“We all know that Eve came from the side of Adam himself. Scripture has told this plainly, that God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs, and fashioned the woman. But how can we show that the Church also came from the side of Christ? Scripture explains this too. When Christ was lifted up on the cross, after He had been nailed to it and had died, one of the soldiers pierced His side and there came out blood and water. From that blood and water the whole Church has arisen. …We receive birth from the water of baptism, and we are nourished by His blood. …Just as the woman was fashioned while Adam slept, so also, when Christ had died, the Church was formed from His Side.” -John Chrysostom, “How to Choose a Wife”
An 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.
My sense is that the rising generation is afraid of marriage. I don’t blame them. It’s not primarily for selfish reasons (though those are a factor). It’s because they’re shell shocked after a childhood of divorce and dysfunction. And then there are the selfish reasons. Or I talk to young couples who don’t want to have kids, because, for however they word it, they are anxious about moving from a position of independence to a position of vulnerability.
There are a few things that I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t get married and have kids, and they’re captured in this picture of a couple getting married during flood season in the Philippines. If I had to pick a picture that pretty much summarizes what life is like, it would be this one. And part of the reason why I like being married is because it has made me a realist. Marriage is a good microcosm of all of life. There’s just no other way to learn these things than to make one’s self vulnerable to relationships. And my sense for what life is all about comes out in the advice I give to young couples about their weddings before they get married. I tell them:
- There’s always a glitch.
- It’s not about the details, it’s about the relationship you’re building.
- Whether or not it’s a happy occasion has more to do with your insides than your outsides.
- How you respond will tell your friends who you are.
- Life is a mess. Learn to deal with it.
- Are their smiles better or worse because of the rain?
- Why are you complaining about the rain?
- You can tell a couple is healthy because you know they will one day laugh about the disasters.
- On the day you die, the few days of your life that counted will not have been sunny; they will be days when you laughed at and loved despite the rain.
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