Was Jesus married?


Was Jesus married?


"Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6).

Source: "Did Jesus have a wife?" The New York Times, September 19, 2012.

Let's start with the evidence: There is a fragment, measuring 4 x 8 centimeters, that contains the words "Jesus said to them, 'My wife'". Here is Karen King's translation:


1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it[
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
8] an image [


1 ] my moth[er
2 ] three [
3 ] … [
4 ] forth which … [
5 ] (illegible ink traces)

[Simon Gathercole, "Did Jesus have a wife?"]

Another point of suspicion is that one line copied from the Gospel of Thomas just happens to end exactly where the known Coptic copy of the Gospel of Thomas stops because it was damaged. It also just happens to start and stop in the middle of words that "just happens" to coincide with the copy of the Gospel of Thomas.

"Watson shows how the fragment looks as if a forger took snippets of quotations from various Coptic sources -- mostly the Gospel of Thomas -- and patched them together," Leonard said. "Indeed, one line of the fragment 'coincidentally' ends at the same place where the text is broken off in the corresponding line of the only extant manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas." [James Leonard in "'Jesus' wife' fragment: authenticity is doubted" citing Francis Watson, "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed," 20 September 2012].

The fragment is written Coptic, the language of Egypt written with Greek letters. It was found in a private collection in 1997 coming from Germany, but its past is not known. The estimated date of the fragment is from the fourth century, but this is a guess. If it was genuine, it could be anywhere from the third to the seventh century because of the materials used. It should be noted that "2 of the 3 experts asked to review it for The Harvard Theological Review doubt its authenticity" [Thomas McDonald, The Gnostic Noise Machine and the “Wife” of Jesus]. "If I had to guess, I would have to say that this manuscript is a forgery" [Christian Askeland, "Gospel of Jesus's Wife (Updated)"]. Along with a number of noted scholars expressing their doubts about the fragment, it is mentioned that Karen King did not have tests done on the ink to check for authenticity, even though it was recommended prior to the announcement. [Nicole Winfield, "Doubts over Harvard claim of 'Jesus' Wife' papyrus"].

We know that there have been numerous false writings circulating since the start of Christianity. In fact, the lines come close to matching lines from the Gospel of Thomas (101:1-3 and 114:1), though not in order. This also leads to suspecting that it is a forgery since lines from the Gospel of Thomas could so easily be copied. So finding yet another fragment is not surprising. Karen L. King, the historian making the announcement of the fragment, "cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married." King's interest in this fragment is more as evidence that people were making the claim that Jesus was married all the way back to the fourth century. "But the discovery is exciting, King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose." But wait a minute! If there was an active discussion, why is the first mention found of such a discussion not found until the fourth century? It isn't that we lack documents from early Christians and heretics. There was debate about whether being celibate was a more holy position (a false conclusion), but you don't find discussions about Jesus' marital status.

But actually, it gets a bit worse. Karen King has no credibility as a scholar. "She was a member of the Jesus Seminar, an absurd body of self-styled revisionists who “voted” on the authenticity of scripture passages and, most notoriously, decided that the Gospel of John was a sham." [Thomas McDonald, The Gnostic Noise Machine and the “Wife” of Jesus]. Her specialty is trying to use Gnostic writings to "prove" that women had authoritative roles in the early church; hence, her interest in this fragment.

Actually, this fragment doesn't even prove there was a claim that Jesus had a wife. Christians know that the church is the bride of Christ. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). Thus the claim that a fourth-century fragment is the first reference of Jesus having a wife is false because Christianity from the beginning talked of the church as being Jesus' wife. In addition, there are so few words in the fragment it is impossible to say if this false writing used "wife" in a literal sense or a figurative sense. For example, Jesus did have a physical family, but he once said, "But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!" (Matthew 12:48-49). We do not know if this false writing was imitating this type of speech or not.

"First, there is not a scintilla of evidence in Scripture, in the writings of the early church, or in the extra–biblical accounts of Jesus’ life that he was ever married. Contrary to the offhanded mention by Brown’s character Teabing of “countless references to Jesus and Magdalene’s union,” there are absolutely none. Furthermore, the two documents most often cited in support of the married–Jesus myth –– the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene –– were not only written too late to be considered reliable, but neither specifies nor implies that Jesus and Mary were actually married." ["Was Jesus married?Christian Research Institute].

In reality, the opposite exists. There are references among early Christian writers to Jesus being unmarried.

"Others at the time, like Clement of Alexandria, report opponents using Jesus’ celibacy as an argument for Christians remaining celibate. Some, he says, “say outright that marriage is fornication and teach that it was introduced by the devil. These arrogant  people say that they are imitating the Lord, who neither married nor possessed anything in this world, boasting that they understand the gospel better than others.” (Clement, Stromateis 3.49.1)." [Simon Gathercole, "Did Jesus have a wife?"].

The problem is that people see silence as permission to assume anything. It is the political season here in the United States and not long ago commentators were making all sorts of speculations on the two main candidates for president based on what they left out of their acceptance speeches. It is was all foolishness because all you could say is that the topics didn't make the cut for the limited time needed for a speech. In the same way, people foolishly treat the Bible's silence as an allowance to claim anything.

The fact is that there is no mention of Jesus being married, though there were plenty of opportunities for such a topic to come up. After all Jesus' relatives: his mother, brothers, sisters, and adoptive father are all mentioned -- but no wife. All the references to Jesus being the bridegroom become awkward if Jesus was married. Isaiah said that the Messiah would have no children. "He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken" (Isaiah 53:8). Since the church is represented as the bride of Christ, "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:9-10), the illustration doesn't fit if Christ was already married. Especially since in Christianity, it is emphasized that there is one man and one woman in a marriage.

This is nothing more than a little-known scholar attempting to get noticed by the public so she can further her agenda and perhaps get financing.

Follow Up

On September 26 it was announced that Harvard Review will not be publishing Karen King's paper because it is a general opinion that the fragment is probably a fake. [Daniel Wallace, "Jesus' Wife Fragment Judged a Fake", 26 September 2012].

Follow Up

On April 10, 2014, it was announced that the fragment was examined and it dates from between the seventh and ninth centuries. The papyrus was dated and "produced a date of origination for the piece of papyrus from 659 to 859 CE." This is much later than Ms. King originally claimed (she originally pushed for a fourth-century date for the fragment and said it would have been copied from a second century original), but she tries to cover this by saying that it is probably a copy of an earlier document, which she now estimates to be written in the fourth century. [Jonathan Beasley, Testing Indicates "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient] While the fragment is old, it still doesn't mean it wasn't an ancient copy from the Gospel of Thomas with alterations, nor does it give evidence of what early Christians believed.

Follow Up

Ariel Sabar published a story in the July/August issue of the Atlantic titled "The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' Wife". The author documents tracing the history of who possessed the fragment and demonstrates strong evidence that it was forged by a man named Walter Fritz who had the knowledge, skills, and motivation to create a forgery. In light of the article, Ms. King now states the fragment is probably a forgery. [Ariel Sabar, "Karen Kings Reponds to 'The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' Wife'", The Atlantic, 16 June 2016]

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