It is very difficult to verify whether a small piece of papyrus indicates that Jesus Christ was married, according to three biblical scholars from University of the Pacific.
"I have no intention of debunking the Bible," said Dr. Anthony Le Donne, a visiting professor at Pacific from Sonoma County. "But this conversation is worth having."
An estimated 200 people attended a discussion on campus Wednesday night about whether Jesus was married. No concrete conclusions were made.
Dr. Caroline Schroeder, an early Christianity professor, said it is unlikely that the papyrus suggesting that Jesus could have married is valid. Schroeder was at a September conference in Rome when Harvard University professor Karen King showed the papyrus that indicated that Jesus was married.
While Schroeder and King were at the conference of biblical scholars in Rome, the New York Times published a front-page story on King's finding. Schroeder said she had no idea that the Times article was published until journalists throughout the world came to Rome to write their own articles about it.
Previous conferences in Rome had always been low-key affairs, Schroeder said.
Schroeder sees several holes in the idea that Jesus had a wife. They include:
- That the reference to Jesus' possible marriage was on a very small piece of papyrus, and the sentences were very fragmented.
- It's impossible to understand Jesus' reference to "my wife" without putting it in context with everything else in the Bible. When Jesus was alive, the word "wife" could have merely been another word for "woman," not someone he'd married.
- It's questionable whether the papyrus was actually a fourth-century document, as some have claimed.
- The person who wrote on the papyrus was anonymous.
- The handwriting style was from the fourth century. It may have been translated from an original Greek document in the first century.
Schroeder referred to the Gospel of Thomas, which isn't in the Old or New Testaments. It was accepted by the Gnostics, a group of Christians whose views aren't reflected in mainstream Christianity. The Gospel of Thomas claims that Jesus said Mary Magdalene was worthy of being an apostle equal to the 12 male apostles. The Gospel of Thomas says that only males are capable of salvation.
The Gospel of Thomas also claims that Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene frequently, but Schroeder says that doesn't mean they engaged in sex. In those days, some considered kissing as spiritual, not physical, Schroeder said.
Le Donne added that 2,000 years ago, men generally married at the age of 20, yet we know nothing about Jesus' public life until he was about 30. That begs the question, could Jesus have married someone when he was in his 20s? Le Donne posed the marriage question without reaching a conclusion.
George Randels Jr., a religion and classical studies professor at Pacific, delved into why whether Jesus was married is a controversial topic. Reasons include Christians feeling discomfort about the idea of Jesus as a sexual being.
Another reason for some being uncomfortable with the topic is that some consider sex or marriage sinful. They believe you must be a virgin to be spiritually pure, and purity is required for salvation, Randels said.
The Bible says very little about these topics, Randels said, except that Jesus considered getting divorced and marrying another woman to be a sin.
The biggest question, he said, is whether it's important if Jesus was married. It only matters if you have religious beliefs that make it important, Randels said.
"Otherwise, it doesn't matter one way or the other," he said.
The event was sponsored by Pacific's Department of Religious and Classical Studies, the Pacific Alumni Association, the Humanities Center, Women's Resource Center, Religious and Spiritual Life, and Phi Beta Kappa.