Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The “Gospel” Of Jesus’ Wife

Biblegems #188
Question: What is the “Gospel Of Jesus’ Wife” that has been in the news, and why isn’t this (and other "gospel" accounts) included in the New Testament?

Let’s take this question in two parts: “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” and “Other Gospel Accounts.”

“The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”
Periodically, the news media headlines the discovery of a “new” Gospel, or some artifact from biblical times that calls into question the accuracy of the Bible. Such was the case with the April 10, 2014 article from FOX News (among several others): “Papyrus mentioning Jesus’ wife likely not a forgery.”

While this 4th century document itself may not be a forgery, the tiny scrap of papyrus dates back to approximately two hundred years after Jesus’ death. There are only eight partial lines of text, and no indication of who wrote it or why. Part of the text reads:
         “Mary is worthy of it… [line 3] …Jesus said to them,
“My wife…” [line 4] …she will be able to be my
disciple… [line5] …Let wicked people swell up… [line 6]
As for me, I dwell with her in order to… [line 7]

Nothing indicates who the author is that claims to be quoting Jesus. There is no context to make any sense of the broken sentences. What we do know is that the papyrus originated in Egypt sometime after 350 AD. It has been in public circulation since about 1960 and studied by specialists since at least 2011. It is hardly a “new” discovery.

“Other Gospel Accounts”
The apostle Paul discovered very early on in his ministry that people would alter the Gospel message for their own purposes. As he wrote to the church in Galatia:
         Gal. 1:6-7  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Peter encountered the same problem with people who were not eyewitnesses of Jesus but who made up teachings and events in a distorted version of the Gospel :
         2Pet. 1:16  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.   

The idea that Jesus was married—usually with Mary Magdalene as His wife—goes back to ancient manuscripts known as “The Gospel of Phillip” and “The Gospel of Mary” (ca. 120 AD - 300 AD). How do we know these are not to be trusted as authoritative accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings?

Early church leadership relied upon a few basic tests to determine a standard of trustworthy, Holy Spirit inspired writings—what we now know as the New Testament. 1) Your New Testament Gospels and letters had to be composed by an apostle—or someone trusted by the apostles and perhaps even trained by an apostle. 2) New Testament documents also had to be in complete doctrinal agreement with the teachings of Jesus and the original apostles (“the Rule of Faith”).

Consequently, even many writings that carried the name of an apostle (The Gospel of Peter, Thomas, Barnabas, etc.) were rejected because they did not meet the criterion of “the Rule of Faith.” You can be confident that the Holy Spirit has preserved in the Old and New Testaments “…the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (Col. 1:5b, 6).  

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