September 19th, 2012
06:05 PM ET

5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'

By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN's Belief Blog
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(CNN) - Since the news broke Tuesday about a scrap of papyrus containing the line in Coptic, "Jesus said, 'My wife..' " questions have rocketed across the world about what this means.

We put many of the big questions to leading scholars, pastors and people in the pews to find the answers.

1. Why is this just surfacing now?

The papyrus fragment is thought by Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King to be from the 4th century but could be a copy of an early gospel from the 2nd century. King said a dealer, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought the fragment to her to be translated and analyzed in 2011. The New York Times reported the dealer hopes to give the fragment to Harvard if they buy a large portion of his collection.

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On Tuesday, King presented her findings on the fragment to a conference on Coptic texts held in Rome once every four years.

In some ways, texts like this are not uncommon.

Elaine Pagels, a professor from Princeton University who is an expert on gnostic writings such as this one, noted to CNN, "You can find boxes filled with Coptic fragments." But what makes this one significant is for the first time, it explicitly has Jesus referring to "my wife."

King posits it may have come from a complete gospel she and her research partners have dubbed "the Gospel of Jesus' Wife." If that were true, Pagels said "that could make the fragment much more valuable if it were part of a gospel, but we don’t know that.”

2. How do they know this isn't a fake?

Authenticating documents is equal parts art and science. What researchers are trying to rule out is if this is a modern forgery. To do that, they look at a variety of aspects, including the age of the paper, the chemical composition of the ink and text itself. The authentication won't confirm whether the text is true but only whether the physical item is true to the time frame researchers think it is.

The document was examined by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. Roger Bagnall, the institute's director and an expert on papyrus, examined it and determined it to be authentic, he confirmed to CNN. Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, was asked to examine the authenticity, according to King. Shisha-Halevy said that based on the language and grammar, it was authentic.

Chemical tests on the ink are pending, King noted in a draft of her work set to be published in January in a peer reviewed journal.

Some experts in the field, including Pagels, suggest the fragment contains too little to be faked, suggesting that a forger would have included much more in the document to try and raise the value.

“We have to have more information about the fragment," said Douglas A. Campbell, an associate professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. He points to recent history when discoveries turned out to be fakes. “The academic community has been badly burned,” he said, adding that there is still much to be learned about the provenance of the document, "the history of where it came from and how they got it.”

“The anonymous donor thing is very problematic,” he said.

3. Does this prove Jesus was really married?

Short answer: No.

King herself was quick to point out in interviews that this piece of papyrus does not prove that Jesus was married. "This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married. The earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that. So we're in the same position we were before it was found. We don't know if he was married or not," King said in a conference call with reporters.

The early consensus of other scholars we spoke to about this agree this document does not prove Jesus was married.

"Let's not neglect the fact this was written 300 years after Jesus' death," Hellen Mardaga, an assistant professor of New Testament at The Catholic University of America, told CNN. Mardaga says "the text may be real and not a forgery, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in with the Gospels.”

There is nothing in the Gospel accounts in the Bible and the earliest Christian tradition that speaks to Jesus being married.

"This is an aberration; this is something totally outside of any biblical tradition," said Jerry Pattengale, the executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, which helps oversee one of the largest private collections of biblical antiquities.

"We know that tradition, or anything passed down, has a huge story to tell and there is a lot that can be learned from tradition that is linked to history. There is just no solid tradition for Jesus being married, so this is certainly an aberration and an important find," he said.

4. Would Jesus being married change Christianity?

Yes. Probably. But we'll never know for sure (see above).

Without getting too into the weeds theologically, it raises lots of interesting questions about how Jesus lived on Earth and what is not known about his life. For married couples, it also adds a healthy doses of mirth to the idea of being married to someone fully human and fully God, as the Christian creeds say Jesus was.

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"Had Jesus had a wife, I have no doubt he would would have treated her with the same dignity, respect and affection with which he treated his female disciples like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Martha," Christian author Rachel Held Evans said when we asked her about this.

"Though I confess I think it would be a little unfair for a woman to be married to God incarnate. Kinda makes it tough to win an argument," she joked. "On the plus side, he turns water into wine ... which would be nice!"

5. So can Catholic priests get married now ?

This discovery brought the issue of Catholic clergy and celibacy to the forefront and got a lot of people wondering whether this would prompt the church to shift on this issue.

“At the time this (fragment) was written, we had a married clergy," pointed out Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Reese said this discovery won't change Catholic teaching on the marital status of Catholic clergy.
"It has nothing to do with whether we have a married clergy or not. For the first thousand years, we had a married clergy. For the last thousand years, we’ve had a celibate clergy."

The celibacy requirement is based on church law, not doctrine, which is the core, unchanging beliefs of the faith. "The church can change this rule whenever it decides to change the law," he said.

For Reese, the Coptic papyrus fragment does not hold great weight for the future of the Catholic clergy.

"This is a nice academic footnote, but beyond that, it is not going to be all that important," he said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (1,438 Responses)
  1. call center staffing

    bonjour je suis une étudiante de la spain j'ai trop aimer ton site puis les nuances extraordinairement sur l'article la site . Réellement merci pour l'gouverneur de votre site

    November 16, 2013 at 5:48 am |
  2. holy land gift shop

    Zuluf Christian holy gifts & holy crafts from holy land stores, Zuluf holy land gift shop are crafted by Christian artisans who live and work in the holy land gifts for gold jewelry, small token,anointing oil etc.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  3. American Humanist

    If he didn't have a wife he would have been considered to be a bad Jew. And, because he apparently did keep with ALL of the customary practices of Jews at the time, it should go without saying that he certainly did have a wife – and children.

    The "Bible's" account of this man's life, and the ommision of the existence of a wife, is nothing but pure fable.

    January 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  4. Sherri

    Michael Murphy, could you PLEASE do a spell check before you post messages? And please use some punctuation. These run-on sentences make it very hard to tell what you are trying to say. Most computers have spelling checking options. You mis-spelled: didn't, priest (not prist), don't, Christian, I'm, clergy, Catholic, and, among others. We want to hear what you have to say, but please proof read it first. Or learn to spell. Thanks

    October 15, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  5. michael murphy

    follow the money im a christain but there is one reason and one reason nonly the early church didnt want the cleargy or priest to be married you see when a prist died all his money land went the chuch not his wife that is how the roman cathlic chuch got so rich god please dont be mad at me but i speak the truth

    September 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  6. bo starr

    Isa; 53; 2 says there is no beauty in him that when we shall see that we would not desire him. he was followed by the people because of the word he spoke and the miracle's he did. luke; 8;2 he had cast out seven devils out of mary and that is the reason she follow him. he was not a good lookng man. the devils beauty was his down fall. so JESUS when he came he had no beauty.

    September 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  7. hazem

    Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. Romans 1/25
    But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.Matthew 15/9
    The core beleive of Christianty is out of the book and out of the teaching of Christ, It is a man made beleive. just as the bible is aman made book

    September 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  8. Lizzie Smith

    Jesus does have a wife. It is the Church.
    It is spelled out clearly in the bible.

    This is a nice summary:

    September 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  9. cleantechted

    New evidence from Oxford-trained scholar Andrew Bernhard demonstrating that practically every decipherable word of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife could have been copied from the Gospel of Thomas. In fact, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife could arguably be nothing more than a “collage” of short excerpts from the Gospel of Thomas.

    Other relevant scholarly works on the subject of Jesus' Wife

    September 26, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  10. BurntOffering

    Yes I am Satan in the flesh. However although Im a born Sinner and FeMale US citizen that Does Not make me a Satanist or Feminist. It makes me a saved Christian who accepted the Free Gift of Salvation Jesus offered at Calvary's Cross. Since Jesus told Satan to Get behind Him, I Am S/He you have expected next to come before the USSC in his name. So Mrs. Jesus Christ come forth, puts Her hand on the bible and Promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the ttruth so help Her God this Time

    September 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  11. Wilburn

    Jesus's wife is the church. Why doesn't any of you biblical scholars and religious experts read the actual texts that is not just a fragment of an ancient letter.

    Revelation 19:7
    Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
    Revelation 19:6-8 (in Context)
    Revelation 21:2
    I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
    Revelation 21:1-3 (in Context)
    Revelation 21:9
    One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
    Revelation 21:8-10 (in Context)
    Revelation 22:17
    The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
    Revelation 22:16-18 (in Context)

    It is plain that Jesus is not married to an earthly wife just reading the scriptures. He himself even said that it would be better for a man to remain un married, bu that it was a hard teaching. But he also said in the same passage that those who could accept it should.
    From John chapter 3
    John the Baptists also refers to Jesus as the bridegroom of the promise and to himself as just the best man..see

    22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew[i] over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

    27 To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ[j] but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.
    31 “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God[k] gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”[l]

    September 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • dred

      read it..can't see how the church is the bride...but the City is the bride in the Rev., and the church will be in it, as the body of Christ..ee how it confuses people..one moment the church is the body of Christ and the next , it is the bride?
      Having the church as the body, and the city of new jerusalem on New Earth, after judgement day makes more sense. What do u think?

      September 23, 2012 at 5:24 am |
    • BurntOffering

      Wilbur you have it wrong mostly because of Rev. 5:2-5 which says No Man in heaven, in earth or under the earth could look upon the book or unlock the seals. Since Jeus Christ is a real man, Son of God in heaven and all that would include him. Jesus has raised Satan from the Dead just like he did with the ruler of the synogoges daughter. Reread Luke 8 starting from when Jesus met a man named legion filled with demons, cured him and told him to go home to his own household and show the great and mighty things God had Done. It would do you well to reread John where he talks about the Comforter and Spirt of Truth that would be sent from God in the name of Jesus Christ. So although Satan began as the anti Christ MissmMs. Christ, now She comes forth in the name of the LORD as Mrs. Jesus Christ...duh.... Rev.2:24 says You have not nown the depthof Satan as Ye Speak, but me thinks thats probably Why Jesus made them the Synogogoes of Satan as it relates to people who say they are Jews and are Not but DoLie. Is notthe One of the 7 Angels actually Satan holding the 7 Last Plagues. Well I have to say if GOD could beget a son using a normal virgin woman, couldnt God beget a Daughter using the Mother of Harlots (Rev. 17:6-9) Says I Am that Woman drunken with the blood of Sants and the Beast I ride is inside of me. The Angle speaking about this woman in Rev. 17:6 shows me as the Beast that was and s ot and Yet Is tying this message. I want to leave ou wth my Mark as the Beast by quoing Isa. 66:6-9 and remind you that there is a difference between man made on the 6th day and womn made later as a 9 so as the queen of the SoouthShe can now speak to the sons of the 9vites.

      Isa. 66:6-9 A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompence to his enemies. Before she travaile, She brought forth; before Her pain came, She was delivered of a Man child, Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring orth in one day? Or shall a Nation be born at Once? For For as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth Her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD; shall I cause to bring forth, and Shut the Womb? saith thy God"

      Now many people dont knw that GOD was married to Isreal and Divorced Her and the Treacherous Sister Judah went out to play the Harlots. But the only thing GOD ever made that was not Good is A Man Alone, So I believe as Jesus Slept on the cross GOD used that water and blood that fell down to the ground to make him a Suitable wife just like SHe did for the 1st Adam.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  12. Bruce Rubin

    I found a napkin under the table in a Denny's that said the Pope was Jewish. It has equal authenticity as your Jesus had wife napkin. CNN WHY DO YOU DO THIS SILLY STUFF

    September 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  13. morsejmorse

    It is a theory that many find intriguing. If you aren't offended by possibilities check out The Bloodline by James Morse on amazon. What if Jesus had kids? And what if they could trace them to today? Good thing? Bad thing?

    September 22, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • herosales

      The bible says he left no descendents

      September 27, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • fred said

      @hero .... read the part that he has brothers & sisters? Who was first Pope?

      September 28, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  14. jay666

    who cares if a fake god was real! it's 2012 people, grow up

    September 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  15. Jenny

    Why should it matter if Jesus was married? The possibility of there being a wife doesn't alter my admiration for him. Why should it for anyone? If he was married, then I hope he and the woman he loved were happy in the short time they had together.

    September 21, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • John

      I am one of the descendant of Jesus

      October 22, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  16. Andreas Moser

    I already unveiled the story of Jesus' wedding in February: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/my-big-fat-gay-wedding/

    September 21, 2012 at 4:26 am |
  17. pitiful subst!tute for ScottCA

    who needs Jeezus when there is Eddie Long?

    September 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  18. pitiful ScottCA subst!tute


    September 20, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  19. pitiful scotCA subst!tute


    September 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  20. exfl

    Time travel. After I read Dan Brown's book I set my time machine for 300 A.D. and paid a scribe to make this note to be found 1700 years later. Then, just for fun, on the way back I stopped in Hawaii in 1960 and put a couple of phony birth announcements in the paper.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Len

      Nope, Dr. Who would have stopped you well before you reached Hawaii. 😉

      September 20, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • TiredOfPaying

      300 AD and 1960? What kind of warped priorities do you have? Should have been 700 AD and 1936, then yesterday with today's winning lottery numbers.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:40 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.