Notes on the Marrying Messiah
By Ray Waddle
Rumors of Jesus’ nuptials won’t die. They are in the news again with the disclosure of a fragment of unknown origin from the 4th century in which Jesus mentions “my wife.” The document might well be a forgery, or a discarded bit of creative writing 400 years after Jesus’ time. But the world is aflutter with questions anyway: What was she like? What were they like? Did they have children? Did they have arguments?
Contemporary society is fixated, at the same time, on two different Jesuses, as this latest kerfuffle shows. The first Jesus is a fanciful messiah who experiences a non-stop makeover based on curious texts written centuries after the fact. He keeps showing up in the media cycle, fed both by scholarly theories and Da Vinci Code fiction, as an unorthodox savior who married the Magdalene and said heretical things in order to embarrass 21st century organized religion and church life.
A second Jesus also casts a shadow across society, and society ignores him. This is the Jesus of the actual Bible, the figure of Christ who stands closest to the historical record. This is the Jesus who spoke of the Kingdom of God and of peacemaking and of the Good Samaritan and who was put on trial, killed and resurrected. This Jesus rumbles across the pages of the four Gospels, upends the established order and changes human history. In this version, there’s no mention of his marriage plans or dating status, just salvation and grace and abundant life. And that’s too much for a frantic society to handle.
Yet another Jesus doesn’t show up much on cable TV or in seminars or lab reports. Christians know this Jesus as the body of Christ. This is the Risen Lord who hears prayer, builds churches and inspires daily courage and inexplicable compassion. In this experience of faith, the living Christ is striding through this world, always out front, healing people, embodying truth, confounding expectations, standing at the door and knocking.
Questions about whether he was married will always be irresistible. And irrelevant. If it turns out he had a big wedding and a bargain honeymoon at Niagara Falls, that’s a detail left to ancient history and the Galilee marriage registry. The body of Christ, working with less-than-perfect believers and fascinated skeptics, already has plenty to do.
Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School.