NOTE: This article is a slightly edited version of a chapter in the authorís book A Ready Reply (Horizon Publishers, 1994).

WAS JESUS MARRIED?

Michael T. Griffith

1994

@All Rights Reserved

Several early LDS leaders, including Brigham Young, expressed the opinion that Jesus was married. Anti-Mormons not only reject this view, but they consider it to be evidence that those leaders were not inspired. However, a good case can be made that Christ was in fact married.

From an LDS perspective, it makes sense that Jesus was married. Marriage is a divine command. It is doubtful that He did not comply with it. Eternal marriage is a necessary step in a man's exaltation. The Lord fulfilled all of the other gospel laws; it is logical to believe that He fulfilled this one as well. The Savior was our example in all righteous things. Marriage sealed by the power of the priesthood, besides being a commandment, is beautiful and holy in the sight of God. Therefore, since Jesus came to be the ultimate example for us, it is reasonable to conclude that He was married.

Non-Mormon Support

The idea that Jesus was married is not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Some Bible scholars and historians have also supported this view. For example, Protestant scholar William E. Phipps wrote an entire book arguing that the Savior was married. The book is entitled Was Jesus Married? In it, he presents scriptural and historical evidence that Christ was married. He also cites other scholars who believe or suspect that Jesus was married.

During a radio debate on the subject in 1981, Dr. Malachi Martin, a Catholic scholar and a former member of the Vatican's Pontifical Institute, "conceded that there was ultimately no real theological objection to a married Jesus" (Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln 17).

A Father's Duty

Ancient Judaism identified five principal responsibilities of a father to his son, one of which was to arrange his marriage (Moore 2:127; Phipps 1973:39). I quote Phipps:

The last of the five duties laid down for a Jewish father was that of arranging a marriage for his son. . . . Around the time when a son was physically mature his father made a betrothal agreement with the guardian of an eligible girl. To delay this more than a decade beyond puberty was forbidden, and there is no definite indication of violators in any of the sects of ancient Judaism. Hillel and Shammai [two famous ancient rabbis], though differing on many points of scriptural interpretation, were united in affirming that no righteous man can abstain from keeping God's first command, "Be fruitful and multiply." (1973:44)

It is significant that no ancient Jewish writer accused Jesus' earthly father, Joseph, of failing to fulfill his five principal duties toward his son. If Joseph had failed in meeting any one of those responsibilities, Jewish critics surely would have used this against both him and his son. That ancient Jewish critics were silent on this point indicates that Joseph fulfilled each of the five obligations, including that of arranging his son's marriage.

Celibacy in Ancient Judaism

Some scholars contend that celibacy--the state of being unmarried--was not viewed negatively in ancient Judaism. In arguing for a celibate Jesus, Bible scholar Jane Schaberg writes,

Celibacy was unusual, but not unknown or denigrated in Judaism of the first century. . . : witness the descriptions of the lifestyles of the people of Qumran [Essenes] and of the Therapeutae (a first-century B.C.E. [=BC] Jewish monastic group in Egypt). (47)

However, the evidence does not seem to sustain this view. As noted, Phipps contends that "there is no definite indication of violators [of the command to marry] in any of the sects of ancient Judaism" (1973:44). Paul Achtemeier and Lawrence Schiffman discuss the alleged celibacy of various Jewish groups, including the Essenes at Qumran and elsewhere:

Some of sectarians of the Second Commonwealth period, including the Essenes, practiced celibacy by separating from their wives after fulfilling the commandment of procreation. While, according to many scholars, members of the Dead Sea sect appear to have been celibate, they also seem to have been married, and a marriage ritual is presented in their scrolls. (In Achtemeier 1985:609)

Jewish author Trude Weiss-Rosmarin discusses Judaism's views on celibacy and marriage in both ancient and modern times:

To the Jew celibacy is not only unnatural but definitely contrary to the will of God Who commanded man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and Who created the earth "not a waste; He formed it to be inhabited" (Isaiah 45:18). Marriage, therefore, is not a necessary evil but the joyful consummation of human destiny. . . . The Jews never doubted its legitimacy, for, according to the Rabbis, he who is unmarried lives "without joy, without blessing, without goodness" (Yebamoth 62b). Apart, man and woman are incomplete for "the human being is man and his wife." (69-70)

And Rabbi Abba Silver observed:

The renunciation of normal sex life was never regarded as a virtue in Judaism. This is one of the marked differences which distinguishes Judaism from most of the classic religions of mankind. (In Phipps 1973:15)

One late-first-century Jewish writer even compared deliberate celibacy with murder, "and he does not seem to have been alone in this attitude" (Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln 330). And, as mentioned, one of the five primary responsibilities of the ancient Jewish father to his son was to arrange for him to be married.

A Revealing Silence

The New Testament does not explicitly take a position on Jesus' marital status. There is no statement therein to the effect that He was married, and there is no statement to the effect that He was not. This silence in itself suggests that He was married. In the Palestinian Jewish culture of Christ's day, marriage was the norm, and celibacy was viewed as unusual, if not wrong. After discussing this fact, non-Mormon scholar Charles Davis observes the following:

Granted the cultural background as witnessed . . . it is highly improbable that Jesus was not married well before the beginning of his public ministry. If he had insisted on celibacy, it would have created a stir, a reaction which would have left some trace. So, the lack of mention of Jesus' marriage in the Gospels is a strong argument not against but for the hypothesis of marriage, because any practice or advocacy of voluntary celibacy would in the Jewish context of the time have been so unusual as to have attracted much attention and comment. (In Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln 331)

Phipps agrees:

According to Semitic tradition it was as obligatory for a father to find a wife for his son as to teach him and circumcise him. Hence, even if there were no reference in the Gospels to Jesus's circumcision, it would be wrong to conclude that his father neglected or rejected that duty. Just as the Koran does not mention circumcision and takes the obligation of marriage for granted, so the Gospels do not mention the circumcision or marriage of most of the men who are discussed in it. This is due to the fact that those social institutions were practiced in a thoroughgoing manner in the Semitic culture. Deviations from normative behavior are more likely to be remembered and thus lodged in oral and written traditions, so it makes sense to assume that Jesus and his apostles were all circumcised and married. (1973:44-45)

Non-Mormon scholars Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln likewise concur:

If Jesus was not married, this fact would have been glaringly conspicuous. It would have drawn attention to itself and been used to characterize and identify him. It would have set him apart, in some significant sense, from his contemporaries. If this were the case, surely at least one of the Gospel accounts would make some mention of so marked a deviation from custom? If Jesus were indeed as celibate as later tradition claims, it is extraordinary that there is no reference to any such celibacy. The absence of any such reference strongly suggests that Jesus, as far as the question of celibacy was concerned, conformed to the conventions of his time and culture--suggests, in short, that he was married. (331)

Jesus as a Rabbi or Teacher

Some scholars suggest that the Savior underwent formal rabbinic training and may have even been ordained as a rabbi. This suggestion cannot be casually dismissed, since there is credible evidence to support it (see, for example, Phipps 1973:37-50). In fact, the Gospels frequently apply the title of "Rabbi" to the Savior. Note Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln,

It is possible, of course, that this term is employed in its broadest sense, meaning simply a self-appointed teacher. But Jesus' literacy--his display of knowledge to the elders in the temple, for example--strongly suggests that he was more than a self-appointed teacher. It suggests that he underwent some species of formal rabbinical training and was officially recognized as a rabbi. This would conform to tradition, which depicts Jesus as a rabbi in the strict sense of the word. (331)

Several early Mormon leaders were Protestant ministers before joining the Church, and the apostle Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion. It is not inconceivable that Jesus may have underwent rabbinic training and even been a rabbi before starting His Messianic ministry. Personally, I doubt that Christ was a rabbi, but I cannot categorically reject this possibility either. If Jesus was a rabbi, this fact alone would indicate He was married. Perhaps Jesus received rabbinic training but was not formally ordained. Or, perhaps the people viewed Him as a rabbi even though He had not been ordained as one.

In any case, there is no doubt that Christ presented Himself as an inspired religious teacher. As such, He would have been expected to be married. According to an ancient Jewish text, the Mishnah, an unmarried man "may not be a teacher" (Kiddushim 4, 13; Phipps 1973:45).1 Phipps has more to say on this point:

After a Jewish man became adept at Torah instruction, skilled at a craft, and successfully married, he was, according to the Sayings of the Fathers, "fit at thirty for authority." If he desired to instruct others the last qualification [i.e., marriage] was stressed. . . . In a recent study, Schalom Ben-Chorin of Jerusalem argues that Jesus married because an unmarried teacher was unimaginable in the culture in which he participated. We know nothing about the wives of Hillel, Shammai . . . and many other notable men of that era and culture, Ben-Chorin admits, but had they been unmarried, surely their opponents would have pointed to their violation of sacred duty as a basis for criticism. (1973:45)

The Wedding at Cana

Several early Mormon leaders suggested that the wedding at Cana was Christ's own wedding. A number of non-Mormon scholars have studied the wedding account as it is recorded in John 2:1-12 and have reached the same conclusion. For example, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln say, "In the Fourth Gospel there is an episode related to a marriage that may, in fact, have been Jesus' own" (331).

There are indeed elements in the wedding account that suggest it may have been the Savior's wedding. For instance, scholars have noted that Mary behaved as if she was the hostess. Also, the fact that Mary asked Christ to replenish the wine indicates He was responsible for the catering, which in turn suggests He was the bridegroom. Furthermore, after the "governor of the feast" tasted the replenished wine, he addressed "the bridegroom," saying, "thou has kept the good wine until now" (John 2:9-10). Since Jesus had just replenished the wine, the obvious and logical implication is that He was the one being spoken to and hence the bridegroom. Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln observe, "These [the governor's] words clearly seem to be addressed to Jesus" (332-333).

On the other hand, there really is not enough information in John 2 to reach a firm conclusion.There are other explanations for John 2, although the theory that the wedding was Christís canít be ruled out.

Was Mary Magdalene Jesus' Wife?

A number of early Mormon leaders entertained the idea that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife. Several non-Mormon scholars have likewise suggested that Christ and Mary were married. Before discussing this matter further, mention should be made of the erroneous tradition that Mary was a prostitute. This tradition was introduced long after the New Testament was written, and there is not the slightest bit of evidence in the Gospels to support it. No credible modern New Testament scholar believes that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, or that she should be identified with the sinful woman in Luke 7.

Interestingly, an ancient Gnostic Christian text identifies Mary as the Savior's "intimate companion." This status seems to be supported in the Gospels:

. . . it is clear that the Magdalen, by the end of Jesus' ministry, had become a figure of immense significance. In the three Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] her name consistently heads the list of women who followed Jesus, just as Simon Peter heads the list of male disciples. And, of course, she was the first witness to the empty tomb following the crucifixion. Among all his devotees it was to the Magdalen that Jesus first chose to reveal his Resurrection.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus treats the Magdalen in a unique and preferential manner. (Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln 334)

N. Lee Smith of the University of Utah succinctly discusses some of the New Testament indications that Mary was Jesus' wife:

When Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus after his resurrection, she said "Rabboni," an Aramaic term sometimes reserved for one's husband (John 20:1-18). The constant traveling of Mary with him, her vigil at the cross and presence when he was taken down, her coming to anoint his body with spices, his tender appearance first to her after the resurrection . . . and her central role in the following events, all suggest that Mary was his wife. (46-47)

Conclusion

While the Bible does not explicitly teach that Christ was married, it does provide a great deal of circumstantial evidence to this effect. It is not credible to reject the prophetic calling of Brigham Young and other early LDS leaders simply because they believed Jesus was married.

-----------------------------------

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Michael T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.

 

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††††††††††† -----.MORMONISM AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY.Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company and F.A.R.M.S., 1987.

 

††††††††††† -----.SINCE CUMORAH.Second Edition.Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1988.

 

††††††††††† -----.THE PROPHETIC BOOK OF MORMON.Salt Lake City, Utah:Deseret Book Company and F.A.R.M.S., 1989. 1-48.

 

††††††††††† -----."Treasures in the Heavens."In Truman Madsen, editor, NIBLEY ON THE TIMELY AND THE TIMELESS.Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978. 49-84.

 

††††††††††† -----."What Is A Temple?"In Truman Madsen, editor, THE TEMPLE IN ANTIQUITY.Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1984b. 19-38.

 

††††††††††† Norman, Keith."Divinization: The Forgotten Teaching of Early Christianity."In SUNSTONE, Winter 1975. 15-19.

 

††††††††††† -----."Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity."In BYU STUDIES, volume 17, number 3, Spring 1977. 291-318.

 

††††††††††† Norris, Richard A., editor.THE CHRISTOLOGICAL CONTROVERSY.Sources of Early Christian Thought.Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1980.

 

††††††††††† Olin, John C., editor.A REFORMATION DEBATE.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976, reprint.

 

††††††††††† Ostler, Blake."Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity."In BYU STUDIES, Winter 1982. 31-45.

 

††††††††††† Overholt, Thomas W."Jeremiah."In James L. Mays, general editor, HARPER'S BIBLE COMMENTARY.San Francisco, California: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988. 597-645.

 

††††††††††† Pagels, Elaine.THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

 

††††††††††† Parrot, Douglas M."Gnostic and Orthodox Disciples in the Second and Third Centuries."In Charles Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, editors, NAG HAMMADI, GNOSTICISM, AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986. 193-219.

 

††††††††††† Paulsen, David."Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity:Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses."In HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW, volume 83, number 2, 1990. 105-116.

 

††††††††††† Peterson, Daniel C."Does the Qur'an Teach Creation EX NIHILO?", in John Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks,

editors, BY STUDY AND ALSO BY FAITH.Volume 1.Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company and F.A.R.M.S.,

1990. 584-591.

 

††††††††††† -----, and Stephen D. Ricks.OFFENDERS FOR A WORD: HOW ANTI-MORMONS PLAY WORD GAMES TO ATTACK THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS.Salt Lake City, Utah: Aspen Books, 1992.

†††††††††††

††††††††††† Prestige, G.L.GOD IN PATRISTIC THOUGHT.Second Edition.London: Society for the Propogation of Christian Knowledge, 1952.

 

††††††††††† Price, James L."The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians."In Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1971. 795-812.

 

††††††††††† Quasten, Johannes.PATROLOGY.3 Volumes.Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, Inc., 1990, reprint of 1950 edition.

 

††††††††††† Reicke, Bo.THE EPISTLES OF JAMES, JUDE, AND PETER.Second Edition.The Anchor Bible.Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1982.

 

††††††††††† Reynolds, George and Janne M. Sjodahl.COMMENTARY ON THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE.Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1974.

 

††††††††††† Rich, Russell B.ENSIGN TO THE NATIONS: A HISTORY OF THE LDS CHURCH FROM 1846 TO 1972.Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, 1972.

 

††††††††††† Richards, LeGrand.A MARVELOUS WORK AND A WONDER.Revised and Enlarged Edition.Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1976.

 

††††††††††† Richardson, Cyril C., editor.EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS.New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1970.

 

††††††††††† Riley, Hugh M.CHRISTIAN INITIATION.Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1974.

 

††††††††††† Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson et al, editors and translators.THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS.Ten Volumes.Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980-1985, reprint of American Edition, 1869-1873.The original edition consisted of only nine volumes; volume 10 is an added volume edited by Allan Menzies.

 

††††††††††† Roberts, B.H.THE LORD'S DAY.Missionary Pamphlet. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1974, reprint.

 

††††††††††† Robinson, H. Wheeler."The Council of Yahweh."In the JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, volume 45, 1944. 151-157.

 

††††††††††† Robinson, Stephen E.ARE MORMONS CHRISTIANS?Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, Inc., 1991.

 

††††††††††† Rusch, William G.THE TRINITARIAN CONTROVERSY.Sources of Early Christian Thought.Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1980.

 

††††††††††† Russel, Jeffrey Burton.SATAN: THE EARLY CHRISTIAN TRADITION.Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981.

 

††††††††††† Scharffs, Gilbert.THE TRUTH ABOUT "THE GODMAKERS."Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1986.

 

††††††††††† Seaich, Eugene.ANCIENT TEXTS AND MORMONISM.Sandy, Utah: Mormon Miscellaneous, 1983.

 

††††††††††† -----."Did the Freemasons Copy Their Ritual from the Mormons?"Sandy, Utah: Unpublished paper, 1984, copy in my possession.

†††††††††††

††††††††††† -----.MORMONISM, THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, AND THE NAG HAMMADI TEXTS.Murray, Utah: Sounds of Zion Publishing, 1980.

 

††††††††††† Smith, Morton.JESUS THE MAGICIAN.San Francisco, California: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978.

 

††††††††††† Smith, Robert F."Satan: Notes on the Gods."December 1992 Draft, copy in my possession.

 

††††††††††† Snyder, Graydon.ANTE-PACEM: ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE OF CHURCH LIFE BEFORE CONSTANTINE.Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1985.

 

††††††††††† Sparks, Jack N., editor.THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS.Nashville,Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1978.

 

††††††††††† Stadelmann, Luis.THE HEBREW CONCEPTION OF THE WORLD (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970).

 

††††††††††† Sundberg, Albert C."The Making of the New Testament Canon."In †††††† Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon

Press, 1971. 1216-1224.

 

††††††††††† Talmage, James E.JESUS THE CHRIST.Thirty-Fourth Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1962.

 

††††††††††† -----.THE ARTICLES OF FAITH, Forty-Second Edition.Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-day Saints, 1976.

 

††††††††††† Thompson, Claude Holmes."The Book of Jude."In Charles Laymon, editor, THE INTERPRETER'S ONE-VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE.Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1971. 942-944.

 

††††††††††† Turner, Rodney."The Doctrine of Godhood in the New Testament."In PRINCIPLES OF THE GOSPEL IN PRACTICE. 1985 Sperry Symposium.Salt Lake City, Utah: Randall

Book Company, 1985. 21-38.

 

††††††††††† Tvedtnes, John.THE CHURCH OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.Second Edition.Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980.

 

††††††††††† Tzaferis, Vassilios."Crucifixion--The Archaeological Evidence."In BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW, January/February 1985. 49-53.

 

††††††††††† Vestal, Kirk Holland, and Arthur Wallace.THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF MORMONISM.Los Angeles, California: LL Books, 1981.

 

††††††††††† Vine, W.E.VINE'S EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS.4 Volumes.Westwood, New Jersey: Barbour and Company, Inc., reprint of 1952 edition, with the four volumes combined into one volume.

 

††††††††††† Wellnitz, Marcus Von."The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple."In BYU STUDIES, Winter 1981. 3-35.

Westcott, Brooke Foss.THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979, reprint.

 

††††††††††† White, James."Mormon Scholars Defend Their Church: A Review and Rebuttal of Offenders for a Word."In PROS APOLOGIAN, Spring †††† 1993. 1-9.This article and the one cited below both appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of PROS APOLOGIAN.

 

††††††††††† -----."Hugh Nibley, The Universal Apostasy, And the Gates of Hades."In PROS APOLOGIAN, Spring 1993. 10-12.

 

††††††††††† Wilken, Robert.THE CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM.London: Yale University Press, 1984.

 

††††††††††† Winston, David."Creation EX NIHILO Revisited."In the JOURNAL OF JEWISH STUDIES, volume 37, Spring 1986. 88-91.

 

††††††††††† Woodrow, Ralph.BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION.Riverside, California: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1981.