Was Jesus Married or Not?

An enigma that has been explored repeatedly over the years, both in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in Christianity more broadly, is the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth. There is little to reliably indicate either way in the established canon of the New Testament, but that hadn’t stopped people from discussing the topic. And in organizations like the Church that emphasize marriage, there are some theological reasons to want to say that he was indeed a married man.  In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, Christopher Blythe discussed the issue in connection with a recent article published in BYU Studies. What follows here is a copost to that interview.

In addressing how Latter-day Saints have approached the question “was Jesus married?” over the years, Blythe described how it has shifted within the Church.

It’s a little more complicated when you talk about whether Jesus was married.

Historically, the question has gone through an evolutionary process:

  1. First, there was a wide consensus among Latter-day Saints that Jesus was married.
  2. Then, there was a wide consensus that he was married (but we should not speak about it).
  3. And finally, it was thought that the answer is unknowable and individual Latter-day Saints might take either position.

For me, this essay belongs in the book because it shows that even when a doctrine is privately held by general authorities, that does not mean it’s is an “official” doctrine of the Church. After all, how can a doctrine be official if it should not be discussed?

It’s a good point that official doctrine is not always based on everything general authorities have said, with this being a clear example of an area that the Church does not have a position on, but on which General Authorities have expressed their views.  He added that:

So far as I have been able to find, no general authority has suggested that the Savior was not married. Instead, there has been an emphasis in official and apologetic writings that this has not been revealed to us.

That being said, there has been some discussion of the subject that led to the “wide consensus among Latter-day Saints that Jesus was married,” particularly early on.  For example:

Brigham Young seems to have first suggested that Jesus was married in 1847. He told his listeners that the scene of Mary washing the Savior’s feet was exactly like how other women would come meet their husbands after the resurrection. This idea of the unification of wife and husband at the resurrection (as well as other family members) was a recurring element in the sermons of Brigham Young. And before him, the discourses of Joseph Smith.

Hence, it is viewed as a subject that has not been definitively answered as things stand.

Why does this topic get coverage more broadly outside of the Church?  Blythe brought up a few reasons that he sees:

It’s a fascinating question tied into larger puzzles about the “historical Jesus.” I think questions of Jesus’ marital status have been provoked by the discovery of the Gospel of Philip in 1945. As you might remember, Philip included a much debated, incomplete, and enigmatic passage about Jesus kissing Mary.

In the 1980s, speculative history works such as Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln’s, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail inspired additional interest in the topic. Of course, a similar argument drawing on the pseudo history of Holy Blood and Holy Grail and the passage from the Gospel of Philip provide the backbone for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

More recently, a forged manuscript nicknamed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife brought more attention to the subject.

A recent book about the forgery by Ariel Sabar entitled Veritas makes an interesting argument that the subject receives so much attention because of Roman Catholicism’s emphasis on celibacy. While I do not think anyone can know about Jesus’ marital status without associated claims of revelation, I must admit the discussion has always fascinated me since I first picked up Holy Blood and Holy Grail as a high school student.

Statements in artifacts (authentic or forged) that allude to romantic interest in Jesus’s life, popular books sharing theories on the topic, and theological implications for major religious organizations all play into the interest around the issue of Jesus’s marital status.  (As an aside, at least one author has pointed out similarities between the “discovery” of the alleged Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the introduction of Mark Hofmann’s forgeries, adding another area of discussion for interested Latter-day Saints.)

Now, there have been a number of suggestions of reasons for why Jesus could have been married.  One is that for Latter-day Saints, marriage is necessary for exaltation, so if Jesus is the example of an exalted being then he would logically be married.  Another is that the Hebrew culture of Jesus’ time would have expected Him to have been married.  When asked about the latter point, however, Blythe responded that:

I’m not a scholar of ancient Hebrew culture. However, this has been a traditional argument in favor of Jesus having been married. Later scholars in the church, such as Trevan Hatch, have noted that there was a tradition of mystics and others who were celibate.

I will say that I was surprised when I started studying about early Christianity at just how much literature there was that indicated that a celibate lifestyle was the ideal, with stories about Thecla (a female convert featured in stories about Paul’s ministry) or Thomas the Apostle in India preaching and modeling celibate lifestyles being a couple major examples.  So, from a historical standpoint, there is a distinct possibility that Jesus may not have been married.

In any case, we don’t really know whether Jesus was married or not.  But, there is more of the interview with Christopher Blythe over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, so feel free to head on over to read it in full.

13 comments for “Was Jesus Married or Not?

  1. I think it is not only reasonable to think Jesus was married, but also that he had a son, named John. A careful reading of the Gospels allows for the possibility, and even the likelihood, that the “beloved apostle” was Jesus’ biological son. It was likely a teenage thing, and John ended up being raised in Zebedee’s household.

  2. God created man and woman in His image, and ever since then, humans have been trying to re-create God in our image.

    I believe Jesus was not married. The scriptures are silent on the matter, and I cannot accept presentism or presentist conjectures as evidence. But that’s me.

  3. On a side note, the story of the forgery referred to above is told in a fascinating book called Veritas, by Ariel Sabar. Karen King, a Harvard Professor whose desire for the fragment to be real took her outside the normal process of verification, found herself in a truly bizarre story involving a pornographer (not to mention the East German police, the Stasi). For me, this was kind of like the Tiger King of ancient biblical texts. Highly recommended.

  4. There are actually several old Hebrew traditions that come into play if one knows both Hebrew tradition and the Bible and can add two plus two. One is that in order to teach in a synagogue, a man had to be (a) a man (b) married (c) at least the exact age Jesus was when he started his ministry. The second is the tradition that the closest female kin folk performed certain rituals after death. That would be his mother and Mary Magdalene and Salome. That leaves us with two choices for his wife, unless we can prove that both Mary M. and Salome were sisters or aunts. Mary M. being Christ’s sister or aunt is a long shot. I have never once seen either relationship speculated. The final is the Wedding at Canna. Mary was the hostess, and Jewish tradition says that was the mother of the groom. Now, if Joseph was dead, the host position would fall to Joseph’s oldest son. Who was it that Mary went to to worry they were out of wine and expected him to fix the problem? The wedding’s host would be the appropriate person. All of that is right in the New Testament, in spite of the fact that the Romans, being some who thought celibacy was good, tried to erase all signs that Jesus was married.

    We don’t really need prophecy or Nag Hamodi scripture for proof Jesus was married.

  5. If it is that simple to know for sure that Jesus was married Anna, then why isn’t there more scholarly consensus on the issue?

  6. Anna (and all the others):

    The Catholic position is that Joseph’s second wife was Mary, who gave birth to Jesus. Also that Joseph had been married, before he married Mary, and his first wife died. Also that several sons and daughters came from Joseph’s first marriage. So, Jesus had several half-brothers and sisters in this scenario.

    The Catholic position sounds plausible to me, but who knows?

    I think your speculation on whether and whom Jesus married is well-reasoned and well thought out. I assume He WAS married. But Church leaders don’t want to touch this topic with a 10-foot pile, because it makes Mormons seem odd if we say that Jesus followed Jewish tradition and was married. Personally, I like the idea, but I can imagine the reaction in Sacrament Meeting if I ever said Jesus was married. My Bishop, a kind and gentle man, would body-slam me to the floor.

  7. In Judaism, the wellspring is a metaphor for betrothal. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well indicates an intention to marry. It is not clear whether the betrothal was consummated, or whether Jesus departed from us before the marriage was finalized. It is likely the wedding was never consummated, which supports a “second coming” eschatology. The fact that Jesus knew the woman, and that he knew her history, and that he knew the time to converse with her privately, suggests an openness and intimacy necessary to enter into such covenant, which, between Samaritan and Jew, may have been particularly controversial.

  8. It isn’t my original opinion, but some Bible scholar or scholars whose names and books I don’t remember. I am not even sure I got all the ideas in the same place. Mormon scholars tend to study those sources that come from our own prophets, just like your study did: Brigham said x, Smith said y. But these ideas just come from Hebrew tradition and then look at the Bible and apply those traditions, and it is the simplicity of them that I like.

    I don’t really trust Catholic traditions because they tend to be like the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, they are just nice stories and you have no idea if they were made up or not. Too many of them are made up, you know, like how Christ landed in Scotland and that is why the Rowan tree is scared. If you count up all the countries that Jesus visited, he must have lived to 96. Nope, no historical proof. The Catholics tended to come into an area and make up a bunch of junk to sell the religion to the natives, so unless you have historical evidence, I am not putting “tradition” above simple Biblical statements of who did what. And the Catholics had reason to hide evidence that Jesus was married.

    And since I am apostate, I am not swayed by what our (your?) church leaders say any more than I am Catholic tradition. Not when there is such simple evidence right there in the New Testiment.

  9. I think that it would make more sense for Jesus to have been married. Not so much because of LDS doctrine, but the odds of a well-behaved Jewish man not being part of at least an arranged marriage seems really improbable. As far as who the wife could have been, I have no idea. Maybe he started his ministry when she passed away.
    As far as the early Christian texts which promote celibacy, I think that’s an example of trying to pass of the philosophies of men as scripture. If extramarital sex is bad, then all sex is probably bad. Or at least you’re more righteous if you never have sex. It’s a very absolutist point of view.

  10. As a good religious Jewish man, keeping that first commandment to “multiply and replenish” would have been imperative for Jesus to fulfill. Personally I think Christ also had to have been married in order to experience a fullness of human existence. And his appearance to Mary at the tomb seems very plausibly what one would expect of a husband and wife. It intrigues me to wonder what that means for the Second Coming–when he comes to reign as King of Kings, will he bring the Queen of Queens with him? It seems logical that his millennial reign will thus include a female consort.

  11. ji, is it presentism to assume Jesus used the toilet? Our understanding of biology insists he did.

    Likewise, our understanding of theology would insist that, yes, he is married. To whom? Who knows. But it seems reasonable to assume Mary Magdalene could be a possibility.

    I can even believe that mortal Jesus was married but never consumated the marriage as he knew his mission would end in his death and didn’t want to leave his children without a father. Of course, that’s a bit ironic on several levels when you think about it.

    I could also see very wise and cautious disciples removing and marriage and children from their record for protective reasons. Its not as if there wasn’t already a history for infanticide in his story.

  12. Sute, I disagree that “our understanding of theology would insist that, yes, he is married.”. Your understanding (and others) might so insist, but not mine (and others). I acknowledge there is much folklore among us in the great and varied tapestry of Latter-day Saint thought, and sometimes that folklore is confused for (and even cherished as) doctrine. After all, one member’s folklore is another member’s doctrine. But even though I think there is a strong urge among us to re-create God in our image, it simply is not theologically necessary for a faithful Latter-day Saint to hold that Jesus was married. At least, that’s how I see it.

    Regarding bodily functions, well, wasn’t Jesus fully human? Your comparison is wholly inapt.

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