The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Does it Change the Understanding of Christ?

This is a short essay I wrote as a final for one of my religion courses. This is my opinion on the topic and the essay still needs some work but I thought I would share it anyways.

There is not much material to go off of for this topic but after going through the sources that Professor Oliver provided on the PDF for the final, the sources don’t change my opinion of Christ or if he was married. I say this from the historical and theological perspective that there is not enough factual evidence, either historical or theological; to support the theory that Christ was married. The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” does how ever question the role of women in the early Church and how early Christians approached the topic of marriage and celibacy.

There is an Orthodox Christian saying that goes something like this, “Christ is married to the eternal Bride, the Church.” Theologically this means that Christ’s only wife is the Church and that his family is the members of the Church. Christ is the father who gave birth to the Church with Christians, monks and nuns being the brothers and sisters of the faithful and the priests being the fathers who represent Christ’s will. This would make the word “Church” feminine implying that the Church is Christ’s bride or wife and that he is married to the Church, representing all Christians. To go even further this means that Christ is married to every Christian through faith and worship. Through this perspective Christ having a wife doesn’t change my opinion because the wife is the Church. This will have a different meaning do different people because people have the ability to interpret scripture, writings and documents with our own minds. This can either be God given or not depending what one believes in but Jesus has taken on different meanings and forms over the years. Think of the title of the Broadway turned movie “Jesus Christ Superstar”, or Jesus as a social and civil rights activist, or a gun totin’ Jesus who cares about Second Amendment rights. The point is this: Christ is what one makes him out to be and while there are theological issues with this thought process one aspect of Christ will stay the same. He will always be married to the Church.

It may seem like I am throwing out the evidence that the “Gospel of the Wife of Jesus” presents but there is not enough historical fact to back up the document in saying that Christ was married. Firstly the document is believed to have been written some time between the seventh and eight centuries, some 700 to 750 years after Christ’s death[1]. The document could have been copied from a similar document but there is no factual proof to support this. On the other hand some scholars believe that early Christians, before the second century, thought that Christ was married but for some reason this belief changed after the second century [2]. If one were to go off of Jewish tradition the Talmud recommends that a man should marry between the ages of 16 and 24. If this tradition was practiced at the time of Christ’s life, then he might have been married. As explained to me by my Jewish friends, marriage in Judaism is important because it signifies the emerging of two souls into one and the two people getting married are thought to be soul mates. These same friends have also expressed surprise that Jesus was not married by the age of thirty since he was Jewish. With the same token the Gospels have not shown any evidence that Christ was married nor do they mention a wife. All in all there is no factual evidence that Christ was married to a living and breathing wife.

Going back to the “Gospel of the Wife of Jesus” one will notice the words “My wife”. Part of me likes to think that this is in reference to female disciples, which it very well could be. If this is the case, then the document is challenging modern notions of the place of women in the Church. I aim this mostly towards the Catholic and Dutch Reformed churches where women have no role in the workings of the church (Dutch Reformed) or in the case of the Catholic Church where women’s roles can some times be disputed but in general they play a much larger role in the church than Dutch Reformed women do. If women were in fact disciples during Christ’s lifetime, then this means that one: women in the Dutch Reformed church could take leadership roles in the church where they are not currently allowed to and that Catholic women would be allowed to take on more visible leadership roles within their church as well. This could possibly that women could become lay people or acolytes (assisting the priest in services or processions) within the church. At the same time this could also support women who are currently priests in Christian denominations where women are allowed to be ordained.

Another question that the “Gospel of the Wife of Jesus” poses is the question of celibacy. This was a hotly debated topic within early Christianity on whether a Christian should devote their time to the Church and for go the notion of marriage or if marriage between a man and woman was just as important as being devoted to the church. There are parts of the New Testament, like in 1st Timothy, where it condemns those who refuse marriage. This would not challenge the status quo found in churches among the congregation where in some traditions marriage is considered a sacrament, or act of faith, that one must do in their lifetime. I don’t think this would be enough to challenge the notion of celibacy in the Catholic Church but it would reaffirm the view that priests are allowed to be married in denominations like the Protestant Churches, the Episcopal and Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church.

Form me personally, the “Gospel of the Wife of Jesus” doesn’t challenge my current views of Christ nor the views that the Church has of Christ because what is being suggested in the document is just a theory, and theories don’t seem to challenge the current teachings of the Church as much as historical fact does. What the document does challenge is some of the current teachings of the Catholic Church where women are not allowed to be priests, lay people or acolytes. I don’t believe that the document challenges the current view of Christ as taught by the Church due to a lack of factual evidence to support the theories.

 

 

[1] Jonothan Beasley, “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient,” The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, April 10, 2014.

http://gospelofjesusswife.hds.harvard.edu/testing-indicates-gospel-jesuss-wife-papyrus-fragment-be-ancient

[2]Stephen Prothero, “Opinion: On Easter, Jesus’ Evolution Tells of Changing America,” National Geographic Daily News, April 19, 2014.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140419-easter-jesus-holidays-christianity-opinion-united-states/?rptregcta=reg_free_np&rptregcampaign=20131016_rw_membership_n2p_us_sm_w#

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