Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How Do We Know Jesus Wasn't Married?

An LDS couple I’m friends with asked me recently about the so-called Gospel of Philip, and specifically, about its claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  Let’s address the reliability of the “Gospel of Philip” first, and then the broader question: how do we know that Jesus wasn’t married?

The So-Called Gospel of Philip

Strangely, the “Gospel of Philip” doesn’t even claim to be written by St. Philip.  Neither does it claim to be a Gospel, in the sense of being either a biography of Christ, or even a Book of Sayings by Christ. The name “Gospel of Philip” came much later, and is misleading. Put another way, the Gospel of Philip is neither a Gospel, nor written by Philip. Discuss.

St. Philip the Evangelist,
who the Gospel of Philip is falsely attributed to.
Instead, the “Gospel” is a second- or third-century collection of Gnostic teachings, like this one: “God is a man-eater. For this reason, men are sacrificed to him. Before men were sacrificed, animals were being sacrificed, since those to whom they were sacrificed were not gods.” As you might expect from a Gnostic text, it’s full of heretical claims, including the denial of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth, the claim that the Holy Spirit is a woman, and a belief that matter was evil. You can see this in several places, like the claim that circumcision existed in the Old Testament to teach us that “it is proper to destroy the flesh.”  This, by the way, is why the Gnostics had to deny the Incarnation: if flesh is inherently evil, Jesus cannot take on flesh and stay God. To get around this predicament, the book claims: “Jesus took them all by stealth, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to see him. […] He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to men as a man. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone.

You get a sense for both the Gnostics’ general discomfort with matter (and specifically, the body), and their use of seemingly-intentionally esoteric teachings in this passage:
The forms of evil spirit include male ones and female ones. The males are they which unite with the souls which inhabit a female form, but the females are they which are mingled with those in a male form, though one who was disobedient. And none shall be able to escape them, since they detain him if he does not receive a male power or a female power, the bridegroom and the bride. One receives them from the mirrored bridal chamber. When the wanton women see a male sitting alone, they leap down on him and play with him and defile him. So also the lecherous men, when they see a beautiful woman sitting alone, they persuade her and compel her, wishing to defile her. But if they see the man and his wife sitting beside one another, the female cannot come into the man, nor can the male come into the woman. So if the image and the angel are united with one another, neither can any venture to go into the man or the woman.
As both history and as a Christian holy book, then, it’s untrustworthy. The Apostles and other early eyewitnesses of Jesus of Nazareth have one version of events, and then a century or two later, you get another (very different) version of events from the author of the Gospel of Philip. It’s not particularly hard to know who to trust.

It is worth mentioning that, while the book tells us nothing reliable about Jesus, it gives us important details about Gnostic sacramental theology. For example, it claims, “The Eucharist is Jesus. For he is called in Syriac ‘Pharisatha,’ which is ‘the one who is spread out,’ for Jesus came to crucify the world.” This is significant, since as St. Ignatius of Antioch mentioned in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, the Gnostics “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” What’s striking is that the Gnostics acknowledged that the Eucharist is more than a symbol, and is actually Jesus… they just denied that Jesus actually came in the Flesh.

Was Jesus Married?

I think that the important question is less whether the Gospel of Philip can be trusted, and more whether it’s possible, given what we know as Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth was married.

El Greco, Penitent Magdalene (c. 1590)
There are several arguments against this notion. The usual argument presented is actually an argument from silence. If Jesus was married, it seems wholly implausible that none of the early Christians would mention (or even allude to) this fact, either in Scripture, or in the Patristic writings. We don’t have a record of any of the early Christians calling themselves the “wife of Jesus,” or claiming to be a biological son or daughter of Jesus. For example, there are several ancient Catholic traditions about the life of St. Mary Magdalene, like that she went on to become a hermit in her later days. But there’s no tradition that she was married to God the Son, which is the sort of detail that you would expect a hagiography to remember to include.  So although it’s an argument from silence, it’s a strong one. But I think that there are stronger arguments yet, based on what Scripture does say.

In my own view, the strongest argument is this. After Jesus lays down some tough teachings on marriage, including an absolute prohibition against divorce, His Disciples say, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). Jesus doesn’t deny this. In fact, He says that “some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Mt. 19:12). Given this teaching, Jesus had to be a celibate. Otherwise, He’d be calling His Followers to something that He, the perfect God-Man, couldn’t achieve. Since Jesus obviously could accept His own teaching, we know that He did.

Related to this point is what St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:25-32, in which Paul explains that the relationship between a man and his wife is a type of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. So Jesus was dedicated to the Church, the Kingdom of God, in the way that a married man is to his wife. This also explains St. Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35,
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Is Paul calling the unmarried to have a greater devotion to the Church than Jesus Christ had? Of course not. Rather, he’s calling some of his followers to celibacy modeled off of Christ’s own celibate love for the Church.

The final Scriptural proof for Christ’s celibacy is found in Matthew 8:20, in which Jesus says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” If He was a married man, it’s unthinkable that He could have failed to provide for His wife (and children?) in this way.

One final point.  These arguments aren’t just good reasons to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was celibate, something that virtually all Protestants agree with the Catholic Church on.  They’re also good reasons to believe that clerical celibacy should be the norm, or at least the ideal.  The reasons that Jesus was celibate are the very reasons that celibacy is the norm for Catholic priests, and religious brothers and sisters today, since these men and women are called in a particular way to devote their lives off to the union between Christ and His Church.

25 comments:

  1. Gnosticism - Blech!

    Proudly holds the title of perhaps the most demonic heresy in history.

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    1. I'm not sure about that. Looking around me right now, I see things that almost directly echo satans words as people onside themselves the god. All of culture is warped aroun this delusion. It's so extreme tht women deny or destroy their own body, the arc of new life, due to it being inconvenient or not sexy, but not pleasing to their self objectification.

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  2. So the Gnostics would have had their version of the Eucharist and claimed that it was truly Jesus, but an exclusively spiritual reality, since Jesus didn't have a body?

    I'm a little surprised they would have had a Eucharist at all, since it would be a ritual which required the consumption of matter (bread), which is evil.

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  3. What on earth would God need with a wife?

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    1. The tone of this rhetorical question is so off-putting. While God does not 'need' a wife for Himself (the person of Jesus), the value of marriage is made clear in its status as a sacrament, and the fact that a marriage was the scene of Jesus' first recorded miracle. God does not 'need' anything for God's self, but uses it to bring the overwhelming majority of us closer, to both the mystery of the trinity, and Christ's commandment to love one another as ourselves. Not to mention it's role in guiding our participation in the creation of new souls... Don't you know.

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  4. Also, in Mark 12:25, Jesus tells us there is no marriage in heaven. Jesus' mission and ministry is to point toward salvation and heaven for us; as such, and as is evident in most of His teaching, he has little time or inclination for things of this earth but rather points toward heaven. Thus, it is not reasonable that He would spend His ministry pointing beyond this world toward heaven, but take on an earthly mantle that would fall away in heaven. (This pointing toward heaven also forms some basis for clerical celibacy, and I wish more people would invoke it in the argument.)

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    1. Jim,

      I’m glad you mentioned that. Both the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and celibacy for the Kingdom serve as signs of the union between Christ and His Church in different (and complementary) ways. As you’ve suggested, one of the ways that celibacy does this is by starting the eternal celibacy of Heaven now, for example.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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  5. An errata concerning Jesus and the opposite sex.

    I used to live in the Cache Valley of Utah.

    Mormons teach that Jesus had three wives at the same time. Incidently, they also teach that Joseph 'I am the Second Mohammed' Smith is superior to Jesus since Jesus in Joseph Smith's estimation was a failure.

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    1. - "Joseph 'I am the Second Mohammed' Smith." Great point, here (and one not commented upon enough). The relationship, or better the striking similarity, between Islam and Mormonism is very interesting and quite noticeable even on a brief study of the two religions. I'm often tempted to ask a Mormon missionary which one of his arguments would validate the LDS church and invalidate Islam.

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    2. James,
      I have to say having been raised in the LDS faith since birth and currently active in the LDS faith. I have never heard of Jesus having three wives, Joseph Smith being called the second Mohammed, that Smith was superior Jesus, or that Smith ever stated that Jesus was a failure. If it is in the LDS Church doctrine, and not hearsay from members, I would be interested in knowing where to find that information.

      I think it's important to note that the LDS Church doctrine doesn't say that Jesus was married. The question was really a matter of intellectual discussion.

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  6. I've never heard such claims as James made about LDS beliefs either.

    It's time for James to cough up some authoritative primary sources or admit fault.

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  7. My neighbor Meaghan told me he had three wives. She was quite adamant on this. I have heard this from others as well, in passing.

    As for primary sources regarding the 'I am the Second Mohammed'. I cite an interview published in 1839 placed in the Libary of Congress in 1841 by a Methodist journalist and minister who happened to have a displeasureable meeting with him on a steamboat. A trustworthy source since it was before Nauvoo fiasco and also contains language identitical to other unrelated sources from the New York/Pennsylvania border.

    Regarding Smith's survery of Christ, that is a direct source easily obtainable from 19th century sources. A quick use of Google Books yeilds a trove of second source and primary material.

    Also since there is no authorative LDS we must remember that there are at least 186 different active traditions of that faith.

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  8. I think Meaghan has come to believe in some hearsay. Occasionally, one of the Sunday school teachers will say something that they feel like it true personally and it can misinterpreted to be thought that it was one of the General Authorities of the church. From there it can be spread around a community similarly to a rumor, which would explain how you may have heard it in passing from others. I'm sure it was an innocent misunderstanding and I'm certain it's not in the LDS doctrine.

    I'm sorry when I asked you to show me where you found this in the LDS doctrine, I excepted you to do the footwork to justify your statements and provide the links.

    I'm also unsure what you mean when you say, "no authoritative LDS". When I say LDS, I mean The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from which there have been other branches created and altered the beliefs. Both LDS.org and Mormon.org are directed by the church and can lead to you the authoritative doctrine.

    Jennae

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  9. If Jesus was married, it seems wholly implausible that none of the early Christians would mention (or even allude to) this fact, either in Scripture, or in the Patristic writings.

    No problem with Jesus LIVING as a celibate. Or that after Christian truth the Church is his real only bride.

    My problem is whether after death on Cross (seen as final by Jews refusing to believe resurrection) he remained celibate according to Jewish law or was posthumously assigned a widow who would marry one of his "brethren" so that first child would carry on his inheritance and name in Israel according to the command of levirate.

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    1. perhaps St John took this position?

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    2. I have heard two versions about St John:

      - either he abandoned the wife he was marrying at Cana (if that was his marriage) to follow the one who had made a miracle;
      - OR he was so chaste he never even attempted marriage.

      Either way he would not have been willing to do that, especially as he also was living with the Blessed Virgin for as long as her earthly life still was lasting.

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  10. First male child, obviously.

    And the fact that "brother" has a technical meaning in Jewish law just as much as "firstborn" (in connections obviously with levirate and offering of first born son to God) is obviously one point in defence of the Perpetual Virginity. "Brothers and sisters" were closest collateral relatives, the male ones of which could fulfill the function of levirate on behalf of one dying childless.

    The prophet Jeremiah died celibate and childless, and yet there are Jews named Jeremiah, his name is carried on. Some surviving relative of his married an "assigned" widow?

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  11. I asked my Mormon coworker. He said that he thought Jesus was married, but that it wasn't official teaching of the LDS. When I found quotations from various Mormon apostles (such as Apostle Orson Hyde), he said that wasn't binding teaching.

    "The belief that Christ was married has never been official church doctrine. It is neither sanctioned nor taught by the church. While it is true that a few church leaders in the mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now, church doctrine" - Dale Bills, Tuesday, 16 May 2006:

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  12. Let us not forget that the Lord’s crucifixion was mentioned in the historical works of Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus and Lucian who lived in that period.
    The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us about the ascension of Jesus into heaven. It is also mentioned in the Acts. During these forty days Jesus was busy instructing the apostles and preparing them for the great mission of his Church in which the reconciliation he accomplished is available to many. After that they relied on the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

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  13. I was making a comment yesterday that seems to have got lost.

    The Blessed Virgin Mary was ever virgin. Christ lived and died a celibate, and his bride is the Church, which came out of his opened side in the shape of blood and water. Agreed.

    However, as with "firstborn" also the word "brother" could have a technical meaning pertaining to Jewish law. A firstborn was to be offered to the Lord - which was done with Jesus. Therefore it does not imply Mary had children after that. A "brother" might be used as one on whom duty of levirate is incumbent should HIS "brother" die childless. For Jesus either children of St Joseph's first marriage (if Protogospel of St James is genuine) or, if such did not exist (as in Protogospel not being true and as in, I think St Jerome, being right), cousins would obviously do.

    If Jesus was assigned a "widow" by Jews not believing the Resurrection, and a child was impregnated on her or on her maid-servant that would have been an affair internal to Nonbelieving Jews rather than of the Church. Besides, the Church might have had reasons to protect families of such origin against Jewish manipulations - by shutting up.

    I wonder if the Church should not ask the Jews about that.

    I am however certain that, if a man claiming under Jewish law Jesus as forefather exists today, obviously he should be happier to have Jesus Christ as adopted brother in Grace rather than as "Elrond-to-Aragorn" immortal collateral ancestor relative according to Jewish law.

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    1. Hans,

      For some reason, a number of your comments got flagged as spam -- I just noticed that and published them. Should be fixed now: sorry for any inconvenience!

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. No problem.

      Computers cannot read your mind. If either others have signalled comments of mine as spam or simply due to number of different blogs I comment on (including my own posts with afterthoughts), my profile might have clenched off something in the spamfilter you have from blogger.

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  14. I think it's important that we avoid treating paraphrases of Scripture as if they were the Scriptures themselves, and basing arguments on the paraphrase. What Mt 19:12 actually says is "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Maybe that means "The one who can accept this should accept it", or maybe it means something slightly or greatly different.

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    1. John,

      I believe you are mistaken. The phrase you’re thinking of appears several times in the Gospels (Mt. 11:15, Mt. 13:9, Mt. 13:43, Mark 4:9, Mk. 4:23, Luke 8:8, and Lk. 14:35). Just not here.

      Here are 18 different translations of the verse, along with the Greek original, broken down word-by-word. All of them have some variation of “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it,” including in the original Greek. None of them have “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” or any variation thereof.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. Hi Brethren,


      Jesus married Eleven Virgins soon after the Last Supper after throwing the Thief Judas Iscariot out into the Darkness. He washed the Feet of His Virgin Brides and then took them into the Bridal Chamber to perform the Marriage Ceremony by Breaking the Bread as His Body to be Eaton when Preaching Gospel and Drinking His Blood by becoming His Spokesmen. Thus, Christ Jesus Fished Eleven Men, the Solitary Masters of their own Destinies and they in turn became the Fishers of Men to Fish other Virgins into the Service of Christ Jesus to Glorify our Father. When Father wanted to Marry His Son and the Guests were gathered together eating and drinking then Father found One Man was not properly Dressed. He challenged him, how dare you come into the Wedding Banquette not properly dressed? He had no answer and was thrown out into the Darkness and he killed himself out of the rebukes showered by His Son Christ Jesus. What was the name of the person who was thrown out of the Wedding Banquette?

      Watch my Youtube Videos under channel nijjhar1 for the answer.

      I can help people produce Films and documentaries on Christianity and Sikhism.

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