I have stayed out of the debate about whether the new Coptic fragment about Jesus’ Wife is genuine or a forgery and prefer to await the results of scientific testing before making any final decisions. At most, against the media hype, the scholars add the nuance that this does not tell us about the marital status of Jesus but about what later Christians thought in the context of theological debates about marriage and sexuality. Reading Francis Watson’s views on the matter here, I was struck by his line:
For Christian traditions that place a high value on celibacy, Jesus is the supreme celibate; and he retains this status even when, in Protestantism, celibacy is no longer seen as a mark of the truly holy life. The Christ who offers salvation to all, the incarnate divine Son, can, surely, never have uttered the words, “My wife”? Yet it is just these words that some scribe, ancient or modern, has put into his mouth. That scribe knew exactly what he or she was doing: subverting deep-seated assumptions about Jesus in the most effective way possible, by challenging them out of Jesus’ own lips. The Jesus of this text renounces not only his celibacy but also the community for which that celibacy is integral to who he is. No Christian institution – not the Vatican itself – could withstand such a challenge, if it really is Jesus who speaks here
For a diametrically opposed view see April DeConick. For my part I wonder why a theological belief in the Incarnation, of God becoming fully, could not accomodate a married Jesus? Please share your views in the comments if you agree or disagree. What convinces me Jesus was probably celibate is the complete silence of the early sources, especially since I see no reason for censoring that information when some of the earliest images of Jesus are as a human agent of God no matter how highly exalted (Jesus as a sage, eschatological prophet, miracle worker like Moses/Elijah, annointed one now enthroned at the deity’s right hand)? For instance, before the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity arose, Mark has the onlookers in the Nazareth synogogue ask, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (6:3). Why would Mark omit a reference to Jesus’ wife here if he had one? Another clue to Jesus’ celibacy may be in Matthew’s addition to Mark’s strict stance on divorce and remarriage (compare Mk 10:1-11 with Matt 19:1-12), Matthew has Jesus add a saying about being eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:12). This would be a pretty hard-line for a married Jesus to demand of seekers after the kingdom, but since this is singly attested I wouldn’t lean too much on it. What do you think?