In my last post I posed the question: Was Jesus Married? Then discussed strictly from a religious and theological view why as believers we are certain that Jesus did not marry, nor could he have been married. In this post I will once again pose the same question: Was Jesus Married? But here I will provide the historical evidence that shows how we know Jesus was not married on purely historical grounds.
First, the proponents often perpetuating this theory claim it was Mary Magdalene that Jesus was married to. If Mary was in fact married to Jesus, she would not be identified the way she is, as Mary Magdalene – which means Mary from Magdala. Women during this time period were often given a designation by their attachment to any prominent man in their life, i.e. a husband or son(s) depending on which was the more well known. The fact this Mary is described as “from Magdala” is strong evidence that she had no sons of note, nor any husband, at least none living. Additionally, Mary was the most common name for women during this time period. There is Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary from Bethany, and as already mentioned Mary from Magdala, just to name a few. Each Mary is identified by the description that will make her stand out from the others. Now, if Mary Magdalene had in fact been married to Jesus, she most certainly would have been given the designation that more prominently distinguished her from the others, and not that of a small town on the shore of Galilee known for fishing. Furthermore, if Mary M were Jesus wife, how come they have almost no direct contact with each other in the Gospels during his ministry? It may surprise many people to learn this, but Mary M is mentioned during Jesus’ ministry from our earliest and best sources for knowing the historical Jesus – the gospels of the New Testament – only once. That’s right, only one time and in the company of two other women. She is named with Joanna and Susanna among a group of woman that followed Jesus and helped finance the travels of Jesus and his male disciples. All other references to Mary in connection with Jesus are at his crucifixion and as witness to the Resurrection. An important role in human history to be sure, but not for having been his wife. This evidence near satisfies all scholars that Mary Magdalene was NOT married to Jesus. Every scholar from the Old School, and near every scholar of the New School – see my earlier post on: Why Do Scholars Disagree About Jesus? If you can get near universal agreement between these two schools of thought on anything, you can almost certainly take it to be a fact. However, this only proves Jesus was not married to Mary Magdalene and does not preclude the possibility he could have been married to someone else — so lets move on.
Second, in the earliest Christian sources from antiquity, the Letters of Paul, we have no mention of Jesus having had a wife. From his letter to Galatians, a letter no scholar disputes he wrote, Paul recounts meeting the Lord’s brother (James) and his closest disciples (Peter & John). So he would surely have known if in fact Jesus had been married. Yet in his letter to the Corinthians, another letter no scholar disputes was written by Paul, where he finds himself having to justify the apostles’ right to have a wife, Paul says, “Do we not have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Peter?” If Jesus had in fact been married, would this not be the perfect time to mention it and provide unquestionable support for his argument? And if Jesus were married, why does Paul say elsewhere in Corinthians that it is “good” for people NOT to marry? Describing it as a gift from God, he goes onto defend ones right to marry if they do not have the gift (as he does), saying “it is better to marry than to burn with passion”. All this goes to demonstrate that Paul, our earliest Christian source, knew Jesus to be unmarried and celibate.
Third, if Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, or anyone else for that matter, why is there not one single reference to this marriage in any source from the ancient world? One can read all the books that form the New Testament canon along with all of the non-canonical books that are known, and you won’t find one. Note, for those who may not be familiar: the canon refers to books in the Bible (scripture), and the non-cannon refers to those books not in the Bible – many of which are heretical texts and documents challenging the early Christian Church, but that is a topic for another day. That being said, none of these texts provide any solitary references to Jesus having been married to Mary or anyone else at all. But some might ask: What about the “Gospel of Jesus Wife” widely reported in the news back in 2012? Well not to go into a lot of details here (perhaps I may post on it in the future), that document, or rather credit card sized fragment, was conclusively proven to the near universal satisfaction of all scholars in the field to be a modern fraud and forgery. Others ask: What about the Gnostic “Gospel of Phillip” that says Jesus kissed Mary and she was his companion? First, according to scholars the Greek loan word for companion used in this text does not mean sexual partner like in our modern context, it means an associate and is used elsewhere in Christian literature, including Paul’s description of Philemon in the NT, just to give one example. Second, kissing when read in context with all literature from antiquity, is a form by which Christians were known to greet each other in their communities, e.g. extending a kiss of peace. When read in the context of the entire Phillip document, kissing for Gnostics according to the texts of Phillip, was a way of not just greeting but passing knowledge. All scholars will attest to the fact that despite claims from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Phillip provides no evidence for the marriage or any intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary. And even if it did say what it clearly does not, it was written in the third century some 200 years after Jesus, so its claim would not be deemed as credible historical evidence. Nor would any other single document if found, even if it explicitly said Jesus was married as the now debunked “Gospel of Jesus Wife” had claimed. Why? Because in historical scholarship it would be a single and late outlier that is in opposition to the overwhelming early evidence to the contrary. It would only serve to prove that an author from antiquity made this assertion.
Once more, the fact that not one Christian writer from antiquity speaks out against such a claim is further evidence that no such claim (or view) of Jesus existed at the time. It is in fact only a fairly modern assertion that Jesus may have been or must have been married. Think of all the numerous response books written to the aforementioned The Da Vinci Code by Christians in the twenty-first century. Yet the Christian leaders of the first few centuries, who wrote against many heretical views, said nothing on claims that Jesus was married. This is called evidence from silence, and speaks to the fact that there was no person or groups that believed or made any such claim to respond to. That there is not one reference to Jesus being married in any Christian (whether orthodox or heretical) or non-Christian writing of any kind from the entire ancient world, is overwhelmingly strong historical evidence against the argument Jesus was married. Since modern scholars can only argue about historical probability based on surviving evidence: What evidence is there for Jesus having been married for scholars to discuss? There is NOT ONE single reference to it in any historical source.
Fourth, the early Christian writers had no problems mentioning that Jesus indeed had other relatives, i.e. his mother Mary, his (earthly) father Joseph, his four brothers (James, Josses, Simon & Jude) and at least two sisters. All of these family members are mentioned in the New Testament texts. If Jesus had been married, why would his wife not be mentioned too? “Well they covered it up” some conspiracy theorist may say. But now you are getting away from historical arguments. If someone removed a story from these ancient documents we would almost certainly know about it, as there are over 30 thousand ancient manuscripts of the NT in Greek, Latin and various other languages to compare against our current texts. Additionally, Catholics regard Jesus’ mother Mary as not only being a virgin at the time of his birth, but also remaining one the rest of her life. A view not shared by Protestants and Evangelicals (nor myself) for the fact of the aforementioned brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the NT. However, I site this as an example to show that even though Catholics regard Mary as having been a perpetual virgin, they did not “cover up” or “change” the texts that say she was married, or had other children. In short, if this did not happen to Mary (Jesus mother) then there is no credible reason to say this would have happened for Jesus. If he had been married it would have been recorded. This is all very disappointing I’m sure to conspiracy theorist with such wild imaginations, but as so often times is the case, historical facts are just not as sensational as modern fiction.
And despite the fact that this evidence should be more than enough, and satisfies the overwhelming amount of scholars in the field, many proponents of the argument will nevertheless still not agree. Often they will commonly cite the false assertion that: “Jesus must have been married because it would have been unusual for a Jewish man (or Rabbi) in his time to be single”. This argument is however without historical merit. First, there was no Jewish law (religious or governmental) at the time that required men or Rabbis to marry. It is also a historical fact that in the time of Jesus there was not enough Jewish women for every Jewish man to be married. The reasons for this are that, as was the case in most of the ancient world, women often died during childbirth. Additionally, in cultures where having sons was highly valued, sadly it is thought many newborn girls may have often times been abandoned or left to the elements. As a result, except during times of war, men had longer lifespans and outnumbered woman by as much as almost a 2:1 ratio according to some estimates. The full range is estimated between 20-40%, but still that is 20-40% of Jewish men that could not marry even if they wanted too. This leads me to my next point; two of the most well known Jewish historians of the first century, Josephus and Philo, both record in their writings that many Jewish men chose not to marry and remained single and celibate. Not only that, they both approve of the practice in their writings. The Dead Sea Scrolls were compiled by a Jewish Sect from the first century called the Essenes, and this group was almost entirely composed of single unmarried celibate Jewish men. Paul in his letters, as mentioned earlier, says it is “good” not to marry (like himself) and had to defend the rights of other Apostles that did marry, thus further illustrating that remaining single was also a popular lifestyle choice among another Sect of first century Jews, a Sect that came to be known as Christians. Why one might ask? In the case of early Christians, it is because, among other reasons, and as the historical record attests to: Jesus, whom they professed as their Savior, was not married. The historical evidence is clear: It was NOT unusual for a Jewish man (or Rabbi) during the first century to be single and celibate.
Still need more? The aforementioned early Christian Fathers of the Church, those that lived during the first few centuries, provide further affirmation in their writings that Jesus was widely known to be unmarried and celibate. For example, Clement of Alexandria (150–215) in his response to a group that took a stand against marriage wrote:
“There are those who say openly that marriage is fornication. They lay it down as a dogma that it was instituted by the devil. They are arrogant and claim to be emulating the Lord who did not marry and had no earthly possessions. They do not know the reason why the Lord did not marry. In the first place, he had his own bride, the Church. Secondly, he was not a common man to need a physical partner. Further, he did not have an obligation to produce children; he was born God’s only son and survives eternally.”
The group of Christians that Clement is addressing here were part of a radical movement called asceticism; and this was the belief that the only true Christian was a single and celibate one – emulating Christ. It was later declared a heretical view. But nevertheless, both sides in this dispute agree that Jesus was unmarried and celibate. As stated earlier, the fact that not one early Christian Leader wrote against the claim that Jesus was married, is strong evidence of silence – that no such claim existed. However as illustrated here, because of the undisputed fact that Jesus was not married, some Christians began to claim that “true” Christians should also not marry like Christ. Clements’ writing against this understanding further affirms what the historical record attests to: that Jesus was NOT married.
Now having said all this, I do not want to minimize the importance of marriage; we know from the gospels that Jesus had a strong regard for the institution, so strong that in his teachings he would only allow for divorce in cases of infidelity. I also do not want to minimize the role of Mary Magdalene in early Christianity. She still plays a very important role. She just was NOT Jesus’ wife. For those of us who are people of faith, what she was is: The first witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the first to spread the good news i.e. The Gospel. One could argue as such, that Mary Magdalene started Christianity.
But enough already, I have bloviated on this topic far too long; time to wrap this post up. As has hopefully been thoroughly demonstrated, all the historical evidence points to the fact and supports the long held view that Jesus was NOT married. He was single, celibate and fathered NO children. Despite the wild speculation and popular fiction to the contrary, it is a near historical certainty. Virtually all scholars, Old School and New School, will acknowledge the lack of historical evidence to support any other view. Only the most fringe elements of the New School will argue otherwise, but even they most always concede the lack of historical support for their view – but simply claim they are only entertaining the possibility. Meanwhile pop-culture goes on continuously entertaining and perpetuating this notion that Jesus could have been married with no historical evidence to stand on. Sadly any people that want to believe something contrary to the mass amount of overwhelming historical evidence will likely never be convinced. But for those of us who are open minded, this is more than enough evidence that we can answer the question of this post, not just based on religious and theological grounds, but also on well attested to and solid historical grounds too. Was Jesus Married? NO, he most certainly was not.
Thank you for reading I hope some may have found these last couple of posts insightful.