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Was Jesus married?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Gospel of Jesus wife written in Coptic on small papyrus fragment held by professor Karen L. King of Harvard (Credit: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary)

An ancient papyrus fragment is creating quite a stir these days.  It was first made public two years ago by historian Karen L. King of Harvard University.  When, where, or how the fragment was discovered is unknown.  The owner insists on remaining anonymous.

It is only four by eight centimeters, smaller than a business card, comprised of eight lines written in black ink.  The fragment is clearly torn out of a larger document.  It was written in Coptic, an Egyptian language using Greek letters.  While some remain convinced that it is a recent forgery, analysts now report that it resembles other ancient papyri from the fourth to the eight centuries and is likely that old.

So far, you’re wondering why you’re reading about this.  Here’s the reason: the fragment contains the phrases, “. . . Jesus said to them, My wife . . .” and “. . . she will be able to be my disciple . . .”  In other words, whoever wrote these words 12 to 16 centuries ago apparently believed that Jesus had a wife and that a woman was among his first disciples.  Imagine the shock to Christians if these claims were proven true.

Actually, they are.

Jesus has a “wife” or bride—the church.  John the Baptist referred to Christ as a “bridegroom” and his followers as his “bride” (John 3:29).  Jesus spoke of himself as a bridegroom as well (Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 2:19-20).  The church is his “bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).  It is obvious that Jesus had no physical wife—no biblical writer even suggests the possibility, and a fragment written four to eight centuries later proves nothing.  But he has a spiritual bride whom he loves as passionately as a husband loves his wife (Ephesians 5:25-29).

And he had female disciples as well.  They were not among his twelve apostles (cf. Luke 6:14-16).  But he had many disciples in addition to the twelve (v. 13).  Among them were “the women” (Acts 1:14).  Luke 8 is more specific: “the twelve were with him, and also some women . . . Mary, called Magdalene . . . and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Suzanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (vs. 2-3).  Note that there were “many” women among his disciples, and that they helped finance Jesus’ ministry.

This fact is especially relevant on Wednesday of Holy Week.  Today our Lord did nothing that was recorded in Scripture.  He spent the day resting at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Matthew 21:17).  In other words, the last home of his earthly ministry belonged to two women and their brother.

Two facts are clear. 

One: you are beloved by Jesus.  No matter what happens to you today, know that he loves you unconditionally and eternally.  You are his “bride,” and he is your eternal “husband.” 

Two: you can serve Jesus.  No matter what the culture thinks of you, he welcomes your faith and devotion.  He uses every gift you commit to his Kingdom cause.  He wants to stay in your home tonight.

Brennan Manning: “We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”  Do you agree?