I’m sure by now readers have heard the recent announcement that Dr. Karen King of Harvard has announced (in Rome at a conference) that she is in possession of a small fragment of a Coptic manuscript that has Jesus addressing his wife (the line reads: Jesus said to them, My wife ). The manuscript also mentions a woman named Mary. (For all the lines translated into English, go here – an NBC news item that kindly includes a link to my initial thoughts on the fragment posted on my PaleoBabble blog.)
While the fragment doesn’t provide evidence that Jesus was married (it only provides evidence that someone living a few centuries after Jesus thought he was married, or at least wanted to cast him as such), I don’t see any theological problem with him being married. But there’s no evidence for it, especially in the New Testament. There is certainly no sexual problem, unless your theology is twisted into some idea that intercourse is inherently wrong. My point here is that Jesus would not have recoiled from marriage because it would have meant he’d have to consummate the marriage. That’s quite an unbiblical view of sex (let’s just cut the creation mandate out of our Bibles, shall we?). In biblical theology, Jesus was as human as the rest of us, though he was certainly more. As I posted earlier about his humanity, he grew up as any of us did, which means he went through puberty. He would have experienced sexual attraction. Sexual impulse is not sinful; it’s human — our bodies working the way God made them, with a procreative impulse. Biblical morality, however, prescribes boundaries for their expression; it just doesn’t require their execration. Again, how biblical is your theology about the humanity of Jesus? Sadly, this is one area that tends to be awfully tradition-driven.
Rather than problems, though, I’d say there might have been practical and theological obstacles to marriage for Jesus, though an obstacle doesn’t mean it couldn’t be so. What do I mean by obstacles?
I think the text is clear (Luke 2:41-52) that by the time of the temple incident, when Jesus had reached his teen years, he knew who he was and that he was on earth to fulfill God’s plan for salvation history. (By the way, this passage ends with the noteworthy Luke 2:52 – another interesting juxtaposition of divinity and humanity). While that would not of necessity have caused Jesus to refrain from marriage, it feels a little callous of him taking a wife knowing he was going to die in the near future. But that read naturally depends on the debate over whether Jesus did (or could have) offered the kingdom to Israel in a genuine way (i.e., could the Jews have embraced him as messiah in view of OT prophecies that called for a suffering messiah). This is a significant debate in biblical studies with good arguments on all sides. If the answer turned out to be “yes,” then Jesus would have only known he was going to die for sure after his rejection. The gospels record that “from that time forward” Jesus began to tell them he would die. (But if that’s the case, what about those OT prophecies? I have my own answer for that, but I won’t digress.) You get the picture.
Another obstacle, or at least potential reason to avoid marriage on Jesus’ part, would have been the issues raised by having children. I’m thinking here of succession struggles (read the books of Kings for that) and any superstitious weirdness that might ensue about the nature of any children (I don’t think that would have been complicated — they’d have been human and nothing more, since deity doesn’t have DNA, and is not transmitted by DNA — but in a pre-scientific culture, that would not have been an easy parsing).
Anyway, just thought I’d muse a bit in the wake of the new manuscript find.