Was Jesus Married?

The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene)

The notion that Mary Magdalene was special to Jesus is taken primarily from the Gospel of Mary. This Gnostic gospel is not part of the New Testament, and was written by an unknown author in the last half of the second century, or about one hundred fifty years after Jesus’ death. No eyewitnesses, including Mary, would have been alive at the time it was written (about 150 A.D.). Such a late date means the Gospel of Mary could not have been written by an eyewitness of Jesus, and no one knows who wrote it.

One verse in the Gospel of Mary refers to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ favorite disciple, saying he loved Mary “more than us” (meaning his disciples). In another verse Peter supposedly told Mary, “Sister, we know the savior loved you more than any other woman.” Yet nothing written in The Gospel of Mary speaks of a romance or sexual relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.

The Gospel of Philip

The Da Vinci Code bases its claim that Jesus and Mary were married and had a child primarily upon one solitary verse in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip that indicates Jesus and Mary were “companions”. This verse reads (Note: Brackets [] appear where words of the document are missing or illegible):

“Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, []sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion (koinonos). For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother and his companion (koinonos).”

In The Da Vinci Code, fictional expert Sir Leigh Teabing proffers that the word for companion (koinonos) could mean spouse. But according to scholars, that is an unlikely interpretation. To begin, the word generally used for wife in New Testament Greek is “gune”, not “koinonos.” Ben Witherington III, writing in Biblical Archaeological Review, addressed this very point:

“There was another Greek word, gune, which would have made this clear. It is much more likely that koinonos here means “sister” in the spiritual sense since that is how it is used elsewhere in this sort of literature. In any case, this text does not clearly say or even suggest that Jesus was married, much less married to Mary Magdalene.”[8]

There is also a single verse in the Gospel of Philip that says Jesus kissed Mary.

“The companion of the [] is Mary of Magdala. The [] her more than [] the disciples, [] kissed her often on her []. The other []…said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’”

Greeting friends with a kiss was common in the first century, and had no sexual connotation. Professor Karen King explains in her book, The Gospel of Mary Magdala, that the kiss in Philip most likely was a chaste kiss of fellowship.

But perhaps more important is the fact that the Gospel of Philip was written by an unknown author about 200 years after the New Testament eyewitness accounts (see “Is the New Testament Reliable” and “Mona Lisa’s Smirk”).

It is also important to note that, aside from this fourth century fragment recently made public by King and these few questionable passages from the Gnostic Gospels, there is no other historical document that even insinuates Jesus and Mary had a romantic relationship.

No secular, Jewish, or early Christian historian writes even one iota about such a relationship. And because this newly publicized fragment, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip were all written 100-220 years after Christ by unknown authors, their statements about Jesus need to be evaluated in context of both contemporary history and the much earlier New Testament documents.

An honest comparison between the evidence of New Testament manuscripts and the Gnostic writings reveals the following facts:

  • The New Testament was written while eyewitnesses were still alive; the Gnostic Gospels weren’t (see “Are the Gospels True?”).
  • The New Testament accounts were confirmed by over 36,000 external writings by early Christians; the Gnostic writings weren’t.
  • There are far more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament than for the Gnostic Gospels.

In fact, there are over 5,600 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, many of which date at least one hundred years earlier than the Gnostic Gospels.

Scholars’ Verdict

But could the early church have destroyed the evidence in their attempt to rewrite the history of Jesus? Of course that’s what Jacobovici, Brown, and a host of other sensationalists are saying. But do scholars agree?

A Newsweek magazine article summarizing leading scholars’ opinions, flatly states that the notion Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married has no historical basis.[9] Perhaps the Gnostics felt the New Testament was a bit shy on romance and decided to sauce it up a little. Whatever the reason, these isolated and obscure verses written 100-200 years after Christ aren’t much to base a conspiracy theory upon. Interesting reading perhaps, but definitely not history.

Regarding this latest controversial discovery, even King “cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question,” she said.[10]

But some remain unconvinced. Perhaps they just want to make history more interesting. Award-winning television journalist Frank Sesno asked a panel of historical scholars about the fascination people have with conspiracy theories. Professor Stanley Kutler from the University of Wisconsin replied, “We all love mysteries – but we love conspiracies more.”[11]

Perhaps all the hype about Jesus and Mary has more to do with antagonists to Christianity trying to humanize the man who Christians from the very beginning have called “God.” The brilliant skeptic, C. S. Lewis once believed Jesus was no more than a myth until he investigated the evidence. To see what changed his mind, see the article “Is Jesus God?”.

Endnotes

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