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
@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.
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
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
Some of sectarians of the
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
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)
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
The Wedding at
Several early Mormon leaders suggested that the
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
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)
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
††††††††††† Achtemeier, Paul, editor.† HARPER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY.
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