Was Jesus married, or likely to have been married? What's the evidence for his marriage to Mary Magdalene? What would it mean for the Christian faith if Jesus had been married and fathered a child?
The central theory of The Da Vinci Code novel is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child together. This page explores the historical evidence, if any, for Jesus being married and considers what difference this would make for Christianity if it were discovered to be true.
Documents and Historical Evidence for Jesus' Marriage to Mary
In the New Testament Gospels:
- There is no reference to Jesus' marriage or a wife in the Four Gospels
- There is no reference to Jesus' marriage or a wife in any other early Christian writing
- Other members of Jesus' family are mentioned in the Gospels (mother, father, brothers, sisters)
- Wives of Jesus' disciples and his brothers are mentioned in the Gospels (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:5)
- Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary (only in Luke)
- Mary is mentioned by name 13 times in the New Testament (Peter over 90 times), many of which are parallel stories in the different gospels
- Mary accompanied Jesus on his travels in Galilee (Mark 15:41; Luke 8:1-3) and provided funds out of her own pocket (along with other women)
- Mary was among the women who followed Jesus to Jerusalem during the last week of his life, witnessed his crucifixion and burial (Matt 27:56, 61; Mark 15:40, 47; Luke 23:55)
- Mary is the first to discover Jesus' empty tomb and learn of his resurrection from the angel (all four gospels, plus the Gospel of Peter)
- Mary Magdalene is not singled out as someone special during Jesus' life or ministry - only mentioned during his lifetime at Luke 8:1-3, along with Joanna and Susanna
- The "Magdalene" part of Mary's name seems to indicate her place of origin - Magdala, a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
- St. Paul, although a Jew, remained unmarried himself and taught that celibacy was better than marriage in view of the coming End Times
In the Gospel of Peter, Mary is the first to discover Jesus' empty tomb and learn of his resurrection from the angel.
In the Gospel of Mary, Mary Magdalene receives an important revelation from Jesus but is not said to be married to him.
In the Gospel of Philip:
There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and the Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary. The companion of the [missing] Mary Magdalene [missing] more than [missing] the disciples [missing] kiss her [missing] on her [missing]. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The savior answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her?"
Documents Related to Whether Jesus Could Have Been Married
The Nicene Creed (established at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD that The Da Vinci Code says suppressed all evidence of Jesus' humanity) is believed by all Christian denominations. Following is an excerpt:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven.
Another important council, the Council of Chalcedon, was held in 451 AD. This one dealt more specifically with the relationship of Jesus' humanity and divinity. Following is an excerpt from its creed (or "definition"):
We all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence.
Thus it does not seem that official Christian teaching of Jesus' divinity would be "undermined" if Jesus had been married and had a child.
Arguments Against Jesus as Married
In Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, Bart Ehrman (a professor of early Christian history) writes:
It is wrong to say that when the Gospel of Philip calls Mary Jesus' "companion" that the Aramaic word means "spouse." For one thing, the word that is used is not Aramaic. The Gospel of Philip is in Coptic. And even though the word used there for "companion" is actually a loan word from another language, the language, again is not Aramaic but Greek. In other words, Aramaic has nothing to do with the saying. And to cap it all off, the Greek word that is used (koinonos) in fact means not "spouse" (or "lover") but "companion" (it is commonly used of friends and associates). (p. 143)
It is true that there have occasionally been historical scholars (as opposed to novelists or "independent researchers") who have claimed that is likely that Jesus was married. But the vast majority of scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have reached just the opposite conclusion. This is for a variety of compelling reasons. Most significant is a fact that cannot be overlooked or underestimated: in none of our early Christian sources is there any reference to Jesus' marriage or to his wife.... List every ancient source we have for the historical Jesus, and in none of them is there mention of Jesus being married. And just think of all the occasions each of the authors of these books would have had to mention Jesus' marriage or his wife, had he been married. Jesus' mother is mentioned in these books, as are his "father" (Joseph), brothers, and sisters. Why would his wife never be mentioned? ...And in one passage there is a reference to the wives of the apostles and to the wives of Jesus' earthly brothers (1 Cor. 9:5). Why not to the wife of Jesus? More specifically with reference to Mary Magdalene, if Jesus was actually married to her, why would there be no reference to it? (pp. 153-54)
But if in fact Jesus was not married, how can we explain that he was not? Is Robert Langdon right to say that Jewish men were expected to be married and that celibacy was "condemned"? Unfortunately, this again is simply partof the narrative fiction of The Da Vinci Code; it has no basis in historical reality (or, perhaps, is based on a tendentious reading of much later Jewish sources). For we do know of Jewish men from the time and place of Jesus who were single, and it is quite clear that they were not "condemned" for it. And what is striking is that this tradition of remaining single and celibate can be found in precisely the same ideological circles as Jesus himself, among Jewish apocalypticists of the first century who expected that the world they lived in soon was to come to a crashing halt when God intervened in history in order to overthrow the forces of evil and bring in his good kingdom. We know about one group of Jewish apocalypticists in particular from this time and place, as we have already seen. This is the group of Essenes who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As it turns out, according to ancient records of these Essenes, they were predominantly single, celibate men. This is the testimony of Jewish sources from the time, such as the first-century philosopher Philo, who indicates that "no Essene takes a wife," and the historian Josepheus, who indicates that the Essenes shunned marriage... Scholars today do not think that Jesus himself was an Essene. But he did have a strikingly similar apocalyptic worldview. That he too would have been unmarried is therefore far from surprising. (pp. 155-56)
In view of Jesus' apocalyptic message, then, it is not at all surprising that he remained unmarried and celibate. That was explicitly the stand taken by the apocalyptically minded Essenes in his own day, and by his apocalyptically minded follower Paul after his death. Given the fact that there is no record at all of Jesus' being married, let alone being married to Mary Magdalene, it seems reasonably clear that Jesus the apocalypticist remained single. (p. 158)
In an article for Beliefnet entitled "Was Jesus Married?," Darrell Bock writes:
We can contrast Jesus to the rest of the apostles, Peter, and the brothers of the Lord, all of whom are said to have had wives (1 Corinthians 9:5). This passage shows that the church was not embarrassed to reveal that its leaders were married-or to suggest that they had the right to be. The same would have been true of Jesus, if he had been married. It is often suggested that because Jesus was a teacher and functioned like a rabbi that he would have been married as well, since that was the Jewish custom. Sometimes it is noted that the apostles called him 'rabbi' (Mark 11:21). However, two factors make this argument weak. First, Jesus was not technically a rabbi, nor did he portray himself as one. The apostles addressed him as such to say he was their teacher, not because he held any kind of official Jewish office. The Jews asked Jesus 'by what authority' he did certain things because he did not hold any kind of formal office within Judaism. He did not have an official position that would have permitted him to do things like act within the temple (Mark 11:28). As far as the Jewish leaders were concerned, Jesus had no recognized role within Judaism.... So why remain single? What advantage is there to this? In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul elaborated on Jesus' theme about 'eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.' Paul expressed his preference that people remain single. Paul explained that the present time of distress, by which he meant the difficulty of life until Jesus returns, made being single better when it came to serving the kingdom. The married person must worry about the affairs of earth: how to care for his wife and, by implication, his family. The unmarried person can serve the Lord without such distraction (1 Cor. 7:27-35).... Traditions encouraging a dedicated single life also existed elsewhere in Judaism. Members of the ascetic Jewish sect of the Essenes were known for their emphasis on celibacy (Josephus, Antiquities 184.108.40.206; Jewish War 220.127.116.11-122; Philo, Hypothetica 11.14-18). At Qumran, most appear to have been celibate, although a Dead Sea Scroll about the community suggests some possibility (1QSa 1:4-10) of marriage, woman, and children in the messianic times. For those Essenes at Qumran, the point of remaining single was also dedication to God. So Jesus was single. His marital status was one dimension of his dedication to God. At least, that is how many Jews would have understood it. As Jesus faced rejection, it was of benefit that he did not have a wife or children. These are likely some of the concerns Paul alluded to in speaking of "worry for earthly things." Jesus had a singular focus on preaching the kingdom of God, and his choice to be single underscored that calling.