UPDATE (3rd May 2014): It is now believed to have been confirmed as a hoax/fake; read the full story on The Wall Street Journal.
Ancient and not a fake according to scientists
A little while ago, there was some hoopla in the news about a newly discovered fragment of papyrus from ancient times which contained the phrase "Jesus said to them, 'my wife...,'". Obviously, and not surprisingly, the media made a big deal out of this. Atheists and the like, saw it as a blow to Christianity and conspiracy theorists everywhere thought it confirmed their views that the Vatican and the Catholic Church were part of some big cover-up to hide the "truth" about Jesus: that he married Mary Magdalene and had children.
But before we all get too carried away at the so-called implications of this, lets now forget one thing: Jesus being a bridegroom and having a bride (ie. a wife) is in the Gospels and New Testament all along.
In his parables, Jesus often referred to, or implied himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; Mk 2:19; Lk 5:34), whilst the people of the Kingdom of God were a part of the bridal or wedding party (Matthew 25:1-13; Jn 3:29).
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, he speaks of them as a bride to be presented to Christ, the husband (2 Cor 11:2), and also to the Ephesian church, Paul draws a parallel between the love of a husband and wife being the same kind of love and commitment as Jesus had for his church:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)
This theme of husband and wife with Jesus as the groom and husband even follows through into John's apocalyptic Revelation, probably in a more vivid depiction than the previous examples:
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
(Revelation 21:2; Rev 21:9-10)
The New Jerusalem here is the bride "adorned for her husband" who is the "wife of the Lamb" - and who is the Lamb? Yep, Jesus (Jn 1:29). Then also, Jesus is linked as the one who has a bride again in Rev 22:17, when John writes:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
It's interesting here that "the Spirit" is synonymous with Jesus as having the bride, since he is the one who gives the water of life, which we can see in John 4:14 when Jesus says "those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty".
So what's the point here? There's lots of references made about Jesus being the bridegroom and as one who has a bride and, later in the book of Revelation, has a marriage supper (Rev 19:9) so it presumably married by this point too (or at least, will be), so it's really not that unusual for a reference of Jesus speaking of a "wife".
Despite all this though, the fragment has been dated to be "between the sixth and ninth centuries CE" which means it was written long after the rest of the New Testament, which already has a rich narrative about Christ and his Bride, and so the small fragment of text could simply be a later interpolation by Christians writing about Jesus and his wife, the Church. Alternatively, it could also be a genuine saying of Jesus which had been preserved in other texts not included in the Canon, in which Jesus was saying "my wife... the Church".
We don't know, and unless the rest of this document is found, we will never know. But I think it is pretty clear and likely that Jesus never had a "real" wife, as you would think that would have been mentioned by someone in all the hundreds of texts written about Jesus by those who knew him and who travelled with him. Even Peter got a passing reference to being married by way of his mother-in-law entering the Gospel story in Luke 4:38, and when Jesus's family thought he had lost his mind, only his "mother and brothers" came to find him (Luke 8:19-21) - if he had a wife too, I'd expect her to be first in line to be seeking to bring him home!
The full text of the fragment is as follows:
While it could seem as though the incomplete sentences appear to refer to Jesus speaking about an actual wife here, I think it is also worth noting what Paul mentions in 1 Cor 9:5:
Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
Now surely, if it was widely known that Jesus did in fact have a wife, why wouldn't Paul mention that here? He speaks about the other Apostles having wives, and especially points out James and Peter as being married and taking their wives with them on their mission, to make his point even more valid. Which means that if Jesus himself were married, I would have thought that Paul would use that as his first (and maybe only) argument to strengthen his point about taking along a wife as a disciple - even more so than pointing out "the brothers of the Lord" and Peter who did the same!
All in all though, while this is interesting archaeologically and historically, it should in no way hinder anyone's faith in Jesus or the accuracy of the Gospels, nor does it in any way change the sacrifice Jesus made for us all.
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