Was Jesus Married?
The parade of alleged gospels that purport to alter the foundational doctrines of the Christian religion is endless. Most recently, a papyrus fragment written in Coptic that dates to the fourth century has created a stir. Among its eight badly faded lines are two phrases, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife...’” and a second provocative clause that is believed to say, “she will be able to be my disciple” (Goodstein, 2012). No matter how tentative and flimsy the evidence, liberal scholars and atheists glory in any item that might discredit Christ and Christianity. Yet, even the lead expert on the fragment, historian at the Harvard Divinity School, Karen King, repeatedly cautioned that it “should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question” (Goodstein, emp. added).
Many Christians and non-Christians fail to grasp the fact that the legitimacy and credibility of Christianity does not finally depend on archaeological discovery. If the Bible can be proven to possess the attributes of inspiration, demonstrating its divine origin, then no artifact will ever be discovered that will contradict that truth. If any manuscript or artifact appears to do so, it is being misinterpreted and misconstrued. Since we know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (based on a careful and thorough analysis of its internal attributes—see the category “Inspiration of the Bible” at apologeticspress.org), then we know that Jesus never married just as the New Testament represents. [NOTE: That is not to say that the Catholic notion of celibacy finds biblical support—it does not. See Pinedo, 2008, pp. 60ff.]
Furthermore, the truth of the matter is that the textual basis of the New Testament was settled and fully authenticated many years ago. The longstanding discipline of Textual Criticism has yielded abundant evidence for the trustworthiness of the text of the New Testament. Over the last two centuries, the manuscript evidence has been thoroughly examined, resulting in complete exoneration for the integrity, genuineness, and accuracy of the Bible. Prejudiced university professors refrain from divulging to their students that the vast majority of textual variants involve minor matters that do not affect salvation nor alter any basic teaching of the New Testament. Even those variants that might be deemed doctrinally significant pertain to matters that are treated elsewhere in the Bible where the question of genuineness is unobscured. No feature of Christian doctrine is at stake. When all of the textual evidence is considered, the vast majority of discordant readings have been resolved (e.g., Metzger, 1978, p. 185). One is brought to the firm conviction that we have in our possession the Bible as God intended.
The world’s foremost textual critics have confirmed this conclusion. Sir Frederic Kenyon, longtime director and principal librarian at the British Museum, whose scholarship and expertise to make pronouncements on textual criticism was second to none, stated: “Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” (Kenyon, 1940, p. 288). The late F.F. Bruce, longtime Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism at the University of Manchester, England, remarked: “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (1960, pp. 19-20). J.W. McGarvey, declared by the London Times to be “the ripest Bible scholar on earth” (Brigance, 1870, p. 4), conjoined: “All the authority and value possessed by these books when they were first written belong to them still” (1956, p. 17). And the eminent textual critics Westcott and Hort put the entire matter into perspective when they said:
Since textual criticism has various readings for its subject, and the discrimination of genuine readings from corruptions for its aim, discussions on textual criticism almost inevitably obscure the simple fact that variations are but secondary incidents of a fundamentally single and identical text. In the New Testament in particular it is difficult to escape an exaggerated impression as to the proportion which the words subject to variation bear to the whole text, and also, in most cases, as to their intrinsic importance. It is not superfluous therefore to state explicitly that the great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed (1964, p. 564, emp. added).
Noting that the experience of two centuries of investigation and discussion had been achieved, these scholars concluded: “[T]he words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole of the New Testament” (p. 565, emp. added).
Think of it. Men who literally spent their lives poring over ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, devoting their lives to meticulous, tedious analysis of the evidence, conversant with the original languages, without peer in their expertise and qualifications, have concluded that the Bible has been transmitted accurately. No scrap of papyrus written 200+ years after the fact can overturn the last two centuries of scholarly investigation and validation—let alone the Bible’s own inspired testimony to the contrary.
Brigance, L.L. (1870), “J.W. McGarvey,” in A Treatise on the Eldership by J.W. McGarvey (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications, 1962 reprint).
Bruce, F.F. (1960), The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.
Goodstein, Laurie (2012), “A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife,” The New York Times, September 18, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120919&moc.semityn.www.
Kenyon, Sir Frederic (1940), The Bible and Archaeology (New York, NY: Harper).
McGarvey, J.W. (1956 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1978 reprint), The Text of the New Testament (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), second edition.
Pinedo, Moises (2008), What the Bible says about the Catholic Church (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), http://apologeticspress.org/pdfs/e-books_pdf/wtbsatcc.pdf.
Westcott, B.A. and F.J.A. Hort (1964 reprint), The New Testament in the Original Greek (New York, NY: MacMillan).