Yesterday’s announcement that Karen King is publishing an ancient Coptic text that refers to the wife of Jesus has once again opened up the question of whether Jesus was married. Let me first state for the record that I do NOT think that Jesus was ever married. What I mean is that I consider this to be more likely than the alternative. However, I don’t think that a married Jesus is entirely outside the realm of possibility.
If we limit our historical sources to those from the first century, which are undoubtedly the best candidates for any reliable information, then we will find that there is no explicit statement in either direction. No author states that Jesus was married, nor does any claim that he was single. This means that any argument about the matter will be an argument from silence.
For those who are open to the possibility of Jesus being married, there are at least two arguments from silence to consider (I find the second more intriguing):
1) Since the norm for first-century Jewish men was to be married, the silence of the NT authors implicitly points toward Jesus being married as well. Had Jesus not been married, would not at least one writer have alluded to the exceptional nature of Jesus’ singleness?
2) In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul gives instructions concerning marriage and sexual relations between spouses, apparently in response to the Corinthian church’s question about whether it was “good for a man not to touch a woman” (v. 1). He argues that husbands and wives should have sexual relations unless both agree to abstain for a short time (v. 2-5). However, for him this is a concession rather than a command (v. 6). If Paul could have his way, he would wish that all men were single, as he himself was (v. 7). He also hopes that single people and widows will remain unmarried, but recognizes that it might not be possible for everyone to do this (v. 8-9).
We’re now at the point in Paul’s argument that I find most striking for the present question. In verses 10-11, he gives instructions to married people, but he doesn’t convey his own view. Instead, he appeals to the words of Jesus. Immediately after this (v. 12), he resumes expressing his own position.
So let’s piece the argument together…
a) In 1 Cor 7:1-16, when Paul appeals to someone as a model “single” person, he appeals to himself (not Jesus).
b) This is the case even though Paul clearly has the life and words of Jesus in mind as he is writing this, as evidenced by his appeal to Jesus’ teaching about divorce.
c) If Paul knew that Jesus was single, could he not have greatly bolstered his argument in verses 6-9 for the Corinthians to remain single simply by appealing to the greatest example of all – Jesus the single man? In light of the previous point b) indicating that Paul was thinking about the person of Jesus at the time he was constructing this argument, why would Paul not appeal to this fact?
Any and all thoughts are welcome as always!