A story claiming Jesus had a wife has spread across the internet after an article published in the New York Times and other sources. The original article came from Professor Karen L. King of Harvard, writing about a fragment of fourth century CE codex. Prof. King chose to call this fragment The Gospel of Jesus’ wife.
The Daily Mail stated: ‘If genuine, the document casts doubt on a centuries-old official representation of Magdalene as a repentant whore and overturns the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence’.
The title given by Prof. King has, according to Tyndale House, generated a great deal of publicity about the article and led to ‘media distortion and spin’.
But Tyndale commended Prof. King for publishing a good photograph and ‘detailed scholarly analysis’ of the text. Tyndale’s scholars believe the cited translation to be ‘largely reliable’, but not evidence that Jesus had a wife (in fact, just as Prof. King herself stated).
However, while the Tyndale statement thinks the fragment may possibly be genuine, it also said there were ‘good reasons to be unsure’. The statement added that, as ‘we have virtually no firmly dated Coptic handwriting’, the date of fourth century CE is just an educated guess.
According to Tyndale House, the central discussion lies around a quote from the text where Jesus, in dialogue with his disciples, says ‘My wife’.
Dr Simon Gathercole, senior lecturer in New Testament at the University of Cambridge, said the fragment offers ‘a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate’.
However, he believes this is only the case if the fragment is genuine.