60 Comments

New Coptic Fragment Says Jesus was Married

Reported by the New York Times, Professor Karen King of Harvard University has unveiled a fourth-century Sahidic Coptic fragment in which Jesus speaks of “my wife”: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html?_r=2. Let the debates begin!

 

 

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60 comments on “New Coptic Fragment Says Jesus was Married

  1. That’s it? You don’t have any thoughts on the matter yourself? I expected more from a NT scholar.

  2. It seems to me that this may be a fragment from a gnostic gospel since the phrase, ““Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ”, doesn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts. Why wouldn’t those closest to Jesus, namely the eyewitnesses, speak of a wife of their Lord if he truly had one? Seems like another attempt to undermine historical Christianity.

  3. As a dispensationalist myself, I’m hoping they find the adjoining section and it reads, “My wife, Israel” LOL (Looking forward to your remarks on this Dr. Wallace)

  4. Might it be parabolist?

  5. Why do you think more “texts” of various natures are surfacing “lately”?

  6. Dr Wallace,

    The fact that the fragment dates to the fourth century in my opinion makes this a non-issue. I have no doubt though that the fragment will be added to the arsenal of those intent on advancing unfounded ideas.

    I likewise look forward to your thoughts.

  7. Why do you think that more “texts” of various natures are surfacing “lately”?

  8. What’s at stake for a Christian if Jesus actually did have a wife? Let’s assume in this hypothetical that he did not have children, to keep the matter simplified.

    Would this contradict Scripture? Would this change one’s views on Christology?

    Not that a fourth century manuscript has any relevance for answering these questions…

    • Rob, I would answer that marriage and marital relations would not change the sinlessness of Christ – for these are not sin. However, Paul is clear that one can serve the Lord better (and should stay) single unless that passion for physical intimacy is such to warrant marriage. Given the Lord’s commitment that He must be about His Father’s business, and knowing the words of 1 Cor 7, I would argue a married Jesus is antithetical to the teaching on marriage found in Scripture.

      • Steve,

        Since you are deferring to 1 Cor. 7 we should probably keep reading beyond the select few verses you just used as a proof text, say at least to verse 26 where Paul contextualizes the reason for his opinions. And I intentionally call them opinions because Paul says as much throughout the chapter. So you may be right, but I’m not seeing the argumentation for your view.

  9. As I recall, ‘Jesus’ was a fairly common name, at least around our Lord’s time, as was ‘Mary’. (Don’t know about 4th c.) I didn’t read anything in the NYT article to indicate the person mentioned on the fragment was necessarily Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth. It could be Jesus bar Isaiah of Cairo, or, for that matter, Jesus Dominguez of Madrid.

    • No, I think Jesus of Nazareth is definitely in view. Notice the fourth line down, midway: the nomen sacrum IC is used, an abbreviation for “Jesus” when referring to the Lord.

      • Good catch, Daniel! Maybe I should learn Coptic. (As they say, “It’s Greek to me!” Heh!) Actually, even if it proves authentically 4th-century, I lean toward the just-another-Gnostic-“gospel” theory.

      • Dr. Wallace,

        I do not think that the use of the nominum sacrum is any indication that this is “Jesus of Nazereth.” While it is true that the New Testament uses IC/IHC for “Jesus of Nazareth,” this same nominum sacrum is used in the Setpuagint for Joshua, the one who led the conquest of Canaan. (See Codex Sinaiticus online or google the book of Joshua papyri.)

        I would say the only evidence would have to come from the context, of which there is no clear answer.

        P.S. I am sending you a paper I wrote in my spare time on the tetragrammaton. I would love your criticism. If I cannot find your email address, my paper is available for download at http://yhwhmessiah.com/onename

        Thanks!

  10. Rob, I don’t know that I was prooftexting – since the whole chapter seems pretty relevant. However, I’ll try a different suggestion. Being a widow in 1st century Israel was not exactly easy. Given the Lord knew His future destiny was the cross, seems rather selfish to knowingly put some young woman in that position of certain widowhood – a woman who otherwise might have opportunity for children and a long life with a husband that would not have His life cut short. (Of course, I’m just arguing the hypothetical here. The silence on such a relationship in not just the Gospels (especially the resurrection account), but also Acts is quite significant)

    • Just thinking…since He didn’t remain dead in the tomb….would she have been allowed to remarry? Would the ascension nullify the marriage contract? Of course, I’m pretty sure that most everyone who truly believes Jesus was married does not concern themselves with such issues as bodily resurrection and ascension.

      • I don’t see why we should make that last assumption. Certainly it is a very minor view in light of the overwhelming data to the contrary of Jesus’s singleness; but the way you’ve set it up is that one is a resurrection denying liberal if one believes Jesus was married. Since those who deny the resurrection (view 1) are likely the only ones to think Jesus was married (view 2), a Christian cannot hold view 2 because that’s what those who hold view 1 believe.

  11. The handwriting, does it look like Coptic to you?

    It looks no different from http://nearemmaus.com/2012/02/20/the-earliest-markan-manuscript/ , only this time it came from a Harvard professor who claims that it originated from “The owner, who has a collection of Greek, Coptic and Arabic papyri, is not willing to be identified by name, nationality or location, because, Dr. King said, “He doesn’t want to be hounded by people who want to buy this.” (NYT)

    This so-called Coptic fragment is of no value whatsoever. That is why the owner of this supposedly fragile fragment wanted to send it by mail to Prof. King!!! If you are the owner of a unique fragment of a very ancient manuscript that cannot be found elsewhere, would you send it to someone you barely know by post?

    Quote from Smithsonian Mag:

    King brushed aside the collector’s offer to send it through the mail—“You don’t do that! You hardly want to send a letter in the mail!” So last December, he delivered it by hand.

    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Inside-Story-of-the-Controversial-New-Text-About-Jesus-170177076.html

    You can watch Karen King’s video here http://youtu.be/vlmoILJmH4M

    inspiredtext: Why do you think that more “texts” of various natures are surfacing “lately”?

    Various efforts are being made to disturb the faith of Christians in the Bible. How do they do it?

    (1) Hype a junk novel (plagiarized from the work of Michael Baigent) in NYT.

    (2) Produce a big budget film based on NYT’s bestseller & get the most popular actor in Hollywood to be the hero.

    (3) Get National Geographic to produce a documentary.

    (4) A few years later, revive that conspiracy theory.

    (5) Get NYT to publish the story.

    (6) Then, tabloid like Daily Mail will pick up the story & sensationalize the news as “PROOF” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2205235/Proof-Jesus-married-ancient-papyrus-mentions-son-God-spoke-wife-Mary-Magdalene.html

    I am more interested to hear Dr. Wallace’s opinion on the so-called “Gospel of Barnabas” (that looks more like the text of Matthew in Peshitta) “discovered by Turkish authorities in 2000″. See

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2149227/Gospel-Barnabas-cause-Christianitys-collapse-Iran-claims.html

  12. First, the title of the papyrus is meant to invite controversy, to attract attention. That was rather un-scholarly in the first place.
    Second, it is far removed from the more authoritative first century Gospels, by about 300 years.
    Third, it was authored at a time when others would have a motivation to make up what fit their world view. Fourth, the article claims that

    “This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,”

    But that actually is not true. There is no evidence from this fragment that it was authored by a Christian. Even the cults will use Jesus’ name if they see some benefit from it.

  13. The thing that impressed me was how spotty the text was. While a text that late proves little the fact we have so little context makes it hard to interpret. It could be saying a lot of different things (my wife is the church, my wife is the one who truly follows me, my wife is Israel, my wife is nonexistent). I am not saying it really says any of those things, but with such a fragmentary text we are only guessing.

  14. Why did Jesus show concern for His mother by giving her charge to John, but then say nothing about a wife??

  15. Jesus said many things about himself about church and those were recorded as first hand information (eye witness) as well as second hand information …. during the first century… If we had believed those words of Him , then we wont give any weight-age to some thing which is so obscure have no authorship and which is written centuries after… So the underlining principle echoed is, deliberately not ready to accept what Jesus has said and trying to disprove what ever he has said by any means possible ….. Wish you all the best…. May God open your eyes to see what Stephen has seen…and what I (with all humility) have experienced and is living with..

  16. There are many documents that have been around for some time, such as the Nag Hammadi Codices, but which are presented as “new” discoveries that challenge the version of Jesus Christ given in the gospels. Often they are “new” to the public, but not to scholars. (Remember the “Gospel of Judas” which “surfaced lately” after having been known for well over a decade.) I wonder if this is another of these. As a Coptic document it certainly has no historical basis in the first century and offers no serious challenge to the truths presented in the New Testament.

    If Jesus had been married, surely his wife would have been at the crucifixion and involved in burial preparation etc. There is no mention of her in the gospels. Given the attention that Matthew and Luke and to some extent John give to family relationships, it would be odd to have simply neglected to mention the closes relationship Jesus had, if such relationship had existed. (For example, Jesus, on the cross says to John, “Behold your mother” and to his mother, “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26-27) but he offers no similar care for his wife. Clearly Jesus had a mother, but he did not have a wife.)

    • Fred, you say: “If Jesus had been married, surely his wife would have been at the crucifixion and involved in burial preparation etc. There is no mention of her in the gospels…”

      Well, the thing is there WAS a mention of her in the gospels, Mary Magdalene did play a lead role in his burial and was the first to visit him, which are the kind of things you would expect of a wife. I doubt many Jewish women handled the naked bodies of those not related after they died.

      Now that is not in itself evidence. But add to the gospels the many ancient writings that provide Mary Magdalene with a special role (JEsus favored her, kissed her on the (xxx), she had special revelation) and then add to that the findings of the Talpiot tomb. Any one of those things could be random, but if little pieces of evidence keep mounting, it should be obvious that the likelihood that Jesus was married to MM is a lot more today than it was ever before.

      Plus, the Bible is silent on his sex life, like it is silent on a lot of things about him. There is nothing that would contradict the Bible if it turns out he was married.

      • It would contradict some theology and raise interesting questions as to the divine status of his earthly children (if he had any)

  17. My first thought was, “I wonder what Dan Wallace thinks”. But seriously, two questions come to my mind. First, is it translated and dated properly? The article mentions that there are only a small number of Coptic experts who’ve examined it, and they welcome other analysis. Second, what is it a fragment of? Is it indeed a translation of an early “gospel”? Could it be a quote that has lost it’s context? Something like, “they said, ‘[lots of stuff], then Jesus said, “my wife …”‘” What exactly is it we’re looking at here?

  18. I have a couple of responses to this find. First, Jesus is known as the bride of the church so it could be a metaphorical usage. Second, I have not read the whole Nag Hammadi Library (NHL) but I have read over a dozen of the books. The Gnostics often take the opposite view of what is in the Bible. For example, the serpent is good in NHL, not bad. The God of the OT is a fool in NHL, Judas Iscariot was a good disciple in NHL and not the son of perdition etc. So even if this is a genuine text, because it is Gnostic it cannot be trusted.

  19. In an Washington Post article by Daniel Burke, King says that the text may have been a translation from a second century Greek document. How would she reach this conclusion if there were only the small phrase on the manuscript attributed to it?

  20. So when do we get to hear your thoughts Dr. Wallace

  21. [...] the new story is all over the internet. Jesus was married? This reminds me of when The Gospel of Judas story broke. That turned out to be a [...]

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  23. If Jesus were married, there woulnd’t be anything ‘wrong’ or sinful about that, as God created marriage. Prophets and priests were married. Peter was married.

    And, it wouldn’t change the core features of the our salvation (Jesus’ atoning death, burial, resurection, ascention). Someone might point out the Church is the bride of Christ, but ‘bride’ in that case is metaphoric language, just as Jesus being the ‘door’, or ‘bread’, or ‘water’ is metaphoric.

    But, if Jesus were married, it seems reasonable to expect the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) to have mentioned that.

    We read about his mother Mary, Joseph, his brothers, his sisters, his aunt Elizabeth and uncle Zechariah, cousin John, but no mention of a wife.

    His mother, and other women were at the cross, and the tomb, but again, no mention of a wife.

    As Luke, Paul, John, Peter, and other authors of New Testament wrote in Greek, a document written in Coptic with no Greek equivalent found seems to not fit the pattern of all the canonical New Testament documents, and for that reason has some big credibility challenges.

    Anybody at any time in history with a pen and a piece of paper can write anything they want. So, finding one piece of paper mentioning Jesus having a wife proves nothing about his having a wife.

    Finally, it is interesting to watch highly educated people make careers denigrating the credibility of the canonical New Testament documents, but get so very excited about spurious documents (such as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel Judas) that lack the universal acceptance of orthodox Christianity, and the hundreds of textual copies as the canonical New Testament has.

  24. . But Dr. King was struck by phrases in the fragment like “My mother gave to me life,” and “Mary is worthy of it,” which resemble snippets from the Gospels of Thomas and Mary. NYT My first thoughts were of line 114 in the Gospel of Thomas.

  25. [...] porque, como hizo notar Daniel B. Wallace, a la mitad de la cuarta línea del frente del fragmento se usa el nomen sacrum IC como abreviatura [...]

  26. [...] Burke, Christopher Skinner, Brian LePort, Michael Pahl, Jim West (several times), Eddie Arthur, Dan Wallace, Glenn Peoples, Sharon Hill and Hemant Mehta. UPDATE: Tim Henderson (who asks if Paul thought [...]

  27. I too await Dan Wallace’s thoughts, but for now since we only have each other, here are my random thoughts:
    1. My favorite line in the NYT article is “…she (Karen) and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.” When they do upend her conclusions, it will never be reported by any major news organization. Thus, this story sticks and that truly is the point of running this story.
    2. My second favorite line in the NYT article is “When, where or how the fragment was discovered is unknown.” Umm, that matters quite a bit for validity to be established.
    3. My favorite phrase in the article is “Harvard Divinity School.” That is rich.
    4. My only rebuttal in reading through these comments is that no man can be married to a woman and not sin. ;-)

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  32. Dr. Wallace. King’s Harvard paper mentions that the owner of this fragment also possesses a 2nd – 4th century fragment of John’s Gospel in Coptic. Do you know anything about this?

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