‘Jesus Wife’ Papyrus Fragment Back in the News


In 2012, Dr. Karen L. King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, released a papyrus that some say implies that Jesus was married. Here’s how the discovery was reported in 2012:

“A small fragment of faded papyrus contains a suggestion that Jesus may have been married.

“The fragment, with just eight lines of text on the front and six lines on the back, is from a fourth-century dialogue, written in the Coptic language, between Jesus and his disciples. In it, Jesus speaks of ‘my wife,’ according to Harvard professor Karen L. King, who discovered the fragment.

“‘The most exciting line in the whole fragment . . . is the sentence ‘Jesus said to them [his disciples], my wife.’”

Now we’re being told that “[t]he controversial ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ ancient papyrus is not a modern-day forgery, according to newly published research in the Harvard Theological Review which insists that the fragment where Jesus supposedly mentions His wife dates between the sixth to ninth centuries CE.”

I find all of this very interesting. Liberals debunk the Bible every chance they get even though the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is overwhelming. No other ancient text compares to it. “[T]here are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing. The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure. That is an amazing accuracy. In addition, there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.”

New Testament manuscript and Greek scholar Bruce M. Metzger wrote:

“In evaluating the significance of these statistics…one should consider, by way of contrast, the number of manuscripts which preserve the text of the ancient classics. Homer’s Iliad… is preserved by 457 papyri, 2 uncial manuscripts, and 188 minuscule manuscripts. Among the tragedians the witnesses to Euripides are the most abundant; his extant works are preserved in 54 papyri and 276 parchment manuscripts, almost all of the later dating from the Byzantine period … the time between the composition of the books of the New Testament and the earliest extant copies is relatively brief. Instead of the lapse of a millennium or more, as is the case of not a few classical authors, several papyrus manuscripts of portions of the New Testament are extant which were copies within a century or so after the composition of the original documents.”1

In none of these manuscript is there any evidence that Jesus had a wife. Here’s the comparison: 24,000 various manuscripts and fragments vs. a single fragment from an unknown author and time. So what gets all the attention? The single fragment.

There is an obvious agenda beyond the obvious ignorance of these media nincompoops.

There is nothing in the gospel accounts, the book of Acts, or any of the epistles about Jesus being married. We know that Jesus had a mother, father, brothers, and cousins (Matt. 12:46; Acts 1:14), but there is no mention of a wife.

Even the New Testament has fictional stories about Jesus, that he was a rebel against Rome (Luke 23:2), had a demon (John 8:48-49), cast out demons by Satan (Matt. 12:24). Then there’s this: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! . . .” (Matt. 11:19). These were agenda-driven claims.

Misrepresenting Jesus was standard fare, and it didn’t stop in the first century. Even today Jesus is the poster prophet for communism, socialism, homosexual rights, expanding the welfare state, and every cause imaginable under the sun. So we shouldn’t be surprised if someone wanted to make it seem that Jesus was married so the church would have to recognize women priests.

So what’s the answer to this papyrus fragment that claims Jesus was married?

First, a document that is from 600 to 900 years old is not much of an evidentiary find. The gospels and epistles are first-century, eye-witness historical accounts (1 John 1:1–4; Like 1:1-4). All the New Testament books were written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70. See John A.T. Robinson’s book Redating the New Testament for a defense of this position.

To reject first-century, eye-witness testimony would be like someone in 2014 claiming they had a better understanding of the Pilgrim landing in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the settlement in Plymouth than William Bradford’s eyewitness account written by his own hand in Of Plymouth Plantation.

Second, the papyrus is a fragment. A fragment of what? Who was the author? We don’t know. King’s site on the papyrus states: “This remaining piece is too small to tell us anything definite about who may have composed, read, or circulated it.”

Third, it’s rather suspicious that the only fragment that is available to the public is one that deals with a Gnostic myth that is the heart of so much liberal “scholarship” today. There’s something very fishy about the whole thing as one critic points out:

“The Harvard Review included an article by a Brown University Egyptologist, Leo Depuydt, who said the document looked fraudulent and ‘hilarious.’ He said he had never seen ancient Coptic manuscripts with boldface letters before. ‘The effect is something like: “My wife. Get it? MY wife. You heard that right.” The papyrus fragment seems ripe for a Monty Python sketch,’ he wrote.”

King said the “papyrus does not prove that Jesus actually had a wife — just that ancient Christians discussed the possibility.” Even if the papyrus is authentic, we don’t know who was discussing the possibility. People discuss all kinds of things. I’ve done it with friends for years. It happens every day in theological circles.

There’s one more possibility. In Matthew 12:46-50, when Jesus was asked about His mother and brothers, pointing to His disciples, He said the following:

“Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (vv. 49-50).

The Bible does say Jesus has a bride (wife) – the church — the body of believers (Mark 2:19; John 3:29; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-10).

  1. Bruce Metzger, The Text of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption & Restoration, 3rd Enlarged Edition (1992), 33-35. []
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