Jesus said to them, “my wife”

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.

Provocative Bible Verses: Wives Submit to Your Husbands

Wives submit to your husbands. It used to be those words were heard in nearly every Christian wedding. Today they are hardly ever spoken and in fact are intentionally avoided. Certainly part of the reason for the change has much to do with a renewed sense of equality that women are striving towards. But it also has a great deal to do with the fact that over the years these words have been used as a hammer to get women to do whatever a man says, no matter what. The fact is, these words are avoided today by men and women in large part because most people have no clue what Paul was really saying. So here is your chance to finally get a correct understanding of this very provocative piece of Scripture.

In order to understand what Paul meant we absolutely must get the context. That means ignoring the little “helpful” headings that most publishers put throughout the passages of your Bible. The passage in question is Ephesian 5: 21-33. Let me print is exactly as it is found in the New International Version. Nearly every publisher has done this so I just use this as one example.

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives and Husbands

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

What usually happens is that people jump right in on verse 22, “Wives submit to your husbands”. Any discussion of submission starts and stops with the wife submitting to her husband. But look just before the start of verse 22. What do you see? There is a little heading that was inserted by the publisher. The intent is to let you know that a new subject is coming. The subject is Husbands and Wives. Paul never wrote those words there. It is not a new subject in verse 22 and the heading only serves to cause huge problems in interpretation. Let’s take out this little helpful heading and read verse 21 in context with 22 to 33. Verse 21 is an instruction for all of us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. What Paul then does is give examples for people in various life situations on how to submit to one another. He says “wives, here is what submission to your husband means in your life. But then he immediately goes to the husbands and says, this is what submission to your wife looks like for you, “Love your wife in the same way Christ loves the church. Lay down your life for her”.

Yes wives are to submit to their husbands in the same way the church submits to Christ. What does that look like? It means following his lead and serving him out of love. It is not a blind obedience but a following that comes from a relationship of trust and mutual esteem. Husbands are to submit their desires to their wife by serving her to the point of death. Husbands are to “die to themselves” and do all they can to help their wives becomes the beautiful, precious bride, that Christ also has in mind for the church. For most men the idea of laying down their life for their wife will immediately go to fighting off an attacker or pushing her away from an oncoming bus while you take a grill to the chest. The chances of either of those opportunities happening are astronomically slim. What is far more likely is that husbands will be asked to die to themselves and submit to their wives by doing dishes, caring for the kids so she can have a day away, ironing her clothes, or making her lunch. It includes helping her achieve her dreams and become all that God made her to be. It means putting her first.

For wives, submission means putting him first. It means to honor  and respect him. I have seen far too many cases of wives who never have an encouraging word for their husband. They never have an honoring or respectful thing to say about him or to him. In fact in our culture, ridiculing a husband has almost become a national sport. How hard is it to find something nice to say about the person you are married to? Every man marries a woman wanting her to think that he is the greatest guy in the world. When all he gets is berating and ridicule, the relationship is in deep trouble.

Some will disagree with me that Paul is talking about mutual submission between husbands and wives and try to make a distinction between a wife’s submission and a husband loving his wife by laying down his life. I say they are the same thing. The further proof of that is how Paul continues in chapter 5 beyond verse 33. He goes on to tell slaves how they are to serve/submit to their master and how masters are to serve/submit to their slaves. He goes even further and does the same thing in the relationship between parents and children. The bottom line is back in verse 21. We are all to put others before ourselves and serve one another, even submit to one another as Christ serves us. We are all to submit our desires and wants in order to bring out the best in the other person. This is not about being abused or humiliated. Biblical submission is about honoring another person as one made in the image of God and seeking to do all we can for their honor and well being. That is Christ-like submission of wives to husbands and husbands to wives.

House Churches, Mega Churches, and the Westminster Kennel Club

I admit that to the untrained eye, I am something of a biblical and theological mutt. There is no pedigree to my background. My theology degrees include a Bachelors from a Catholic/Charismatic University, (Yep you read that right) two years of study at a very liberal Presbyterian seminary, a Masters degree from an Evangelical/Anglican school, and a Doctorate from a conservative Reformed/Presbyterian school. I grew up in an unchurched family that had loose connections to the Roman Catholic Church, came to Christ through a ministry called Young Life, was a leader in a fellowship of about 100 people that met as a large group and as house churches. I was pastor of a large Presbyterian church, planted a church from scratch starting with only our family and am now a one of five pastors on staff of a non-denominational mega church of about 10,000 people a week.  Definitely a mongrel. No AKC papers for me giving my lengthy pedigree of church affiliation or listing a family of ministers going back four generations. I am a mutt through and through.

But you know what? I like being a mutt. The right kind of mutt can take full advantage of the best of all the things that make up being a mutt. Granted a mutt can never win the Westminster Kennel Club Championship, but hey, that’s over rate anyway. What self respecting mutt would ever want to be forced to prance around a ring with a bunch of other dogs named things like, Henry Fastidious Excelsior Minor IV just to see which of them is the “perfect” representation of the breed? Give me a dog named Spike who is part German Shepard part Collie any day. He would love you to death and keep annoying sales people away at the same time. The best of both breeds. And as long as you got the short hair of the Shepard you solve the shedding problem too.

So what does that have to do with House Churches and Mega Churches? Simply this, I think the picture of the church in the New Testament is more mutt than pure bred. Sadly most of us approach it as if it is pure bred and that our version is clearly the “perfect” representation of the breed. We prance around our theological and ecclesiastical show rings hoping to win the prize. I experienced this first hand one day when I asked a group of House Church leaders if they called their group a House Church, or Simple Church, or Organic Church, all terms in common use. One of the guys looked me square in the eye and said, we call it Real Church. Okay, then I guess what I have is fake church. On the other side of things I have heard numerous pastors of more conventional churches say that house churches are “not really churches”. I am convinced neither of those responses are Biblical.

What I saw in the New Testament the first time I read it in 1974 was an incredible variety in the way ministry and “church” was done. Sometimes they met in large groups of hundreds and thousands. Sometimes, often times they met in small settings of homes. Sometimes they met in public places like the Temple, or the local community center that they called a gymnasium. In larger cities it was different from smaller cities. In places where there were lots of believers it was different from places with only a few. The church in the first few centuries was far from being a monolithic pure bred. It was way more like a mutt than most of us are comfortable with.

In a recent round table discussion with about to dozen leaders of Mega Churches and House Churches it became obvious that none of us has it right. None of us are the “perfect” representation of this thing we call Church. There are lots of things we can learn from one another. There are lots of things we can do together if we focus not on our “breed” but on King Jesus and His Kingdom.

In listening to these various leaders, both in the context of the meeting and as we shared meals together I learned a lot about how much we are alike and how much we need each other. How are we alike? Well we all need to be given huge amounts of grace from others because we are not one anothers enemy. We are one anothers family. We might think that the other is more like our crazy uncle Larry, but they are still family. The tactic of our real enemy is always to bring division and then pick off the weakest member of the pack. I learned that neither group is very good at discipleship. House Churches are good at community but that is not the same thing. Mega Churches are good at classes and the like, but that is not discipleship either. Growing radical followers for Jesus who are sold out to Him by pouring our lives into them so they pass that on to others, now that is discipleship.

I also learned how we need one another and can take the best of both and make a difference for Jesus. Mega Churches need to learn how to have community and care for people on a personal level better than they do. House Churches need to learn how to serve beyond the boundaries of their group and be part of a global church. Mega Churches can bring some of the best teaching, resources, and logistical support that we could ever hope for as we work to serve the King. House Churches bring a nimbleness, an openess to the move of the Spirit that allows us to see and hear what God is doing that might not fit our strategic plan.

What is important in all this is that we begin to realize that we are all “mutts” and that we need each other for the sake of the King and His Kingdom. There is no “perfect” representation of the “breed”. There is however a perfect representation of the “Bride”. It is a Bride that Jesus is perfecting to present to Himself in glory. I think it is about time that we the Bride start getting our act together and cooperate with one another for the sake of the Groom.