My college Greek professor taught me more than simply how to read the Greek New Testament. He also instructed me that to be a theologian I would have to learn my “ABCD’s.” That was my prof’s acronym for “A
Built in Crud Detector”—only he didn’t use the word “crud.”
When I first saw the headlines about the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (GJW), my ABC detector went into overdrive. Without even reading the stories, I had a notion of what it was all about. I thought to myself, “I’ll bet someone has discovered some third or fourth century Gnostic text that the media are sensationalizing but that has no relevance to our understanding of the historical Jesus.” It turns out that I was almost completely correct. The only thing that I didn’t predict was the very serious possibility that the fragment would be a modern forgery.
Here’s the bottom line. Even if the fragment were authentic, all it would offer us is a glimpse into a second century heretic’s uncorroborated and unhistorical story-telling about Jesus. It would be like discovering a scrap of parchment on the floor of the National Archives that said, “George Washington was a monarchist.” No one would conclude that the scrap actually tells us anything about the historical George Washington. The parchment’s irrelevance to the George Washington of history would be manifest to everyone. And so it is with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Not even the Harvard professor who discovered this fragment believes that it tells us anything about who the real Jesus was. Somehow that little detail was lost on reporters writing very sensational headlines over the last week.
When the facts are made plain, common sense reveals how utterly ridiculous it is to suggest that Jesus had a wife. There’s not a scrap of credible evidence in favor of such a claim. There’s a reason that even Jon Stewart saw something in these headlines worthy of lampooning. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to get the point—as Ross Douthat so ably demonstrates.
The fact is that our earliest and best witnesses to Jesus’ life are the four canonical gospels and the letters of Paul. Forgery or not, there’s nothing in this latest discovery that changes any of that.