Turns out that Jesus may have been married.
It’s not the first time Jesus’ marital status has been a topic of conversation. Almost a decade ago, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code got people talking about the possibility. However, that was a work of fiction. This week, when Harvard professor Karen King unveiled a fragment of papyrus that speaks of Jesus’ wife, we were presented with the possibility that we now have written evidence. Well, maybe.
It got me thinking; if over the next few years more evidence was uncovered and it turns out that Jesus really was married, would it change anything? Would my faith fall apart? Be mildly shaken? Or would everything carry on as normal?
When it comes to my core beliefs about Jesus and how they impact my life, his marital status is, I honestly believe, insignificant. In terms of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension – and what I believe about these life-changing, world-transforming and eternity-altering events, it does not matter if Jesus was a bachelor or a husband.
That said, if the evidence did increasingly suggest that Jesus was married, my faith would be more than mildly shaken. That’s because it would raise serious questions about the New Testament. Now, it doesn’t explicitly say one way or the other whether or not Jesus was married. However, its silence on the matter certainly leaves me feeling that it strongly implies that Jesus was in fact single. And, if he was in fact married, the silence itself would cause me to ask lots of questions.
The big issue it would raise for me is, if the New Testament is at worst wrong, at best misleading on this issue, what about everything else it says? A finding such as this would quite possibly be like a shove down a slippery slope. It would make me question everything, and by the time I arrived at the bottom of this slope, I’m not sure my faith and me would still be attached to one another.
But actually, regardless of whether this small piece of papyrus turns out to be a hoax or the real deal, we shouldn’t be too alarmed. The professor herself acknowledges that it does not “provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married”. That’s because over the centuries many hundreds of fragments, documents and scrolls have been found, and within them there are a wide variety of differences between what they have to say about Jesus and his teachings. This is hardly surprising; Christianity spread extremely rapidly, and it wasn’t long before there were many versions.
Therefore, the most important question we need to ask is, how can we be confident that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal the historical Jesus? How do we know that it is best to assess all the other ‘gospels’ and fragments against what they say?
In short…! The Church agreed in 393AD which gospels and letters should make up what we now call the New Testament. However, it wasn’t that they had hundreds of options that they had to choose from, instead they simply recognised, gave the ‘seal of approval’ to, 27 gospels and letters that were already in widespread circulation and already recognised as authentic. As eyewitnesses began to die out, and then their children and grandchildren died, the early Christians took the task of preserving the truth about Jesus seriously. Therefore, they were keen to whittle out any false gospels and letters. If a new text turned up they would ensure that it had its roots in the apostles and that it was consistent with the teachings that Jesus was known for.
The fact that, so much was written about Jesus, yet we only have four gospels, should be very reassuring and suggests to me that the early Christians did a good job.
If it turns out Jesus really was married, would it make a difference to your faith?