Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Wasn't Christ Married Part Deux

Q - Somebody asked you “Would it matter if Jesus were married?” You gave a good explanation based on a passage from Matthew as to why it’s not likely that Jesus would have been married and that a number of the historical manuscripts floating around that do claim that Jesus was married (like some of those odd Gnostic writings—I’ve seen some, and they are truly odd!) were dismissed as heretical a long time ago. I also agree with you that if Jesus had married, it would certainly affect the way we view Jesus and His mission.

However, one thing that occurred to me is this: I don’t ever recall anywhere in the Bible where it actually comes out and says specifically whether Jesus had ever married or not. Now, like most people, I’ve always imagined Jesus never to have married, and I don’t see any real reason to change that view. However, the question this raises in my mind is: Is the belief that Jesus never married actually a doctrine of the Church or is it simply a “traditional view” that Christians have just taken for granted for however long? Or perhaps another way of asking this is: Has the Church ever actually made an official pronouncement on this, and, if so, when/where?

Also, when you said that whether Jesus had married would affect how the Church viewed celibacy/virginity, another thought occurred to me… Suppose Jesus had been married as part of an arranged marriage, but chose to abstain from sexual relations during His marriage (like Mary and Joseph). In that case, Jesus could have been married AND celibate! Obviously, there’s no historical or scriptural evidence to support this idea, but it does suggest that perhaps my initial question does not have a simple answer. What do you think?

A - Thanks for the great question. I can tell by the details in your question that you have been giving this a lot of thought, which is admirable. Thinking about the teachings of the Church, in order to make them your own is always admirable. I hope that I can give you an answer that does justice to how much thought you have put into this question.

First, I will give the link to the previous question that you refer to. My basic response is that there is no historical or Biblical evidence that Jesus was married. I want to go into details for to begin answering this question.

Biblical Evidence
The first thing that we can say is that the Bible does not mention that Jesus was married. There isn't even a hinting of it. Not only in the four Gospels, but also in the writings of Paul and the rest of the New Testament. While the argument from silence doesn't prove that Jesus wasn't married, it certainly helps the case that he was even less. You would think that a wife would be an important part of his life. Especially if he traveled as much as he did in the Gospels and with him being persecuted and eventually crucified. We should hope that a wife would have supported him through such trials and if she didn't, we should hope to hear as to why not.

We even have mention of Jesus' relatives in the Gospels, but not of a wife. We hear about Jesus' mother, father, aunt, uncle, and "brothers and sisters" (i.e., cousins). With all of this, you would think the most important relative, a spouse, would have been mentioned. The Gospel of Luke even mentions the women who supported Jesus' ministry in Luke 8:2-3.

Historical Evidence While it was not common for a Jewish man of Jesus' time to be unmarried, it wasn't unheard of. The Essenes (a smaller community of Jews that lived a radical way of life) were known to practice celibacy. Jesus even praises those who practice celibacy in Matt 19:12 "others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

We also know that several Old Testament prophets were celibate, including Elijah and Jeremiah. John the Baptist was celibate and other contemporaries were also said to be celibate by the Jewish historian, Josephus.

After Christ's death all of the Church fathers affirm that Jesus was unmarried. Not until the much later do we start getting the gnostic legends about Jesus' purported marriage. These are vehemently de-bunked by early Christian writings.

So, the history is solidly in favor of Jesus not being married and living a celibate life.

To answer your question directly, the teaching that Jesus was celibate and unmarried is BOTH Church doctrine and Church Tradition. The two are one and the same, but I don't think we have just taken it for granted.

Let me quote from Paul VI's encyclical Sacerdotalis Coelibatus, 21:

Christ, the only Son of the Father, by the power of the Incarnation itself was made Mediator between heaven and earth, between the Father and the human race. Wholly in accord with this mission, Christ remained throughout His whole life in the state of celibacy, which signified His total dedication to the service of God and men.

Vatican II - Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16:
This sacred synod also exhorts all priests who, in following the example of Christ, freely receive sacred celibacy as a grace of God, that they magnanimously and wholeheartedly adhere to it, and that persevering faithfully in it, they may acknowledge this outstanding gift of the Father which is so openly praised and extolled by the Lord.(42) Let them keep before their eyes the great mysteries signified by it and fulfilled in it.
With this evidence and teaching of the Church, I would say the hypothesis that Christ was married and celibate does not have any evidence to support it. While exploring such issues can be fruitful in finding the truth, and asking such questions is a good endeavor, the answer seems clear in this case that it could not possibly be supported by the evidence.

One last thought. Marriage is the uniting of two equals. Christ is the God-man and the only equal would be a God-woman. So, there is no equal to Him to marry.

I hope that helps.

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