Did Jesus Have an Earthly Wife? (With Apologies to Thomas Aquinas, and to a lesser extent, Peter Kreeft)


(For why I’m writing in this format, see the bottom)

Objection 1: It seems that Jesus did in fact have a wife. Recently, Karen King – a historian on early Christianity – uncovered a document that shows some in the early Church believed Jesus was married (most likely to Mary Magdalene). Couple this with the forgotten Gospel of Philip, which implies that Jesus was a lover to Mary and often kissed her, and one can conclude that some early Christians believed Jesus to have a wife.

Objection 2: The early Christian community was dynamic and pluralistic, so there is room for many to have believed that Jesus was married. This was probably based on real history and only later suppressed by the Imperial Church (the Church after Constantine). Constantine instituted a patriarchal view of the Church, which led to the suppression and banishment of all so-called “Gnostic Gospels” that gave credence to women.

Objection 3: Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man, so it only follows that He would have sexual desires like all humans. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus states, “That which is not assumed is not healed.” Since being sexual is a part of our nature, if Jesus did not assume our sexual nature, then how is our sexual nature healed? By having a wife, Jesus assumes the married life and human sexuality, healing both in the process.

Objection 4: Jesus could have an earthly wife and still hold the Church as the “Bride of Christ.” The earthly wife would be through His physical nature, while the Church is married to His spiritual nature (or divine nature). That, or the talk of the Church being the bride is purely metaphorical, something used to indicate the relationship the Church has with Christ, but it shouldn’t be taken literally. After all, if we as the Church are the Bride of Christ and He is not married because of it, then why should we get married?

Objection 5: Even if Jesus had a wife, it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not Jesus was married is irrelevant to the entire scope of what He came to do and teach. The whole debate is ultimately superfluous and a waste of time.

On the contrary, Jesus Christ is married to the Church and to the Church alone. This is the position of all Christians at all times in all places. Those who taught differently were out of communion with the Body and therefore cannot be called Christians in the proper sense of the term. It is drastically important that we embrace the Church as the sole bride of Christ because this impacts our ecclesiology as well as our Christology, that is to say, it impacts our relationship with Christ and with one another.

I answer that there are three instances in Scripture where the Gospel writers could have told us about Jesus’ wife, yet did not. The first instance is that no woman in Scripture is named after Christ. It was common in those times when referring to a married woman to use the term, “the wife of” to indicate who she was. But there is no woman with “the wife of Jesus.” Since the focus of the Gnostic Gospels is on Mary Magdalene, it would follow that she wouldn’t be Mary Magdalene (which indicates where she is from), but rather “Mary, the wife of Jesus.”

The second instance is when Jesus gives instructions to John to take care of His mother, but He gives no instructions for anyone to take care of Mary Magdalene. Were she His wife, it would follow that He would issue similar commands to His disciples to care for her after His death. That He doesn’t leaves us to conclude that she wasn’t His wife, or that He was a horrible husband (which holds deeper theological problems).

The third instance is when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus outside of the tomb. Here she embraces Christ and calls Him raboni, or “teacher.” While it’s true that she clung to Him in a tight embrace, notice that He does not kiss her, nor does she kiss Him and she does not call Him lover or husband (which would have been a proper address during that time).

Alongside the witness of Scripture, we also have the witness of the Early Church. Nothing in the New Testament even hints at the idea that Jesus had an earthly wife, from the Gospels to the writings of Paul. None of the Church Fathers mention Jesus having a wife. In fact, that only the Gospel of Philip and this new document state that Jesus had a love affair with Mary Magdalene indicates that this was not a widely held belief. To put it succinctly, those who existed during the time of Christ and shortly thereafter never wrote anything about an earthly bride of Christ, either to say He had one or to refute the idea He did, because the idea did not arise until centuries after Christ. The singleness of Christ was simply taken for granted up until the third and fourth centuries; but even then, the most ardent of Arians and Gnostics hardly ever spoke of Jesus having a wife due to few people accepting such an idea.

Reply to Objection 1: This objection is guilty of equivocation – it assumes that those who claimed Christ was married to Mary Magdalene were Christians in the proper sense of the term. King must assume that those who denied the divinity of Christ were still Christians (they weren’t) and not heretics in order to claim that some in the Christian community believed Jesus was married. In order to defend her premise, she must either reject the idea of heresy or show how this document is orthodox in everything it says with exception to the marriage.

This new document was found within the Coptic community and is dated to the fourth century; any student of Church history knows that Alexandria in the fourth century was a hotbed for Arianism (the belief that Jesus was not God). The heresies within the Coptic community ranged from teaching that Jesus was the first of God’s creation all the way to saying that Jesus was just a man who was inhabited by the Spirit of Christ. Either way, in those days it was common for those outside the mainstream of belief to forge documents that “proved” their belief was valid. That this most recent document was not widespread and is dated to the fourth century indicates that it was a forgery, most likely created to perpetuate the idea that Jesus was nothing more than a man (after all, what is the surrounding context within this document? What else does this document say?). The safest conclusion is that heretics, or those outside the communion of the Church, wrote this document; it was not a view held by Christians.

Also, Al Mohler has a great response that shows how this is mostly sensationalism and nothing more.

Reply to Objection 2: I cited three instances in Scripture where the Bible could have mentioned Jesus having a wife, but didn’t. Yet, in all three of those instances women are looked highly upon. In all the Gospels it is the women who discover Christ’s resurrection first and become witnesses. In that culture women were not looked upon as valid witnesses, yet the New Testament uses women as valid witnesses, showing a high view of women. Had Constantine somehow instructed the Church to rewrite the Gospels, it would follow that men would be the first discovering the resurrection of Jesus, not women.

What is more important, however, is that this most recent finding is dated to a time when an Arian Emperor sat on the throne; such a document would have benefited his belief rather than hampered it. In other words, the Emperor wouldn’t have ordered this document destroyed, but rather wanted it spread across the Roman Empire.

Reply to Objection 3: There are essential qualities and accidental qualities. An essential quality is something that is necessary for a thing to be what it is; it’s essential for humans to exist physically in order to be human. It’s essential that we have the capacity for reason in order to be human. Take away either of those and we’re not really human, we’re something else. One essential quality of a television is that it has the capacity to contain an electric current. Take away this capacity and you have something else. Thus, an essential quality is any quality that is necessary for x to be x.

An accidental quality is something that is tied to the essence of a thing, but not necessary. For instance, one cat may have red fur and another cat may have grey fur, but both are still cats. Both have the essential quality of being a cat, but their accidental qualities (the color of their fur) have no bearing on them being cats. In order to have the fur, they must first be cats, but the color of the fur is inconsequential as to whether or not they are cats. Thus, the essence influences the accident, but the accident does not influence the essence. Put another way, an accidental quality is any quality that stems from x being x, but does not change whether or not x is x. An entity could lose its accidental quality and still be what it is (x could lose its accidental quality and still remain x; Bob could lose all his hair and still be Bob; Jane could lose her hand and still be Jane).

Thus, when we say that Christ took on human nature, we are not saying that He took on all the accidental attributes; He isn’t both black and white, He doesn’t have both blonde hair and brown hair, He isn’t both male and female, and so on. Rather, whatever it is that makes us human, He also has (though without sin), but this doesn’t mean He has everything that stems from being human but is not essential to being human. In other words, He has redeemed our nature, which in turn redeems our accidental qualities. He has taken on human nature, but this does not mean He actualizes every aspect of our nature.

Reply to Objection 4: When we get married the primary reason is for propagation and to complete who we are. Though completed by Christ, we are still left incomplete while alive on this earth. Though this does not necessitate we marry, it does allow for us to be married. Christ, however, has no purpose for marriage; He is the complete human and has no need for propagation. Likewise, marriage serves as an icon for the relationship between Christ and the Church. Were Christ to engage in an icon for a relationship He already holds, it would be redundant and self-defeating; He would be acting as an icon for Himself.

Reply to Objection 5: That Christ was not married to an earthly wife is of great importance in the Church as it impacts our Christology and our ecclesiology. First, if Christ did take on Mary Magdalene as a bride then He was a horrible husband, or less than perfect. He knew that He would die at a relatively young age. If He took on a bride, then He did so knowing He would leave her a widow in culture that was difficult for widows. Couple this with the fact that He made no provisions for her after His death and we see a husband who neglected His wife; this is not the image of Christ, nor is it consistent with His character.

Secondly, His mission was to bring about the Kingdom of God, which is one of the reasons He lists for remaining celibate (Matthew 19:12). He states that the one who can receive this should do so, that is, it is best for people to remain single, but if they cannot contain themselves it is quite okay to be married. Jesus, however, is the epitome of virtue because He is virtue, meaning all that it is to have self-control is found in Christ. He would have the self-control to avoid marriage in order to help bring about the kingdom of God.

Finally, we all become one with Christ through communion. If Christ had a wife then He became one in flesh with that wife, but this would make Christ the greatest of adulterers every time we engage in communion. Thus, the Church is Christ’s Bride because she has become one flesh with Him; Christ has a wife and she is the Church.

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I chose to write in the style of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa because (1) it allows for me to get out a quick response, (2) to post a summary of the arguments out there, (3) to give a brief retort to those arguments, and (4) because it’s a really easy style to write it.

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2 thoughts on “Did Jesus Have an Earthly Wife? (With Apologies to Thomas Aquinas, and to a lesser extent, Peter Kreeft)

  1. I especially appreciated your objection # 5, well said, easy to embrace and understand and nearly impossible to refute. Your explanation of essential quality vs. accidental quality was written so that any lay person or less educated in such things as church history or physics, could fully and appreciatively understand the meaning and then jump to its application as you intended. Very well said, argued and established Joel, thank you for laying this out in the manner in which it is written. Easy to follow, understand, grasp and accept with authority.

  2. From a mystical point of view Jesus was married. He was married to God in the way that Catholic nuns today are married to Jesus. Jesus’ Wedding did happen at the Wedding at Cana.

    As to whether Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, well he did marry her. Just as any minister marries every woman to her husband and every husband to his wife.

    The answer to both questions is, “Yes.” Jesus was married. (To God)
    Jesus did marry Mary Magdalene. (He was the officiant who married Mary to God.)

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