I have acknowledged, admitted, and accepted that I am a religious scholarship nerd. Unfortunately, religious scholarship rarely has an exciting discovery that captures the attention of the news media. However, on 18 September 2012 the news media buzzed with the discovery of a fourth-century, faded, small fragment of papyrus containing Coptic texts.
Although a fourth-century document is intriguing, the implication of the Coptic text was worthy of the spotlight. According to Karen L. King, a Harvard professor, the text reads ‘Jesus said to them [his disciples], my wife…she will be able to be my disciple.’
King stressed though that this document is not evidence that the historical Jesus was in fact married. This document does provide evidence that the early Church debated the marital status of Jesus in regards to sexuality, marriage, discipleship, and the role of women.
Additionally, King became curious about the earliest documentation that declared Jesus did not have a wife. King was intrigued to discover that the documentation was produced during the period that the Coptic papyrus is dated. King argues that the implication is that the question about Jesus’ martial status was raised approximately two centuries after his death.
While studying at Arizona State University (ASU), I observed that religious scholars were settled into three camps: (1) those who argued Jesus was not married, (2) those who argued Jesus was married, (3) and those who argued that we lack significant evidence and should continue forth with an open mind. Perhaps in light of the discovery, religious scholars and religious organizations should ponder the significance of Jesus’ martial status in our 21st century existence.
The Roman Catholic tradition via the Vatican quickly denounced the document as a forgery, although experts have accredited the authenticity. If Jesus was married, then the Roman Catholic tradition would not have reason for requiring clergy to be unwed and celibate. Additionally, if Jesus’ wife was permitted to be a disciple, the Roman Catholic tradition would not have reason for denying women clergy positions. Further, it might require the Roman Catholic tradition to reconsider their position on sex.
However, the Protestant traditions have been silent in the news media regarding the discovery. Protestant traditions permit their clergy to be married and produce children. Although conservative Protestant traditions might be required to reconsider the ordination of women into clergy positions, the more liberal Protestant traditions are ordaining women.
Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, might further question the implication on Christology (Jesus as the Christ):
If Jesus were married, could he have been the Son of God?
If Jesus were married, could he have been perfect, without sin?
If the answers are ‘yes’, then the implication of the document does not change the basic foundation of Christianity.
If the answers are ‘no’, then the implication of the document destroys the foundation upon which Christianity is built.
I can not answer these questions, because each individual Christian would answer the question in relation to their own theology (including Christology) and perspectives.
On a personal note… I have found pleasure in the Dan Brown books (including the DaVinci Code), but have honored these as fiction. Additionally, I studied the Gnostic Christians at ASU, the Gnostics remain famous for arguing that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. At the end of the day, I am in the third camp of religious scholars, because we lack significant evidence regarding Jesus’ marital status. However, I hold that whether Jesus was or was not married that he was the perfect, sinless Son of God.