For decades, pseudo-historians, false teachers, and fiction writers have occasionally asserted that Jesus of Nazareth actually had a wife. Controversial works such as The Last Temptation of Christ; Holy Blood, Holy Grail; and The Da Vinci Code all argue for the same fanciful version of history. Often, people will appeal to Jesus’s true humanity to support this view—that almost all other Jewish men were married at the time, so why would Jesus be any different?
The truth is, no early historical record clearly suggests that Jesus was ever married. Even the so-called proof from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip is exaggerated. The Da Vinci Code states that the word for “companion” in Aramaic means “spouse,” but the version of the Gospel of Philip available to scholars is written in Coptic (ancient Egyptian) and translated from a Greek text. The word for “companion” in both of these languages doesn’t mean “spouse” but “friend.” Bottom line: we have no unambiguous early Christian evidence that Jesus had a wife, and the earliest eyewitness testimonies and close accounts give no indication that He was married.
In regard to the recent furor over the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” allow me to briefly dismiss any speculation on this point. At the time of my writing this article, the jury is still out on whether the fragment of papyrus will even pass the test of authenticity—that is, whether the text actually comes from the hand of a modern-day forger or an ancient sectarian scribe. Sadly, an uninformed and overeager media have been treating a cat’s hiss like a lion’s roar.
Yet even if the fragment is scientifically proven to have been written in the fourth century, we’re dealing with a text from a heretical sect that in no way reflects the earliest historical testimony about Jesus. This sect’s fictional picture of a married Jesus wouldn’t have originated in the first century—when the true, canonical New Testament was written—but two or three centuries after the real Jesus’s earthly ministry. In other words, the third century Gnostic version of “Jesus” bears as much resemblance to the Jesus of history as the Mormon Jesus, who, in Mormon mythology, also had a wife. In short, Christians have absolutely nothing to fear from the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” . . . or from any other past, present, or future challenge to the classic view of Jesus’s singleness.
Finally, concerning the claim that rabbis or respectable Jewish leaders had to be married is also false. The first century sect of the Essenes, for instance, emphasized celibacy. Paul recommended the single life for the sake of ministry. And we must remember that Jesus was anything but popular and respected by the Jewish leaders. Fitting in to the cultural expectations of His contemporaries was hardly one of His primary goals.
No, Jesus was never married, except in a spiritual sense to His bride, the church, for whom He suffered, died, and rose again, in order to bring her into an eternal relationship with Himself.