Several “revisionist” scholars claim that there is good reason to suppose that Jesus was married, and if He was, that person was most likely Mary Magdalene. They claim He was probably married because He was a “Rabbi”, and Rabbis were expected to be married.
What Does The Evidence Indicate: Single, or Married?
- All of the evidence in the Bible supports the notion that Jesus was single. There is no mention of a wife of Jesus anywhere in the New Testament Scripture. And there were plenty of situations where a wife presence would have been expected, and thus noted. But instead, Jesus’ family, or other groups are mentioned:
“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee; and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.” (Mark 15:40-41).
- Where there is the opportunity to mention His relatives, mention is made only of his mother and brothers — but never a wife. If Jesus had a wife, mention would have made. Mention is made in the New Testament of the wives of other apostles, and of Cephas (Peter), but not Jesus.
1 Cor 9:5: “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas”
- There is evidence that Jesus deliberately chose to be single so that He could totally consecrate Himself to His Father’s work. Note the following quote from Jesus, where He states that some voluntarily choose to become “eunuchs” (or celibate) for the sake of God’s work: Matthew 19:12: “..there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” Jesus was an example in everything He did, and His singleness was evidence of His complete commitment and devotion to His Father. It is also interesting to note that Paul the apostle was also celibate, in contrast to many of the other apostles, and he emphasizes the merits of remaining single (see 1 Cor. 7).
- Some claim that Jesus was a rabbi, and that as a rabbi He was expected to take a wife. There is just one problem with this – Jesus was not technically a rabbi. His followers only referred to Him as such to say that He was their “teacher” — not that He held the formal office of rabbi. That this is the case is self-evident — that is why the Jewish religious leaders asked Him “by what authority” did He do certain things (like try to clear out the Temple in Mark 11:28). So there was no cultural expectation that he be married
- There is evidence that singleness was a practiced lifestyle for those who considered themselves to be “consecrated” to God. For example, the sect of the Essenes (those that recorded The Dead Sea Scrolls) were noted by the Jewish philosopher-historian Philo in his work Hypothetica 11.14-17:
“Perceiving with more than ordinary acuteness and accuracy, what is alone or at least above all other things calculated to dissolve such associations, they repudiate marriage; and at the same time they practice continence in an eminent degree; for no one of the Essenes ever marries a wife …” As Dr. Darrel L. Bock points out in “Breaking the Da Vinci Code”, this evidence supports the fact that “not all Jews insisted on being married. In fact, some pious Jews tried to avoid it.5
- Mary Magdalene is never referred to as the wife of Jesus, but only as part of a group of women that traveled with Jesus, ministering to them and caring for their needs. This includes:
Witnessing the death at the cross
Waiting at the tomb
Bringing spices back to the tomb on the first day of the week
Running to tell the apostles of His resurrection.
- Jesus’ actions with respect to Mary do not warrant a romantic or sexual relationship. To claim this is reading far too much into the text. Think about it If anything, the relationship was special because of what Jesus had done for her – delivering here from the torture of seven demons. Its no wonder that she was an ardent follower of Jesus, and that He had a fondness for her. They one time that Mary is depicted as being alone with Jesus is when the gospel portrays her as being the first to see the resurrected Lord (Mark 16:9). His fondness for her is evident in His remark to her as she is searching for Him: “Mary”, He says. She then tries to clutch Him, but He chides her not do do so, since He is not yet ascended to His father. By these words He is telling her that the relationship needs to take place on a spiritual level – no longer a physical one.
- Extra-biblical evidence – does this say that Jesus was married? Let’s take a look at the non-biblical text – the so-called “other gospels”. Some important points first. These were written, according to most experts, after 150 AD, and most in the 3rd and 4th centuries — many decades after the original four gospels, Paul’s letters, and the letters of the other disciples were already circulating and fully accepted by the church as “the cannon”. The other thing to remember is that these texts were considered by many in the early church as “forgeries”, since they were named after an apostle or disciple who was long since dead (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, Mary, etc.). These followers were long dead when these texts sere written. “The Da Vinci Code” tries to make the case that these clearly writings established that Jesus was married. Do they? The evidence is just not there, but decide for yourself…
- The apocryphal “Gospel of Philip” is often cited as proof that Jesus had a romantic relationship with Mary, and that they were married. Note this was composed in the 2nd half of the third century, two hundred years after the time of Jesus.1
The text describes Mary Magdalene as a koinonos or “companion” of Jesus. Some commentators try to make the case that this Greek word can also be translated “wife”, but this claim is bogus. The Greek word koinonos actually means “partner”, and the same word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean only that – one who has a partnership with another. For example, in Philemon 1:17, Paul describes himself as Philemon’s koinonos in Phil 1:17: “If you then count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.” The common term for “wife” in Greek would be some form of gyne,1 and it is not used in connections with Mary Magdalene.
Here then is the portion of the Gospel of Philipwhich many cite is a proof of a marriage relationship:
“and the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene [.. loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her […].”
Part of the text is broken at 63:33-36, and the brackets indicate broken locations in the manuscript where there is no reading because the manuscript is damaged! Many like to insert the word “mouth” into the passage, since they prefer to make the assumption that there was a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary.
However, it is just as likely, and perhaps even more reasonable, to insert the word “cheek” or “forehead” rather than “mouth”, for the following reasons:
- Note that the kiss discussed elsewhere in the text – Philip 58-59 – is a kiss of fellowship, where nothing sexual is intended – it is a spiritual kiss of intimate friendship, signifying a spiritual bond between Christians.
- It was quite common, according to other New Testament, for Christians of the early church to greet one another “with a holy kiss”.
1 Thessalonians 5:26: “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss”.
In any event, whether it was on the cheek, forehead, or even on the mouth, the weight of evidence suggests that the kiss was most likely a spiritual kiss of intimate spiritual fellowship, not a kiss indicating a sexual relationship..
- The extra-biblical Gospel of Thomas(c. 150 AD) says very little about Mary Magdalene. She speaks in v 21, asking Jesus a question: “Mary said to Jesus, “Whom are your disciples like?” Jesus answers the question straightforwardly. Then, at the end of the document – in V 114 – Mary is referred to by Peter, and Jesus answers him in a most curious way:
Simon Peter said to them, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (section 114)
One is hard pressed to find evidence for Jesus and Mary being married in this passage! Of course, in the New Testament gospels Jesus values women as women – they were accepted by Him as followers, they traveled with his entourage, and they ministered to Him and the twelve. There is no indication in the earliest Christian writings (the four gospels) that Jesus felt women needed to become “male” in order to become spiritually accepted into the Kingdom.
Was Jesus Married? All the Evidence Says “No”.
- All of the evidence in the Bible indicates that Jesus was single
- When mention is made of Jesus’ relations, His brothers, sisters, and mother are mentioned – but never a wife
- There is strong evidence that Jesus’ voluntarily chose to be celibate in order to totally consecrate Himself to God
- The assertion that Jesus must have been married because He was a “rabbi” is bogus – He was not technically a rabbi, so there was no cultural expectation that He be married
- There is also plenty of evidence that singleness was an accepted lifestyle for those who desired to totally dedicate themselves to God (the sect of the Essenes were known to be celibate for example)
- When Mary Magdalene is discussed, she is described as one of several women who traveled with Jesus and His apostles and ministered to their needs
- Extra-biblical texts do not even support the supposition that Jesus was married – to Mary Magdalene or anyone else. They position the two as being very close (companions or “partners”), but not married.
For more on Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala), please see our article on Mary Magdalene, Who was she?
Sources and Links
- Was Jesus Married, by Darrel F. Bock, PhD: http://www.leaderu.com/theology/wasjesusmarried.html
- Got Questions.org – Was Jesus Christ Married? http://www.gotquestions.org/was-Jesus-married.html
- Mark D. Roberts: http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/jesusmarried.htm
- The Gnostic Society Library: http://www.gnosis.org/
- Breaking the Da Vinci Code, by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D. Nelson publishers.