The reports all over the news about the papyrus, the Harvard professor and the wife of Jesus seemed straight out of a Dan Brown novel, not least, one suspects, because they sounded like that to the journalists concerned.
My co-author, Chalcedon is unconvinced it is genuine, taking the line of one of the experts quoted here that it is a patchwork of quotations from the gnostic ‘Gospel of Thomas’ put together by a non-native Coptic writer. Until proper tests are made on the ink, no one will know for sure whether it is a fake; but even if it is genuine, so what? That was what I asked Chalcedon. His answer is here:
The so-called ‘gospel of Thomas’ is one of a number of texts from the second or third centuries of the Christian era which take the general line that Jesus was a man. One of the ways they do this is to emphasise his humanity. To say He was married is an obvious way of doing so. If this fragment is not a forgery, it is representative of a non-orthodox line of thought. It proves that the unorthodox were not orthodox; a conclusion of surprise only to the modern journalist.
As C explained it to me, this is part of a debate over the ancient heresy known as ‘docetism’. Those influenced by Greek philosophy in Alexandria rejected the idea that anything which was transcendent like the spirit could mix with something base like the body, so if, as they were happy to believe, Jesus was a great Spirit, He could not have been human. Other Christians argued against this by stressing the bodily reality of Jesus – He was born of a woman, He got hungry, He suffered. Those who objected to the idea that God could have lowered Himself so, argued that all these things were simply acts – God pretending to be human; some even went so far as to say that Jesus was occupied by the Spirit of God, who departed from Him on the Cross – a line with some influence on early Islam.
Some have argued that it would make no difference is Jesus had been married, as Christians are not anti sex or anti-women; that is to miss the point. This is not about the modernist agenda or feminism, it is about our faith. The Gospels and St. Paul, our best sources, are clear that Jesus did not have a wife; they mention Peter’s wife, and if the Lord had had one, they’d have mentioned her, as the Church is certainly not anti-women or anti-sex.
But stop there, as my co-author told me, “Jesus has a wife, the one He has always had – His Church. The Apocalypse (21:9) presents the Church as the Bride of Christ. All four Evangelists present Christ as the bridegroom (do a search), and the Fathers all saw the Bride as the Church. Now unless someone wishes to accuse Christ of sin, that should be that.”
That seems to me the critical point. It is because it would make a lie of the universal tradition of the Church that it matters whether Jesus was married. Yes, and yes a thousand times, He was a man, with all the usual urges no doubt, but He was also God. That is how the Church has received Him, and how it treats Him.