The Truth about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

April 14, 2014 in Theology · 7 comments


New Testament scholar Candida Moss discusses the current debate surrounding the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” (GJW) in a recent article for The Daily Beast.

She concludes:

On the one hand, tests designed to prove that the text is a forgery failed to establish its inauthenticity. On the other hand, the grammatical errors and similarities to the Gospel of Thomas are still a problem.

The problem is this:

  1. GJW appears to be an ancient document dating to around the 8th century CE.
  2. GJW appears to contain text pulled directly from the 2002 online edition of the Gospel of Thomas.

These two points seems to be at odds with one another, but there’s a solution to the conundrum that I haven’t yet seen mentioned in the scholarly debate: we’re dealing with time travel.

An enterprising time traveler from the future was making the rounds of history and befriended an 8th century scribe who was writing about Jesus. The traveler generously provided the scribe with Michael Grondin’s online text of the Gospel of Thomas and the scribe then incorporated that text into the larger treatise, of which only the fragment now known as GJW is extant.

Far-fetched? No more so than the fear among some Christians that this is all part of the on-going plot of secular academia to undermine Christianity.

7 comments… read them below or add one

dgregoryburns April 14, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I do not believe there is a conspiracy in academia to undermine Christianity. However, would you not agree that it is clear that there are a number of individuals within academia who are fairly regularly choosing to challenge orthodox views?


Dan April 14, 2014 at 3:24 pm

What’s the difference between a fair and unfair challenge to orthodox views?

I think we should always be willing to question our views, even if they are orthodox. Especially if they are orthodox.


dgregoryburns April 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I agree completely. Unfair would be an automatic dismissal and a belittling of the intellect, an attempt to shame someone into silence rather than enter with them into a serious discussion with everything on the table. I am not a sky is falling alarmist type of Christian but I think if we are honest a lot of modern academia is not even willing to consider us, or some of our views, worth their trouble. I am not sure we should be surprised that they do not. The western church had it pretty easy in that realm until he modern age so I think our expectations were off. Thoughts?


Dan April 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm

I think it’s a complicated issue. Yes, academia by and large operates from a secular perspective. Mainstream scholarship isn’t going to embrace faith-based positions and at times is antagonistic towards those who do. Bart Ehrman is someone who comes to mind. He’s made a nice business of poking at some of the orthodox views of Christians. But, generally speaking, his views are worth considering, if not always accepting. We — the church — often feel uncomfortable with secular explorations of religious topics. But why? Shouldn’t we be open to the truth, regardless of its source? We panic at the suggestion that Jesus might have had a wife. But wouldn’t we want to know if he really did? (Though the GJW definitely doesn’t show that). When the Church abandons scholarly engagement, when it dismisses academics as being out-of-touch or overly liberal, when it discourages wrestling with the difficult intellectual issues of faith and reason — then we all lose.


dgregoryburns April 14, 2014 at 4:58 pm

I agree. Unless your old school Roman Catholic who cares if he had a wife? I have read Ehrman’s books and he seems to rely rather heavily on gnostic gospels as being dismissed on religious grounds rather than the fact that almost all of them are clear rip offs written hundreds of years after the majority of the cannon (there maybe one or two gnostics written earlier and one or two canonical books written latter but by and large I think we know that most of the cannon was written within a 150 years after Christ and most of the gnostics were written a few hundred years latter). I honestly do not understand the constant obsession with the gnostics. There always presented as if they have been long lost or hidden, when we have known about most of them for a while. Even Judas has been known about since the 60’s I think. So my thinking, as opposed to the learned professor from North Carolina, is that they were rejected because of when they were written and the fact that whoever wrote them put phony names on them to try and give them legitimacy.
Ok that is my diatribe about Bart’s obsession with the gnostics. I do have to say that he seems to be pretty solid on his history.


Dan April 15, 2014 at 10:22 am

Most of the gnostic gospels date to around the mid-2nd century…that’s not “hundreds of years after the majority of the canon,” nor is it true that “most of the gnostics were written a few hundred years later.” The majority of the traditional canon is dated from mid to late first century, so we’re generally talking about a one hundred year gap. Significant? Maybe. Maybe not.
I look at Ehrman’s “obsession” with the gnostics as raising some important issues about what the canon is and why we should (or shouldn’t) included certain books in it. You may think that extra-biblical texts have been commonly known about for awhile, but most Christians still aren’t aware of the existence or relevance of these texts.
As to “phony names” that try to give them legitimacy: we almost certainly have texts in our canon that fall under this category: 2 Peter and the Pastoral Epistles are particularly notable in that regard.
I agree that Ehrman at times seems to take a little too heavy-handed of an approach when challenging traditional Christian assumptions, but far too many Christians are far to willing to ignore what are often very real textual issues.


dgregoryburns April 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I accept your dating, mine probably comes from an almost complete conservative education on such matters and I know enough about what I do not know to see the likelihood that you are probably pretty on target. I do think 100 years makes a difference. When most of the canonical books were written it was within a time when people could challenge the accounts because they were living at the time. The gnostics were written after everyone was dead who were living during Jesus’ time, therefore no eyewitness challenges or support.

When I said the gnostics have been known I did not mean by every christian, I was referring to scholarship and academia. People who study such matters have always known of their existence. I only say that because often in the media they are sensationalized as “Uncovered”, “Secret”, “Discovered,” and “Hidden”. Ehrman uses this type of language in his marketing (although not so much in his book) and I think it is selling something as new which academics sir to troll their eyes at.
You are right about 2 Peter and perhaps other canonical books having names that we are unsure of the authors. However, those books were the ones that had the hardest time being accepted and underwent a great deal of study and discussion. I think there is a difference between a book written within the lifetime of a possible author and a book clearly not written by the author but presenting itself as if it was (and therefore creating an impression that it is earlier that it actually is). I think the canonical process was clearly flawed at times but not because it did not include the gnostics, that would have made it more flawed not less.
I are with you also on the matter that they gnostics are important for the church to study and that they have things to benefit us, not because they have some type of inspiration but because they can broaden us and assist us in our journey for truth.
Enjoying the discussion – Darian


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