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Jesus had a wife.

Here’s the claim:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”


A second article adds:

Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the finding Tuesday at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome. The text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a 2nd century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” whom he identifies as Mary.


What do we have? First, we have a piece of paper written by who knows whom.  The claim in the second article that this scrap was translated from Greek is speculative. There are ways that one may be able to guess that a particular document is a translation (for example, if you read the instructions for your latest gizmo made in Asia, you can guess the writer was not a native English speaker.) However, such analysis takes substantial comparison and study.  A document of 20 words does not and cannot form a sufficient basis for making such a conclusion. For an example of such analysis, see the Excursus by Karen Jobes at the end of her Baker Commentary on First Peter.

Second, even if we assume a Second Century original for a document what does it prove? That someone wrote Jesus said to them, My Wife ….

By the second century (notably in Egypt, which would be the source of a Coptic document), Gnosticism was in place. Gnostic documents could contain all sorts of crazy things.  For example The Thunder, Perfect Intellect has God saying

It is I who am the wife; and the virgin.

It is I who am the mother; and the daughter



Or consider this from the The Gospel of Thomas (written probably mid-2nd Century in Greek, translated into Coptic) (this saying was perhaps added later):

114 Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”


For more on Thomas, see:  http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/

The Gnostics added many strange things to Jesus – like a secret revelation given to Judas http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospeljudas.html

That some Gnositic gave Jesus a wife is not terribly surprising.

Third, the validity of the document is being questioned: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/harvard-claim-jesus-wife-papyrus-scrutinized

Fourth, try this: Imagine finding a piece of paper that said Christopher Columbus was a space alien, or George Washington had pink hair.  What would that prove? Nothing beyond what was written.  A document written at least 100 and perhaps hundreds more (if not a forgery) after Jesus’ death does not even prove an oral tradition of Jesus’ life.

Fifth, there is nothing in the document which gives us any reason to believe that it has bearing on the historical person of Jesus: The document was written well after Jesus died, in an environment where making up history was acceptable (within the Gnostic community, not among orthodox Christians), written by who knows whom, contains the words “ ….. my wife …..” In short, so what? In short, so what? As King admits:

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.