The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife
The following study will briefly discuss the recent papyrus fragment, titled by Dr. Karen L. King as, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” Truth? No. Sensationalism? Yes. Wishful thinking? Yes. Falsehood? Yes.
Who is Dr. Karen L. King? Dr. King is a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School. She is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair (288 years) in the United States. The chair is heralded as “one of the most prestigious perches in the United States” (Sabar 1). Dr. King has written extensively about the “Gospels” of Mary, Judas, and Philip, which are not part of the biblical canon. In her book, The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (2003), she argues from 3rd and 4th century texts that Mary Magdalene was the model for being an apostle. King, along with several other scholars, clearly prefers the voices of the religious heretics than the voice of the apostolic witness of the New Testament. She believes that heresy (error) is truth and that biblical history is nothing more than “myth of origins” (Sabar 3). Consider her statement: “You’re talking to someone who’s trying to integrate a whole set of ‘heretical’ [non-biblical] literature into the standard history” (qtd. in Mohler 3). In other words, Dr. King rejects the books of the Bible as truth and the history of Christianity and desires to recreate Christianity from erroneous, rejected “heretical” writings. By what authority does she rewrite biblical history?
The Papyrus Fragment. In 2010, Dr. King received an email from a German-American collector “who asked her to translate a piece of papyrus that contained a reference to Jesus’ wife” (Goodstein 2). The collector purchased the fragment years ago from a source in East Germany. The origin of the fragment is unknown and the collector asked for anonymity. Dr. King presented her paper on the fragment on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, at a meeting of the International Association of Coptic Studies in Rome, Italy.
The rectangular formed papyrus fragment contains the controversial words: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’” The fragment is about 1 1/2 by 3 inches or the size of an ATM card. It is torn on all edges. It is written in 4th century AD Sahidic Coptic, an ancient language of Upper Egypt. The fragment contains 33 words in its fragmentary lines. Line 3 says, “Mary is worth it.” Line 4 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’” Line 5 says, “She will be able to be my disciple.” Line 7 says, “As for me, I will dwell with her in order to.” The fragment has been enclosed in glass. Dr. King has sensationalized the papyrus fragment with the attention-getting title, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” This has resulted in various jokes about “Mrs. Jesus’ ‘honey-do’ list” (Goodstein 1).
Earlier Claims of Jesus having a Wife. From the following six words, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife,’” Dr. King claims this is “the first known statement that explicitly claims Jesus had [a] wife” (Meacham 61). However, this is not the first claim that Jesus had a wife by some Bible “scholars.” It will not be the last time such sensational and untruthful statements are made. In fact, it is impossible for the student of the Bible to take the claim seriously.
Those previously considering Jesus as being married and having children claim He was married to Mary Magdalene. The earliest source for this (mis)information, and it is nebulous to say the least, is the Gnostic text of The Gospel of Philip. The text was found, with a number of other Gnostic texts in December 1945, in what now called the Nag Hammadi Library found in Upper Egypt, about 300 miles south of Cairo. The Gospel of Philip is said to date from the 3rd century. Verse 55 is used to claim Jesus had a wife named Mary Magdalene. [NOTE: The bold, non-italicized words within the brackets of the text were placed there by “scholars” who assumed these are the missing words.]
Wisdom (Sophia), whom they call barren, is the mother of the angels, and the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalene. The [Lord loved Mary] more than all the disciples, and he kissed her on the [mouth many times]. The other [women disciples saw] . . . Him. They said to him, “why do you [love her] more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them, “Why do not I love you as I do her?” (Cartlidge and Dungan, 70, emp. added).
Fast forward to the best selling novel by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (2003). Brown’s novel created a sensation claiming evidence that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had children. One of Brown’s characters introduced this speculation from the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a book long available. Brown’s novel describes the secret guilds of the Crusades as possessing this secret information, but suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church to protect the Deity of Jesus. “Scholars” for ages have assumed and argued that deities, idols and God Jehovah, have a counter-female deity. In the Old Testament it is argued that the Canaanite idols have a male and female counterpart, BUT God Jehovah does not have a female counterpart, regardless of the attempt of those who argue otherwise. In addition Brown builds his novel to claim that Jesus not only took Mary Magdalene as His wife, but Jesus planned to make her the founder of His church (254) even though Matthew 16:18 states clearly that “I [Jesus] will build My church.”
Replying to the Claim. There are many answers to the above sensationalism.
First, in The Gospel of Philip, it is possible that within the ellipses where the text is missing that the missing words may amount to more words than they the “scholars” assume. The text of The Gospel of Philip is incomplete.
Second, the New Testament gives indirect evidence that Jesus did not marry like His apostles and brothers (Matthew 13:55). Paul wrote, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5). We can argue that IF Jesus had been married, THEN Paul would have included Him in the list. IF not, why not?
Third, Mary Magdalene is never tied, matrimonially nor otherwise, to any male in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:2; John 19:25). How does written information centuries later establish the truth of her married relationship and the motherhood of children with Jesus? The New Testament is inspired, authoritative, and inerrant; whereas, the Gnostic Gospels are uninspired, unauthoritative, and errant.
Fourth, the cross of Christ, necessary to our salvation from sin, teaches other truth. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25). Jesus’ special concern for the women at the cross focused on His mother, Mary. Speaking to both Mary, His mother, He said, “Woman, behold thy son!” (John 19:26). In speaking to John, the apostle, He said, “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:27). We are then informed, And from that hour that disciple [John the apostle] took unto his own home” (John 19:27). It is clear, Jesus was concerned that His mother was cared for following His death. But, not so with Mary Magdalene, who some claim was Jesus’ wife. IF Mary Magdalene was His wife, would He not have shown special concern for her? Strange?
Brown, David. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Anchor, 2006.
Cartlidge, David R., and David L. Dungan. Documents for the Study of the Gospels. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.
Goodstein, Laurie. “Coptic Scholars Doubt and Hail a Reference to Jesus’ Wife.” The New York Times. September 20, 2012.
Meacham, Jon. “Did Jesus Have a Wife? A new fragment may provide feresh clues.” Time. October 1, 2012.
Mohler, Albert. “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? When Sensationalism Masquarades as Scholarship.” AlbertMohler.com. 11/20/12.
Sabar, Ariel. “The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus.” Smithsonian. September 18, 2012.