Long-standing tradition, Church teachings and proof from sacred scripture all attest to the fact that Jesus was not married. But there are some scholars and fiction writers who claim otherwise. Most well known among fiction books would be Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code which assigns Mary Magdalene a prominent role as Jesus’ confidante, disciple, and possibly wife.
Another case would be Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School professor who announced in 2012 that a tiny piece of papyrus was discovered that might conjecture Jesus was married. It shook the world of biblical scholarship. This fragment was written in Coptic and purportedly from the early days of Christianity. Within its short but incomplete passage, Jesus refers to a woman as "my wife." It also includes the words "Mary" and "she is able to be my disciple”.
Through her hypothesis, King wanted to highlight that even from the early days of Christianity, women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’ disciples too, and challenge the patriarchal system of the Church. From the very beginning, Christians have disagreed about whether it is better not to marry or to marry, but within the first century after Jesus’ life, Christians have validated the unmarried state as more holy by using Jesus' marital status to support their position. Since the Second Vatican Council, however, all states of life can lead to holiness, and holiness is not defined by only the unmarried state.
The highly controversial “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was debunked by a journalist, Ariel Sabar, in his article, “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife”. He later expanded it into a book, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife in 2020. Sabar is no biblical scholar, but would you believe he uncovered the forgery via ownership history? Sabar carried out a thorough vetting of the papyrus’ chain of purchase and discovered one of the owners had forged this papyrus. Later King herself publicly acknowledged the papyrus was likely a forgery.
Jesus may not have been married, nonetheless, he certainly went to a wedding. In John’s Gospel today, Jesus not only attended a wedding, but he turned water into wine at the request of Mary, his mother. Jesus probably also did it out of sympathy towards the wedding couple. In a way, through this scriptural event, Jesus supports marriage as a state of life that leads to holiness by his important presence at this wedding reception.
The miracle at Cana was the first of Jesus’ many signs where he let his glory be seen by the people. Jesus chose a wedding, of all the events of human life, to emphasise this point. He chose a wedding rather than a coming of age ceremony, death, or other social human events to manifest his divine splendour as the beginning of his earthly ministry.
God even uses the allegory of marriage in his relationship with the people of Israel in the first reading. The term “the wedded” is ascribed to the people of Israel; amongst other matrimonial designation, ie, “the Lord takes (erotic) delight in them,” “the one who built you wed you,” and “as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.” The image of husband and wife is deployed by God to highlight that the intimate and fruitful relationship of married couples mirror God’s own close relationship with His people.
St Paul, in the second reading, also specifies that the particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose. Whether married or celibate, each is called to live out one’s vocation differently according to God's purpose; all these are the calling of the same Spirit who distributes different gifts to different people in their various vocations, whether married or celibate.
Even though Jesus was unmarried, he underscored the importance of marriage for holiness. God used the metaphor of marriage for divine-human relationship to underscore the intimate relationship all of us should have with God. If this is not holiness, what else can it be?
FR FRANCIS LIM, SJ