Bible Scholars Say 'Jesus Had a Wife' Papyrus Scrap Is Worthless

This image shows the back of the papyrus known as "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife." | (Photo: Karen L. King/Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel)

Prominent New Testament scholars are saying this week that it is time to put to rest an infamous papyrus that suggests Jesus Christ had a wife.

The recent Atlantic article "gives more reason why so many were so skeptical about the claims for this text from the beginning. It points to the fact that when a largely unvetted sensational discovery is announced, time should be given for the dust to settle around those claims," said Dallas Theological Seminary New Testament Studies professor Darrell Bock to The Christian Post on Friday.

Bock further added that "in this case, it looks like this 'ancient' papyrus is worth little more than that settled dust."

A lengthy piece published in the July/August 2016 issue of the The Atlantic entitled "The Unbelievable Tale Of Jesus's Wife" investigates the claim made at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome in September 2012 when Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King presented a fragment of papyri that contains the following phrase: "Jesus said to them, My Wife." Days after King's presentation in Italy, a Vatican newspaper called the Coptic fragment an "inept forgery."

The Atlantic writer Ariel Sabar recounts in his article this "real-life Da Vinci Code" as he details his journey of tracking down the ownership of this hotly-contested fragment.

Sabar's lengthy article recounts his globe-trotting as he navigated the many twists and turns that came with each new lead. He flew to Berlin to interview a toolmaker and then wound up speaking to a Florida man who was an antiquities expert that was supposed to be the key link in this whole matter. This antiquities expert, Ernest Fritz, owned the domain name and turned out to be a notorious pornographer who had launched several raunchy websites in 2003 that have since been taken down.

The key phrase about Jesus having a wife on this papyrus is surrounded by incomplete lines of words written in the Coptic language and contain dialogue between Jesus and his disciples about his wife — possibly Mary Magdalene — being "worthy" of discipleship. Other scholars noted the grammar errors and what appear to be lines from the Gospel of Thomas, a book that is not in the canon of Scripture.

The Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic work that is not recognized by the Church as an authoritative text for matters of faith in Christ.

Wheaton College Professor of Biblical Studies Dr. Nicholas Perrin, when asked what he made of the Atlanic piece, commented to CP that "the evidence that the fragment was a forgery was already strong enough apart from the investigation."

But what explains this perennial fascination with Jesus having a wife? Perrin, who is a scholar that has researched Gnostic texts and the reliability and canonical authority of the Bible, suggested an idea.

"Sexual ethics is front and center in the North American discussion. Maybe, just maybe, a certain wing of the church is attracted by the prospect of a reconstructionist history which seeks to unmask the celibate Jesus of history as a pious fabrication," Perrin offered.

The Christian Post asked Perrin if he knew of any extra-biblical evidence whatsoever for a married Jesus, and he responded that while no such evidence exists to confirm Jesus' marital status one way or another, "the strongest argument that Jesus was married proceeds from an argument of silence."

In other words,"most Jewish young men got married, the New Testament never explicitly says Jesus did not marry, therefore Jesus must have been married."

"However, the data of the gospels, not least Jesus' implicit call to celibacy in Matthew 19.10-12, only makes sense on the assumption that Jesus was in fact celibate," Perrin elaborated.

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