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Video: Does It Matter If Jesus Was Married?

As I think I’ve indicated on the blog before, on January 23, 2014 there was an interesting discussion, on stage, between Karen L. King (Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School), Mark Jordan (Distinguished Professor at Washington University, Saint Louis; he is returning to Harvard next year), and me on the topic “Does It Matter if Jesus Was Married?” The discussion was hosted by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in the Beam Music Center, Doc Rando Hall, UNLV. The Black Mountain Institute is an International Center for Creative Writers and Scholars. The event was moderated by the former President of UNLV, Carol Harter, who did a very fine job indeed keeping us all on target and on topic. The basic underlying question was: what would a married Christ mean for the theology, practices, and politics of Christian traditions as they grapple with changing times?  I did manage to say a few words about the prior question: *Was* Jesus married?

The Black Mountain Institute was motivated to invite us to discuss these questions because of the Coptic papyrus that Karen King announced to the world last year, which she has named “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”   I have dealt with it several times on the blog already.  We did not spend any time during the event discussing the authenticity or inauthenticity of the fragment.  My sense is that most Coptic scholars think it is a modern fabrication.  Karen continues to think that it may be authentic, and she is working hard on a scholarly article that will make the case and answer the detractors.  We are all very eager to see it!  In the meantime, whether authentic or not, the fragment raises interesting questions, and those are what we turned our attention to.

Please adjust gear icon for 1080p or 720p High-Definition:


Image rights: Karen L. King/EPA. The fragment consists of eight lines of black ink, written in Coptic, which include the phrase. “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ” Below it is what the Times calls “a second provocative clause” that reportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”


Books and Response Books
Snake-Handling and the Gospel of Mark



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 26, 2014

    You do have an interesting and varied life.

  2. Avatar
    willow  February 26, 2014

    Call me a hopeless romantic. I’m still not convinced he wasn’t. Married, that is. But you do know that I have an awfully thick skull, don’t you? Thank you for posting this, Bart. Do you have any more? 😉

  3. Avatar
    toejam  February 26, 2014

    Somewhat unsurprisingly, James Tabor thinks it’s legit: http://jamestabor.com/2014/02/12/jesus-wife-papyrus-fragment-soon-to-be-vindicated/

    I’m in no position to have an opinion, but my hunch is that it’s a forgery.

  4. Avatar
    ALIHAYMEG  February 26, 2014

    That was the most pleasant debate I’ve seen you take part in. It sure is nice to see scholars agree on the important points and admit an inability to know for sure on everything else. Thanks for that.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 27, 2014

      Yes, it wasn’t really set up as a debate.

    • Avatar
      willow  February 28, 2014

      Toejam, I am of the opinion that it really doesn’t matter whether he was married or not. I don’t even suppose he had to have been married to have had a relationship with a woman. He was, after all, at least until he became “the Christ” and then “God”, only human.

      If the Scriptures be at all true, and Jesus was tempted as we are all tempted, then he experienced sexual temptations too, wouldn’t you think? And why not Mary Magdalene, who couldn’t have been just any other ordinary woman for as much as it was she was where no ordinary woman would have been – such as at the tomb to prepare Jesus for (2nd) burial – a tradition carried out by family members, for the most part. No matter which Gospel account one reads, and no matter the inconsistencies, she’s there. To me, that’s indication enough that MM was no ordinary woman, nor a mere follower of Jesus, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to one day learn he was married.

  5. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  February 27, 2014

    Great discussion, as always. Thanks for making it available to us. Thanks for all that I have learned form you.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 27, 2014

    Boy, that didn’t take long. I ordered your new book this morning and also discovered that a book critical of your book cleverly titled “When God Became Jesus” is being released on 3/25 the same day as your book. Evidently, this book is written by a group of five authors. You need to have a thick skin in this area of study. It reminds me that I recently had a discussion with a friend about the three differences (Was a voice heard by those with Paul? Was a light seen by those with Paul? Did those with Paul fall down?) in the three conversion stories of Paul described in chapters 9, 22, and 26 of Acts and this friend somehow was able to harmonize these three accounts. Amazing! I think such friends would be more convincing with me if they recognized the contradictions and then explained to me how their religion incorporates these differences.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 27, 2014

      See today’s post!

    • Avatar
      willow  February 28, 2014

      What is it that many an apologists now claims? “The inconsistencies within the New Testament support it’s validity?” Make sense of that!

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  March 1, 2014

        Wow! OK, then. So when four eyewitnesses at a trial all contradict each other, they are *reliable*?!?

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 28, 2014

    Very enjoyable – thanks for sharing it! I was surprised that there wasn’t more discussion about how proof that Jesus was married would affect the Catholic rule for celibacy of priests. But probably, none of you believe Jesus *was* married, so you knew that “problem” will never arise.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 1, 2014

      I had the sense that Karen King leaned toward the view that he may have been married, but I may be wrong.

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 28, 2014

    Could some of the negative attitudes toward sex among the early Christians – and their Jewish predecessors – have stemmed from so many women’s dying in childbirth? Obviously, that wouldn’t have been a pleasant prospect for women! But might the risks also have repelled men, who knew of other men being widowed and left with sole responsibility for motherless children?

    Did people in that part of the world have any form of contraception? For that matter, did even the Greeks and Romans have anything like…primitive condoms?

  9. cheito
    cheito  March 2, 2014

    DR Ehrman:

    According to Mark Jordan Paul’s says, “in 1 Corinthians 7: that the end times are near, I wish you all were unmarried like me, women if you become single don’t get married, it would be terrible to have a child in the end times”.

    QUESTION: Where in 1 Corinthians 7 does Paul say this?

    The truth is that what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 is His own opinion and not the opinion of the Lord.
    Mark Jordan is suppose to be a Scholar of reputable credentials. God will hold him accountable for misquoting Paul and distorting his message. It’s clear to me that Paul is admonishing the Corinthians not to get married because of the “present distress”. What was the present distress Paul is referring to? Whatever it was it was not the end times as Mark Jordan asserts.

    1 Corinthians 7:25-Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26-I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27-Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28-But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

    Also you, DR Ehrman maintain that Paul believed that Christ was returning in His days. I’ve given you scripture in other posts, from Paul himself and Luke, that clearly state that certain events must be in place before the return of the Lord. You reject these scriptures. If you reject 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and Luke 21:24 then why do you declare as TRUTH that Jesus and Paul were apocalyptic in their teaching when you know that Your theological conclusions are based on the Synoptic Gospels which are not historically accurate.

    2 Thessalonians 2:3-Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4-who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

    Luke 21:24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

    ~ Cheito

    • Avatar
      shakespeare66  April 5, 2014

      You have to read Dr. Erhman’s books on this subject to understand his position. One cannot answer this in a brief sentence when there is so much to it. Read Jesus: Apocalyptic Jew of the New Millennium.

  10. Avatar
    dewdds  March 11, 2014

    One amateur biblical scholar on Facebook speculated that it may have actually read [Take] My wife [please!].

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