Did Jesus have a wife?

I have been exploring the creation and fall of man and Lucifer in this series of posts. I plan to continue but some recent headlines in newsites around the world are beckoning a side post. A professor at Harvard University has announced the discovery of a business card-sized papyrus fragment dating from the 4th Century (300’s AD). The fragment (in Coptic) contains the phrase ”Jesus said to them, ‘my wife’”. Here is a smattering of headlines about this:

“An ancient scrap of papyrus makes explicit reference to Jesus having a wife, according to a renowned expert in Christian history.” BBC

“Papyrus fragment quoting ‘wife’ of Jesus raises questions for Christianity” – The Australian

“Was Jesus married? Papyrus fragment fuels debate” – Jerusalem Post

So what are we to make of this? Is this neo-narrative of Jesus really up for consideration? Well, let’s look first at the proximity of this ‘witness’ to Jesus life. The headlines and articles tell us it is ‘ancient’ and it is at that, but is it close to the time of Jesus? The articles themselves report the date of the fragment as 4th century, putting it about 300 years after the death of Jesus. Could such a document even be close to being a ‘primary source’? Well, just two hundred years ago, the war of 1812 raged between Canada and the US. I live  in Canada and if I claimed by my own authority to have a revision of events that transpired back then and have the ‘real story’ that has been kept hidden these two hundred years by our governments bent on keeping us in the dark – would you believe me? Of course not! How could I, two hundred years after the fact have any credibility as a source to set the record straight about what happened back then? It is so ludicrous an idea that it is beyond even contemplating. So how can a source, 300 years after the fact, be headlined in websites and Harvard professors as setting the real record – hidden all these years – straight? The websites continually refer to ‘church doctrine’ as standing in dogmatic opposition to this idea (that Jesus was married). For example the BBC article states

“Christian tradition holds that Jesus did not marry – but Prof King said in early years it was subject to debate. The provocative find could spark debate over celibacy and the role of women within Christianity, she added. But the announcement sparked scepticism from some theologians. “

The Jerusalem Post article opines that

Despite the Catholic Church’s insistence that Jesus was not married, the idea resurfaces on a regular basis, notably with the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s best-seller “The Da Vinci Code,” which angered many Christians because it was based on the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children.

King (the Harvard Prof announcing the discovery) said the fragment, unveiled at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married.

AsiaOne informs us that

Contacted by AFP, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi refused to call into question King’s competence as a historian but said that “we do not really know where this little scrap of parchment came from.”

“This does not change anything in the position of the Church which rests on an enormous tradition, which is very clear and unanimous” that Jesus Christ was not married, he said.

“This changes nothing in the portrayal of Christ and the gospels. This is not an event that has any influence on Catholic doctrine,” he said.

So is this a case of ‘narrow-minded’ churchmen blindly clinging to ‘tradition and doctrine’ in the face of contrary evidence? That is the impression one gets from these statements. But in point of fact ‘church doctrine’ has nothing to do with it. The gospels were written by three eyewitnesses and one investigative reporter (the Gospel of Luke) mere decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. And they are not found today on one business card fragment. I have a reference the size of an encyclopedia book that contains the transcripts of the many manuscripts of the New Testament that exist today that come before the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). That would put all these manuscripts earlier than mid-4th century. An encyclopedia-size of extant manuscripts written by primary source eyewitnesses vs. one business card size anonymous sentence 300 years after the fact! Why is it even making any news, let alone world headlines?

Gospel of Judas

But this is just the latest twist in a bizarre drama that is sweeping the world. It reminds me of the media attention paid a few years ago with the Gospel of Judas. The BBC opening sentence (bolded) was

Judas Iscariot’s reputation as one of the most notorious villains in history has been thrown into doubt with the translation of an ancient text.

But did the Gospel of Judas have any historical credibility? Further in their article the BBC informed us it also was a ‘4th century manuscript’ so we know that it was also 300 years removed from the events of Jesus. So it was not, for example, written by the ‘real’ Judas as his version of historical events. And there is only one extant Gospel of Judas manuscript, against the many manuscripts that claim primary eye-witness source testimony. Yet the BBC article would have us believe that it ‘throws into doubt’ what really happened. And it leaves you with the impression that it is more ‘progressive’ and ‘educated’ to have this doubt whereas it is ‘doctrine’ and ‘tradition’ that keeps the ‘credulous’ within the oppressive shackles of ‘church orthodoxy’.

Da Vinci Code

Then there was the Da Vinci Code book and movie, which were based off “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” – a self-proclaimed work of investigative journalism – that concluded that Jesus went off to France with Mary Magdalene and sired a ‘secret’ bloodline there. It is not necessary to examine all the claims of these books. Some are so easy to disprove that their lack of credibility should be as apparent as the sun rising before our eyes every morning. For example, the Da Vinci Code claimed that the Roman Emperor Constantine forced a vote of church Bishops to make Jesus ‘Divine’ as the Son of God. Really? So why does the Roman historian Pliny the Younger, writing to the pagan emperor of his day in 112 AD, – 200 years before Constantine – tell him this about the Christians?

“They also declare the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery …” Letters 10.6

The arch anti-Christian Lucian, writing satire against the gospel in 170 AD tells us that

The Christians you know worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers … worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.    The Death of Peregrine 11-13

Constantine in 325AD could not influence what happened two hundred years before his time, so the controversy of the divinity of Jesus definitely was not invented by him and thus one of the main ‘historical’ claims of this whole revisionary history is shown to be smoke and mirrors. Yet it was once again mentioned with a tone of plausibility in the Jerusalem Post article above as well as with this new 4th century Coptic reference to Jesus’ ‘wife’.

We live in an age when we claim that we are scientifically inclined – less prone to believe things unless compelling rational evidence is presented. I am not so sure. I meet many who tell me that the evidence to believe in Jesus is not compelling. Fair enough. But then I find many of these same folk embracing fantasies and beliefs that are far, far less substantiated than the Gospel. Why? Probably many factors are at play. Today many of us have not bothered to develop a baseline of historical understanding about the Bible so we are not in a position to have an informed perspective on the latest headlines that will greet us.

But at even a deeper level, perhaps ‘rational evidence’ is not our main metric in determining what we will believe.  Because behind our mind stands a more difficult beast to tame – our will.  Implicit in believing the Gospel Story is following it – and that is something we instinctively and desperately fight against. The Gospel Story demands our allegiance while these neo-narrative stories merely tickle our fancies – requiring no surrender to our deeply instinctive need for autonomy.  So deep down it is whether the story is preferable, rather than rational, that often drives our beliefs.   As the man famous for his wisdom, Solomon, wrote so long ago

“This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

Why did God create a Devil?

In my last post I looked at the account of the Fall of man.  The book of Genesis records Satan (which means ‘accuser’) in the guise of a serpent orchestrating this tragedy.  But this raises an important question:  Why would God create a ‘bad’ devil (which means ‘adversary’) to corrupt His good creation?

Lucifer – The Shining One

In fact the Bible records that God actually created a powerful, intelligent, and beautiful angelic being (the chief among all angels) called Lucifer (meaning ‘Shining One’) – and that he was very good.  But Lucifer also had a will with which he could freely choose.  A passage in Isaiah 14 records the choice before him.

How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the North.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Lucifer, like Adam, had a choice.  He could accept that God was God or he could choose to decide that he would be god unto himself.  His repeated “I wills” show that he chose to defy God and declared himself to be ‘Most High’.  A passage in Ezekiel gives a parallel account of the fall of Lucifer:

You were in Eden, the garden of God.
…  I ordained and anointed you
as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
and walked among the stones of fire.
“You were blameless in all you did
from the day you were created
until the day evil was found in you.
… and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground.  (Ezekiel 28:13-17)

Lucifer’s beauty, wisdom and might – all the good things created in him by God – led him to pride.  His pride led to his rebellion and fall, but he never lost (and thus still retains) any of his power and traits.  He is leading a cosmic revolt against his Creator to see who will be God.  His strategy was to enlist mankind to join him – by tempting them to succumb to the same choice that he made – to love themselves, become autonomous from God, and defy Him.  The heart of the test of Adam’s will was the same as Lucifer’s; it was just arrayed with a different garb.  They both chose to be ‘god’ to themselves.  This was (and is) the ultimate ‘god delusion’.

Satan – working through others

The passage in Isaiah is directed to the ‘King of Babylon’ and the Ezekiel passage is addressed to the ‘King of Tyre’.  But from the descriptions given, it is obvious that no human is addressed.  The “I wills” in Isaiah describe a being who was cast to the earth in punishment for wanting to place his throne above the stars of God.  The passage in Ezekiel addresses one who is an ‘angelic guardian’ who once moved in Eden and the ‘mountain of God’.  This tendency of Satan (or Lucifer) to position himself behind or through someone else is consistent.  In the Genesis fall he speaks through the serpent.  In Isaiah he rules through the King of Babylon, and in Ezekiel he possesses the King of Tyre.

Why did Lucifer revolt against God?

But why would Lucifer want to defy and usurp the rule of the One omniscient and omnipotent Creator?  An important aspect of being ‘smart’ is to know whether or not you can defeat a potential opponent.  Lucifer may have had (and still has) power, but even his limited creature-power would have been insufficient for a successful revolt against His Creator.  So why risk all and go for something he could not win?  I would think that a ‘smart’ angel would have recognized his limitations pitted against Omniscience & Omnipotence combined – and held back his revolt? So why didn’t he? This question puzzled me for many years.

What helped me was to realize that Lucifer could only come to the conclusion that God was His omnipotent Creator by faith – the same as for us.  Let me explain.  The Bible associates the origin of angels with the first week of creation.  We see this in Isaiah 14 above, but this is consistent through the Bible.  So for example a creation passage in Job tells us:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said…
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand….
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

Picture Lucifer being created and becoming conscious sometime in creation week, somewhere in the cosmos.  All he knows is that now he exists and is self-aware, and there is also another Being who claims to have created him and all the cosmos.  But how does Lucifer know that this claim is true?  Perhaps, this alleged creator popped into existence in the cosmos just before Lucifer had popped into existence.  And because this ‘creator’ arrived earlier on the scene, so to speak, he was (perhaps) more powerful and (perhaps) more knowledgeable than he was – but then again perhaps not.  Could it be that both he and the alleged creator had both popped into existence?  Lucifer could only accept God’s Word to him that He had created Him and that God himself was eternal and infinite.  And in his pride he chose to believe the fantasy that he had birthed in his own mind.

You might think it fanciful that Lucifer would believe that both he and God (and the other angels) just ‘popped’ into existence.  But this is the same basic idea behind the latest and greatest of modern cosmology.  There was a cosmic fluctuation of nothing – and then out of this fluctuation arose the universe – that is the essence of modern atheistic cosmological speculations.  Fundamentally, everyone – from Lucifer to Richard Dawkins & Stephen Hawkings to you & I – must decide by faith whether the universe is self-contained or was brought forth and is sustained by a Creator.

In other words, seeing is not believing.  Lucifer would have seen and conversed with God.  But he still would have had to accept ‘by faith’ that God had created him.  Many people tell me that if God would just ‘appear’ to them then they would believe.  But through the Bible, many people saw and heard God – that was never the issue.  But the crux of the issue was whether they would accept and trust His Word about Himself and themselves.  From Adam & Eve, to Cain & Abel, to Noah, to the Egyptians at the first Passover, to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea all the way to those who saw the miracles of Jesus – ‘seeing’ never resulted in trust.  The fall of Lucifer is consistent with this.

What is the Devil doing today?

So God did not make a ‘bad devil’, but created a powerful and intelligent angelic being who through his pride has led a revolt against God – and in so doing was corrupted (while still retaining) his original splendor. You, I, and all of mankind have become part of the battleground in this contest between God and his ‘adversary’ (devil). The strategy on the part of the devil is not to go about in sinister black cloaks like the ‘Black Riders’ in the Lord of the Rings and put evil curses on us, but with his retained splendor he simply seeks to deceive us from the redemption that God has signaled at the beginning of time, through Abraham, through Moses, and then accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Bible says:

Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

Because Satan and his servants can masquerade as ‘light’ we are more easily tricked. This is why understanding the Gospel for ourselves is so vitally important.

Corrupted (Part 2) … missing our target

In my last post I looked at how the Bible describes us as corrupted from the original image of God that we were made in.  A visual analogy that has helped me to ‘see’ this better was the orcs of Middle Earth, corrupted from the elves.  So this is how the Bible describes us.   But from the Biblical point-of-view, how did this happen?

The Fall of Man

It is recorded in the book of Genesis of the Bible.  Shortly after being made ‘in the image of God‘ the first humans were tested.  The account records an exchange with a ‘serpent’.  The serpent has always been universally understood to be Satan – an angelic adversary to God.  Through the Bible, Satan usually confronts by speaking through another person.  In this case he spoke through a serpent.  The exchange is recorded in this way.

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-6)

The crux of their choice, and thus the temptation, was that they could ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had implicitly trusted God for everything and taken Him at His word for everything. But now they had the choice to leave that behind, become ‘like God’, trusting themselves and taking their own word for things. They could become ‘gods’ themselves, captains of their own ship, masters of their destiny, being autonomous and answerable only to themselves. Long before Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, the first humans fell for the real god delusion – that they could be ‘like God’.

In their Declaration of Independence something in our forebears changed. As the passage recounts, they felt shame and tried to cover up. In fact, just afterwards, when God confronts Adam about his breach of covenant, he blames Eve (and God who made her). She in turn blames the serpent. No one would accept responsibility.

The Fall Today

And what started that day has continued because we have inherited that same innate disposition. That is the reason why the Israelites (in the previous post) of Hosea’s day were behaving like Adam – because they (like us) had inherited his disposition. Some misunderstand the biblical account to infer that we are blamed for the rebellion of Adam. In fact, the only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of that rebellion. We can think of it genetically. We have inherited this mutinous nature of Adam and thus innately, almost unconsciously, but willfully we continue the uprising that he started. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings; captains of our own ships; autonomous from God. Bon Jovi’s chorus “It’s my life”, Frank Sinatra’s more sublime “I did it my way”, Self magazines dotting our supermarket aisles are light-hearted echoes of this desire, while Hitler’s Mein Kempf (“My Struggle”) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il (known as ‘Dear Leader’) cult of personality are much darker echoes. But they are exhibits of the trend in our nature that Adam’s rebellion started.

And this explains so much of human life that we take for granted. This is the reason that everywhere people need locks for their doors, they need police, lawyers, encryption passwords for banking – because in our current disposition we will steal from each other. This is why empires and societies all eventually decay and collapse – because the citizens in all these empires have a tendency to decay. This is why after trying all forms of government and economic systems, and though some work better than others, every political or economic system seems eventually to collapse on itself – because the people living these ideologies are dogged by tendencies which eventually drag the whole system down. This is why no religion has fully brought about the vision for their society – but neither have the atheistic ones (think of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia) – because something about the way we are tends to make us miss our vision.

Sin is ‘miss’

In fact, that word ‘miss’ pretty much sums up our situation. A verse from the Old Testament gives a picture that has helped me understand this better. It says

Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)

This verse describes soldiers who were experts at using slingshots and would never miss. The word in Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא׃ (pronounced Khaw-taw). What is so interesting, is that this same Hebrew word is also translated to sin across most of the Old Testament. For example, this same Hebrew word is ‘sin’ when Joseph, sold as a slave to Egypt, would not commit adultery with his master’s wife, even though she begged him. He said to her:

No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9)

And just after the giving of the Ten Commandments it says:

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)

In both these places it is the same Hebrew word יַחֲטִֽא׃ that is translated ‘sin’. It is exactly the same word for ‘miss’ with soldiers that sling stones at targets as in these verses which means ‘sin’ when dealing with people’s treatments of each other. This provides a picture to help us understand what ‘sin’ is. The soldier takes a stone and slings it to hit the target. If it misses it has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in God’s image to hit the target about how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us, and which we in our various systems, religions and ideologies also intend for ourselves.

This corrupted and missed-the-target picture is not pretty, it is not feel-good, nor is it optimistic.  Over the years I have had people react strongly against this particular biblical teaching.  I remember one grad student looking at me with daggers in her eyes saying, “I don’t believe you because I do not like what you are saying”.  Now I find that rather curious.  What does ‘liking’ something have anything to do with whether it is true or not?  I do not like taxes, wars, AIDS and earthquakes – I doubt anyone does – but that does not make them go away, and neither can I ignore any of them.  All the systems of law, police, locks, keys, security etc. that we have built in our society and take for granted to protect ourselves from each other does suggest that something is wrong.  At the very least, this doctrine deserves to be considered in an even-handed way.

But this doctrine of the Fall raises a couple of questions.  For starters, why did God create an evil devil ready to tempt mankind into the Fall.  Secondly, if God is omniscient He would have known the Fall and ensuing corruption was going to happen when he first made mankind ‘in his image’.  So knowing the fall was going to happen, why would He still go through with it?  Finally, what has He done in response to the calamity of the Fall?  We start by tackling the first question next post.

…But Corrupted (Part 1 – like orcs of Middle-earth)

In my last post I looked at the biblical foundation for how we should see ourselves and others – that we are made in the image of God. But the Bible develops further on this foundation. The Psalms are a collection of sacred songs and poems used by the Old Testament Hebrews in their worship. Psalm 14 was written by King David ca 1000 B.C. and records the state-of-affairs from God’s point of view.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The phrase ‘become corrupt’ is used to describe the entire human race. Since it is something we have ‘become’ the corruption is in reference to that initial state of being in the ‘image of God’. This passage says that the corruption demonstrates itself in a determined independence from God (‘all’ have ‘turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Corrupted – Thinking Elves and Orcs

Orcs were hideous in so many ways. But they were simply corrupt descendants of elves

To better understand this think of the orcs of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings as an illustration. Orcs are hideous creatures in appearance, conduct, and in their treatment of the earth. Yet orcs are descended from elves that had become corrupted by Sauron. When you see the stately majesty, harmony and relationship with nature that elves had (think of Legalos and the elves of Lothlorien) and realize that the depraved orcs were once elves who have ‘become corrupt’ you will

The elves were noble and majestic

get a sense of what is said here about people. God intended elves but what he found was orcs.

This fits exactly with what we noted as a universal tendency among all people in Session Two – that no one lives according to their moral grammar of right and wrong. So here we arrive at a perspective that is very instructive: The biblical starting point of people as sentient, personal, and moral, but then also corrupt, fits with what we observe about ourselves. It is shrewdly spot-on in its assessment of people, recognizing an intrinsic moral nature within us that can easily be overlooked since our actions never actually match what this nature demands of us – because of this corruption. The biblical shoe fits the human foot. However, it raises an obvious question: why did God make us this way – with a moral grammar and yet corrupted from it? As Christopher Hitchens complains:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But this is where in his haste to vent on the Bible that he misses something very important. The Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible has happened since the initial creation to bring about this difficult state-of-affairs. An important event happened in human history subsequent to our creation. The first humans defied God, as recorded in Genesis, and in their defiance they changed and were corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This landmark event in human history is often called The Fall. And we can perhaps understand it better if we think through what Adam faced in his relationship with God when he was created. To give us some further insight we turn to a mid-8th century BC, Old Testament prophet Hosea. As he recounts in his book, his wife had repeatedly cheated on him and run off in a string of affairs. In the midst of his pain and betrayal God commanded him to go and find his wife, reconcile with her, and win her back. Then this episode is used as a picture to show how, in God’s eyes, the Israelites at that time were like the cheating spouse, but God, like Hosea, was willing to reconcile if they would only come clean and come back to Him. In that plea comes a comparison to Adam:

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD.  “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. … I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.  I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust. (Hosea 6:4-7)

In other words, what the Israelites of Hosea’s day were doing was continuing what Adam, the first man, had started. There had been an agreement between God and Adam, similar to a marital contract of faithfulness, and Adam violated it. The book of Genesis records that Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There had been a covenant or agreement between God and Adam that he would not eat from that tree – all others were available for him. It was not that there was anything special in the tree itself, but its presence gave Adam a free choice as to whether to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created as a sentient person, who was both made and placed into friendship with God at the same moment. Adam had no choice regarding his creation, but God gave him the opportunity to choose concerning his friendship with God, and this choice was centered on the command not to eat from that one tree. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be given in the context of a viable alternative, and thus Adam was given a choice as to whether he would remain faithful in his agreement to God or not. We look more closely at this account – and how & in what way we ‘miss the mark’ in the next post.