What Pastors Need to Know about the fragment of “Jesus’ wife”

With all the television publicity over Karen King’s recent release of information about the fragment of “Jesus’ wife,”  pastors will likely receive questions from members this weekend or in the near future. For us, there will be two main questions. First, was Jesus married and does it matter. Second, what does “she will be able to be my disciple” mean in the discussion over proper women’s roles. Last night the news interviewed me on the matter. Since I had to do a little research I thought I would share it with you. If you know me well, then you know I am just a simple country boy so here is a Southern Fried guide to the fragment of “Jesus’ wife.”

The Facts About the Fragment:

  • The fragment is smaller than a business card with eight lines on one side legible under a magnifying class with about four words per line.
  • The fragment comes from the middle of a text which means you lose context on all sides.
  • They think the fragment comes from the 4th century. It is written in an Egyptian language–Coptic, and is thought to be a translation of a 2nd century document. This has not yet been verified.

The Facts About Karen King:

  • Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity, holds the oldest endowed chair in the United State (1721) at Harvard Divinity School.
  • Her books include “The Secret Revelation of John; The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle; What Is Gnosticism?; Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity; Revelation of the Unknowable God, Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (ed.) and Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today (ed.).
  • King teaches classes like “Women, Sex, and Gender in Ancient Christianity
  • King has named the “gospel” of which this is a part the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” for reference purposes. King connects this to the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip.

My Thoughts:

No matter how good a fish-tale you weave, this fragment is small. You can see the translation at Boston.com You really can’t gather much information from a business card. Also the document dates too late to have impact. The Gospels have authenticity because of the date of their writing, the connection to an eye witness, and consistency with the rule of faith. Any fragment too far removed from Jesus’ time loses credibility because of the distance from Jesus’ life, and we can’t know who wrote it or what agenda that person may have had. At best, this document tells us what people were thinking in the second or fourth century. Yes, it is interesting, but no, it does not change anything. Too bad this fragment wasn’t released with The DaVinci Code. Its anonymous owner would receive a much higher pay day if it had been.  Bottom line is that we have older and more reliable documents in our Bibles.

Check the sponsors. King has an agenda. The naming of the fragment and the naming of the gospel play into her research field of women’s roles and unknown gospel accounts. This is like a hunting show demonstrating how you can’t kill a deer without a Rage broadhead on your arrow. Then at the end of the show you find out the only sponsor is Rage. While King may be considered a fine academic scholar, she has an agenda and your people need to know it.

Was Jesus married? The New Testament never says so. We would expect to find this information in the Gospels if Jesus had a wife. Furthermore, Paul when discussing this issue of marriage notes that Peter was married in 1 Cor 9:5. He likely would have stated Jesus was also married to make his point, but he doesn’t. Most theories of Jesus’ wife have him married to Mary Magdalene. Even King says it is unlikely that Mary was Jesus’ wife because she is known by the area of her birth, and if she were married, she would be known by her husband.

What about women disciples? Jesus treated women better than anyone of that time. He had believers and followers who were women, and showed himself to a woman first after the resurrection. So if “disciple” means “follower” which it likely does in the second or fourth century, then there is not an issue here. Women may be saved just as men and are equal in being (Gal 3:28). But don’t miss the possible agenda. The New Testament clearly lists that men made up the twelve. The deacons chosen in Acts were men. Scripture gives the man the authority in the home and in the church.

At the end of the day, this unverified fourth century Coptic fragment from an unknown source written by an unknown author doesn’t compare to the New Testament record in our Bibles. So we should take advantage of this opportunity to reassure our congregations of the reliability of Scripture and warn them of the feminist agenda that pervades our society.