Recently, a small piece of papyrus was found bearing the words “Jesus said to them ‘my wife, she will be able to be my disciple.’” This immediately lead to questions about what Jesus’ marital status was and what his original intentions for women’s roles within the church among biblical scholars worldwide.
The papyrus, dated about 300 AD and written in Greek is being studied thoroughly by Harvard Divinity historian Dr. Karen King. While further evidence is still needed to confirm Jesus’ marital status, it is clear that these words do indeed reference Jesus’ wife, according to Dr. King. “These words can mean nothing else,” King reportedly told the New York Times.
Absolute confirmation of Jesus’ marital status would need more authenticated sources referring to his wife.
Some theorists have suggested that Jesus must have been married, and various gospels left out of the Bible by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD seem to support this theory. The council’s task was to sort through the gospels in order to determine which of them were divinely inspired, and which were forgeries. In some cases, the forgeries are clear, such as the one stating that Jesus was not crucified, but was hanging out in heaven, chilling, and giggling while letting someone else be crucified in his place, and others that seem somewhat more plausible such as those found in the old Gnostic and Coptic traditions.
Jesus was referred to in the Bible as “Rabbi” on several occasions, and given the rarity of an unmarried rabbi, it is interesting that Jesus’ lack of a marriage would be omitted. It does lead to questions about the integrity of the Council of Nicea and its intentions.
The Council of Nicea did, however, consist of human beings. People are notoriously biased and there is a very good possibility that any mention of Jesus’ wife or women’s rights may have been omitted in an attempt to limit power to certain people. Numerous gospels which deemed unworthy made reference to women’s rights and roles within the church that would have made them equal to men. Whether the omission of these gospels was for a lack of veracity, or for more nefarious reasons remains a controversial topic to this day.
It is however, interesting to note that during Jesus’ life, women did have senior positions within the church, and only after his death were those positions rescinded. Most modern congregations do allow women senior roles within the church, however many continue to relegate them to minor positions, or no positions at all. Indeed, some groups do not allow women to speak in church at all, despite Jesus’ teachings to the contrary.
Regardless of Jesus’ marital status, this piece of paper presents questions on the church’s view of women as being less valid than men. Not only did Jesus surround himself with women, he also seemingly spoke about their value to the church and to society in general. To limit a person’s behavior based on their gender not only goes against common sense, but seems to go against Jesus’ teachings as well.