A 1.5 x 3 inch (that’s smaller than a business card) piece of papyrus from the fourth-century has been discovered by Harvard professor Karen L. King that hints that early Christians might have thought Jesus was married. With only eight lines of text on the front and six lines of text on the back, the inscription, written in Coptic, is a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. In it, Jesus speaks of “my wife,” and says that “she will be able to be my disciple,” making this the only ancient text which explicitely portrays Jesus as referring to a wife.
This could be huge news for Christians, who have forever believed that Jesus was not married — that is why priests must remain single and celibate and has set Christian boundaries for marriage. The historical Jesus had a large mass of female followers, but this is the first mention of a female disciple, which might, down the line, have implications for women in the church, too.
The provenance of the papyrus fragment and its owner are unknown. A small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics have concluded that it is most likely not a forgery, but King says she looks forward to more scholars weighing in.
King’s discovery, however, does not provide evidence that Jesus was married, but a reflection of what Christians believed more than 100 years after Jesus’ death. If King is right, there were early Christians who believed that Jesus was married, which has influenced Christian marriages, and views on relationships for thousands of years.
Before you go thinking that “wife” meant something else, back then (like I did), be assured that King is convinced the meaning of the words, “my wife,” is beyond question. “These words can mean nothing else,” she said.