Was Jesus married?

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This is the question posed by Premier Christianity in a recent article.  Not only that but their editor Sam Hailes lays credence to the claim in this tweet.

It is concerning that the editors of a mainstream, Christian publication which was traditionally considered at least broadly evangelical could even consider such a piece worthy of publication and endorsement.  It shouldn’t take you too long to identify the obvious problems in the article but to save time, I’m going to outline them below. I’ll then explain why this matters.

First of all, there are a number of fairly obvious untruths. There is no other way of describing them. The author makes claims that are contradicted by what Scripture actually says. You would hope that the editorial team of a Christian magazine would be alert to this.

  • The article makes a big thing of Mary Magdalene accompanying Jesus and suggests this was unique. She would only have been able to do so if she was married to him. However, Luke 8:2 lists several women who were in effect part of the team  with the disciples and after naming some notes that there were more.
  • The author claims that we would not know about Peter’s marriage if there hadn’t been an incidental reference to his mother-in-law being healed. However, Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 explicitly describes the marital situation of his fellow apostles.
  • The article suggests that the anointing of Jesus by Mary would have scandalised those present because it was for his burial and that would have involved seeing a naked body which only his wife could do. However, the actual anointing takes place whilst Jesus is alive and clothed. The point is that she carries out the act then, not literally over his body later. There is of course an attempt by multiple women to anoint the body on resurrection day.  However, more importantly, the text tells us that those present were scandalised because Jesus should have known the type of person anointing him (Luke 7:39).
  • The point is that Jesus was seen as a blasphemer and sinner. At one point he is accused of being a demon possessed Samaritan (John 8:48).

Secondly, there are the things that the author chooses not to mention. He ignores evidence that points away from his hypothesis.  The most obvious example being that when Jesus is on the Cross, it is his mother, not his wife that he singles out as needing care and protection. I would also be inclined to mention the way in which Hebrews 7 compares Jesus to Melchizedek as one without geneaology.

Thirdly, there are issues in terms of his handling of scholarship. There is at times a habit to go to contemporary Jewish scholarship and its interaction with the codification of Judaism through the Talmud and then overlay that on to Jesus’ day. However, the theology and culture of Judaism evolved over time beginning before Jesus’ life but continuing long after. We cannot simply assume that a particular view of practice was the official/dominant position in Jesus’ day. Indeed, we know from the existence of different sects including Essenes, Sadducees and Pharisees, and even different schools within those sects that there was a level of diversity at the time.

Fourthly, there are some significant theological misunderstandings about the nature of Christ’s ministry. The author seems to suggest that if Jesus didn’t get married then because marriage is not sinful and is a good thing, then this would be problematic. But why would it be? First of all, simply because something is good, does not mean that it is necessary for all. Secondly when he talks about the need for Jesus to be fruitful and multiply in line with the Genesis mandate, he misses something crucial. Jesus was fruitful. We do see multiplication. Read Isaiah 53:10

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;[g]
when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

The prophecy sees Christ cut off in his prime, despised, crushed. Yet, here we see that he will still enjoy days and years ahead, not just a fixed time on earth but eternity. Secondly, we see the promise of offspring. That this promise is placed in the context of after his suffering, death and resurrection points to spiritual fulfilment.  The fruit is seen in that many sons and daughters are raised up.  The point is that Jesus does have a wife – his church.

So, why does this matter? Well, it is shocking as I’ve suggested that the magazine editors could take such a piece seriously. It raises questions about their responsibility. To prioritise this over helpful teaching and pastoral material is concerning.

Secondly, there’s the pastoral issue of how we care for and encourage single people in the church. The article seems desperate to prove that Jesus was married. This suggests a fear and suspicion f singleness which sadly a lot of believers encounter. Indeed, the kind of speculative gossip based in nonsensical falsehood is exactly the kind of rumour mill that single (though not only single) Christians have to contend with in the church. 

Thirdly, it encourages an approach to Scripture which is at best careless and speculative. At worst, it is dishonest.

Fourthly, this isn’t a new idea and nor is it a neutral one. There have been many attempts over the years to provide backing for a myth that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children (popularised by the Da Vinci Code).  This mythology is central to certain heresies which have the specific aim of taking us away from the Cross and from Christ’s unique high-priestly  work in bringing atonement there. 

For those reasons, it is of great concern that Premier Christianity chose to publish this nonsense. I would urge them to pull the article immediately.  However, there is also culpability and responsibility here which is of great concern. Whilst running a magazine like this is not a formal church eldership position, those who do run it in effect seek to take a leadership and teaching role within the wider church. I hope that the editor and owners will take time to consider their responsibilities in that matter too. 

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