Does the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Affect One’s Understanding about Jesus?

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Recent tests reveal that the fragment from what has been termed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is an authentic find and not a modern forgery as many have suggested. The fragment contains a reference to Jesus speaking of His wife and claiming that she was one of the disciples. It is the scandalous type of stuff that one would expect from a Dan Brown novel. Karen King, the person who discovered the fragment, said “’The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ doesn’t prove that Jesus was married but sheds light on early Christians’ discussions about whether ‘the ideal mode of Christian’ life was a celibate one” (Boorstein 2014, Washington Post).

Of course when a discovery like this is made, the skeptics come out of the woodwork. For instance Hal Taussig, a New Testament professor who worked with King, took the issue a step farther than King when he said that “he believes the document is ancient and ostensibly as important as documents that make up the accepted New Testament…’Everything we have is a copy of a copy of a copy. We have no original documents…what you have are traditions of writings'” (Boorstein 2014, Washington Post). A few things need to be addressed concerning non-biblical writings and their comparison to the New Testament manuscripts.

 

Date of New Testament Manuscripts vs. Non-Canonical Manuscripts

Without going in great depth pertaining to the comment of Hal Taussig, it should be noted that the New Testament manuscripts date well within the first-century, some including the Gospel of Mark and 1 Corinthians, date well into the early part of the first-century. Concerning the issue of copies and dating, Norman Geisler writes,

New Testament manuscripts are now available from the third and fourth centuries, and fragments that may date back as far as the late first century. From these through the medieval centuries, the text remained substantially the same. There are earlier and more manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world. While most books exist in ten or twenty manuscripts dating from a thousand years or more after they were composed, one nearly entire manuscript, the Chester Beatty Papyri, was copied in about 250. Another manuscript with the majority of the New Testament, called Vaticanus, is dated to about 325 (Geisler BDCA 1999, 93).

The fragment of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife dates to the “eighth-century” (Harvard.edu) which is far removed from the texts of the New Testament which date to the first-century. Even if the text came from an original dating to the fourth-century, it is far removed from the time of Jesus as opposed to the New Testament manuscripts which preserve early traditions and sayings of Jesus which some, as in the case of the formulation found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, date to the time of Christ.

 

Sects Surrounding New Testament Manuscripts vs. Sects Surrounding Non-Canonical Manuscripts

The key behind this discovery is learning more about early Christian sects…or those who claim to be “Christian.” In reality, the idea that Jesus was married is not a new. In an interview conducted by Kevin Emmert, non-canonical gospel scholar Nicolas Perrin states,

In the Coptic, the phrase really says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My woman…'” It could mean “woman” in the generic sense, but I think it just means his wife. The word is chime, which in this context, I think, means “wife.” And then it goes on to say, “she will be my disciple.” To me, this seems most reminiscent of another text dated to the third century AD, called The Gospel of Philip.

 

In the Gospel of Philip, there are intimations of Jesus being married, or at least having a partner. The Coptic term is a little ambiguous, at least regarding Mary. It’s a mysterious text, but what’s going on, to the best of our knowledge, in the Gospel of Philip is that Jesus and Mary are reconstituting a kind of mythic primeval androgyny. What the folks behind the Gospel of Philip are saying about Jesus is that he is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve. And the whole point about redemption is to get male and female together once again (in my interpretation), but this time without sexual intercourse.

 

I believe the Gospel of Philip represents a sect where men and women cohabitated and followed Jesus, but forbade sexual intercourse within what would otherwise be a marriage relationship. So the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment could give theological warrant to that (Emmert 2014, CT).

 

Everett Ferguson points out in his textbook on the history of Christianity,

 Asceticism in varying degrees of self-denial (in matters of marriage and diet) had been practiced by some Christians from the earliest days of the church…In contrast…early asceticism did not regard matter as evil…Many females adopted the ascetic life, something obscured by the fact that most of the literature was written by males for males (Ferguson 2005, 228).

With this knowledge, it would seem that groups less inclined to orthodoxy would pseudonymously write books that would verify their practices. This would seem to be the case with The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as well as The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Thomas, and so on.

 

Conclusion:

Nothing is really proven by this finding other than the fact that there existed unorthodox versions of Christianity early in Christian history. What becomes problematic is when scholars and individuals purport such finding as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as being on equal par with the New Testament documents. Note that Karen King, the discoverer of the fragment, never makes such a claim. It is only those who wish to gain notoriety or lots of money from a scandal that ever claim as much. One must wonder about the level of scholarship and honesty from those who make such assertions. Someone once said, “Controversy creates cash.” It is unfortunate when such a mentality enters the realm of biblical scholarship. Perhaps the most scandalous of all is the reality that Christianity is built upon a firm foundation. For some, confirming the Christian message brings more ire and annoyance than claiming that defacing the American flag.

 

Bibliography

Boorstein, Michelle. “Harvard journal says ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ is ancient, not a modern forgery.” Washington Post.com. (April 10, 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/harvard-journal-says-gospel-of-jesus-wife-is-ancient-not-a-modern-forgery/2014/04/10/7b172910-c0f7-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

 

Emmert, Kevin P. “How to date Jesus’ wife: New tests suggest a manuscript fragment is ancient after all…” Christianity Today.com. (April 11, 2014). http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/gospel-of-jesus-wife-nicholas-perrin.html?paging=off. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

 

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume 1—From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

 

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Harvard University. http://gospelofjesusswife.hds.harvard.edu/QA. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

Testimony, Trials, and Triumph: The Demand for Apologetic Pastors

white church  Today, I had the great privilege of being included in J. Warner Wallace’s list of apologetic pastors, or pastors who engage and employ apologetics in their ministry. The article can be found at http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/why-pastors-ought-to-be-apologists/. This website was referenced along with the church I serve due to my work in apologetics. Honestly, I was greatly humbled to be listed with the likes of Bobby Conway, Derwin Gray, Dan Kimball, Phil Fernandes, and Erwin Lutzer. In all honesty, their work far surpasses any that I have done. I was far and away the least of the pastors listed. Yet, what surprised me is that the list of apologetic pastors was quite brief. I earnestly expected to find a great directory of pastors throughout our land who engaged in the apologetic craft. Upon speaking to a layperson who is an apologist on social media, I was even more disturbed to find there have been experiences where pastors discouraged the use of apologetics in church. But, how can one proclaim one’s faith if that particular one can not defend it? 

If I seem passionate about apologetics in ministry, it is because of my testimony which is quite simple. I experienced a relationship with Christ at a very young age. I was called to the gospel ministry at 16. However, at the age of 18, I was confronted by the works of John Dominick Crossan and the Jesus Seminar. Crossan and the Jesus Seminar purported that one could not really trust the words of Jesus in the gospels. The fellows of the Jesus Seminar voted on which sayings were authentic and which were not. They published a book titled The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say. The book contained the four canonical gospels and the purported Gospel of Thomas. The sayings of Jesus were color-coded as to the Seminar’s acceptance or rejection of the sayings…red letters represented words which were authentic, pink letters represented works which were probably accurate, gray letters represented words which could have been based on Jesus’ real words, brown words represented those which probably were not Jesus’ words, and black letters represent words which were certainly not Jesus’ own. Needless to say, there were not many sayings of Jesus listed in red. Even more bizarre, there were more red sayings in the Gospel of Thomas than in the canonical four. My faith in the New Testament was rocked. My faith was rocked mainly because NO ONE in the church could give a rational reason to believe that Crossan and the Jesus Seminar were wrong in their assessments. For a time, my doubts succumbed to emotional and spiritual highs. In the end, it was as if band-aids were placed on a major gash because when I was in ministry and faced difficult circumstances, the doubts resurfaced and eventually swept me away from ministry. I never rejected my faith, but I did not promote it. At times, I nearly became an agnostic.

Five years later, I was driving in an urban area in our state when I came across a Lifeway Christian Bookstore. Something compelled me to enter the bookstore, so I did. There, I came across Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I entered the store not expecting to buy anything, but left the store purchasing over $70 worth of apologetic books. God used apologetics to strengthen my faith and to bring me back in the ministry. I learned that there exists more attestation for the New Testament than for any other work in ancient history. The books presented the evidences in favor of the resurrection of Christ. Also, other apologists such as William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and Ravi Zacharias were introduced.

My journey delivered a stronger faith and a hardcore devotion for truth. However, my absence from ministry may not have been as long as it was if there were more apologetic pastors and ministers in the church. When I asked questions, I was met with hostility and anger. What if things were different?

What would happen if more ministers were able to defend their faith?

What would happen if more ministers were devoted to stand upon the truth?

What would happen if more ministers took the time to answer difficult questions?

What would happen if more ministers spent less time worrying about numerical growth and more time worrying about spiritual discipleship?

What would happen? I think the following would take place:

Pastors and deacons would become beacons of truth, justice, and compassion.

Less heretical doctrines and “feel good” ideologies would enter the church. People would actually have reasons to feel good about their lives and their eternity by knowing their purpose and plan.

There would be a much lower drop-out rate among young adults.

Some churches would not be as large numerically; however, the church would be much healthier overall.

Leaders of the church. I am calling out to you. The church needs more defenders at the helm. Will you take the challenge and incorporate apologetics into your ministry? Apologetics in our culture is no longer optional…it is mandatory.