A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”
The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”
I hate that every few months there is another discovery like this that claims to undermine both Christian and respected scholarly arguments about Jesus (don’t even get me started on how late this text is). This Atlantic article does a pretty good (preliminary) job debunking some of the more wild claims that are sure to arise about this manuscript.
The key point is that Jesus is mentioned as having a wife in the New Testament; that bride is always Israel or the Church. It is a common image throughout the New Testament and Christian thought through the centuries.
this has been all over my dash today but the christians i follow have been quiet about it, mostly cuz i imagine the response was a lazy glance over to some dumb article about it, an eyeroll, and an exasperated sigh over how simple-minded religion critics are going to have a field day with this, something they—in all likelihood—don’t really understand. so thanks, hannah, for talking sense.
but seriously! i was looking for new feminist blogs to follow earlier and i was just about to follow one when i saw that she had posted about this story and had added a comment that was basically “LOL! IN YOUR FACE CHRISTIANS!” and i really kind of wanted to hide under a table in embarrassment.
I saw a writer tweet about this and, though well-meaning and understandably ignorant, my initial reaction was “welcome to the conversation we’re a bit beyond that point now thanks.”
On the bolded: The key point is *also* that this vernacular - “my wife” - is extremely, extremely unusual for Jesus to have used. Paul was the one who did the most talking about being the Bride of Christ, and while Jesus did too, he never, to my recollection, used the possessive “my wife” phrasing. It was always much more abstract than that.
Make whatever arguments you want about age, reliability, whatever (those are good debunks), but, please, don’t use the “Bride of Christ metaphor explains this!” because it doesn’t and it ignores the language that Jesus was actually prone to use. It’s much more likely that this is an apocryphal Gnostic text, yes, but don’t pretend Jesus talked about the church as his wife in a possessive nature like that.
I wrote this really fast last night because I was tired of all the LOLChristians posts that started popping up on my dashboard and on twitter, so I’m sorry if it seemed like I’m arguing that Jesus himself talked about the Church in this possessive way. I’m not pretending anything, and I do actually know what I’m talking about. Jesus generally mentions bridegrooms in parables and it’s Paul that connects the idea of the Church explicitly as the bride of Christ.
Like I said in the follow-up post, I’m not critiquing the actual scholarship here. Dr. King is careful to make clear that this text fits a long line of later texts (noncanonical gospels, Gnostic gospels, etc.) that show that there were major fights about Jesus’ relationships in the early church. What’s interesting about this piece is the ‘my wife’ construction, and that’s the part that people who don’t know better are going to seize on. I was just trying to head off some of the more ridiculous reactions that I knew were coming.