FORT WORTH, Texas – With all the media publicity over Karen King’s release of information about the fragment of “Jesus’ wife,” pastors likely will receive questions from members this weekend or in the near future.
For us, there will be two main questions. First, was Jesus married and does it matter? Second, what does “she will be able to be my disciple” mean in the discussion over proper women’s roles? I was interviewed by a local media representative, and since I had to do a little research I thought I would share it with others.
The facts about the fragment:
– The fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side legible under a magnifying glass, with about four words per line.
– The fragment comes from the middle of a text, which means you lose context on all sides.
– They think the fragment comes from the fourth century. It is written in an Egyptian language – Coptic, and is thought to be a translation of a second-century document. This has not yet been verified.
The facts about Karen King:
– The Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, she holds the oldest endowed chair in the United States (1721).
– Her books include The Secret Revelation of John; The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle; What Is Gnosticism?; Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity; Revelation of the Unknowable God; Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (editor); and Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today (editor).
– King currently is teaching a class titled “Women, Sex, and Gender in Ancient Christianity.”
– For reference purposes, King has named the “gospel” of which this is a part the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.”
No matter how good a fish tale you weave, this fragment is small. You can see the translation at Boston.com (http://www.bo.st/PUeBsU). Also, the document dates too late to have impact. The Gospels have authenticity because of the date of their writing, the connection to an eyewitness, and consistency with the rule of faith. Any fragment too far removed from Jesus’ time loses credibility because of the distance from Jesus’ life, and we can’t know who wrote it or what agenda that person may have had. At best, this document tells us what some people were thinking in the second or fourth century. Yes, it is interesting, but no, it does not change anything. Bottom line is that we have older and more reliable documents in our Bibles.
Check the sponsors. King has an agenda. The naming of the fragment and the naming of the gospel play into her research field of women’s roles and unknown gospel accounts. This is like a hunting show demonstrating how you can’t kill a deer without a Rage broadhead on your arrow. Then at the end of the show you find out the only sponsor is Rage. While King may be considered a fine academic scholar, she has an agenda.
Was Jesus married? The New Testament never says so. We would expect to find this information in the Gospels if Jesus had a wife. Furthermore, Paul, when discussing this issue of marriage, notes in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter was married. He likely would have stated Jesus also married to make his point, but he doesn’t. Most theories of Jesus’ wife have him married to Mary Magdalene. Even King says it is unlikely that Mary was Jesus’ wife because she is known by the area of her birth, and if she was married, she would be known by her husband.
What about women disciples? Jesus treated women better than did anyone of that time. He had believers and followers who were women, and He appeared to a woman first after the resurrection. So if “disciple” means “follower,” which it likely does in the second or fourth century, then there is not an issue here. But don’t miss the possible agenda. The New Testament clearly lists that men made up the 12. The deacons chosen in Acts were men. Scripture gives the man the authority in the home and in the church.
At the end of the day, this unverified fourth century Coptic fragment from an unknown source written by an unknown author doesn’t compare to the New Testament record in our Bibles. So we should take advantage of this opportunity to reassure our congregations of the reliability of scripture and warn them of the feminist agenda that pervades our society.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thomas White is Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s vice president of student services and communications. This column first appeared at his blog, www.thomaswhite.wordpress.com.)