The recent announcement that a fragment of a papyrus manuscript found in Egypt some time ago -- one that mentions Jesus having a wife -- is "authentic" has been something of a sensation in the news.
Of course, a lot depends on what is meant by "authentic." It seems that what the antiquities experts mean is not that Jesus actually had wife but that the fragment that seems to claim that he did have one isn't a recent fake. In fact, the papyrus on which it is written on has been radio-carbon dated as coming from the middle of the eighth century, while both the type of ink and the style of the writing -- which is remarkably bad in its grammar -- is in Coptic (the traditional Egyptian language, but written with the Greek alphabet) and checks out as belonging to that period of history, around the time that Islamic armies invaded and occupied that ancient land.
However, none of this is good evidence of what was the marital status of Jesus himself. In fact, if one goes by the all the wildly different versions of Christianity found in the so-called "Gnostic" manuscripts that have turned up in Egypt during the past century, one might even make the claim that just maybe Jesus was an extra-terrestrial being who had been sent here from Mars! In fact, so confusing was the situation there that the last major philosopher of that time, Plotinus (c 205-270), who was the son of Roman official in Egypt, had found the Christianity there to be so contaminated by Gnosticism that he never took it seriously and once he left Egypt, never returned. So if this was the situation there in the third century, what might we expect would be the case four centuries later?
On the other hand, if we restrict our speculation on this matter to what we can discern from the four accepted gospels, we have no information at all about the life of Jesus between the stories about his birth and childhood as related by Matthew and Luke, and his public arrival on the scene, as described by Mark's gospel, at about 30 years of age. So what can we surmise took place during all those intervening years?
Of course, we might guess, as apparently some Egyptians once did, that he had married, much the same as any Jewish young man of that time would have been. But if so, what had happened in the meantime? Had his wife perhaps died, or had he deserted her to take up the life of wandering preacher? On the other hand, some may have even wondered if, like the prophet Hosea, perhaps Jesus had been deserted by an unfaithful wife, but who, unlike Hosea's wife Gomer, never repented or returned. If that had been the case, it would be even easier to see why Jesus had such a harsh or uncompromising opinion regarding divorce and remarriage. But given the silence of the scriptures on this subject, who really can know for sure?
However, what we can know for certain is that Jesus had a rather uncompromising view of the permanence of marriage, as we find in especially in Mark 10:11-12 and summarized in the saying "What God has joined together, let no one separate", and that even if he sometimes allowed for an exception as we find in Matthew's gospel (5:32 and 19:9), he nevertheless went on to even challenge his followers to seriously consider the celibate or unmarried state "for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven,'' then adding, as if for emphasis, "Let anyone accept this who can" (Matt 19:12).
Furthermore, we also know that the Apostle Paul, writing his Second Epistle or letter to the Corinthians, -- most likely even a few years before Mark's Gospel was written down -- spoke to his converts about having intended "to present them as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor 11:2), much as a bride is presented by her father to her husband-to-be. If so, might it not be possible that a few Christians in Egypt misinterpreted Paul's ambition (which even he admitted may have been a bit "foolish") to mean that Jesus had married himself to wife? After all, the author of 2 Peter warned his readers about the difficulty of understanding Paul's letters which "the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction" (2 Pet 3:16). If so, maybe this also explains not only the bad grammar, but even more, the non-traditional view of the papyrus that has been made such sensation in the news.
For more on this blogger's views on Christianity and Marriage, click here.