Did Jesus Have a Wife? A New Gnostic Fragment

By Gary Manning Jr Sep. 19, 2012 8:37 a.m. Apologetics, New Testament

According to an article in the Washington Post, an ancient manuscript claiming that Jesus had a wife has just been discovered. I’ll tackle this new discovery with some Q&A.

What is this new find?

Karen King, the Gnostic scholar who published the manuscript, has titled it the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see the scholarly article here). It is a very small fragment, only 12 partial lines, of an ancient Gnostic book. The fragment, written in Coptic, dates from the fourth century, but it is a copy of an older book, perhaps written in the late second century. According to the fragment, Jesus refers to “my wife.”

Is the manuscript genuine?

It’s too early to tell. When manuscripts are discovered, it usually takes some time of examination and scholarly vetting before forgeries are discovered. There are some concerns about Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’s unknown provenance and history of ownership, but the initial reports make it seem likely that this is a real fourth-century Gnostic document. That doesn’t mean that the document is true or has anything to do with Jesus!

How is this related to the so-called Gnostic gospels?

The Gnostics wrote a number of short collections of sayings that they attributed to Jesus: the Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and others. Technically, these are not really gospels, at least when compared with the canonical gospels. The four gospels in the New Testament are full biographies of Jesus, directly tied to eyewitness accounts, and written within 25 to 60 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gnostic gospels, in contrast, are short collections of sayings, with little or no biographical material. They are written by people more than a century removed from Jesus, with no connection to the eyewitnesses. Generally, these works are easily identified because they try to make Jesus sound like a Gnostic. This newly discovered fragment has a few lines that sound like the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

What does the document say about Jesus’ wife?

Not much! Here is the entire text of the document:

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 … [
 

The ellipses indicate unreadable material. As you can see, there is very little to work with. However, as King points out, it seems that “My wife” in line 4 refers to “Mary” in line 3, although we can’t be certain. Although Mary was a very common name, the prominent relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in other Gnostic documents makes it seem likely that this is Mary Magdalene and not some other Mary.

So the Gnostics thought Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene?

Not so fast. Marriage, kissing, and the “bridal chamber” were metaphors in Gnosticism related to enlightenment and their initiation rituals. Some Gnostics thought that all actual sexual intercourse was evil. So the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife may be using Gnostic metaphor. You may recall from several years ago that the Gospel of Judas was so packed with opaque Gnostic metaphor that scholars are still debating whether it portrays Judas as a hero or a villain.

Then does this document tell us whether Jesus was married or not?

All it tells us (sort of) is what Gnostics thought. Since Gnostics weren’t around until the second century, and Gnostics are notorious for making up sayings of Jesus, this tells us absolutely nothing about the real Jesus. Karen King, the scholar who published the fragment, partially agrees with this evaluation. You can bet that this important fact will be overlooked or downplayed when you see it on the cover of news magazines or watch the forthcoming Smithsonian documentary.

Aside from this manuscript, how likely was it that Jesus was married?

There are three reasons that Jesus was probably not married. First, the New Testament never mentions a wife. Since the NT authors mention Jesus’ mother, father, four brothers, some sisters, an aunt, and some cousins, it is very unlikely that Jesus had a wife and no one mentioned it. Second, Jesus described a special calling of celibacy to allow a greater focus on the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:10-12; cp. 1 Cor 7:7-9). This strongly implies that Jesus was celibate. Third, the church fathers, some of whom had access to reliable oral tradition about Jesus, believed that Jesus never married (Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Chrysostom, as King points out).

But wasn’t it the norm for Jewish men to get married?

Yes, it was strongly encouraged. In later Judaism (second century), it was almost a requirement. But there are significant examples of celibacy in Judaism, including Jeremiah, some Essenes, the female Therapeutae, possibly the prophet Bannus, and the second century sage Ben Azzai.

Does it really matter whether Jesus was married or not?

In one sense, it doesn’t matter. If the Gospels had told us that Jesus was married, it would not be disturbing, and we would consider it as part of his incarnation and genuine humanity. However, Jesus and Paul clearly thought that some people should fully devote themselves to kingdom service by abstaining from marriage. Jesus’ celibacy confirms what we already know about Jesus: that his entire life was completely and undistractedly devoted to advancing the Kingdom of God.

The picture: The front side of the newly discovered Gnostic fragment The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (copyright Karen King).

Comments

  • David Viel Sep. 19, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    Thank you, Dr. Manning, for this erudite and timely information on this topic. It has already generated quite a bit of interest, and it is nice to have some scholarly information to rely upon to refute the whole "So Jesus was married!" comments I am already hearing and being asked to answer.

  • Murray Vasser Sep. 19, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Great post, Dr. Manning! Very clear and to the point.

    Another piece of evidence against marriage is Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 9:5: "Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" Surely if Jesus had been married, Paul would have cited him as well!

  • Jason Kingsley Sep. 19, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    Good call, Dr. (almost put Mr., since that was what you were back in my day) Manning. I like that your style is easy to read for those of us without a lot of theological letters behind our names. Thanks for a great answer.

  • Duane Dunham Sep. 19, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    Another factor is Jesus' statement regarding having nowhere to "lay his head," in contrast to birds and foxes. Since Jewish tradition and practice in marriage would include a home, it is unlikely Jesus was ever married.

  • Yakubu Gago Sep. 19, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    I believe Jesus was not married. Why? Because he was to stay pure. Jesus clearly states that if you are married, especially after intercourse while married, you and your spouse become one. So because of this I believe Jesus was not ready nor was his assigned to buy God to get married. And to the manuscript found its most likely that his referring wife - as to his mother - I know in many cultures of men that say that to their moms for appreciating them through love and respect. With that said that's my opinion, but either way why waste time because only when we go see Jesus may we ask, our minds can only go up to the limit.

  • DON H CLOSE Sep. 19, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    I HAVE BEEN A CHRISTIAN ALL MY LIFE ALL 72 YEARS I ACCEPTED JESUS WHEN I WAS SIX YEARS OLD I WENT TO BIBLE SCHOOL I DIDNT BECOME A PASTOR BECAUSE MY LIFES WORK WAS IN ELECTRONICS THIS I BELEIVE IS ANOTHER DISTRACTION TO TRY AND FOOL PEOPLE TWISTING THE TRUTH DON H CLOSE

  • Ogechukwu Ibem Sep. 19, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    So many questions on my mind... when did Jesus have the time to be with the so called wife? How come the disciples who were around him all the time never take notice of this 'wife' ? The disciples of Jesus painstakingly wrote every bit of detail concerning Jesus and his ministry life on earth. One wonders why they omitted information regarding Jesus' wife. Was it a sin for the disciple to report of Jesus' wife, knowing that the same disciples wrote concerning his strengths and weaknesses in the Bible. Going by what Jesus said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."(Luke 9:58) Where was this 'wife' of Jesus during his ministry time?

  • Michael Sep. 19, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Why do people assume that to marry is not to advance the Kingdom of God? If a person believes that God is Love, then shouldn't any action that advances Love in the world be viewed as an advance in the Kingdom of God?

    It is sad to me that people make so many unfounded assumptions about what is and what is not "advancing the Kingdom of God." There is no humility in it.

    For His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

  • Mareena P Sep. 19, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Reading this a lot crossed my mind :
    Surely if Jesus was married .. would there be not something in the Quran about it ?
    Why try to disturb the minds of the believers ? Christ teaches one to live a good and honest life, why must all this incomplete stories get into the world now ?
    And even if it is proved that Jesus was married ... what difference does it make ?? He did not do anything unlawful neither did He teach His followers to do wrong ?
    My opinion is that "Just leave the beliefs and faiths of people as it is and put the research work into better use like : making good people out of criminals and wrong doers ! I respect all religions and beliefs alike and don't think it gives a right to anyone to point and dig out what has been peacefully practiced for centuries !!
    These issues do not bring peace but will pave the way to religious war !! we already have lots and lots to deal in the world so put your times and efforts to make this a peaceful planet to live in for the next generation.
    God Bless you all.

  • David Steinkraus Sep. 19, 2012 at 10:04 PM

    Great thoughts on this. I also feel that it wouldn't matter if Jesus was married or not. I"m not sure why so many want to "prove" that he is. Who cares! The Gospel will still be the Gospel, and Jesus will still be Jesus (fully God and fully man).

  • Sarah Sep. 19, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    Very clear answer to this. As you said, I don't think it would matter if He had married; however, in a sense, He is committed to a bride already - to the Church.

  • Guy Roger Sep. 20, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    Gary Manning Jr. thank you for this explanation, it really blows away any inch of uncertainty. When it comes to the Gospel, precision is very important for our daily work as believers. Once more thanks.

  • randy Sep. 20, 2012 at 4:59 AM

    jesus was married to mary magdalan he was always with her
    even the diciples were jealous of her
    look at the picture of the last supper who do you think is sitting next to her husband they wre the ones marries at cana it was their wedding

  • Joe Brown Sep. 20, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    Great work, my old friend. Thanks for this. It will help a lot of people including me. I'll share it.

  • June Pallie Sep. 20, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Thank you, Dr. Manning! It really helps to have facts and it is so important to be able to be ready to give a reason why we believe. Jesus Christ will always be the Perfect Sacrifice for my sin and the sin of the whole world because He is fully God and was fully man, and the only One without sin. So I thank God for Jesus! He will always be my Savior and Lord, no matter what anyone says... I pray God's blessings on you ad yours!

  • Allen Yeh Sep. 20, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Michael, to answer your question: People don't just "assume" that to marry is not to advance the Kingdom of God, Paul practically says it in 1 Cor. 7:32-35: "The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, gnot to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." Of course you can advance God's kingdom while married, but Paul's point is that your attention will be split and you cannot focus on God fully. That's just reality.

  • skeptic Sep. 20, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    And if it's found out to be accurate, and that it is jesus referring to his wife, it will remain a Gnostic gospel, a book of the bible that doesn't really agree with the rest so they aren't included.

  • John Mails Sep. 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Lets not forget humans decided what to put in the bible... Could it be that they wanted to show Jesus as a man completely devoted to god... In order to be 100% devoted to god you would have to be single... Even back in the time of Jesus this was true.. So is it possible when the bible was put together they would leave something like Jesus having a wife? Of course it is... Food for thought here "Does the son of god having a wife make him any less holy?" I'll even go as far to say "the bible is merely book of morals and beliefs we choose to follow." Ps Sometimes i find my self wondering why to people get so caught up when other opinions don't match their opinions? Opinions are just opinions and have no real value till put in to action.

  • Rob Bohning Sep. 20, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    So I have to either believe what YOU say about Jesus, or believe what HE said about himself.. He never mentioned a wife.. but surely mentioned his disciples often enough. Nope, I don't believe you, I am going with Jesus on this one.

  • Megan Sep. 20, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    In one sense doesn't it truly matter if Jesus was married because His bride is the church? If He was married doesn't this taint the analogy and truth at the very least in the slightest?

  • Sonja Maierhauser Sep. 20, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Good work, Gary, especially in defining the limits of what an ancient document does and doesn't tell us. I was also thinking that Jesus, as the third member of the Trinity, was in complete union with the Father and the Spirit, a union which in itself prefigures and transcends human marriage.

  • Dennis Hibbard Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    @Mareena P

    From whence Religions Romans 1:21 - 23

    Do you know anywhere where all Roads Lead to the same Place?

    Demonstrable Truth
    YHEL AF Liberator/Terminator
    http://truth-revealed.name

    In the Name of HYH

  • Dana Sep. 21, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    Doesn't the New Testament refer to the Church (believers), as the "Bride" of Christ? If so, couldn't lines 4 and 5 be referring to "believers" as being "disciples"?

  • Gary Manning Sep. 22, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Just a few responses to some above:
    1) This document does indeed seem to claim that Mary is Jesus' wife. The author of the document may have meant that metaphorically. The author was not using "wife" to refer to his mother, his disciples, or the church. But this proves nothing about the real Jesus, since this document (if genuine) was written by a Gnostic probably two centuries after Christ. The author was not basing this on any historical evidence, but rather on typical Gnostic speculation. The Gnostics were just not interested in the actual historical Jesus, but preferred to make up sayings that made Jesus sound like a Gnostic.

  • Gary Manning Sep. 22, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    2) The four gospels in the NT are quite different from gnostic documents. They claim to be based on eyewitness testimony and some were written when there were still many eyewitnesses alive. In response to John above, the gospel authors did not feel free to omit things that they found difficult or embarrassing about Jesus. For example, they recorded Jesus saying he did not know the hour of his return, they reported that he "could do no miracle" in Nazareth because of lack of faith, and they reported that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women (which would be a problem in their day). The authors also did not feel free to make up sayings of Jesus. If they did, they would have made up sayings to solve the problems that plagued the church when the Gospels were written: Jews and Gentiles in the church, the role of the Law, faith and works, etc.

  • Gary Manning Sep. 22, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    3) Finally, several people suggested some theological reasons why Jesus may not have had a wife. I don't have any problem with that. However, what I am primarily doing here is talking about the historical evidence. Since none of the earliest documents about Jesus mention a wife, but they do mention many other relatives, then from a strictly historical perspective, it seems unlikely that Jesus had a wife.

    With that said, we can think of the possible significance of Jesus' celibacy. The most obvious significance is presented by Jesus and Paul: celibacy allows greater devotion to God's purposes. From a metaphorical perspective, the church is the bride of the risen Christ, although Jesus never spoke about this in any of the gospels.

  • Don Sep. 23, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    It matters a great deal if Jesus was married according to Romans, because through one man death came to all, passed through the sperm of every male man, with the exception of one man, Christ, who had no earthly father but rather was born of a virgin after the spirit of God over-shadowed her. Christ was the only human to ever live without a sin nature and if he were married we would assume he had sex, and if he had sex he could have gotten his wife pregnant which would mean there could have been others born without a sin nature. We know from Romans this would never be allowed to happen. Beyond this, from the other points above that you gave obviously Jesus was never married. It should be understand that the root of this slander is Satanic and it would matter a great deal of Jesus was married because it really tries to rob (dilute) from His deity, and the entire reason Jesus had no sin nature, so that He could be the perfect Lamb of God and die for our sins, for everyone who believes in Him. Islam (the religion of Satan) also teaches that when Jesus returns He will marry. Gnostics, Liberal "scholars" and Muslims pretty much all share the same source for their Blasphemy, which is Satan, the Father of Lies.

  • Richie Conway Sep. 24, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    Hi Dr. Manning,

    Although it seems to be a minor point, I have some issues with the scripture as applied in the article. Maybe you can help me clarify them. They're all tied to your answer to the question of, "Aside from this manuscript, how likely was it that Jesus was married?" Your supportive scripture, from my point of view, doesn't add up.

    1) Why can you use 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 to prove that "Jesus described a special calling of celibacy to allow a greater focus on the kingdom of heaven," when it wasn't Jesus that described that?

    2) Secondly, in Matt 19:10-12, Christ doesn't appear to be advocating celibacy or singleness, but rather saying that only some people are to be married and some people are to be single. He describes the God glorifying way to pursue marriage, and then when the disciples say, wow you can't divorce, then it's better to be single, Christ says, yes there are people that go that route too. Where does it show any advocating on his part?

  • Erin Sep. 25, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    I'm only 19 years old but reading comments and what is there for the document it's kinds like Jesus is talking about us. I read a comment about the church is Jesus's wife, which is true. I think he is saying that "his wife" (the church) with become disciples of him. We will Go against wicked but because of him we are saved and the holy spirit is with in us. Idk if I'm reading the text right or not. Like I said I'm only 19 and I'm still learning

  • Gary Manning Sep. 25, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Richie - thanks for the comments. If you look back again at Matt 19:10-12, you can see that the conversation starts on the topic of divorce, but then Jesus talks about "becoming a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." This is most likely describing celibacy for kingdom purposes. Jesus was advocating it for some, but not all disciples.

    The passage in 1 Cor 7 is of course written by Paul, not Jesus. By using the abbreviation "Matt 19:10-12; cp. 1 Cor 7:7-9," I was saying "compare to" the passage in 1 Cor for the same idea. Paul's comments can help us understand what Jesus and the early Christians thought about celibacy.

  • Louise Sep. 30, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    I'm sure that there are some people on this earth who would love to believe that Jesus was married. Being married 'usually' leads to children. I am sure that there are plenty of whacko's who would delight in trying to trace back their lineage and discovering somehow that Jesus was their great great great great great (you get my drift) grandparent. Imagine....the mind boggles.

  • Michele Oct. 13, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    If as the fragment suggests, Jesus had a wife and her name was Mary, might this lead one to understand that this was Mary Magdalene? And if that is so, why was information about this relationship excluded from the NT? I, and others, suspect that this was intentional and continues to be so.

  • Leslie Oct. 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    @erin I think that is a really good point. The bible does refer to the church as his wife more than once;)

    I don't think Jesus was married and if for some weird reason he was then I highly doubt it was sexual. I fully believe he was chaste. When I saw the title before I read the article the first thing I thought was Jesus couldn't have been married because " he must be about his fathers business!" Why would he do anything else? He already had enough on his plate the way I see it. Also he has "no place to rest his head." When did he ever have a place to go to be with his 'wife? He was always with his disciples and "thronged" by the people. He had to sneak away just to pray in the woods/garden/mt. of olives let alone go home to "be" with his so called wife. It is stupid that Jesus is the only one that has so much debate about his life and death, that the bible is the most controversial book in the world!! It's because the devil would like it if people didn't believe and there was question about who Jesus was and if he really was who he said he was. The devil would like it that everyone thought Jesus was some crazed criminal. But I got news for the devil, even if he does sadly convince some poor unbelievers not to ever believe in Jesus---In the end ---YOU DIE DEVIL, JESUS WINS!!! ;)

  • manmroe Apr. 2, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    yes i believed that jesus is married, as hebrew tradition, one could not be called rabbi if he is not married, second, one could not assume to a davidic succession if he is not married. Another proof that could justify that jesus is married is the strict tradition among jews, a woman can not touch a man if she is not legally married or has no legal relationship, just like what mary magdalene did to jesus by wipping her hair to the feet of jesus. The wedding in cana is the wedding of jesus, if you are the host of the wedding, your are obliged to provide wine for your the visitors. His mother mary,commanded him to provide more wines since the wedding festivities of the jews during those time will last for a week . If jesus had a consort in the pleroma in the person of pistis sophia definitely this could also happen in his life here on earth. Just like jesus had 12 luminaries as his helpers in pleroma likewise he had 12 apostles here on earth.

  • Sons of Zadok Dec. 17, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    The only way Jesus could have had a wife, is she would have had to be supernaturally conceived like Jesus was, or she would have had to come from one of his ribs like Eve came from Adams. The reason is. Jesus was made from perfect seed, and lived a sinless life,not from the imperfect seed of Adam, if he took a wife from the imperfect seed of Adam, and became one flesh with her, he would have been defiled, and his sacrifice on the cross would have been rejected by God.

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