Why Assume Jesus Wasn’t Married?
- Friday, September 21, 2012
What is noteworthy in all of these references is the fact that neither author feels compelled to defend the singleness of Jesus. Both Clement and tertullian, in treatises focused on other subjects, mention this status in an offhanded manner, as if both they and their readers assume the singleness of Jesus.
What About Jesus and Mary?
The only potential evidences of alternative perspectives on Jesus’ marital status turn out to provide little, if any, real evidence at all. The Gospel of Mary—a text that probably originated in a Gnostic context around the time of Tertullian, long after every eyewitness of Jesus had passed away—merely mentions that Jesus “loved [Mary] more” than he loved other women (10).
The Gospel of Philip seems to have been written a little later, in the first half of the third century. The Gospel of Philip describes a secret “bridal chamber” initiation ritual by which spiritual mysteries were passed from one person to another in a Gnostic sect known as the Valentinians (The Gospel of Philip 67). As such, much of the language in the book is symbolic in the first place. According to this text, Jesus “was kissing” Mary Magdalene (63-64). A small hole appears in the manuscript after the word translated “kissing.” As such, it’s impossible to know where or how Jesus supposedly kissed Mary. In a culture where kissing served as a common greeting (Acts 20:37; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14), kissing would have suggested close friendship—not necessarily or even primarily a marital connection. The Gospel of Philip also calls Mary Magdalene the “companion” with whom Jesus was “joined” (59). The term translated “companion” is a Coptic derivative of the Greek word koinonos. In Greek, this word denoted a fellow participant in a shared goal, but not necessarily a spouse or sexual partner. Paul had koinonos connections with Titus, Philemon, and the entire church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:7; 8:23; Philemon 1:17), and Simon Peter called himself a koinonos in God’s glory (1 Peter 5:1). (For further examples of the functions of koinonos in the new testament, see Matthew 23:30; Luke 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:18, 20; Hebrews 10:33; and, 2 Peter 1:4.)
Most important of all, texts such as The Gospel of Mary and The Gospel of Philip—and most likely The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, if the fragment happens not to be a forgery—originated among Gnostic sects that were far more concerned with describing arcane myths and rituals than with preserving any historical information about Jesus.
“The Lord…Already Had a Bride”
Despite multiple media melees over the past few years that have implied otherwise, there is simply no reliable historical evidence to support the supposition that Jesus was married. The earliest references to Jesus’s marital status assume his singleness, and the writers seem unaware that anyone might think otherwise. Implications that Jesus was married originate in historically-suspect sources, written more than a century after Jesus walked the earth.
There is, I would add, one more historical hint that Jesus was single. This evidence dates even earlier than the writings of Clement and Tertullian. The evidence simply this: The consistent testimony from the first century forward was that the church was to be considered the bride of Christ. The apostle Paul made this point in the mid-first century (Ephesians 5:24). In his description of the end of the age, the apostle John likewise depicted the church as the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2). In the earliest surviving Christian sermon—preached in the early-to-mid-second century—the pastor proclaimed, “‘God made man male and female.’ The male is Christ, and the female is the church” (2 Clement). Clement of Alexandria himself gave this as the primary reason for Jesus’s lifelong virginity: “The Lord…already had a bride, the church”—and these are only a few of many such references from the first centuries of Christian faith.
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