I was waiting for it - some sensational article had to appear before Easter. When the headline came up, I had to read it: “Scholars date Jesus’ wife.” It wasn’t a sensational tabloid, but a reputable article. To no one’s surprise, no scholar is having a relationship with Jesus’ wife. Rather, a 4X8 cm fragment of papyrus that was discovered contained the line ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife…she will be able to be my disciple…”
When the fragment was released in September 2012, the Smithsonian magazine declared that a papyrus fragment had been found which would “send jolts through the world of biblical scholarship.”
But there was no jolt. Questions immediately surfaced about its authenticity, date, and value from many scholars. The fragment seems to be an original piece from some time between the 4th and 8th centuries, based on the language and papyrus.
Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King defended the fragment’s authenticity, but minimized previous sensationalism, saying: “It is not entirely clear, however, how many women are referred to [in the fragment], who they are, precisely what is being said about them, or what larger issues are under consideration.”
Media outlets jumped all over the fragment, decrying the Church’s poor view of women. Yet the Gospel accounts tell us something quite different: in a time when women’s testimonies were not valid in a court of law, the gospel writers unashamedly announced that it was women who first came to the empty tomb. Had the resurrection account been fabricated, the apostles would have made the heroic discovery, not women.
Nicholas Perrin, a non-canonical gospel scholar, told Christianity Today that the date of the fragment is “so far removed from the first century that this rather reflects the speculations a later sect had about the earthly Jesus.” In other words, there is no threat to the faith.
Yet people will enjoy criticizing Christians by saying, “Listen, if you can’t get basic details about Jesus’ life correct, how can we trust you on anything else?” We live in a time where a 4x8 cm fragment is used to challenge sexual ethics, orthodox beliefs, and the claims of Christ.
We ought to expect this response every Easter and Christmas. Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ has been a threat to kings and empires and the Word of the Gospel still stands. If Christ has been raised from the dead, his demand on the world is absolute. In a culture that celebrates death, Jesus’ resurrection cries out the word of life, the word above all earthly powers. With one little word, enemies will bow the knee. One little fragment shall not fell him.