Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' and what that means (to me)

I'm sure most of you are aware of the scrap of papyrus that came to light a couple of years ago. It hit the news because the translation revealed Jesus saying, 'My wife...' which freaked plenty of people right out due to the Christian tradition that Jesus was not married and therefore celibate for the 33 years of his life.

It was in the news and then it went away because nothing came of it at the time. Scientists and scholars were reviewing and testing the materials and judging the writing style, etc. to determine if the scrap was a modern forgery or what.

It's come back into the news because the scientists have finally come back and declared that the papyrus is authentic.

And many people around the net promptly lost their shit. Again.

Not everyone, because there are far too many reasonable people who understand that just because the scrap has been judged authentic doesn't mean that the discussion is over. Or who realize that simply not being a modern forgery (or an ancient forgery for that matter) doesn't make the content of the scrap authentic. There are the people who look at how little text this scrap actually contains and admit that we're not really able to tell what is being said in this document because not enough of the document survives. I've linked here to one article about the scrap that contains a translation of the text.

There are plenty of people who also say, 'So what? What difference does it make if Jesus was married?' and I would mostly fall in with that crowd on this. For me, personally, it makes no difference if Jesus was married, for the most part.

But reading some of the reactions to the very idea of Jesus being married has made me see that it does make a difference, that it can make a difference to how we think not only about Jesus but about some very fundamental parts of being human.

I have seen far too many comments that essentially boiled down to, 'My God would never sully himself with anything so disgusting and sinful as *sex*!'

Which reflects nothing more than the fact that Christians have a long way to go to rid themselves of the flawed belief that sex is a sin or something dirty and shameful. I'm not arguing that the Christian belief in sex being something that should only be between husband and wife, I'm against the idea that some Christians have that even then sex is only something that should be done to have children and even then it's one of the more distasteful aspects of being human.

Because, if we look at this practically, what would Jesus having been married change? Does it change anything that he said in the Gospels?

I, personally, can't think of anything that it would change.

Should we still resist temptation and reject the evil of the devil? Of course.

Should we still do good works, clothe and feed the poor and the hungry, try to elevate the status of humanity? Of course.

Care for the planet and the animals on it with the knowledge that we're only stewards and not the owners of the place? Of course.

Worship only God? Of course.

Certainly I am not the be all and end all of theological or biblical knowledge, and if anyone can think of something that would be changed by Jesus having been married, please point it out to me.

Now. There is the tradition that Jesus was unmarried (and therefore celibate since as God Jesus would never have sinned). Where would this have come from? Assuming that it is not simply the truth, that this scrap is an actual reference to an actual wife, why would we as humans have decided that Jesus could not have been married.

It falls, I think, to two problems.

The first is that we do tend to view sex as something rather animalistic in our natures. We have tied it in to the sins of lust and adultery to the point where we're unable to separate them.

There is nothing wrong with sex. There is nothing *filthy* about sex. If you believe that God created humanity and that He stamped us with the 'Good' that he stamped all of creation, then you have to accept that there is nothing intrinsically wrong or evil with our natural functions.

We can, of course, misuse our nature and our bodies, but at their heart there is nothing sinful about them. The urge for sex is no more inherently sinful or wrong than the need to use the bathroom. Culturally, morally, religiously, we have times and places and circumstances where these actions are inappropriate, but the *need* for them is natural and not a sin.

The thought of Jesus, who according to Christian tradition and theology is both fully man and fully God, having such needs does not fill me with the horror that it fills others. If he did not have these needs he would not have been human. He would have been something else, possibly something more akin to the angels than to humanity.

But there is a shying from, a horror of, the idea of Jesus, as *God*, having to perform the 'baser' aspects of human life.

If Jesus was a man, then he did everything that we have ever done. This means that he was sick at some point. He threw up, he sweated, he had bad breath. He had to pee at some point. He had to poop. Someone had to change whatever passed for a diaper back in ancient Israel for him at some point. He was breastfed. He probably kept his mother up half the night crying from an ear infection or just because he was teething. Think of the worst, most out of control thing that your body has ever done to you. As a man Jesus would have been susceptible to the same illnesses, the same weaknesses as anyone else.

I've been reading a book lately about the Islamic concept of tawheed, the oneness of God. It's interesting, if not exactly what I thought it was going to be. But I came to a realization upon reading the chapter that the author wrote on transcendence.

The author in this chapter is talking about the idea that God is in everything/one and how people naturally recoil from the idea of God being present in 'filthy' things being proof that we know this is not true.

Thinking about this, I realized that we do shy away from thinking about Jesus as a man. We say that he was fully man - it's the doctrine of the incarnation after all and the only way that we can reconcile God being born to a human woman - but we don't think about him having to do the things that we find distasteful or secretive. We don't think about him having *been* a man.

Because God cannot have been so base.

A man, certainly, but an elevated one. A perfect one. Not someone who bled and ate and sweated and probably smelled by our standards and had scars from childhood misadventures or that one time Peter left a fish hook where it shouldn't have been.

But then, you know, a perfect man is not a real one at all.

The second issue, I think, is the fact that if Jesus was God and we say that he had sex we're walking even closer than usual to the polytheistic line. After all, some of the gods (Zeus, we're looking at you) were always coming down and having sex with human women. How is Jesus-God different from them if he does the same thing?

Trinitarian thought is hard enough to wrap your mind around in the first place without falling into polytheism. Three gods? No. One God, but He is three in that one. Three aspects that are different but all the same at the same time.

There are *tons* of metaphors and examples out there trying to explain how God can be three things at the same time while only being one. None of them hold up in the long run.

The clover is popular. Three leaves, which are each distinct, but all a part of the same plant. And yet each leaf is not, while being it's own leaf, the same as the leaves beside it.

Water. Water has three states - liquid, solid and gas. But a singular body of water cannot be in all three states at the same time.

I have run into people who would swear up and down that they are Christians but have a complete lack of understanding about what is meant when people say that Jesus is the Son and is one is substance with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is *painfully* easy to fall into polytheism when contemplating the Trinity.

It is absolutely clear why people outside of Christianity look at the Trinity and say that Christians are polytheists who can't see it.

Admitting that Jesus, as God, had sex with a human woman like all of the gods Christianity has decried as false, brings us closer to that edge.

So. Was Jesus married?

I don't know. No one does. All this scrap proves is that people were having conversations about marriage and the role of women in the church back to the beginning. Which shouldn't be a surprise.

Does it make a difference if Jesus was married? In practical terms for what Christians are supposed to do in the world according to the Gospels? No. It shouldn't.

Does it make a difference to how we think about Jesus and his relationship to our humanity? His relationship to God?

Maybe it should.

3 comments:

  1. Yay, I love when I see you've written a new post! And this one surely didn't disappoint. Lots of good thoughts here. I really enjoy your "thinkies," and I'm glad you brought up this topic.

    Personally I go for Jesus not being married, not because marriage is bad in the least. After all there is that whole Bride of Christ thing, and I've always been taught that pretty stinkin' special.

    But my problem would be Jesus basically having no home or family life. I don't like men who have wives and children, and then go off and do their own things

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    Replies
    1. I can see that as a problem that would hold you back from the idea of Jesus as being married. But we know that there were women among Jesus' followers. Who's to say that his wife couldn't have travelled with him? Worked in spreading the gospel side by side with her husband?

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  2. This was really interesting!

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