Quick Thoughts on the New Jesus Wife Text

Darrell L. Bock's picture

I interviewed with the New York Times, Boston Globe, NPR and CNN today about this text that was announced today. Here are some quick thoughts:

It is a small text with no context.

It is a late text (4th century), if the dating given is right.

It would be nice to know where the text came from on the collector's market. It is a text without any real setting right now, just a date and a few broken lines.

It needs a larger public vetting by experts (like being in the first quarter of a game and asking for comment on the whole).

What is more, in Gnostic Christianity, there was a rite called the bridal chamber in which the church was seen as the bride of Christ. The whole thing could well be metaphorical with a disciple representing the place of the church. If that is the case, then it is not even a claim that Jesus was married in real life to a single person.

It is one speck of a fringe text in a sea of texts that say Jesus was single. It, if authentic, is the exception, to the rule of texts we have on Jesus. Thus, in the end, even if it says what people are suggesting, it tells us only about a fourth century group's views, not anything about Jesus. 

Dr. King is careful also to say this text likely tells us nothing about the real Jesus. 

Her claim the NT is silent about Jesus' marital status is technically correct, but it may well be because there was nothing to say. Everyone knew he was single. The fact there is no wife present at his death may speak volumes. If Jesus had been married, there would be no need to hide the fact. Nothing in the earliest church tradition points to his being married. 

One more thought: there is a difference between wife and bride, but with the next line pointing to a disciple, that means a spiritual dimension is in play pretty quickly. That may suggest the context is complicated in terms of what is addressed.

Let's see if time and some additional reflection can help us understand what we have and do not have in this small fragment.

 

Sept 21 update:

 

A story appeared today in the New York Times updating the discussion on the Jesus wife fragment. It quoted me. Carl Holladay of Emory commented on my view that this text could be metaphorical and challenged that reading.

Here is my response. The lines in question have next to no context. In the next line after the mention of the wife is a remark about a disciple. This brings a spiritual dimension immediately into the discussion. The idea of her being worthy does the same. Gnostic texts defend women as worthy of being disciples in which Mary Magdalene is often the example. The late Gospel of Mary Magdalene does this as does Thomas saying 114. The latter does it in a somewhat strange way by saying Jesus will make Mary male in order that she can qualify for the kingdom! All of this in those other texts takes the few lines we have in the fragment. It shows how discussions of real people can also be about spiritual realities, where the person represents a group. 

Holladay says the Jesus wife fragment is about real people. On that we all agree. The question his response does not treat is in what role are these real people placed? My point is that the disciple noted could simply be seen as a representative of what the church is, a wife or bride of Christ. Without any more context there is no way to tell.  

But let's assume the text does say Jesus had a wife. What does that show? Nothing about the real Jesus, as all who have responded to this text have said. It is too late and probably belongs to too fringe a group to reflect the real Jesus. It shows a group, probably from around the fourth century thought Jesus was married, an exception to the rule of what everything else about Jesus up to this find has told us. The exception is what makes this text unique. It is a footnote in a mound of texts.

The text might reflect earlier views, but we also cannot know that. It does fit what we see in some second century texts from Gnostics. It is likely from Egypt as that is where these kinds of texts tend to be preserved because of the dry conditions there. It is where other such texts have come from.

All of this assumes the text is genuine, something only extensive testing can show since we have no setting for the find. So we are early in the investigation of what this text is. 

Comments

Although the doctor suggests this snippet means nothing, is she not being used as yet another catylyst of the Devil for more revisionist history. People just love to have their ears tickled.

Very helpful. I will quote you on the radio interview today.

Blessings!

As usual the media is going to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Hopefully those reading the mainstream media reports will pay attention to the fact that this papyri fragment does not prove that Jesus married.

If the text had been true, Gospel writers would have never failed to mention this fact

Hello Dr. Bock. When I first heard about the parchment some of the partial lines reminded me of Revelation 21:2-3,

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. ”

Do you think there would be anything to that?

Darrell L. Bock's picture

The bride of Christ theme is in several locales in the NT. The husband and wife passages of Ephesians 5 spring immediatwely to mind. The issue here is that wife is not bride, although it is close. Also the context in the fragment is about an individual. Still that could simply be using an individual to represent a group. Without more context in the fragment we just cannot know.

Thank you Dr. Bock. I just read an NBC News article on this subject before I read your reply, and Dr. Witherington seems to agree with you that "A bride is one thing, and a wife is another". 

I agree that "wife" refers to something spiritual and not literal here, and it probably is a gnostic text. However, I have read from several sources that it originated much earlier than the 4th century. It should be interesting to see what the final date is.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Most such authentic mansucripts from Egypt of this type are fourth century, but may reflect ideas that are a couple of centuries earlier. I think that is why you are seeing a range of dates. The date of the manuscript does not date the time of the idea. We just cannot know how far back the idea in such texts goes unless other texts tell us the same thing from the same or earlier period.

if any one amongest you thinks that  he is wise in this generation, let him be a fool first then he will be wise. for the foolishness of God is wiser than men.

With marriage being so important for us to get right, wouldn't Jesus' example be cited somewhere, if indeed He had one?  Where scripture is silent, it would seem to speak volumes.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Sue:

Yes, I think if Jesus had been married some tradition in the early church would have noted it.

Isn't it sad that after nearly 2000 years we still have to have conversations like this?  Why must the Scriptures constantly be questioned and reevaluated every time some new scroll or fragment is discovered somewhere?  We have all the information we need to trust our Bible and the confessions of the early church. Volumes of books on apologetics have been written about our faith, the formation of the canon, textual criticism, inerrancy, etc. Nevertheless peoples faith get shaky when this kind of stuff gets discovered. I don't care if it turns out to be a first century fragment dating to the time of Christ. 

I remember when "The DaVinci Code" came out I had one evangelical Christian friend say to me something like, "I know the movie was fictional, but it does kind of make you question."  Really? Question what!?  Question what do you put your trust in?  The historic Christian faith as preserved by God through the church, or the liberal, antiChristian agenda of Hollywood?  (Hmmm, give me a millisecond to ponder that one.) Many years ago my brother and his wife showed me a book they got at a yardsale somewhere, "The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden."  This book caused them to "question" too and I convinced them that if they're faith and trust in the Bible was that weak, then they shouldn't have such a book in their possession. Thankfully they gave it to me and it now collects dust on my bookshelf.

I find it interesting that your statement that "Jesus did not have a wife" is based on feeling that keeping ones mind "closed" to possible historical evidence is the best policy. It is akin to believing that "science" has no place in the forming of ones beliefs about various elements of humanity and the physical world. Kind of a "don't confuse me with the facts" position, which is very common in Christianity. In regards to the fragment, I'm not saying anything was proven, just that you simply don't want to know if it was proven to be credible, and conclude that it isn't on that basis, and don't want it discussed. 

I know, by personal revelation of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is who He claimed to be, and that mercy, or judgment, will happen as He said it will. Does that mean I should believe that we have full knowledge of all things? No, it means there are no advancements in scientific knowledge that could cause me to question His divinity, the existence of God, or eternal life (which science has not attempted to do). We do not have all knowledge of all things in this life, even through the Scriptures, as there are numerous gray areas that faithful believers disagree on. No one has God in their hip pocket. He has made knowledge sufficiently complex to ensure against that, and to require humility from His people.

You are saying that these scenarios caused people to "question" but you didn't say what they are questioning. That is the all-important element in this picture. I haven't followed the news about the fragment, because it doesn't have any relevance to me, or to the Christian church really, or to society in my opinion. For that reason, I am comfortable holding to the belief that, since the Church is the bride of Christ, there would be no place for a wife in His earthly life.

Questioning is good. It is humble and it is honest. God is perfectly entitled to throw a curve ball to people who believe they have the truths of God locked up, as so many people falsely believe. There is a vast difference between questioning the fundamental truths of His identity as Lord, and eternal salvation, and questioning things that are non-essential to these core tenets of the faith. Conversation is good. The fact that you do not want this to be a topic of conversation, doesn't establish that it is bad for people. It doesn't undermine who He is to the non-believer. There is no reason to shun it in that kind of context. Faith is either real or it isn't real. The fact that that could be revealed for someone through a suggestion such as this, isn't a problem. 

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Eric: In Coptic the way you say my wife is to say "My woman." It is like German. The word for bride is different than the way one refers ot one's wife.

First let me say I DO NOT believe Jesus was married, but what is not being said is that had He been, it would have been some kind of blight on His character rendering Him unfit to be our savior. I offer a few thing we should remember:

1. Marriage is an honorable institution created by God BEFORE the fall of mankind into sin.

2. Jesus, the man, the 2nd / the last Adam, had as much right to a wife as the 1st Adam.

3. If Jesus, the man, did not appreciate the beauty of the opposite sex, then He was less a man than I am and therefore less than the perfect man we needed for a savior. By the way, the Son of God was there in the beginning when Eve was created for Adam.

4. Jesus would have been perfect (and was) in any human relationship He was involved in. He was the perfect son, brother, cousin, friend and would have been a perfect husband and yes, the perfect father had He married and had children.

5. I do think had He been married, it would go a long way in explaining why He appeared to Mary first after His resurrection since it will be His bride that will see Him first when He returns.

6. It is just hard for us, in our fallen state, to think of the relationship--attraction between a man and a woman without all of the lustful and sinful thoughts of our fallen nature coming into play. There have only been two men able to accomplish this; the 1st Adam (before the fall) and the last Adam, Jesus Christ.

Not that He was, but Jesus could have been married and stil be my savior.

I feel like I’ve been stuck under a rock for the past few weeks, as this is the first that I’m hearing all of these details! I heard the main message, that it came out that Jesus had a wife, but I’ve been struggling to find an article or blog post that clearly lays out the facts—at least I had struggled until now. Thank you for approaching this topic in such a wonderful way!

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