The Humanity of Jesus: Could Jesus Have Been Married?

Posted By on September 19, 2012

I’m sure by now readers have heard the recent announcement that Dr. Karen King of Harvard has announced (in Rome at a conference) that she is in possession of a small fragment of a Coptic manuscript that has Jesus addressing his wife (the line reads: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”). The manuscript also mentions a woman named Mary. (For all the lines translated into English, go here - an NBC news item that kindly includes a link to my initial thoughts on the fragment posted on my PaleoBabble blog.)

While the fragment doesn’t provide evidence that Jesus was married (it only provides evidence that someone living a few centuries after Jesus thought he was married, or at least wanted to cast him as such), I don’t see any theological problem with him being married. But there’s no evidence for it, especially in the New Testament. There is certainly no sexual problem, unless your theology is twisted into some idea that intercourse is inherently wrong. My point here is that Jesus would not have recoiled from marriage because it would have meant he’d have to consummate the marriage. That’s quite an unbiblical view of sex (let’s just cut the creation mandate out of our Bibles, shall we?). In biblical theology, Jesus was as human as the rest of us, though he was certainly more. As I posted earlier about his humanity, he grew up as any of us did, which means he went through puberty. He would have experienced sexual attraction. Sexual impulse is not sinful; it’s human — our bodies working the way God made them, with a procreative impulse. Biblical morality, however, prescribes boundaries for their expression; it just doesn’t require their execration. Again, how biblical is your theology about the humanity of Jesus? Sadly, this is one area that tends to be awfully tradition-driven.

Rather than problems, though, I’d say there might have been practical and theological obstacles to marriage for Jesus, though an obstacle doesn’t mean it couldn’t be so. What do I mean by obstacles?

I think the text is clear (Luke 2:41-52) that by the time of the temple incident, when Jesus had reached his teen years, he knew who he was and that he was on earth to fulfill God’s plan for salvation history. (By the way, this passage ends with the noteworthy Luke 2:52 – another interesting juxtaposition of divinity and humanity). While that would not of necessity have caused Jesus to refrain from marriage, it feels a little callous of him taking a wife knowing he was going to die in the near future. But that read naturally depends on the debate over whether Jesus did (or could have) offered the kingdom to Israel in a genuine way (i.e., could the Jews have embraced him as messiah in view of OT prophecies that called for a suffering messiah). This is a significant debate in biblical studies with good arguments on all sides. If the answer turned out to be “yes,” then Jesus would have only known he was going to die for sure after his rejection. The gospels record that “from that time forward” Jesus began to tell them he would die. (But if that’s the case, what about those OT prophecies? I have my own answer for that, but I won’t digress.) You get the picture.

Another obstacle, or at least potential reason to avoid marriage on Jesus’ part, would have been the issues raised by having children. I’m thinking here of succession struggles (read the books of Kings for that) and any superstitious weirdness that might ensue about the nature of any children (I don’t think that would have been complicated — they’d have been human and nothing more, since deity doesn’t have DNA, and is not transmitted by DNA — but in a pre-scientific culture, that would not have been an easy parsing).

Anyway, just thought I’d muse a bit in the wake of the new manuscript find.

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20 Responses to “The Humanity of Jesus: Could Jesus Have Been Married?”

  1. rode says:

    my coworker just sent an email with the news of the article…so i replied with your blog….so thanks.

  2. kennethos says:

    Hmm….a portion of the “Jesus married” business feeds right in the DaVinci madness, with its talk and speculation about the “bloodline of Christ” and “Merovingian lines” in Europe, basically turning the royal families into lines of Christ’s descendants. That has little to do with actual reality, to say nothing of the text. It was also part of the objectionable content of “Last Temptation of Christ,” with Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene. I wonder if Christendom’s challenges regarding a biblical view of sex, combined with thinking of Jesus in that manner, is perhaps responsible for such confusions of view.

    • MSH says:

      I tend to think medieval views of Mary Magdalene and sex (and the fact that they couldn’t really be challenged) did contribute something to all this.

  3. Patrick says:

    As far as “offering the kingdom to Israel”, I always viewed that as authentic and that the term, “In the fullness of time” describing His Incarnation pretty much explained away the theological dilemma.

    Yahweh foreknew the hostility of the Jews and the positive volition of the peoples was coming into a historic nexus such that the narrative would naturally occur. Maybe I have that wrong, don’t know.

    From my view, I wonder if this should be characterized as a “Christian” writing even if it’s authentic? Gnostics did not believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah of the OT text (no real human body, no resurrection, no crucifixion, no system of faith in Jesus as Lord to attain their “nirvana”, rather an old form of transcendental meditation, etc), so IMO, they were no different than other pagans, Jesus the ghost just replaced Zeus or Aphrodite to them.

    As for actual marriage, like you said, it theoretically could have happened, but, Jesus would have had to marry young before He realized what deutero Isaiah and some of the Psalms taught Him.

    I’m guessing The Father providentially would have prevented Him doing this because had He, He would have been a poor husband, provider and father during the ministry stage.


  4. Michael Schwenk says:

    In his most recent popular book “The Jesus Scandals,” the NT scholar David Instone-Brewer argues that one of the reasons Jesus did not marry was because no family would offer one of its daughters in marriage to him, given the well-known questions about his paternity, i.e., was Joseph his father and was he conceived out of wedlock? Brewer argues that men with unclear patrimony was persona non grata in 1st century Palestine and were routinely refused marriage. His arguments rest on rabbinic sources, which is his area of expertise.

    • MSH says:

      also replied to this over at Paleobabble (coherent, but there could have been an exception; who knows).

    • str says:

      “given the well-known questions about his paternity”

      But there were no questions (let alone well-known ones) about Jesus’s paternity.

      To the law and to people, Jesus was the son of Joseph, the “son of the carpenter”. Luke has even Mary saying to the twelve-year old Jesus: “Your father and I have been looking for you.”

      The only person who had (temporary) issues with Jesus’s conception was Joseph himself.

  5. Richard Brown says:

    MSH I’m surprised that you of all people would make an unsubstantiated assertion: “deity has no DNA”. really? evidence for that? and you’re sure there was no sperm cell or cellular material whatsoever involved in the conception of Jesus in the virgin womb?
    since “divine class” beings can, and have, manifested themselves in flesh – even eating a meal with Abraham for instance [a meal that included meat…], it would be mere conjecture to assert that such flesh manifestations of non-human-sentient-beings that sure look/feel/smell/eat like flesh definitely don’t have or could not pass on DNA.
    What looks difficult to humans may be child’s play for truly intelligent life.

    • MSH says:

      The comment was about Jesus and his being the incarnation of Yahweh, who has no body, and hence no DNA. Jesus had human DNA.

      • Al says:

        Is there any proof that Jesus was the incarnation of Yahweh?

        • MSH says:

          Yes, the New Testament is filled with that. For example, Paul’s citation of Yahweh texts from the OT in the NT, substituting the name “Jesus” into those texts. Jesus as the incarnation of Yahweh is part and parcel NT theology.

    • str says:

      Exactly, Mike.

      And if any heavenly being took on human form and that human form would not be mere semblance, that form would of course have human DNA and not “heavenly DNA”, if such a thing existed.

      DNA is an element of organic biology. Humans have DNA, animals have DNA. Angels and the like do not have DNA.

  6. Matti says:

    That’s a provoking view on Jesus’ humanity, it hurts my traditional sensibilities. But I think you are right. Jesus was fully human and marriage would have been perfectly permissible for him.

  7. Carol Carpenter says:

    Whenever I read something about this parchment I’m surprised if there is no mention of the controversy surrounding its authenticy. It’s important for people to know there is an on-going effort to substantiate it’s authenticy – and not just assume that it is authentic. Even Dr. Karen King is involved in that process. That being said, how do we know the “Jesus” being quoted here is Jesus, the Messiag and not another Jesus; that was a very common name at the time. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise to discuss sexuality and Jesus but I think it’s jumping the gun on the facts.

    • MSH says:

      I think it was probably considered viable since it was Karen King. But as I noted in my original post (on a different blog), you have to know the text’s provenance — it’s origins. Looks like it’s a fake now, judging by the most recent work on it.

  8. Al says:

    It was written that Jesus said when he returns it will be like before the flood.
    What does that mean?

    • MSH says:

      The passage itself answers that (the point is that people will be unaware of impending judgment) though many have stacked all sorts of ideas on top of that.

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