From my colleagues..
Originally posted on Theoglos:
This question, of course, arises in the context of the current debate over the authenticity of a purportedly fourth-century papyrus fragment in Coptic which has Jesus saying “my wife …” The existence of this fragment, which is being called The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, was announced by Professor Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School here with an accompanying draft of her article cautiously advocating authenticity available here. Since then the biblioblog world has been buzzing with a number of scholars casting serious doubt on the fragment’s authenticity. For a summary of the latest information see here and here.
Of course, as Karen King made very clear in her original article, even if the fragment were authentic this does not prove anything about the marital status of the historical Jesus. All we can infer is that some fourth-century Christians (and if the original composition was as early as the second half of the second century, as King suggests, some second-century Christians) claimed that Jesus was married “in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship “ (King). But does it matter if Jesus had a wife? In some ecclesial traditions it matters a great deal. For example, the celibate, male status of Jesus is crucial for the Roman Catholic argument for a male, celibate priesthood. In my view, whether or not the fragment proves authentic, I seriously doubt that the historical Jesus was married. If he were there would surely be some trace of this in our earliest Christian records? Admittedly this is an argument from silence but it is a pretty eloquent silence! However, the more significant question concerns whether the historical Jesus was somehow immune from the messiness of human sexual desire. If we think this of Jesus then we are in the company of one of the earliest Christian heresies – Docetism! So, if an early and well-documented tradition that Jesus had a wife were ever to be discovered, it would therefore not matter at all to the central claim of Christians about the incarnation. Having a wife would simply be one further aspect of Jesus’ full humanity.