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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

GosJesWife...A Call to Reason

This past week news hit most of the major outlets of a newly found papyrus fragment that mentions “Jesus’ wife.” A published translation of the fragment (titled GosJesWife by its publisher) is as follows:

Front side:
1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it35[
35 Or alternatively: Mary is n[ot] worthy of it.
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
8] an image [

on the reverse side:

1 ] my moth[er
2 ] three [
3 ] … [
4 ] forth which … [
5 ] (illegible ink traces)
6 ] (illegible ink traces) [1]

There have already been a few good articles written in response to the fragment as well as some helpful reflections on the matter of whether Jesus was married and whether or not it even matters (see http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/09/19/the-far-less-sensational-truth-about-jesus-wife/ and http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/was-jesus-married-a-careful-look-at-the-real-evidence/ ). I won’t repeat most of the arguments in these as you can read them for yourselves, but since I don’t intend to take time out of a Sunday service on the issue, I thought I would reflect on the matter for those who I have a level of responsibility to here in my blog.

WHAT THE TEXT SHOULDN’T DO:

First of all, the text shouldn’t cause panic or even concern in any real sense. There is not enough context to be able to determine to whom are what the “wife” in the text is referring. Is this a mystical reference to the Church or to an individual? In fact, without the rest of the sentence we don’t even know if Jesus is in fact speaking in the affirmative or negating the idea of having a wife. Furthermore, even if one could historically prove that Jesus had a wife, this would not change or contradict any part of the biblical record. There is nothing even inherently negative about the idea of Jesus having a wife (Mark Roberts’ blog cited above has some really great insights on this issue and its implications). I am not saying there are no meaningful implications that would grow out of such a revelation, but they don’t amount to anything that would be the death knell of Christianity or any of its key tenets or beliefs.

WHAT THE TEXT SHOULD DO:

The text (and the fuss surrounding it) should cause us to carefully consider the resources we use for our evidence and how our own already drawn conclusions shape how we respond to new information. Those who are already of the mindset to question Christianity and its roots will quickly jump on information that could be used to question traditional understandings as truth that destroys the myth that is Christianity. The person with the heart of a conspiracy theorist will see this as evidence of a concerted effort on the part of early Christianity to squash the truth and maintain power (DaVinci Code anyone?). Of course, orthodox Christians such as myself tend to dismiss such texts as minimal variants representative of an early Christian sect that hold little to no value other than to provide a journey into the mind of an ancient nutcase who had strange ideas about Jesus and who He was.

But if we too quickly dismiss texts without knowing why or without good reason, we create a disconnect between our beliefs and reality that in the long run will undermine our witness to a world that has questions, doubts, and concerns about materials like this and the basis for the beliefs that we possess. The Gospel Coalition article I posted above states quite succinctly why a belief in the Canonical record makes sense from a historical standpoint.

To further a point mentioned there, but not gone into very deeply, it is illogical to give more credence to a second century GosJesWife text than to the Canonical Gospels.  The former dates from the late second century at the earliest; is based upon other texts that date to the mid second century; and  comes from a group known to have had strange ideas about a number of things. The latter were all written in the first century, have thousands of manuscripts to support them, have other contemporary documents and evidence which offer support, and, though they are full of the miraculous, give a very cogent and consistent portrayal of Jesus.

The so called GosJesWife, like the Gospel of Judas and Gospel of Thomas before it causes a stir because people like controversy. But any reasonable assessment of their origin and nature quickly relegates them to a historical curiosity or annoyance, not something to fret over or even give a headline to. But I guess in matters of faith, whether you are for or against, reasonableness often takes a back seat in favor of the passions of our cause.

[1] Copyright © Karen L. King, 2012. Forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Pastor
I wonder if we will see an ad that this fragment is for sale.
JoeD

Dr. Tim Pierce said...

It wouldn't surprise me. I believe it is privately owned already...with the newly found fame of it, that private owner may be looking for a payday.

As with most newly found antiquities, there are indeed some authentication issues with the text, though I think they are minor and the text will prove to be early.