Many of you have asked if I had video of the interview. Here you go.
Yep, that’s the line that has the theological nerd world all a buzz. Of course it probably also has caused no small amount of questioning and consternation among the faithful as well as gloating among the skeptics. It all stems from a scrap of 4th century paper about the size of a business card on which those words appear. Of course the paper is just a fragment and doesn’t include what Jesus said to his wife or even the identity of the wife. Christianity Today has a very helpful article on this.
So what are we to make of this find? For some it is seen as vindication that Jesus really was married and that the early church, in the worlds longest running conspiracy/cover-up, was embarrassed by the fact of Jesus marriage and has destroyed and denied evidence ever since. But let’s deal in reality and what we do know. It is a long-standing tradition, from the very earliest generations of the church, that Jesus was never married. That tradition existed centuries before the creation of this 4th century fragment. Some argue that there is no historical evidence to back up the claim that Jesus was married, as if that is somehow significant . The fact that we have so much written about the life of Jesus with never a hint of a wife is what should be taken as being significant. The reverse should be where the burden of proof lies. If there is a 2,000 year old tradition of something, then those who deny it are the ones who need to show some proof that the tradition has no basis in reality and needs to be changed.
Some will claim that this fragment is proof that Jesus was married. Really? One thing I find amusing is that some of the same people who will deny the reliability of the Bible will assume the reliability of this fragment. The argument has been that since we do not have the original manuscripts of the New Testament authors and the earliest copies are from possibly the late 1st and certainly the early 2nd century, they are not reliable. Well if that is the case, why would anyone put stock in a business card sized fragment from the 4th century? I can only assume that it is because one was already predisposed to believe what they thought it said, no matter what logic or evidence said to the contrary.
But let’s assume there is some authenticity to the fragment. What then? Well there are a couple of options. First, the Bible refers to the Church as The Bride of Christ. Context is crucial to understand any statement. Given the fact that we have no context for the fragment, no idea what Jesus said to “his wife” in the missing pieces, and that we have no identification of the wife, it is certainly reasonable that Jesus may have been referring to His Bride, the Church. Without the missing pieces of the document we will never know. Secondly, let’s suppose Jesus was in fact married. Then what? Well my answer is, so what? You see, our ultimate authority is not tradition, as important and helpful as it may be. Our ultimate authority is the Bible and nowhere in the Bible does it ever address the marital status of Jesus, one way or the other. We know that Peter was married, and that Paul was not, because the Bible speaks directly to that. But it says nothing about Jesus. Which again I stress is significant. We have so much more written about the life of Jesus than we do about Peter or Paul, yet we know their marital status, one married, one not. It must be stated very clearly there is no Christian doctrine built on the marital status of Jesus. No matter of faith, theology, or accepted biblical interpretation is effected by it one way or the other. In fact, one could make the case that if Jesus was married this could fit rather nicely with Hebrews 2:14-18. That passage makes it clear that in order to be the perfect sacrifice for sin Jesus became like us in all ways, with the one exception that he never sinned. Now I don’t think the author of Hebrews was making the point that Jesus had to be like us in every single detail of life, as if the had to eat the same food we all eat, or dress the same way we all dress or listen to the same music we listen to. But if one wanted to push the thought to an extreme application, if you are single and Jesus was single, that could be a point of identification with you just as it would be if he was married and you are also married. However, in neither case is it a doctrinal issue that Jesus must have been one or the other.
In the final analysis, finding a 4th century fragment that has the phrase “and Jesus said to them, my wife”, is much ado about nothing. Although I am sure that for the next 40 years there will be untold numbers of television documentaries, books, blogs, and podcasts about this “incredible” find and how it revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus and proves a massive cover-up.
Before you go off on me as being somehow un-American, I was born into a typical Pittsburgh blue-collar family. My Dad’s first job was in a coal mine before he worked his way to owning a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership and fulfilling his version of the American dream. My favorite actor always has been and always will be John Wayne. As a kid I cried when he died at the end of The Alamo. As an adult I tear up when an American flag gets handed to a family member at a funeral with the words, “on behalf of a grateful nation”. If I have a slight regret it is that I didn’t sign the enlistment papers that Marine Captain Tacksus had ready for me back in college. So yes I love America. But America and Christianity are not the one and the same, and the fate of Christianity is not dependent on the fate of America or any other country.
If, as history shows to be the way of all great nations, America one day becomes eclipsed by some other nation, that does not mean Christianity is somehow eclipsed or automatically in decline. I get the distinct impression that many people think otherwise, both Christian and non-Christian. Some non-Christians seem to relish the possibility of both the decline of America and Christianity. If it would be possible to deal a blow to both with one stone, then they say, so be it. For some their primary hatred is for America, which they view as monolithically Christian and so they hate Christians/Americans. The recent violence and demonstrations in Egypt, Libya, and now strangely enough Australia would fall into this category. Many Muslims see America as a Christian Nation and their picture is the decadence of Hollywood, sex, drugs, alcohol, and more sex, hetero and homosexual and a nation that militarily is trying to impose “Christian values” on other countries. For others their hatred is for Christianity and they view America as the bastion of Christianity and if America must decline for Christianity to lose its influence that’s all well and good.
This illustrates the problem that Christians create when we too closely align ourselves with any kingdom other than God’s Kingdom. The missteps of a government or society that we cannot control can easily drag Christianity, or the external perception of it, in a direction that is neither helpful nor accurately Christian. Most people outside Christianity, not to mention within, do not appreciate the nuance of a Christian being a model citizen of their country, yet with a higher citizenship that trumps anything the earthly country might do or call for. Additionally, most people paint with a very broad brush and we let one example fill in the blanks for us in understanding a whole group. That was part of the point of Daniel Khaneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow” that I reviewed some time ago. So when a government, an anonymous movie director, or a screw loose preacher, says or does something provocative in a destructive way, people paint with a broad brush, decide that is what all America and thus Christians are like and they get violent against all things American/Christian.
The connection of a country with Christianity is not new. At least since the Reformation and the 16th century it has been largely the case. Prior to America it was the British Empire that Christianity hitched a ride with and circled the globe doing missions wherever the Union Jack got planted. In some cases with worked well. In others, Christianity became synonymous with English invaders and colonial oppressors. Prior to that it was Spain and the expansion into Central and South America that tied a Roman Catholic brand of Christianity to the Conquistadors. So you see the problem. Christians and Christian mission can benefit as a result of the work of countries and empires. Certainly the existence of the Roman road system made it possible for Christianity to spread in the first few centuries. But when we become so closely connected to the culture and/or government that Christianity becomes nearly indistinguishable from them, then Christianity looses its power and message.
I said even many Christians do not understand the nuance of being a model citizen of an earthly country while being first and foremost a citizen of God’s Kingdom. There are at least two reasons for this that I can see. One is our inability to disagree with someone or something and still love them. The other is that our view of success is based on one of worldly power and dominance.
As to the first, one only needs to look at a few church splits to see that Christians have a hard time disagreeing on even the most mundane and unimportant things, without taking sides that cause conflict. It goes all the way back to the first disciples of Jesus who wanted to prevent some people from casting out demons in Jesus name because they were not part of the group. In another case, James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven onto a village that did not want to listen to Jesus preaching. In both cases Jesus harshly rebuked them. In America we Christians need to learn how to disagree with people in a Christ-like manner. In Ephesians 4:15 Paul says we are to speak the truth in love. There is a dynamic tension with which few seem willing to live. We either love someone and don’t speak any truth for fear of hurting their feelings, which is actually incredibly unloving and untruthful, or we speak the truth without any love, under a false guise of love, while in the process ripping a person’s guts out, which is also not loving and incredibly dishonest. Christians must absolutely learn to disagree in as loving a way as possible. That must be the case in politics, religion, and any other area of life. You can love your country, serve it, sacrifice for it, but at the same time disagree, lovingly, when it goes wrong.
The second issue, our view of success and power, is more difficult to deal with. No one would argue against being more loving as we speak truth. It is obviously what Jesus wants. But our view of success is far more deeply rooted in our culture than we Christians want to admit. The thinking goes something like this. America is a great nation because God has blessed us, because we have been a Christian nation that was obedient to the Bible. As long as we follow the Bible and are a Christian nation, we will be a world power and a blessed people, in every way, including our material, physical, and emotional well-being. If we start to decline morally, as we seem to be doing, then God will judge America and we will lose our place of blessing, and Christianity will decline around the world as American influence declines.
There are so many false assumptions in that line of thinking that I fear it would take a whole book to address. But let me briefly deal with a few. First, Christianity did just fine expanding from place to place and reaching more and more people, long before America ever existed. Remember, the first viable English colony in North America that succeeded, didn’t get going until almost sixteen hundred years after Jesus walked the Earth. It was another one hundred and fifty years before the colonies split from England and became a separate nation. It has really only been since World War 2 some seventy-five years ago that America has been a world power and with the collapse of The Soviet Union, THE world power. God was doing just fine in expanding His kingdom for the 1900 years of history from Jesus to American dominance, and I suspect He will do just fine until Jesus returns, no matter how long that takes. A second presumption in the previous paragraph is that America has, until recently, been a model Christian nation. For almost the first hundred years of that City Set On A Hill we call America we allowed white people to own black people as property. Not exactly a shining Christian nation moment. Let’s not even talk about what we did to people who were Red not Black and lived here before European’s arrived. On the other end of the spectrum, motivated by Christian Temperance Movements we passed a constitutional amendment banning alcohol. It was the worst kind of Christian Pharisaism and resulted in all sorts of violence and corruption not to mention leaving a lasting picture of Christians as extremely legalistic fanatics who want to dominate others. No, America has not been the ideal Christian nation that would automatically be showered with God’s blessing. Perhaps the most dangerous assumption in the previous paragraph is that America somehow is fulfilling a role of being The New Jerusalem. As a result people attach to America all sorts of Old Testament prophecies about Israel, Jerusalem, or various Hebrew tribes. Now it is generally true that if nations follow the things of God that things will go better than not. But that is a result of God’s truth having that effect whether we are believers or not. However, that is a far cry from saying that America is God’s new chosen nation and applying prophecy to it; especially prophecy that was already fulfilled in Israel 1500 years ago.
The bottom line is this. America is a great nation that has at times demonstrated amazing “Christian” principles and culture and at others times not. In the last few decades it seems to be more not. God’s Kingdom is far greater than America. God does not need America to fulfill His plan of redemption that was set before the foundations of the world. God can and does use America as He has and does use any nation. Christians need to actually live what we so often point to on America money, “In God We Trust”. We do not trust in American dominance or success in order to feel secure that God’s plan of redemption will succeed. Conversely we do not fear failure in God’s plan of redemption is things in America are not going as we would hope. In recent history, America has been the key player in the World Christian Movement, but South America, Asia, and Africa are seeing massive growth in Christianity. China will soon become the nation with the largest number of Christians in the world. South Korea, as small as it is, is beginning to lead the way in missionaries sent. Some see that as the decline of America. I think God sees it as the ascendency of a global Christianity. No matter what happens in America or any other nation, God is still sovereign and will prevail, as will The Church. Jesus promised that even the Gates of Hell could not withstand the ultimate success of His plan.
My friend Cristal, who authors the Refusing to Tiptoe blog is on an amazing adventure with God. This is a very thought provoking read that got me thinking a great deal about where I put my security and what I want most in life. It is well worth the few minutes to read and the extended time of pondering.
As God is moving our family away from comfort and convenience, our eyes are being opened to the baggage we’ve packed into our lives.
When our home sold with unbelievable quickness and ease, we moved into a small hotel room with a few belongings – Thinking we’d be there only a short while and then find another spacious dwelling as before.
God had His own plans.
We have now settled into a travel trailer. A house on wheels. We bought my grandmother’s RV and slid our new home snug onto a vacant concrete slab.
I’m not sure if you received the invitation to my pity party the week we moved in. If you did, you failed to show up. And, you really missed out on a humdinger of a shindig. Alas, I was left all alone to celebrate.
Thankfully, in my time alone, there is One who never leaves…
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