In this essay prepared as part of his theology studies, Daniel Gullotta, takes a look at the controversy, largely stirred up recently, by a number of films over Jesus' alleged marriage to Mary Magdalene…
In recent times, claims of a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene have caught the attention of many. Ever since the popularity of Dan's Brown the 'Da Vinci Code', everyone it seems, has an opinion on the topic no matter what their academic background or previous education on the subject. Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene has always caught a certain amount of interest it would seem, both past and present, with controversial works like 'The Last Temptation of Christ' and James Cameron's 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus'.
Yet the question remains, was Jesus really married and if so does this change our faith or even Jesus' divinity. Why is it so important to know and what difference does it make? While many claim that this marriage was a cover up and later a church conspiracy, many scholars have sought to seek more reliable answers on the topic. This essay will look over the claims, along with the historical evidence for and against the claims. It will also list possible reasons for Jesus' celibacy and conclude without a doubt that Jesus wasn't married.
The lack of evidence from Scripture…
First we must ask the question, is it possible for Jesus to be married and even more so, married to Mary Magdalene? Being a first century marginal Jew from Palestine, it is very likely Jesus was married at a young age and by the time of his ministry (at approximately 30 years of age) he would had a child, if not even children. Virtually every Jewish man in Jesus' day did marry, especially those who were considered to be Rabbis, in order to keep the family business, name and honour.
Marriage in first century Judaism was seen as a holy and sacred thing — a way of praising God for the mysterious bond between man and woman and the love which came from them. It also was a way of business for the family, such as marrying a daughter into a rich family. While it would have been odd for Jesus to remain single with such cultural, religious and family influences, we must remember that Jesus was not required by law — either governmental or religious — to marry.
While he was a normal Jew in many ways Jesus did teach, preach and practice many unusual things, especially when it came to women. During his ministry, Jesus developed close relationships with many women, some of the named women include Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Mary and Martha, all of which helped and supported Jesus, some even financially.
It is true that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a close relationship, but marriage? According to the Christian Scriptures, The Gospels state that Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, and had seven demons removed from her (Luke 8:2) and that she supported him out of her own means, leaving many scholars with the thought that she was wealthy (Luke 8:1-3). She is also among the women who witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:40) and after the crucifixion she was the first, or among the first, to discover the empty tomb. Traditionally she is reputed to have earned the title the 'apostle to the apostles' as it was her that Jesus commissioned to go tell the apostles about the good news of his resurrection (John 20:1-18). Over the centuries, the Church has linked her to the prostitute Mary who anointed the head and feet of Jesus (Luke 7:36-50), making her the model of repentance. Modern scholarship, however, disputes this and sees it as a poor connection. It is clear that the Scriptures hold no evidence to support a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
While one might think that a 'married Jesus' would have been an embarrassment to the early church, one could not be more wrong. If Jesus did have a wife she would have been a celebrated figure and given a title of great honour, she would also have executed a great amount of authority within the early church. This is clear because Jesus' brothers and sisters held such positions during the early church. A prime example of this is James, the brother of Jesus, being made the first bishop of the church. As well as this Paul, when talking about marriage in his first letters to the Corinthians, argues "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas (Peter)?" If Paul is arguing the right to take a believing wife, wouldn't now be a good moment to state something like "As Jesus our Lord did" or any other time Paul mentions marriage? In the Christians Scriptures there is no evidence to support the theory that Jesus was married.
What evidence is there from non-canonical scriptural sources?
As there is clearly no evidence of a married Jesus within the canonical gospels, the next question we raise is there any evidence of a married Jesus within the non-canonical 'gospels'? Sadly most people have little or no education on these texts and have no idea about the dates of these texts, presuming them to be written at the same time as the other gospels. This is simply not true as we know that these so-called gospels were written in the second century and beyond. Most notable of these texts is "The Gospel of Mary", in which Mary Magdalene is depicted as having special knowledge of Jesus. Because of this she is blessed with great wisdom, even more so than the other apostles. The text portrays Jesus as loving Mary more then the others, and there are a few examples of this:
Peter said to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Saviour loved you more than other women." …The Gospel of Mary, Section 15
Then Peter asked, "Did he really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" But Levi speaks up for Mary, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us." …The Gospel of Mary, Section 18
Despite what some might think from reading such texts as these, or the whole Gospel of Mary, there is nothing here to suggest that Jesus and Mary were married. Jesus' love for Mary leads him to reveal special truth to her, not to take her as his wife. In other texts such as The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Phillip and The Gospel of Thomas (Go Google and read the texts for yourselves if you wish), the dialogue may change and the narratives may differ but the end result is always the same. They portray Mary just as she is in the gospels, as a disciple of Jesus, not his wife.
Earlier this year we saw the release of the documentary, 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus' produced by James Cameron and starring investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici. The controversial film theorized that the Talipot Tomb, located five kilometres south of the Old City of Jerusalem, was the burial place of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The argument followed that the ossuaries discovered included his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their hidden son, Judah 7. Ian Elmer has advanced strong arguments debunking these claims in an earlier commentary on Catholica. It is clear that this idea of a secret holy family of Jesus is as outlandish and ludicrous as the evidence used in their argument.
While it is clear that Jesus wasn't married it isn't clear why
While it is clear that Jesus wasn't married it isn't clear why. Why did he not do what was common for a Jewish man in his time of history to do? The Christian Scriptures do not address this issue directly and all the suggested motives behind Jesus' celibacy, both theological and historical, are merely speculation. Some of the most popular views include…
While I do have my agreements with the problem facing a divine Jesus, marrying and fathering with a mortal Mary Magdalene, for me Jesus ultimately chooses to be celibate "for the sake of the Kingdom of God". Jesus chose to devote his whole life to proclaiming God's kingdom, so much that he gave up such responsibilities like marriage and parenting, focusing on God's call for his life. In Jesus' own words, the kingdom of God calls some people, including Jesus Himself, to a wholehearted commitment and investment that precludes getting married. To Jesus his life's goal was not to simply marry, have a family and work for the rest of his life, Jesus' mission was to call people to repentance and bring about the kingdom of God within people's lives. Yet it is true that Jesus and Mary shared a very special relationship. Mary was a close follower and friend of Jesus, who accompanied him on his journeys, helped to support him financially, and learned from him. She remained by his side in his suffering and death on the cross when his male disciples fell away, but most amazingly was the first to see him after the resurrection, and was the first person in history to announce to others the good news that Jesus is risen. I am positive that Mary held, and even still holds a special place in his heart, not his bed.
Who, then, is the "bride" of Christ…
But if not Mary, who then is this bride of Christ the scriptures continue to speak about? In the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of when Jesus is preaching and afterwards he is approached by his family and the crowd tell him that they are there to see him and take him home. Jesus responds asking, "Who are my mother and brothers?" Yet amazingly, he doesn't look over to his natural family but rather, he looks and points out his disciples, saying: "Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:33-35). While some would wish to tie Mary Magdalene's relationship to Jesus as merely her filling the role of the wife, they overlook the intimacy she experienced through Jesus' compassion, healing, learning, understanding and love, all of which she experienced as a disciple.
The same intimacy and love we experience with Jesus compels us as well to join Christ as his disciples and as disciples of Christ. We are, together, the true and only bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33).
What are your thoughts on this commentary?