Scholars at Harvard Divinity School announced recently the finding of an ancient Coptic papyrus that suggests that Jesus might have been married. According to Professor Karen King, while this document cannot shed any conclusive evidence on the real marital status of the historical Jesus, it does contain a statement that reads: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’” Ever since the announcement the world has been buzzing and Christendom has been up in arms.
I thought we had beat this one to a pulp about ten years ago when Dan Brown wrote his big bestseller, The Da Vinci Code—especially after it became a big blockbuster in the movie theaters. I also thought we had beat it to a pulp nearly thirty years ago when Martin Scorsese adapted Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1953 book, The Last Temptation of Christ, into a movie. Needless to say Kazantazakis’ book back in the early 1950s also took a beating despite that it missed the Pulitzer Prize for Literature by a couple of votes and nearly got the author excommunicated from the church. It seems that Jesus’ marital status has a life of its own as it keeps resurrecting itself every couple of decades . . . the question becomes, why does it bother people so much?
I had been hearing rumbles and rumors for years that Jesus had been married. The first time I stumbled upon it was in the rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, with its overtures of Jesus and Mary Magdalene had some sort of “thing” going on . . . then there was Kazantazakis’ book . . . then Scorsese’s adaption of the book . . . then John Prine mentioned it in his humorous song, The MissingYears . . . then Dan Brown’s book and subsequent movie, The Da Vinci Code. And, now this . . . a Coptic scrap of paper from around the fourth century! Surely, where there is smoke there has to be a fire! OMG! Jesus married?
First of all, those scholars that made the announcement never said that Jesus was married. In fact, Professor Karen King stated that the scrap did not shed any conclusive evidence on the marital status of Jesus. We know from the Gospels that the writers did not spend any time dealing with the dating life nor the marital status of Jesus . . . nope, not a work. No real evidence of Jesus’ marital status is to be found anywhere in what Christendom recognizes as “holy scripture”. All we have is a lot of people being creative and suggesting—sometimes quite subtly and other times quite blatantly—that Jesus might have been married. Again, why does that bother some people or a lot of people?
What if? I find that to be one of the most powerful questions—and statements—in my faith. Powerful because it makes me consider the possibilities of God’s creative and powerful presence in the lives of human beings. Key to that is the idea of possibilities . . . possibilities that make me consider miracles . . . possibilities that make me consider healings . . . the presence of the holy . . . of hope . . . of potential and, of being real enough to strengthen my faith—not diminish it. So, what if Jesus had been married?
Now I have to confess that if I fully believe in the monastic order—monks and nuns, and the rituals that they have practiced for centuries, well then, I don’t understand what the big debate is all about. Nuns have been marrying years for what seem like forever! Aren’t they considered the “brides of Christ”? If that is the case then Jesus is not a Christian, he is a polygamist Mormon! That might be a scary “what if”!
Years ago singer Joan Osborne had a hit single that asked the question: What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
For some reason we—who call ourselves Christian—have a difficult time dealing with the human side of Jesus. We have a difficult time accepting his human nature. We don’t want to see Jesus being like one of us. I think that is what made all those books, movies, and song so controversial . . . they were getting a too close to home . . . too reflective of us . . . and that makes us uncomfortable. None of likes to be reminded of what we are or what we could become. Especially if we are truly going to be followers of God. If we keep Jesus in that super holy, up in the sky, sort of guy we always have an excuse. Who can touch the heavens and who can be like Jesus? But don’t the scriptures tell us that Jesus was one of us—fully human? Is that what scares us about the possibility that Jesus might have tied the knot?
It does not bother me if folks want to conjecture about whether or not Jesus was married. I can take Jesus either way . . . I can take Jesus either way because it makes me consider what if? What if Jesus were like us . . . then I think that his life and story are that much more powerful. Why? Because it shows us the way when we follow him. It shows us the potential. It shows us God’s hope. It shows us what could really be. Consider this: What new possibilities might it open up to us if we did begin to think of Jesus as a spouse, partner or perhaps even a father? Kind of mind-boggling, isn’t it?
This is not mean to be a scholarly piece of writing . . . nor is it meant to be what the ancient church used to call an “apology” . . . it is just my ramblings and stammerings about an interesting topic that just does not want to seem to die. It gets resurrected more than Jesus does! Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion . . . his or her own belief. I think that is what God wants for each of us—a faith that we can believe in. I am not hear to change anyone’s ideas . . . my faith is strong enough to handle other’s faith. I just hope the faith of others is strong enough to handle mine.
This little controversy affirms for me what I have come to believe about my faith in the last couple of decades, and that is that I am a follower of Jesus. I want to be known as a follower of Jesus . . . being called a Christian is okay, but it also alludes to a certain set of doctrines . . . doctrines most often created by men (check out your church history on that one). Whether Jesus was married or not does not matter to me . . . it is where he leads me that matters to me and others. OMG!! Really? Jesus was married? So what!