Why couldn't Jesus Christ be married?

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Was Jesus Married? The American scientist Karen L. King believes this is at least possible after the discovery of a small papyrus fragment from the fourth century after the birth of Christ.
Universal Pictures Germany
Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) baptizes Mary Magdalene (Rooney Mara). The other disciples pursue political or theological-dogmatic interpretations of what Jesus teaches and does. Mary understands her rabbi beyond it, directly - and for this very reason comes closer to it than anyone else. The feminist Jesus film »Maria Magdalena« thus also takes up controversies of early Christianity.

The document says in Coptic: "Jesus said to them: 'My wife'." This fits in with a passage in the apocryphal Gospel of Philip (4th century), in which Mary Magdalene is referred to as the "consort" of Jesus. It also says: "The Lord loved Mary more than any of the disciples and he often kissed her on the mouth." In the early Church there was even a movement of early Christians who envisaged Mary Magdalene as the follower of Jesus.

The yellowish-brown papyrus fragment measures 3.8 by 7.6 centimeters and is therefore slightly smaller than a business card. Eight lines are written in Coptic on both sides. On the front you can read in faded ink parts of a conversation between the disciples and Jesus. It is first about Mary and her position in the disciples' circle. Then comes the surprising Jesus word: "My wife".

The document now electrifies text researchers and theologians - although it has not yet answered any questions, but raises many questions. Which Mary is meant in the text? Is it Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus known from the biblical Gospels? Are the Jesus quotes authentic? Did Jesus really say that or was it put into his mouth? And when it was put in his mouth, who had what interest in it? But if it is a Jesus word, what does it mean for theology and the Church, especially for priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church?

Not only the content raises questions, but also the fragment itself. Does it come from a previously unknown gospel? Or does it belong to one of the well-known apocryphal scriptures? Did the Coptic text have an older model? Is it a Greek script from the first or second century?

Where did the fragment come from?

There are also questions about the archaeological findings. And why was it kept under lock and key for so long?

The papyrus was presented to the public at an international congress for Coptic Studies in Rome in mid-September. The historian Karen King, who was born in 1954 and teaches at Harvard among others, assumes the authenticity of the text with other experts. The papyrus therefore comes from Upper Egypt and was written in the 4th century. However, the specialist in early Christianity also says that further investigations are necessary for a final assessment, especially the composition of the ink.

In any case, the discovery has already sparked the old debate: Was Jesus married? Are there any references to this in the Bible? What do the extra-biblical scriptures say about this? How does the question relate to the Jewish tradition?

In Jesus' day, marriage was normal for a devout rabbi. The Jewish religious philosopher Shalom Ben-Chorin (1913-1999) therefore assumed that Jesus was naturally married. Genesis 2:24 commands men to marry and father children. If Jesus had remained single, this would have been so unusual at the time that it would have been pointed out in the Gospels. The role of the mother of Jesus in the wedding at Cana described in the New Testament corresponds exactly to the role of the mother of the bridegroom at that time. Does John 2 describe his own wedding?

Opposite thesis: Jesus was single

The Jewish writer Salcia Landmann (1911-2002), on the other hand, was certain that Jesus would remain single. Celibate life was "almost the norm" for almost all eschatologically oriented sectarians: "One only needs to think of John the Baptist". Jesus was also not a normal rabbi, but a "freelance" itinerant preacher. In addition, the Pharisee scholar Paul was also unmarried (1 Corinthians 7: 1.7ff; 9, 5).

Most New Testament theologians also assume that Jesus was unmarried, but justify this in very different ways. The theology professor Peter Pilhofer from Erlangen emphasizes the "a-familial ethos" of Jesus. He did not think much of family and distanced himself in the sharpest way from his mother, brothers and sisters, as it is also handed down in the Gospel of Mark. Pilhofer: "Jesus broke all family ties, so it is absolutely unlikely that he was married."

The German-British papyrologist Carsten Peter Thiede, who died in 2004, was also convinced that Jesus lived "unconditionally celibate". His decision against marriage was not a decision against being with women. "But since the biblical view of marriage was to establish a family, the Son of God was in a different category.

So did Jesus remain celibate because of his sense of mission? Was that why he didn't have a sex life? Are you even allowed to ask these questions? The American text researcher James M. Robinson (Claremont / California) complains about the sensationalism in this question. Many are less interested in Jesus' wisdom than in his sexuality. Maria Magdalena in particular would be "downright exploited" in this context.

Mary Magdalene was closer to Jesus than Peter

The Evangelist Luke lists Mary Magdalene among the women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases "from whom seven demons came out" (Luke 8: 2). Because this information immediately follows the story of the anointing of Jesus by a prostitute, Mary Magdalene was identified time and again with this prostitute in penance - especially after Pope Gregory I officially announced in 591 that the two were the same person. Only the Second Vatican Council moved away from it. In the 14 centuries in between, speculation flourished about Mary Magdalene's sex life - and about a connection to Jesus.

Mary Magdalene plays a prominent role in the biblical gospels: she was one of a larger entourage of women who accompanied the charismatic itinerant preacher Jesus. She also supported his preaching materially by giving part of her property to the cause of Jesus like Joan and Susanna (Luke 8: 3). The evangelist mentions her several times in the first place among the "many women who accompanied Jesus" (Mark 15:41).

While the disciples were not there at the crucifixion of Jesus for various reasons - because it was politically too dangerous or because they had turned away from Jesus - Mary Magdalene followed the events from a distance with other women (Mark 15:40). John even reports that she stood under the cross (John 19:25). Mary Magdalene then saw Jesus being buried (Mark 15:47). When she wanted to perform the ritual anointing of the dead with other women, she found an empty grave. A "young man" dressed in a white robe announced that Jesus had been raised from the dead. She was given the task of informing Peter that Jesus was on his way to Galilee.

A hint from Johannes

The Gospel of John has even more spectacular reports: According to his report, Mary Magdalene was the first to meet the risen Christ at the empty tomb. At first she thought he was the gardener, only when Jesus called her by name did she recognize him: Does Jesus say to her "Maria!" She turns to him and says "Rabbuni" (meaning: Master) to him in Aramaic.

Their exceptional position is thus documented in the Gospels. The 15th chapter of the Gospel of Mark suggests that she was closer to Jesus than, for example, Peter, who claimed a leadership role in the disciples' circle. It will be highlighted. But that is not yet evidence of a romantic relationship with Jesus.

Mary comes from Magdala, a small fishing village on the northwestern shore of the Sea of ​​Galilee. From there it was only a short sailboat tour to Capernaum, where Jesus was based during his activity in Galilee. It is quite possible that Jesus healed her there from her mental illness, which was understood as being possessed, and that she followed him. Did she know him before? Hardly, because Nazareth is a corner away in the hills of Lower Galilee.

Research in the New Testament

New Testament research rejects popular theories that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife as unresourceful fiction. The New Testament Gospels, which date from the first century, offer no reference to a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. More on this, however, can be read in the apocryphal Gospels from the second half of the 2nd century - with the reservation that these writings are not timely sources due to their late creation. So they say little about the historical Jesus.

The most important find of apocryphal texts were 13 rolls of parchment in a clay jug that were found in Nag Hammadi (Upper Egypt) in 1945. These roles contained, among other things, previously unknown accounts of the life of Jesus in Coptic. These fonts are therefore very similar to the text fragment that has now become known.

In the apocryphal Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is called Jesus "consort" (59: 6-11). A lot can be interpreted into this term, because the Coptic word can also be translated as "wife" or "co-believer". The American text researcher James M. Robinson has shown that in the Gospel of Philip a different noun is used for the term "wife" in all cases. He comes to the conclusion: "That makes it very unlikely that the term consort should refer to Mary Magdalene as a woman".

Why Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth

However, a further understanding of this text is possible. In the Gnostic-Christian esotericism of the second century there was the idea that the beings from the heavenly world always appear in pairs and thus embody the highest perfection. As a companion, Mary Magdalene embodies Jesus' feminine side, so to speak, and allows him to become perfect.

Robinson also classifies the spectacular passage of text in which it is said that Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth. In the Gospel of Philip 63: 30-64, 9 it says: The Savior loved Mary Magdalene more than any of the disciples and he often kissed her on her mouth. The other disciples said to him: "Why do you love them more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them: "Why do not I love you as much as they do?"

Then follows the cryptic sentence in the Gospel of Philip: "A blind man and a sighted person, who are both together in the dark, do not differ from each other. As soon as the light comes, the sighted person will see the light, but the blind person will remain in the dark."

Robinson interprets this passage as a reaction to the male chauvinism which had led to the disputing of the privileged position of Mary Magdalene in early Christianity. The text represents a time when women struggled for their equality in the church because men questioned them.

Spiritual fertilization

In this context, the kiss between Jesus and Mary Magdalene should not be seen as a sign of a sexual relationship, but as a symbol for the transmission of wisdom - through the mouth. So it's about spiritual fertilization. Similarly, the apocryphal Apocalypse of James describes how Jesus kissed James on the mouth and said: "My beloved! Truly I will reveal to you those things that neither the heavens nor their rulers knew" (56, 14). Here as there, the kiss on the mouth is a code for the transmission of esoteric knowledge, at the same time it stands for the authorization of people in the young church - James and Mary Magdalene.

The fact that Mary Magdalene's prominent position did not suit the disciples is also a theme in the "Gospel of Mary" from the second century. Here Mary Magdalene is presented as her favorite disciple, who comforts the disciples after Easter and pulls them out of their lethargy. The tenth chapter tells how Peter urged Mary to divulge previously confidential knowledge about Jesus. Mary replied in detail, but was accused of lying by the disciple Andreas (Peter's brother). When Mary bursts into tears, Levi defends her: "The Savior loved her more than us. We should be ashamed".

One thing is certain: both the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary say more about the time of the Church in the second century than about the time of Jesus. They have a feminist streak - due to the completely un-Jesuan masculinization of the church after the time of the apostles.

With the canonization of the Bible as generally binding scripture, a church was formed that was to be based on the authority of the Apostle Peter and the teaching of the Apostle Paul. This claim to power was justified with the biblical quote "You are Peter, and on this stone I want to build my church".

However, from the beginning there was a second movement of the early Christians, which envisaged Mary Magdalene as the follower of Jesus. This Christian denomination was mainly based on the apocryphal scriptures, which were not included in the biblical canon. In them Mary Magdalene is described as the successor chosen by Jesus. There she is portrayed as the preferred interlocutor and right hand of Jesus: She asks most questions, she is repeatedly praised by Jesus before everyone else, after his death she distributes the mission areas among the disciples.

Women only go to heaven as men

The conflict between the Petrine and Marian church lines is also thematized in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, written on the threshold from the first to the second century. In verse 114 it is reported that Simon Peter wanted to send "Mariham" (Mary Magdalene) away from among the disciples on the grounds that "women are not worthy of life". Jesus is said to have replied: "See, I will draw her to make her male", because "every woman who makes herself male will get into the kingdom of heaven".

The disturbing, alleged Jesus word throws light on the gender war of the young church, which was alien to the Jesus of the biblical Gospels. The thought that a woman has to become a man if she wants to enter the kingdom of heaven was probably quite alien to him.

The apocryphal Gospels are fascinating documents of a current of Christianity for which not Peter but Mary Magdalene was the decisive factor and a teaching authority of women was not a problem. As we know, the Church took a different route - that of male dominance to celibacy for priests and monks. Women were banned from leadership positions while they were prominent in Gnostic churches. Has the life of Jesus been retrospectively celibated as part of this major ecclesiastical strategy? ' Why did Paul (The woman be silent in the congregation! ") Omit Mary Magdalene as the first resurrection witness in his list of witnesses (1 Corinthians 15)? Had he already found a tradition from which Mary Magdalene had already been eliminated? That can hardly be because the Pauline letters are older than the Gospels. The suspicion arises that Paul was already ignoring Jesus' favorite disciple, the woman who stood by Jesus until the bitter end.

Although the Petrine line prevailed in the old church, Mary Magdalene was held in honor. Because she encountered Jesus as the risen one, she was venerated as an apostle-like figure. In the 3rd century, Hippolytus of Rome gave her the honorable designation Apostola apostolorum - "Apostle of the Apostles".


Even if there is no direct reference in the Bible that Jesus had a wife, this cannot be ruled out. Conversely, the Coptic text fragment that has now emerged is no proof that the historical Jesus was married. The document may have been written centuries after Jesus' death. It does show, however, that there was already a discussion among the first Christians about whether Jesus was married or celibate. But even if Jesus had a wife and children, the foundations of the Christian faith would not be affected. The New Testament is not about the civil status of Jesus, but about faith, forgiveness and the kingdom of God.

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