It is historically absurd to raise the issue.

    Prof. King’s fragment, probably from the fourth century, with an obscure reference to Jesus’ “wife” is an interesting find that may be a forgery. But my problem with her paper is:

    She offers no evidence for what she keeps calling a debate in the early church about Jesus’ marital status.

    She states that Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian were arguing that he was not, but a simple reading of their statements indicate that this is not their point at all. They mention that Jesus was not married as a subset to other discussions. There references indicate that everyone — including Gnostic groups for Clement — knew Jesus was not married; and that common knowledge calculates into the case each is making.

    The early church debate about whether or not Jesus had a wife is a fabrication in the mind of Prof. King and others who dabble in theories that are wide of the mark of genuine historical issues.

  • ezra

    My first emotional reaction was against the idea. But part of that is the greek idea that God and Man cannot be the same thing .. flesh and spirit cannot mix .. and that has influenced the church a long time. That is a greek idea, but not a biblical idea. My concern too was that as the Son of God,… would his children not be part God as well? After some thinking i remembered that we are created in God’s image, and so .. that argument kinda faded.
    So now i think it wouldnt matter at all. I also think there is no way to know because it was not recorded. In early testamental writings it is rare to see a wife mentioned .. There is mention of Peter being married, but Paul not being .. other than that im not sure of any references.
    I see no problem theologically with it either.
    A fragment means nothing by itself.