Jesus Definitely Wasn’t Married

11 04 2014

WifeAn ancient fragment was first publicized to the modern world in September of 2012 which features the words, “Jesus said to them my wife….” This created a frenzy of speculation about the possibility that Jesus was married.  I am absolutely sure he was not.  I can also say that, as an evangelical Protestant, it really doesn’t matter to me theologically whether or not he was.  (For my celibate brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church’s leadership, I could see how there would be more concern.)  But though his marital status doesn’t matter, it’s absolutely critical that everyone know he was single.  Here’s why.

Time magazine reports this week that the document is not a forgery, but actually dates back to the “ancient” world (whenever that began and ended).  The Harvard Theological Review reports (vol. 107, issue 2) that the document may date from somewhere around 741AD, some 700 years after Jesus’ life, give or take.  This seems to be making the news despite the fact that his marital status has no theological bearing.  What matters is the critical thinking skills of a modern society which swallows feeble ideas whole.  It makes a sad statement about our gullibility, and it leads to implications that shouldn’t be drawn.  Specifically:

1.  700 years later is a stretch in terms of reliability.  This would be roughly the equivalent of us finding a document dating from 1983 claiming that St. Francis was married.  It’s a little hard to be convinced.

2.  There is not multiple attestation, and no subsequent confirmation.  One fragment, and a late one at that, shouldn’t merit serious consideration.

3.  Marriage was the norm for Jewish men in Jesus’ day.  It would not have been scandalous for him to have been married, and thus there would have been no need to keep it secret if it were in fact the case.  It also isn’t odd that he was single, as even the Apostle Paul encouraged singleness, using himself as an example (1 Cor. 7).

4.  The gospel writers include some really embarrassing stories about Jesus’ life (baptized though sinless, fighting with the religious leaders who should have endorsed him, rejected by eye witnesses, mocked, cursed to hang on a tree – Deut. 21:23, strange post-resurrection sightings that weren’t immediately recognizable).  They really don’t hold back on provocative and incriminating details.  The idea that there was a wife-hiding conspiracy doesn’t jibe with the nature of the gospels.

5.  Luke claims to be doing research on Jesus’ life in the first generation, and a marriage would have been an impossible oversight.

Here’s why the fragment matters.  It opens up the implication to casual modern listeners that the history of Jesus has always been mistaken, and that there are secrets about him left untold, making the biblical story appear to be an official front masking the true story.  And this is the real damage done by the publicity of this document and by the gnostic writings generally.  The Bible is the real thing.  Its story is so scandalous and conspiratorial that it doesn’t need a scandal to make it juicy.  There was no great cover-up in its writing or compilation that changed the meaning of Jesus’ life.  There aren’t parts of it that are waiting to be discovered in order to complete our picture of Jesus.  We know of him what we need to know to believe in him and to live faithfully in his name.  Whatever else the Bible is, it’s good enough.  No new discovery is going to change the power it still has call people from death to life.

So for the record, he wasn’t married, and if we are clear-headed thinkers, it ought to take more than a never before heard of scrap of paper written 700 years later to make us think the biblical authors just forgot that detail.

Correcting Sin

28 03 2014

Of the central doctrines of Reformed theology, the doctrine of sin is more often misunderstood than any other.  As critical as it is to the heart of Christian theology, a lot of people who call themselves Christian simply don’t understand what the Bible says about it.  I want to clarify a few missteps.

When it comes to the doctrine of sin, there are some big misunderstandings.  Some people seem to see sin as a list of criminal offenses which are dramatic, quantifiable, and offensive to the civilized person’s senses.  You’ll hear people talk about murder as “a worse kind of sin” than others.  That person obviously thinks there are a list of sins posted on the wall of heaven, like the rules hung on the chain link fence beside the public pool.  And if you break one, God blows his whistle like a lifeguard.  Likewise, some people think sin as a set of nagging and perpetual behaviors that are to be overcome.  These folks like the idea of confession and accountability, and the more the better.  Sin is an even longer list of little temptations.  As a result, they have trouble knowing how to think about children when it comes to salvation and imagine that there’s some kind of age of accountability at which children’s sins start to “count.”  After all, what could an infant have done wrong?

Sin is a state.  It’s as pervasive as that collection of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide that we call “air.” It’s all around us and all through us.  It’s what we’re born into.  It’s not a list of vices that are distinct from normal behavior.  We can’t step outside of it by our own inclinations.  When we become Christians, we are granted a reprieve by the power of the Holy Spirit, an inner power to resist sin like we’ve never had before.  More importantly, we’re freed from the ultimate consequences of our sin.  When Jesus calls us, our soul and our bodies part company, in a sense, and our mortal bodies go on to deterioration and death, while our souls go on to perfection, freedom, and eternal life.  But in the meantime, we’re still surrounded by sin, and our efforts to overcome it are like the constant work of physical exercise to try to keep an aging body fit.

Sin is a birth defect.  Picture DNA like the human computer code that tells us what we have to do, what we are to do by nature.  And that code itself is corrupt when we’re born.  We’re born broken.  It’s not so corrupt that we can’t function; it’s broken enough that we can never quite function right.  We can’t do what we’re supposed to do.  And worse yet, we’re so broken that part of our brokenness is a blindness to our very own brokenness.  We don’t see what a mess we are, because we aren’t born with eyes that see correctly.  This is why all talk of a form of sexuality being moral because it comes naturally is simply absurd.  What is natural is itself broken.  Our intuition is broken.  Our feelings are broken.  Our natural sense for right and wrong is broken.

Sin is not just a mistake, it’s a willful rejection of God.  Because we’re born broken, part of our brokenness is that we reject God.  We don’t just have casual intellectual doubts about God, we consciously avoid God and goodness.  And our brokenness even clouds our perception of this – we think we have good reason to doubt, when in fact we’re avoiding truths we don’t want to hear.  We’re not merely the victims of sin, we’re every bit the perpetrators.

Sin results in ultimate condemnation.  We are born broken.  It’s not something we choose, it’s where we start.  The world on the whole has pushed God away, and as a result we don’t start out innocent and later start to sin.  We start out in the wrong.  No one is innocent, not one.  Our guilt doesn’t have to do with making mistakes, it’s simply a matter of having started off hopelessly wrong. If we are a computer that was wired incorrectly, we’re destined for the trash heap, because broken is broken.  It might be regrettable that something is made wrong and must be discarded, but it’s a matter of fact.

Only the Creator can fix his own creation, and he does it by his own power, through his own inclinations, for reasons that are his own.  All that’s left for us to do, so much as we think we can, is to beg him to fix us, and then sing his praise when he does.  But enough of the silly claim that sin is something we just choose now and then.  And by all means ignore anyone who tells you that their natural inclinations must be ok.

The upside of the doctrine of sin is that it levels the playing field.  It is the ultimate doctrine for a democracy – we are all equally lost.  And in turn, God’s grace shines all the more brightly.  He can even overcome this broken world.

For further reflection consider Romans 1-3 and Ephesians 2:1-10.

A Risky Faith

14 03 2014

ImageToday my 7 year old son road the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, a tumultuous journey through fire, giant snakes, and piles of (plastic, but very realistic) skulls.  We praised him for being so brave.  His first words off the ride were, “What was it like?” That was because he covered his eyes the whole time.  I was proud of him for daring it all the same, and the day will come where he laughs his way through such things.  I still cover my eyes in the Haunted Mansion.

I wonder how many people live life with Jesus with their eyes covered.  They are brave enough to commit, but then once on the ride, the last thing they want to see is what it’s like to share their faith with someone, what it feels like to tithe, how hard it is to go to a developing nation and offer ministry, how painful it is to choose the road of humility over easy self-promotion.  All of that is pretty terrifying for me, and I’m sort of professionally wrapped up in this Jesus-following thing.  I suspect it’s scary for most people.  But how sad to finally see Jesus in the end, look him in the face, glance back over your shoulder to a life that was supposed to be lived in exciting, wild, risk-taking faith, and ask him, “What was it like?”

The ride is on.  The car has started rolling.  If you’ve chosen to ride with Jesus, don’t close your eyes – this is what life is all about.

Casting Vision for a Church

10 03 2014

ECO blog

Here’s something we’re learning to do as a staff at Glenkirk.  First posted on the ECO blog.  Read it here.

Are Christians Intellectually Lazy?

20 02 2014



Published on the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog.  Read it here.

Do Archaeological Discoveries Discredit Genesis?

14 02 2014

CamelNews agencies throughout the world burst into Biblical deconstruction this week with the announcement of a new archaeological find about camels.  The discovery, published in Tel Aviv Journalout of Tel Aviv University, was that domesticated camels didn’t appear on the scene in Israel until around the 9th century BCE.  If this is the case, it means that the Genesis account of Abraham using 10 camels to transport goods (Genesis 24:10) a highly unlikely story.  


Read more here.

Son of God Movie Review

12 02 2014

Son of GodYesterday I was invited to Saddleback Church to preview the forthcoming movie Son of God, produced by the same people who created The Bible series for the History Channel last year, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who were both present for the screening.  I’d strongly recommend you put this on your list of movies to see when it releases on February 28th.

In terms of production value, it’s the best one of its genre.  The Jesus Film pales in comparison, looking almost like a homemade movie compared to Son of God.  The 1977 epic Jesus of Nazareth (over 6 hours long) was powerful for its time, but awfully hard to sit through.  The Passion of the Christ, which, coincidentally, released exactly 10 years ago on Feb. 25, 2004, did not tell the story of the life of Jesus, but really honed in on the pathos of his final week.  There really isn’t a modern day video retelling of the life of Jesus as good as Son of God.  More flamboyant retellings, like The Last Temptation and Jesus of Montreal, really fall outside the mainstream and look more like a sectarian reinterpretation of the story.

The movie doesn’t stray far from the biblical narrative, though it fleshes out some of the narrative behind the Roman occupation, and it emphasizes the way Jesus was an offense both to Romans and Pharisees.  Many of the lines are paraphrases of the words of Jesus and the biblical characters, but the movie isn’t indulgent in its adaptation.  It leaves a lot out, but after two and a half hours, it would have been hard to meaningfully include more and still accommodate the modern attention span.

For that reason, you need to see it.  Take your kids.  Take your unbelieving friends.  Take your small group and let it guide a discussion of which parts of the life of Jesus you tend to pay the most and least attention to.

The only criticism I have of the movie are just in the nature of the genre.  Many of the characters are white people with British accents and perfect teeth.  Of course, I don’t think American English would be any more authentic, and the only way around these cliches would be to do as The Passion and have the whole thing in Aramaic.  Some of the dialogue is oddly lilting, and the soundtrack is a bit melodramatic.  The costuming is a silly blend of immaculately clean robes in a rainbow of colors.  Still, the actor who plays Jesus, Diogo Morgado, is a nice variation on his predecessors.  Rather than pale and somber, he often appears amused.  You can’t help liking him from the beginning.  And to be honest, the cliches are at about the level of presentation that most Americans expect and even want from a story set in the ancient world.  We have the same caricatures when it comes to stories about ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt.

So take the movie for what it’s meant to be.  It’s not simply entertainment, and it’s not intended to offer a new slant on the biblical narrative.  It’s fundamentally an evangelical tool for retelling the gospel again in a modern language.  And anytime Christ and culture meet, it’s a good opportunity for Christians to enter into conversation with a world that has heard different representations of Christianity and still wants to see the real thing.

hardwired cover


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