Was Jesus Married and Was Mary Magdalene His Wife?
Jesus’ marital status was seldom addressed for centuries. But with the release of The Da Vinci Code and the supposed discovery of an ancient piece of papyrus known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” the stage was set for debate. Was Jesus married after all?
We must first begin with what we do know about Jesus.
Most of the four Gospels are focused on the three years of Jesus’ ministry, when He was about thirty to thirty-three years old. Since He died and was resurrected after that, there are only about thirty years for us to explore.
Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 record the story of Jesus’ birth. He was born to a virgin, Mary, who was pledged to be married to a carpenter (or perhaps builder, depending on interpretation of the Greek) named Joseph (Matthew 13:55). Being told by a dream that Mary was indeed carrying the Son of God, Joseph married her instead of divorcing her for infidelity. You can read more of the birth stories in the passages above.
Jesus’ early childhood was a bit hectic, as a census drove His parents to travel a long way for His birth, then a murderous King Herod sent them fleeing to Egypt to preserve His life. After Herod’s death, they returned to Israel when Jesus was still a young child and settled in Nazareth in Galilee.
Nothing else is said of His childhood until He was twelve years old. It is known that He had siblings (Mark 6:3), but whether He was the oldest or whether some or all of these were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage is contested and unknown. The next event recorded from Jesus’ life is at the age of twelve and occurs in Luke 2:41-52. In this passage, Jesus goes with His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover, indicating that they were faithful followers of the Law.
The Bible is largely quiet on the rest of Jesus’ life until the beginning of his ministry almost twenty years later. However, we can make some assumptions. He would likely have been raised in His father’s trade; Mark 6:3 indicates that He was known as a carpenter. He remained close to His family, as He is recorded interacting with them right at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:1-12). John 2:12 especially indicates that He was likely unmarried, as He went to Capernaum with His mother, brothers, and disciples. It would be unlikely that a wife, should He have had one, would be left out of this list. It is also notable that whenever people spoke of His background, they spoke of His mother, father, siblings, and vocation as a carpenter, but never of a wife (see for example Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 4:22, and John 6:42).
During His ministry, which is recorded in extensive detail in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus was a wandering teacher and healer for three years. He was ultimately arrested, executed, and then resurrected, after which He visited His followers and then ascended to heaven.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao
Where Did the Belief That Jesus Was Married Originate?
It’s hard to say where the idea came from. The first early church text related to the marital status of Jesus one way or another is from Clement of Alexandria in the late second century, where Clement specifically refers to Jesus’ singleness. In his writing and that of Tertullian, writing near the same time, Christ’s celibacy is used only as an argument for another point, and His singleness itself is taken for granted.
Multiple “Gospels” cropped up over the centuries after Christ, though the four Gospels of the Bible were complete—and canon in practice, if not by official decision—by the end of the first century. These other “Gospels,” usually falsely attributed to some apostle or other biblical figure, often laid out strange theology with a healthy portion of historical inaccuracy. Many of these so-called Gospels merged Christianity with Gnostic religion.
One Gnostic Gospel from the third century, The Gospel of Philip, references Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene (which was a common cultural greeting in His time) and refers to her as His “companion” (a Greek word meaning someone with a shared goal, not necessarily a spouse or partner). Another, The Gospel of Mary, probably originating from the late second century, mentions that Jesus loved Mary more than other women.
Even if these were reliable texts, the wording does not necessitate or even strongly suggest a marriage relationship. However, these texts originated with Gnostic sects who practiced arcane myths and rituals, not any sort of mainstream Christianity, and were written long after everyone who had known Jesus in the flesh had passed away. (You can read more about this here.)
A more recent find, the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” was a business-card-sized scrap of papyrus with Coptic writing presented in 2012 by historian Dr. Karen L. King. King put forth that the fragment was most likely from the fourth century A.D. On this fragment is the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife.’”
The authenticity of this fragment has been called into question, and it is not unlikely to be fraudulent, as laid out in this detailed piece of investigative journalism from The Atlantic. However, even if the fragment is authentic, it faces the following issues:
1. It was not written until the fourth century, at least three hundred years after Jesus was walking the earth.
2. It is a fragment. The only passages read:
“not [to] me. My mother gave to me li . . .”
The disciples said to Jesus, “. . .
deny. Mary is worthy of it… [or “Mary is n[ot] worthy of it.”]
. . .” Jesus said to them, “my wife . . .
. . . she will be able to be my disciple . . .
Let wicked people swell up . . .
As for me, I dwell with her in order to . . .
. . .
forth which . . .
(illegible ink traces)
3. There is no context for why Jesus is saying “my wife.” He could just as easily be telling a parable, quoting someone else, or even referring to the Church in the common metaphor as the bride of Christ.
4. The fragment is in Coptic, indicating that if legitimate, it would likely be associated with the other Coptic Gnostic texts.
Despite these largely obscure sources, it’s difficult to pinpoint where the idea of Jesus’ wife comes from theologically or scholastically; much of public interest has probably been roused from the 2003 mystery thriller novel, The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, in which a secret society has guarded the secret of Jesus’ marriage and His descendants for years. The novel is rife with historical inaccuracies and has been criticized by experts in art, history, and architecture as well as in Christianity. Even though The Da Vinci Code is a fictional tale and not a historical treatise, it has sparked great public imagination.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Bycze Studio
Who Was Mary Magdalene?
Many “Jesus’ wife” theories revolve around Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. Let’s take a closer look at what we know about her.
Mary Magdalene isn’t mentioned very often in the Gospels and seems to disappear from the narrative entirely in Acts. Luke 8:1-3 lists her with several other women:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
As Jesus was a wandering rabbi with no steady income, it appears that certain patrons helped finance His ministry, including the women listed above, of which Mary Magdalene was one. The moniker “Magdalene” suggests that she was from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, explains Marcela Zapata-Meza for the Bible Archaeology Society.
As for other tales that have grown up around Mary, such as the suggestion that she was a prostitute, there is no biblical indication that this was the case. These stories come from centuries later, according to expert Dr. Birger A. Pearson, when speakers such as Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, who identified the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus’ feet as Mary Magdalene in a homily, began to postulate whether other women in the Bible were in fact Mary.
Mary Magdalene is most prominently featured in the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Matthew 27:55-56 records that at Jesus’ crucifixion, “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” She was also there for Jesus’ burial (Matthew 27:61).
Mary Magdalene was one of the first to see the empty tomb, along with one or more other women (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10). She was also among the first to see the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9; John 20:11-18). The passage in John suggests that she was alone when she saw Him, though the passage in Matthew suggests that there was another woman. These could either be two separate appearances, or John simply could have left out Mary’s companion.
None of these passages indicate that there was anything special between Jesus and Mary that was not present between Jesus and His other female followers. In the encounter with Jesus that John records in John 20:11-18, Mary specifically refers to Jesus as “Lord” and “Teacher,” not as any titles that might indicate a husband-wife relationship.
Another poignant moment indicates that Mary Magdalene was not Jesus’ wife. John 19:25 records, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” However, of all of the women there, Jesus singles out only His mother in the next passage:
“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).
It follows that if Jesus was looking out for the women in His life at this moment, He would also commend His wife’s protection to someone. Even more conveniently, if she was His wife, Mary Magdalene was also standing there. But He very notably does not single her out, and instead only commends His mother, indicating that she is the only woman for which He is directly societally responsible.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Artem Kovalev
What Would It Mean if Jesus Were Married?
Though having a married Jesus would not necessarily negate His deity or perfection (marriage is not a sin, after all), it would have significant implications.
1. If Jesus married, that would mean He chose one woman on earth to elevate and love over all others. This would be an interesting theological quandary, seeming to show that God loves different people to different degrees.
2. Jesus having an earthly bride would be confusing to reconcile with the Church as His spiritual Bride. The metaphor begins to break down.
3. If Jesus married, He probably would have had children. This means that somewhere, what essentially must have been demigods would have been running about. And if so, did they die off? Or are there lines of part-deities still out there today? What does that mean for the claim that through Christ we are children of God (e.g. John 1:12)?
4. If Jesus had a wife, the early church was very good at covering up that fact. For what possible purpose? What else did the church change or cover up? (Considering the embarrassing tales of themselves that the apostles didn’t hesitate to include in Gospel accounts, it seems unlikely that the church was covering up anything.)
5. In marriage, husband and wife become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). If sinless Jesus married sinful woman (because all have sinned) and became one flesh with her, would He then be tainted with sin?
Photo credit: Unsplash/Jon Asato
Was Jesus Married?
The most logical answer is no.
Though there were numerous occasions in the Bible in which it would have been logical to mention His wife if He had one, she is never mentioned. Any possible allusions to Jesus’ marriage were from centuries after His death.
Also, there are compelling reasons why Jesus would have chosen not to marry.
1. Jesus was a wandering teacher and healer who knew He was destined to die at a relatively early age. His duties as Messiah—teaching, traveling, healing, giving Himself over to death—would have prevented Him from rightly fulfilling the roles of husband and father. He would have had to place His wife’s needs first (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-35) which would have taken Him away from His mission.
2. If Jesus had married, His widow most likely would have been idolized and deified, detracting from the worship of the one true God.
3. Jesus likely would not have wanted to produce an earthly successor, as His purpose was to establish a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly dynasty.
4. As He was God in the flesh, no woman could possibly have been a suitable and equal partner for Jesus. Jesus, of course, could be a perfect husband, but no human could be a suitable mate. Instead, the church in its entirety is the Bride of Christ.
5. As mentioned above, trouble would arise from the implications of Jesus’ perfection merging with human sinfulness as “one flesh.”
6. Jesus didn’t marry because He didn’t come to earth to choose one person; He came to save and restore all who would receive Him.
Jesus did not marry an earthly woman; however, the Church is called the Bride of Christ, and He is preparing a heavenly home for all of us (John 14:2-3) where we can be with Him forever. For this Bride, He suffered, died, and was resurrected, so that we might be reconciled with Him.
That is a far better love story.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/mark gdarts
Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.