Letters to the Editor

The marital status of Jesus

Monday, December 17, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

With the recent discovery of a papyrus fragment which seems to suggest that Jesus was married, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code which takes a similar position, it has become necessary to give the subject some attention.

Jesus continually stated his purpose and programme as he went about his business in Israel. To establish a nuclear family was never stated as part of his programme.

The late John W Stott reminded us that "our knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth comes almost entirely from the New Testament. The few references to him in Roman literature (specifically by Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny) and in Jewish literature (by Josephus) are all brief, not equally reliable, and though they are valuable for their independent confirmation of Jesus' life... they really add nothing to what we learn from the Gospels. So we are largely limited to these Christian documents" (that is, The New Testament documents; The Authentic Jesus, p 13). Bearing this in mind, let us look closely at these documents to see if we can determine if Jesus was in fact a married man.

Jesus stated in Matthew 8:20 that he did not own a matrimonial home. If Jesus was married, this would be unacceptable and unheard of in a patriarchal society such as Israel. Another important point is that the Gospels referred time after time to Jesus' closest family members, for example, his mother, brothers, sisters, cousin(s), but never was a spouse mentioned at any time (Matthew 13:55; Luke 1:35). And the New Testament never hinted that Jesus was a widower.

At the cross, some of the closest female family members were present. A spouse was not mentioned. Even some of the women who were close to him, being a part of his earthly ministry, were mentioned, but not a word of a spouse is on the horizon (see Mark 15:40-41). In fact, Jesus gave John the responsibility of taking care of his mother (that is, Mary). There is not a whisper of a spouse inside or outside of Israel.

There are a couple of marriage events that were recorded in the Gospels. Jesus even attended one of them. Why was Jesus not identified as a husband if he had gone through the holy matrimonial process (John 2:1; Luke 14:20)?

On another note, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, were two of the women who were mentioned in the Gospels as being very close to Jesus. However, the relationship obviously remained platonic; recall that Jesus was tempted in every way, yet remained without sin (Hebrew 4:15).

Paul, when dealing with the marital issues in the Corinthian church, for instance, at no time gives the slightest indication of Jesus being married. (1 Corinthians 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:25; 5:28; 5:33). It would have been appropriate for him to have done so based on the nature of the problem that he was addressing in the church at Corinth at that point in time.

True, the Gospels are silent on the childhood of Jesus. So it is possible that Jesus could have been married without the Gospels actually mentioning it. However, it is likely that his marital status would have come out in the rest of the New Testament documents (1 Peter 3;2; 3:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:14: Hebrew 3 1:4), and especially in the writings of Paul, since he had both the opportunity and good reason to do so, as we mentioned above.

Jesus' bride is the church (Revelation 19:7, 9). To be saddled with marital responsibility was not part of his mission.

C Aloysius Johnson






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