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Why is it important that Jesus wasn’t married?
Allow a personal disclosure first. I don’t think Jesus was married. But in the past month or so since a textual fragment was discovered that suggests he was married, I’ve asked myself the question above. I haven’t come up with a compelling answer. Perhaps you can help me.
The primary argument I’ve heard against a married Jesus is that the Bible is mute on the subject. But rabbinic scholars have argued just the opposite – saying that it was so common for rabbis to be married that an unmarried rabbi would have been mentioned while a married rabbi would have been taken for granted. The fact the Gospels say nothing one way or the other leads some to speculate he was married. (See, for example, David Bivin’s New Light on the Difficult Sayings of Jesus: Insights from his Jewish Context, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2005.)
I don’t necessarily buy that argument, but I wonder what difference it would make if he was married? What if some incontrovertible proof were found – I don’t know, maybe a photograph of the Last Supper that showed Jesus wearing a wedding ring? Would that rock your world or just cause you to shrug your shoulders? I guess another question is “How theologically important is it that Jesus was single?”
I wonder if there isn’t something else going on in the strong feelings some have on this subject. I’ll borrow another way to frame my question from Dale Bruner’s masterful two volume commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdman’s, 2004) when, in a discussion of the “mythologizing of Mary,” Bruner asks, “What does Mary lose if she relates intimately to Joseph?” Here’s Bruner on Mary:
We are given the impression by some teaching that should Mary have later become a wife to Joseph physically she would have lost something spiritually. I believe that this persuasion is dangerous doctrinally and morally and that it is allied to other errors in the field of sexual ethics – from priestly celibacy and resisting women’s ordination to scientific contraception and annulment. Today, Catholic sexual teaching is in a shambles. The rehabilitation of a fully married Mary will be a step toward reconstruction. Matthew’s subsequent record of Jesus’ honoring but not requiring single life (19:10-12) will be another step toward the wholeness of NT sexual teaching. (vol. 1, page 49)
Can we ask the same question about Jesus? What would Jesus lose spiritually if he were, in fact, married?
I wonder if the knee-jerk reactions to the idea come from a deep seated shame about human sexuality or a Docetic inability to let Jesus be fully human. Does a married Jesus somehow become weak because marriage suggests he had human desires and needs?
I don’t find anything in the gospels that convinces me Jesus was married. And the recently discovered (probably Gnostic) fragment doesn’t provide the sort of proof needed to change my mind. But if such a proof were to come along, it would not cause me to radically alter my view of Jesus. How about you?