— Did Jesus Have a Wife? Does the new discovery of a Papyrus Fragment show Jesus was married? Is The Gospel of Jesus Wife Fragment a hoax?
A Critical Analysis —
News outlets are buzzing with the story of Karen King, a Professor of Early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School and her presentation of an ancient fragment she claims contains a dialogue with Jesus referring to his “wife”, an idea never supported by the Bible (Jesus never married in Scripture). Immediately after its announcements, newspapers, TV programs and websites across the world started the discussion of “was Jesus married?” and the other implications of this “groundbreaking discovery.” But is this discovery significant? Is it credible? Does it refute the Bible? A brief analysis of the discovery, Professor King and Bible Scripture will show that this is just the latest questionable”discovery”, along with the “Gospel of Judas” and other “pseudo-Christian texts” that attempt to challenge the Biblical narrative using the heretical Gnostic Gospels, written by an ancient cult that never believed or followed Biblical Christianity. There are many who are interested in learning more about Jesus and his teaching; visiting Radiant Church or any church closer to you is a great way to discover more of the Gospel.
The Fragment Dubbed ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’
The New York Times was the first to break the story:
The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”
The finding was made public in Rome on Tuesday at the International Congress of Coptic Studies by Karen L. King, a historian who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.
The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions. (source)
The first thing that should be noted is that to Professor King’s credit she announced her discovery at an event of peers in an academic field, as opposed to just holding a press conference with no peer review. However, even in her initial interview she stated: “She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married.” (source)
Despite King’s clear statement that the fragment does not in any way disprove the Biblical account of Jesus, the media has not stopped in rushing to dub this discovery as completely legitimate “proof”. The UK Guardian’s headline read “Does the Jesus ‘wife’ evidence change anything for Christianity?” Fox News wrote: “Harvard scholar’s discovery suggests Jesus had a wife.” Thousands of similar headlines ran in news reports all over the world promoting the idea that this discovery, which was just being given for peer review, was factual. TV news programs started debating what Jesus being married “means for Christianity.” The Smithsonian Institute Channel is already filming a documentary about King’s fragment discovery. So the disclaimer by King was drowned out by the “shocking text” of the fragment.
Academics Questions the Jesus Wife Fragment
Once presented to her peers, King’s work drew immediate scrutiny and challenges to its credibility. Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying “my wife.” But he questioned whether the document was authentic.
“There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt. “I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic” when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.
Wolf-Peter Funk, a noted Coptic linguist, said there was no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context. It’s a partial text and tiny, measuring 4 centimeters by 8 centimeters (1.5 inches by 3 inches), about the size of a small cellphone.
“There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things,” said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. “It can be anything.”
He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was “suspicious.” (source)
The Gnostic “Gospels” – Never a Part of the Bible
What is not being mentioned in the debate and news is that even if the fragment is authentic it is a part of the Gnostic theology. The Gnostics lived in the 2nd and 3rd century AD and practiced a cult belief system that completely contradicted Biblical Christianity. They had their own set of doctrines and were often at odds with the Christian community. Wikipedia defines Gnostic beliefs:
A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis (esoteric or intuitive knowledge) is the way to salvation of the soul from the material world. They saw the material world as created through an intermediary being (demiurge) rather than directly by God. In most of the systems, this demiurge was seen as imperfect, in others even as evil. Different gnostic schools sometimes identified the demiurge as Adam Kadmon, Ahriman, El, Saklas, Samael, Satan, Yaldabaoth, or Yahweh.
Jesus is identified by some Gnostics as an embodiment of the supreme being who became incarnate to bring gn?sis to the earth. Others adamantly deny that the supreme being came in the flesh, claiming Jesus to be merely a human who attained divinity through gnosis and taught his disciples to do the same. Among the Mandaeans, Jesus was considered a mšiha kdaba or “false messiah” who perverted the teachings entrusted to him by John the Baptist. Still other traditions identify Mani and Seth, third son of Adam and Eve, as salvific figures. (source)
So from an objective source, it is clear that Gnostic “Christianity” has very little in common with Biblical Christianity. The Bible is clear that Jesus Christ was not just an enlightened teacher.
- He is the Son of God:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – John 3:16.
- That Jesus Is God
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16.
- That Jesus Is The Only Way of Salvation
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. – John 14:6.
Jesus is the central figure of Christianity. The entire Bible points to His birth, life, death, resurrection and Second Coming. In Gnosticism, Jesus is a secondary figure and “knowledge” is the way to salvation. The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” fragment, if even authentic, is a part of Gnostic writings which altered the Biblical narrative. Books such as The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and most recently, the Gospel of Judas, were never written by the people they were named for. They were written centuries later by unknown others who put a Gnostic spin on the Bible history of the first century.
Thanks to books such as The DaVinci Code, the Gnostic Gospels have been popularized as “banned Gospels” that the Christian church was scared of because of the great “secrets” they held that the “dishonest, sexist” Christians did not want released because they show that Jesus was “just a man” or promote women as important figures. This is both historically and spiritually incorrect. Not only were the Gnostic books never a part of the Bible, the Bible itself argues against Gnostic belief. This is very relevant to the fragment because it was the same Professor King who translated The Gospel of Judas shortly after National Geographic’s much publicized documentary and book series
Reading Judas – Karen King’s Numerous Errors Exposed
With a major publicity campaign and fanfare, in 2007 on Palm Sunday (the day which celebrates Jesus entry into Jerusalem prior to His crucifixion), National Geographic Channel aired the Gospel of Judas documentary, focusing on a manuscript of this Gnostic Gospel that contradicted the Bible by portraying Judas as Jesus’ favorite disciples who received special knowledge from Christ and helped arrange the crucifixion under orders from Jesus. Shortly afterwards, Professor King co-wrote a translation of the Gospel of Judas called “Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity.” Like the documentary, King took the position that this document, written in the same ancient Coptic as the Gospel of Jesus Wife fragment, portrayed Judas as a close confidant of Jesus Christ who was actually the favorite disciple and not the villain who betrayed his Master.
The media and public were abuzz over both the documentary and the book. Two million people watched the debut of The Lost Gospel of Judas documentary making it the second-most watched program in the National Geographic channel’s history. King’s book was a New York Times best-seller. As the DaVinci Code had done, society was once again discussing doubts about the Bible based on a single ancient document. But on closer examination by the academic community, the blatant flaws and errors in her work were exposed.
Dr. April Deconick, the Director of Graduate Religious Studies Rice University is an expert in the Gnostic Gospels and proficient in ancient Coptic translation. In her book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What The Gospel of Judas Really Says, she points out the blatant errors made by King in basic translation of the Coptic text, that no studied academic should ever make. Among the mistakes promoted by King’s book:
A key passage in which Jesus is quoted as saying to Judas: “O 13th spirit, why do you try to so hard?” should read “O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?” The word used is daimon in Greek, which in Christian and Gnostic culture always referred to a demon. Rather than being a close friend of Jesus, in Gnosticism, Judas was seen as a demonic being, who was sacrificing Jesus to a demon god. Professor King translated the passage “O 13th God, why do you try so hard?” Writing on the errors made by King and National Geographic, Craig Evans, Professor of Divinity at Acadia College wrote:
“The problem here is that where daimon in Plato and other non-Jewish and non-Christian literature can mean spirit or god, in either a neutral or even a positive sense, it never has this meaning in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic texts. In Jewish and Christian texts, even Gnostic Christian texts, demons are always seen as enemies of God and his righteous people.” (source)
King’s book also relies on a translation of a verse that quotes Jesus saying to Judas: “They will curse your ascent to the holy generation.” In fact, DeConick said, the Coptic means, “You will not ascend to the holy generation.” DeConick said this error was so great it was the “worst” of all of them and she questioned whether the sensational headlines of Judas being a hero and not a villain, which led to big ratings for the documentary and hundreds of thousands of book sales, fueled the rushed production and shoddy academic work.
Thus the main “stunner” of the Gospel of Judas, that Judas was no traitor but a close friend of Jesus, was swiftly debunked (based on poor understanding and translation of Coptic) and shown to be something that a serious academic in this area should have known in the first place. (National Geographic later released a revised version of their Gospel of Judas book and changed their translation of the verse above). DeConick’s research confirms that the Gnostics were enemies of Christianity seeking to mock it. Rather than being a suppressed part of Christianity, it was hostile and at odds with Biblical Christianity.
Another serious error King makes is translating a verse that says: “What advantage have I received? For you have separated me from this generation?” (Reading Judas, p 116). King incorrectly translated the Coptic as “What advantage have I received? Because you have separated me for that race?” This was a major inaccuracy as the verse was again used by National Geographic to support the idea that Judas was set apart for salvation, again implying that Judas was actually good and not evil.
King also mistranslated a Coptic verse writing: “The will curse your ascent to the holy generation” (Reading Judas, p 116). However the word “curse” is not even in the text. Instead there is a negative and the verse properly reads: “and you will not ascend to this holy generation.” Evans referred to these errors as “egregious” and Deconick even questioned what the motivation was to so mischaracterize the Gospel of Judas and then pointed to the book sales that came as a part of it. The numerous blatant errors in both the National Geographic documentary and King’s work led Deconick to writer her own book with the correct Coptic translations. So what was the motivation? For one, its King’s own beliefs. Although a Professor of Christianity, she has written exclusively on the Gnostic Gospels or other spurious accounts that were never a part of Biblical Christianity.
King is a fellow of the “Jesus Seminar” an offshoot of the Westar Institute which describes itself as “a member-supported, non-profit research and educational institute founded in 1986 and dedicated to the advancement of religious literacy.” Westar’s twofold mission is: “to foster collaborative research in religious studies and to communicate the results of the scholarship of religion to a broad, non-specialist public.” (source). Beginning and End reported on the Jesus Seminar in our article on the upcoming Hollywood film that will portray Jesus as a product of rape by a Roman soldier. Director Paul Verhoeven, is also a fellow of the Jesus Seminar and based his book, Jesus of Nazareth and the upcoming film, on the Jesus Seminar’s research. In the book, Jesus is not portrayed as the son of God but as a moral teacher who was prone to anger and outbursts. The Seminar rejects over 80% of the Gospel account as false and has published their own version of the Gospels called the “Scholars Gospels” that incorporate Gnostic texts and other non-Christian sources. So again, it is clear that King is pushing a Gnostic agenda that seeks to discredit the Bible.
Provenance is a term used to explain the chain of ownership for an ancient doctrine. It is a detail of where a document has been prior to it becoming a public “discovery.” In the case of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, the papyrus has no provenance. The owner of the fragment has chosen to remain anonymous and has provided no explanation of how they came to have possession of the fragment of where it has been. This is a similar circumstance to the 70 “ancient” metal booklets discovered in 2011 by a man named David Elkington that were alleged to be the earliest Christian documents ever found. The owner in the case of that hoax was also anonymous and thus the explanation of how the artifact came into Elkington’s was shrouded in mystery. With respect to the Jesus Wife papyrus, the doubts in the professional community have already surfaced.
Some archaeologists were quick to question Harvard’s ethics, noting that the fragment has no known provenance, or history of where it’s been, and that its current owner may have a financial interest in the publicity being generated about it. King has said the owner wants to sell his collection to Harvard. Once again, experts in the field have cast doubts:
“There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,” said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Looting Matters blog, which closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities. “This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it.”
He cited the ongoing debate in academia over publishing articles about possibly dubiously obtained antiquities, thus potentially fueling the illicit market.
The Archaeological Institute of America, for example, won’t publish articles in its journal announcing the discovery of antiquities without a proven provenance that were acquired after a UNESCO convention fighting the illicit trade went into effect in 1973.
Similarly, many American museums have adopted policies to no longer acquire antiquities without a provenance, after being slapped with successful efforts by countries like Italy to reclaim looted treasures. (source)
There is no figure in antiquity with more manuscript evidence of his life and existence than Jesus Christ. Today there are still over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts and fragments of the Gospels dating anywhere from 60-500 years after the death of Jesus. These documents all quote Jesus speaking the same words and contain the same details of His life (to see some images of some of the actual manuscripts, see here). And in none of these documents is there any mention of Jesus having a wife. Yet now that one fragment has been found with the phrase “my wife” with no context, should it really suddenly refute the established, well-supported history of Jesus Christ that archeologists and historians have approved as credible? Of course not.
This is why even King herself had to state that this discovery does nothing to disprove the established history that Jesus Christ was never married. But for the media and many people in society, all it takes is one discovery of a tiny fragment and they will put their full faith in it to forever doubt the Bible. Yet when presented with the mountains of evidence of the Bible’s validity there come questions of authenticity, whether it was changed over time, mistranslations and other challenges. There have been no such questions about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. This is what Beginning and End calls the Skeptic’s Fallacy, a phenomenon where any critic of the Bible is given full credibility without examining the veracity of their evidence.
The Bible Speaks Out Against Gnosticism
Although it was not yet known as Gnosticism, there were already occult heresies infiltrating the church that would remain a part of Gnosticism for the centuries to come. One was the idea of humanity achieving its own salvation through Gnosis or enlightenment. The book of Colossians stressed that it was Jesus, the Son of God, way of salvation and Creator who made salvation possible: Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Arguing against human ideas leading to salvation Paul warned: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:8). Paul also highlighted the heresy’s use of pagan mysticism saying: Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Colossians 2:18).
All these hallmarks of Gnosticism today were being refuted in the Bible. The Eclessia Gnostica, which claims to be the oldest Gnostic organization in America, not only endorses the same ideas of the ancient Gnostics but also uses Kabbala and eastern mysticism as part of its belief. The site praises Luciferian Madame H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society: “In modern times, the Nineteenth Century Occult Revival, pioneered by H. P. Blavatsky, bore a decidedly Gnostic character and thus produced some writings that are useful to present Gnostic concerns.”
In her writings, Blavatsky criticized Christianity repeatedly, proclaimed Satan as the true God and was the publisher of Lucifer magazine.
Denying Jesus Christ as the son of God is the basis for antichrist doctrine:
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. — 1 John 2:22-23.
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. – 2 John 1:7
It was Lucifer who in the Garden of Eden, seduced Eve into sin by offering secret “gnosis.” His deception led Eve to doubt God’s Word and seek to make herself into a “god.” Today Satan still makes the same promise but in many varied and even more subtle ways. Whether it is Gnosticism, the New Age movement, atheism or humanism, the premise is still the same: humanity can thrive, evolve and become godlike all on its own. And for those who do not know God, the urge to find any shred of “evidence” that can contradict or “expose” the Bible is strong. Because of our sinful nature, humanity naturally clings to any book but the Bible to learn about Jesus Christ. Do not be deceived.
Despite its dubious origins, lack of context and authorship by a sect that opposed Biblical Christianity, the media has already run wild with Professor King’s discovery, reporting it as if it is solid proof that the Bible was finally proven wrong and what the implications are of Jesus having a wife. But Lord willing, some will look closer now that the academic community has weighed expressing doubts on this document and questioning its importance even if it is authentic. For Christians, do not let these types of overhyped “discoveries” shake your faith in the Word of God.
The 70 metal booklets, the tomb of Jesus, the nails of the Crucifixion discovery and other debunked hoaxes have come and gone. The DaVinci Code made its best attempt to confuse Gnostic writings with Biblical text and fiction, but the Word of God still stands. Continue to defend the faith and share the true great discovery – that we can all have eternal life in Jesus Christ if we put our faith in Him as the Savior, who died for our sins so that he could bear the punishment humanity rightfully deserves. And once saved, a new Christian can become a part of the true Bride of Christ, His church.
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. 2 Corinthians 11:3-5.
Rather than believing in the “latest Jesus” to be manufactured in the media, stick with the true Jesus of Scripture who never changes and always offers salvation to those who believe.