Literal

jesus-fragment

Jesus said to them, “My wife…” – Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

Discovered a few years ago, The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is not a complete book, but a small fragment. It contains only a few lines. The media’s focal point is the line when Jesus mentions “my wife”. Which serve’s the goal of creating hype – a Da Vince Code conspiracy. The reported debate centers on authenticity, if it is real or a forgery. The hanging implication is that if it is real… then Jesus had a wife (Click here for more details on the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.).

Though I am not sure this debate matters, because even if it is authentic it is dated to the 7 or 8th century. By comparison the earliest fragment of the Gospel of John, P52, is dated to early 2nd Century (generally 125AD). While called “ancient” this gospel is too far removed from the New Testament writings to be considered reliable.1

What I find interesting is how we miss the real debate and take a literal viewpoint. We assume when Jesus speaks of a wife, he must be referring to a human wife. Rather than entertaining the idea of symbolism.2

Common in church teaching is the idea that the church is the bride of Christ. A idea not found exactly in Scripture, though referenced with idea that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (most pointedly in Ephesians 5:25-33). For me it moves naturally that a later document would speak of Jesus calling the church, “My wife…”

This document aside I wonder why our first instinct is literal? As we approach scripture Christians can stumble into this same dilemma. It happens blatantly when someone demands a literal reading of Genesis creation story (though increasingly we accept a allegorical reading, especially in light of Peter’s statement, “With the Lord a day is like a 1000 years” – 2Peter 3:8). But it also happens when we fail to take a historical story and use imagination to apply it to our own lives.

Take John 6 and the feeding of the 5000. I believe Jesus literally did this. At the same time, I doubt we will rain bread from heaven like those old Skittles commercials. So what does the passage mean for me? Probably that I need to feed the hungry. What happens in the rest of the chapter. The crowd rejects Jesus and leaves him. Even after a good meal! Historically it happened, but what does it mean for me? I need to feed the hungry, even if they are about to reject the message!

The Love of Christ is so radical. It is a love designed not to be discussed, instead His love is to be lived. If we are going to live it, then we must imagine the events of Jesus into our own lives. And when people see this love, the debates about if Jesus had a wife won’t matter. Instead people will be talking about the insanity of crucified love.

1The Bible did not fall out of Heaven. The letter and books were written for a specific church, then were copied and passed around. Separate books were later complied by the church. The paper of the day was papyrus (hence early manuscripts are labeled with the letter “P”) and had to be properly stored to last through history. There are literally thousands of fragments and complete books. The earliest fragment is from John, listed above. In P46 we have most of Paul’s writings, plus Hebrews, dated to the late 2nd Century. The first complete New Testaments are Codex Siniaticus and Vaticanus, which date early to mid 4th Century (325-360AD — a “Codex” was the term for the early book – a handy invention as we moved away from scrolls).

2 The Harvard Scholars, who seek to prove the fragment’s authenticity, willingly entertain both literal and figurative interpretation. Stating, “Moreover, it is possible that the references to mother, Mary, and wife do not refer to characters in the career of the historical Jesus but are being deployed metaphorically as figures of the Church (fem.) or heavenly Wisdom (Sophia; fem.) or symbolically/typologically as brides of Christ or even mothers.” (Karen King, Harvard Theological Review)

2 thoughts on “Literal

  1. “The first complete New Testaments are Codex Siniaticus and Vaticanus”.
    Vaticanus is missing all of the Pastoral Letters.

    “Common in church teaching is the idea that the church is the bride of Christ. A idea not found exactly in Scripture”
    Revelation 19:7-9 & Revelation 21:1-2
    If by “Scripture” you mean Vaticanus, as mentioned above, then you might be correct, as Vaticanus is also missing the Revelation.

    “The Harvard Scholars…” — Karen King
    I found this funny. Mix in Elaine Pagels for added fun.

    Good post man. Most look for the most sensational interpretation possible. That is why writers like King, Pagels, and Ehrman make the big bucks.

    PS: The Green Collections claims to have an unpublished first century Mark fragment that I hope they release this year.

    1. Hey Brandon! Thank you for the comment and the corrections. To be honest, I had forgotten Vaticanus was not complete. Both Revelation passages are stronger examples of the church as the Bride of Christ, though still not explicit. And you are right on making the big bucks, controversy often trumps truth!
      I had not heard about a Mark Fragment. It is amazing how much has been found, rediscovered, over the last century!

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