Was Jesus Married?

We have to accept that the gospels, as theological treatises, simply do not supply us with such details, particularly when it comes to women or children. They are simply not considered important to the story, but it does not mean they did not exist.

During my entire academic career stretching now over 30 years I have consistently taken the position that there is no historical evidence that Jesus was married or had children. Here is what I wrote in 2006 in the preface to my book, The Jesus Dynasty:

The Jesus Dynasty has no connection to the recently popularized notions that Jesus married and fathered children through Mary Magdalene. While gripping fiction, this idea is long on speculation and short on evidence.”

I was, of course, referring to the notions made popular by the 1982 book by Michael Baigent, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and more recently by the runaway blockbuster bestseller, The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. There have also been a few scholars, influenced by some of the later gospel traditions (particularly the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip), who have argued that Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene included some type of sexual intimacy if not marriage. William E. Phipps published a full-scale study in 1970 titled, Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition (New York: Harper & Row). Phipps argued that Jesus’ status as a Jewish male, a teacher, and a rabbi, would have virtually required that he be married. I have never found these arguments from silence convincing, knowing that there were forms of Judaism, at least according to Josephus and Philo, that honored celibacy, and that Paul himself mounts a strong argument in defense thereof, even as a Jewish male and “rabbi.” I found the treatment summarized by Birger A. Pearson, “Did Jesus Marry?” (Bible Review Spring 2005, pp 32-39 & 47) to be quite convincing. What seems notable is that over the years Pearson may have begun to change his mind, or at least to express more openness to the idea of a married Jesus, see his latest here, “Was Mary Magdalene the Wife of Jesus? Was She a Prostitute?”

The Talpiot tomb has caused me to take another look at the evidence, since indeed, the “Jesus son of Joseph” of this tomb appears to have a son, “Judah son of Jesus,” and presumably a wife, perhaps the one known as Mariamene Mara. And yet, in looking at our New Testament texts, they appear to be devoid of any reference to such an idea. I have been wondering if there might be anything in these records that I might have missed.

Just recently I noticed something that others have perhaps noticed that I had overlooked all these years. I consider it very strong evidence indeed that Jesus was in fact married, and if married, the possibility that he had a child or children is quite plausible as well.

The seven early/authentic letters of Paul are our earliest direct and unedited witness to the early Jesus movement (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Phillipians, Philemon). Although Paul seldom tells us anything about the life, career, or teachings of Jesus, other than his theological treatment of his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, he is surely in touch with Peter, James the brother of Jesus, as well as others who knew Jesus intimately in his lifetime.

On the matter of marriage Paul explicitly mentions that Cephas (Peter), the other apostles, as well as the “brothers of the Lord,” are accompanied on their travels by their wives, so that not only their expenses are carried by the community but those of their wives as well (1 Corinthians 9:5). One might assume those who made up Jesus’ council of Twelve, as well as Jesus’ brothers, would likely be married with children, but other than Peter’s unnamed “mother-in-law” being mentioned in Mark 1:30, no wives are ever mentioned much less identified by name. One might conclude, incorrectly, it seems, that the “silence” of the gospels regarding wives for the apostles and brothers of Jesus indicates they were living celibate or single lives. We have to accept that the gospels, as theological treatises, simply do not supply us with such details, particularly when it comes to women or children. They are simply not considered important to the story, but it does not mean they did not exist.

Earlier in this same letter Paul had mounted a vigorous defense of celibacy or remaining “unmarried.” Although he does not require it of his followers, he asserts that he lives the single non-sexual life and he strongly recommends it as the most practical as well as the most spiritually devoted lifestyle. He writes, in this regard, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” and “To the unmarried and the widows, I say it is well for them to remain single as I do” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8).

In this section of the letter Paul takes up a number of related topics, particularly whether divorce/separation is allowed and under what circumstances, but he is quite careful to explicitly state whether he has specific sanction from “the Lord.” It is quite important to him to bring in the authority and teaching of Jesus when he can to back up and lend weight to what he is saying.

I think one can conclude that if Paul had known Jesus to have been single or unmarried, living a celibate life, he would have mentioned it prominently. In fact it would have been one of his main points. It would have been irresistible. He mounts every possible defense of celibacy, but in the end is only able to appeal to his own example. Imagine how much more rigorously he could have argued had he been able to say, “follow me here, as I follow Christ.” In this particular case I think his silence is “deafening.” As with Cephas, the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, he knows that having a wife as a companion is the norm and pattern in the group. Paul must have known that Jesus was married, and he, as our earliest witness, would surely have been in a position to know. When he can use the teachings of Jesus or the example of Jesus he does. Here is an obvious example where he can not.

Stay tuned, much more to come on this topic…