Friday, 21 September 2012

“Jesus Had a Wife”, 4th Century Document Claims

El Greco (1580): Christ carrying His cross. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

From time to time, historians find old documents that bring up some unexpected aspects about Jesus. Recently, Karen L. King, a historian at Harvard University, introduced a paper on a fourth-century document fragment with these words:

Published here for the first time is a fragment of a fourth-century CE codex in Coptic containing a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus speaks of 'my wife.' This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century.”

The fragment is small, 4 cm (1.6 inches) x 8 cm (3.2 inches). At least some experts say that it is authentic, i.e. it is not a modern forgery.

While the New Testament Gospels are eyewitness accounts written a few decades after the events that they describe, this fragment is at least a hundred years younger, and probably even more. It could be 300 years younger than the earliest written Gospel.

Most Jewish men were married, but given Jesus’ exceptional life and ministry, He almost certainly was not. He came to die, to atone for the sins of mankind. A wife and children would have been a distraction for Him and a potential source of theological difficulties. There is nothing in the Gospels that suggests that Jesus was married.

There have been all kinds of more or less bizarre “discoveries” about the life (and death) of Jesus in recent years, but all claimed documents or artefacts hail from a much later period than the authentic Gospels.

We should also remember that later accounts of Jesus’ life were not inspired. There is no evidence that Jesus ever called anyone His wife. The Coptic document is too young and was written in a language and culture that differed from the original setting of the Gospels.


King, Karen L. 2012. “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus.